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Sixers Stock Watch: Pair of key injuries cast a pall over team with MVP race & playoffs looming

Sure, an MVP for Joel Embiid and an All-NBA spot for James Harden would be awesome. But a fully healthy squad would be the best gift of all heading into the playoffs.

Philadelphia 76ers v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Joel Embiid has been an MVP front-runner on numerous occasions in his career. But he’s never been quite this close. Embiid is now in a dead heat with Nikola Jokic for the honor with just six games remaining on the schedule.

The playoffs are near, following the April 11-14 play-In. It’s starting to look like the Sixers will be the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

But there are certainly ways that could change.

Let’s take stock.


Milwaukee Bucks v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

There was a big game on tonight between the East’s top two teams. The defending Eastern Conference champs absolutely throttled a Milwaukee Bucks squad in the House that Giannis built, no less. It was the second of a back-to-back for Jrue Holiday and co. but the Celtics win was so decisive it still feels like a bit of a shock to the power rankings.

Here’s how the East looks after the Celtics beat the Bucks:

The Sixers are 4.5 games back from the Bucks, and 2.5 behind the Celtics. That makes it harder for them to catch either one, but opens the door for the Celtics to snag that top seed, which could potentially shift the Sixers second-round opponent.

As you can see, if the Sixers remain in third place, it’s those sinking Brooklyn Nets they’d be most likely to face in the playoffs. The Nets have lost six of their last eight games, and aside from Mikal Bridges, there’s not a ton of firepower there to keep pace with a healthy Sixers team.

It’s not the worst first-round matchup in the world if that’s how things shake out.


You can see the Sixers have the fourth-best record in the NBA. They’ve slipped a game-and a-half behind the Denver Nuggets.

And now, it appears Nikola Jokic is ducking CJ McCollum.


The Sixers would love to finish with a better record than Denver to not only keep pressure on the Celtics for the two spot but also build Embiid’s MVP case against Joker.

The Sixers still do have the best record in the NBA since Dec. 9, Harden’s 2nd game back from a 14 game absence with a foot sprain. Philadelphia is a league best 38-14 since that date.

If Tyrese Maxey and Harden hadn’t missed over a month apiece, who knows what place this team might be in today.

Injury Picture

Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

We covered the team’s injury picture in more detail recently. But it’s certainly not where you’d like it to be as of this writing.

As our Bryan Toporek argued, the Sixers would be wise to prioritize health over seeding.

As WFAN’s Spike Eskin said, he’s “very concerned,” with the Harden injury situation.

And I totally agree, sadly.

If you have not, go back and read that link above with all of Harden’s Dallas postgame comments on the situation. It’s not exactly reassuring stuff to read with the playoffs just two weeks away.

Harden sounds like he’s planning on gutting through the last six games, and targeting the play-In break to get in a rest. But it probably makes more sense to scratch him for a handful of these final games to rest up. Achilles are nothing to mess with and if that was “unbearable” vs. the Bulls, (a pun just sitting there) he could probably use more time to rest and rehab.

As for Embiid, he returned to the lineup vs. the Dallas Mavericks. I was just about to conclude he doesn’t look like himself at all and this is getting scary ... when he drains a triple, nails a middy pull up, then hits third gear on a rotation to block Luka Dončić and basically ends that game on Wednesday.

So unlike Harden, even when Joel is operating at like 70 percent, he’s still routinely the best player on the floor. Harden tends to defer when he’s not himself, and when relegated to an off ball role, it makes the team much easier to defend.

The problem is, in order to win a championship, this team needs Harden and Joel as close to 100 percent as possible. So how do they plan their rest/load management games the rest of the way with seeding and MVP stuff at stake? That’s a tricky one.

You don’t want them to fully lose rhythm, and some will say there’s nothing like real NBA action to keep your conditioning up. But it’s also much more risky and dangerous to play on ailments that would almost certainly improve with even a little bit of extra rest. I don’t envy Daryl Morey, Doc Rivers, or Simon Rice and the med staff there.

But I would ultimately trust a 14-year vet like The Beard to find his rhythm quickly if he did have to miss another week.

This injury picture isn’t great. If Embiid missed the MVP showdown up in Denver, he must have been pretty banged up. The idea he’d duck Joker after torching him last time is laughable.

It’s great he looked more spry vs. Dallas, but yeesh.

By the numbers

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Through 76 games, those 76ers have the fourth-best offensive rating, scoring 117 points per 100 possessions.

The top 10 teams in that scoring category above, per

The Sixers have the eighth-best defensive rating. Obviously, they slipped a bit here during their three-game losing streak.

They had the fifth-best defensive rating last week, so you know how impactful James Harden is on the defensive end. Just kidding. But yeah, they did slip a tad. reassessed dramatically their title pick before and after tonight’s Celtics-Bucks game. Here’s how their board looked prior to tip off, with the Bucks first overall, and Boston 3rd:

And here’s how it looks immediately following that 140-99 slaughtering:

The Bucks lost 7 percent, the C’s gained 7, and that game cost the Sixers 1 percent as a 2nd place finish slips further away.

538 still has the Sixers finishing with the third seed. They’ve had that same prediction for a very long time now. Credit one for artificial intelligence here. gives the Sixers an 89.2 percent shot at the third seed. If that’s the case, they should definitely capitalize and buy their guys some rest down the stretch here.

B-Ball gives the fourth-placed Cleveland Cavaliers a 6.6 percent shot at the third seed. So Philly has some breathing room here now with the Cavs losing to Trae Young and the Hawks the other night. says the Sixers have the second-most difficult strength of schedule remaining.

That’s basically been the case for over a month now. Who made these darn schedules, someone who really hates the process?!

Power Rankings

Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images says the top five teams in order are: 1) the Milwaukee Bucks, 2) Boston Celtics, 3) Denver Nuggets, 4) Philadelphia Sixers, and 5) Memphis Grizzlies. is a little sharper with the order like this: 1) Bucks 2) Celtics 3) Sixers 4) Nuggets 5) Cavs. likes the Sixers a bit more than the Nuggets. Let’s go.

Maybe that changes with the Celtics’ performance in Milwaukee Thursday.


Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

According to our friends at DraftKings the Sixers have the fifth-best title odds with +1100.

Despite going just 1-3 this past week, their odds have not changed. That’s pretty good.

The Bucks and Celtics are basically neck and neck atop the league. The odds did not change immediately following Boston’s big road victory Thursday. The Phoenix Suns, who just returned Kevin Durant to the lineup, are not far behind in tier two.

Not a bad time to bet on Joel and Co. if in fact you still believe.

MVP Race

Denver Nuggets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The latest NBA MVP straw poll has Joel Embiid just ahead of Nikola Jokic. Can you imagine? And Giannis is a clear third place behind the two neck-and-neck frontrunners.

Their MVP odds are just as tight per oddschecker.

Buy, sell, hold?

Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Last week we had no choice but to sell a pile of our Sixers stock here, sadly. And we’re “lucky” we did, as the team lost in Golden State, Phoenix, and Denver before winning at home over Dallas. We learned the injuries to Jo and James are worse than we thought a week ago too. We saved some big bucks there by selling. Whew.

What’s on the slate this week?

The Sixers are likely to be favored in just one of these games, when they host Toronto. They’ll likely be underdogs in Milwaukee, and slim home dogs vs. Jayson Tatum and co.

Just staring at the slate, I’m almost but not quite tempted to buy Sixers stock as I think the Sixers can potentially go 2-1 here, which would do wonders for their stock price and Embiid’s MVP chances.

Of course, they could just as easily go 1-2. And in either case we could witness a flare up of an injury issue for a key stud. So, so many perils.

Pushing through these injury ailments cannot be great for their title chances. And that’s most important. So I’m legit torn here. I think the prudent move here is to hold our stock.

I bet they’ll push Harden in all three of these games even though he’d be better off skipping two of them.

And so I’m going to play it nervously and sell off just a share or two ‘cause I have so much. If you want to hold, that seems like the most prudent move.

To hold off the Cavaliers for a three seed they’ll need probably three wins. But dropping down to the four spot just got a little less scary:

For you optimists, this could be a week if Philadelphia surges, goes 3-0 and Embiid locks up MVP. Your stock would likely skyrocket with wins over the Bucks and Celts if that’s how it went. Then I’ll wish we bought.

So I’ll be pulling for those buyers still feeling bullish even if I’m too nervous myself. Fine line between glory and heartbreak, huh?

If this is the year that Joel Embiid wins an MVP and the Sixers win the title, think back to nervous moments such as this one where doubt creeps in. Savor it. It would make the glory all the sweeter.

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