Embiid works lungs after Sixers practice; Harden in boot, away from team


Joel Embiid scrimmaged full court Sunday afternoon with zero fellow NBA players.

Former Philadelphia-area college players Reggie Redding and T.J. DiLeo — current Sixers player development coaches — were among those assisting in Embiid’s post-practice conditioning work. 

“Listen, he had the flu and it’s hard; your lungs are burning,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “But he looked pretty good.”

Rivers estimated Embiid had a 75 percent chance of returning from a three-game absence Monday night against the Suns. The Sixers officially listed him as questionable Sunday evening. 

Danuel House Jr. was also questionable because of a non-COVID illness, though he did not participate in practice. According to Rivers, “two or three people on the medical team” and “a couple of coaches” now also have the flu.

Phoenix will be down Cameron Johnson (right knee meniscus tear), Ish Wainright and Duane Washington Jr. (personal reasons). Cameron Payne was questionable with left foot soreness.

The 4-6 Sixers know James Harden will be out for a while. The team lost its first game with Harden sidelined by a right foot tendon strain Friday night, failing to hold a 12-point fourth-quarter lead over the Knicks. Like with Embiid, Rivers is cognizant of Harden’s conditioning. 

“He feels good,” Rivers said. “He’s in a (walking) boot. Our whole thing is it’s tough to condition, but eating right and doing all the right health stuff and doing all the right treatment. He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do, and that’s what's important when he gets back. You can’t come back and be 10 pounds heavier or whatever. It’s hard not to be; I would be for sure.”

Rivers noted Harden is not around the team for the time being. 

“He has a personal problem that we want him to take care of — not for him, a family issue,” Rivers said. “So we want him to take care of that, but he’ll be back in three or four days.”

The 7-2 Suns are quite a challenging second opponent without Harden. The Sixers will enter the matchup with a six-game losing streak against Phoenix, who sported an NBA-best 33-9 record in “clutch” situations last year and an incredible plus-33.4 net rating.

Meanwhile, the Sixers are aiming to cut down costly late miscues; Rivers on Sunday highlighted players breaking the team's defensive “rules” by being pulled in and conceding corner three-pointers in the fourth quarter vs. the Knicks. He also brought up a botched offensive play that he said the Sixers got wrong last Saturday against the Bulls, too.

The goal is to learn through experience, even if it’s not always pleasant. 

“I think you really just have to be in the mix and go through it live,” Georges Niang said, “because you can’t substitute a Philly crowd mixed with New York Knicks fans — and the emotion and everything that goes into the game … you have to be able to think on your feet. 

“These are going to help us in the long run — losing these close games where we figure out, ‘All right, I did this last time. It’s insanity if I think doing it again is going to help us win.’ I think every guy takes a look in the mirror … and we’ll all look at ourselves and continue to grow and be better.”

While having Embiid available tends to make his teammates’ lives easier, the Sixers seem well aware that Harden’s injury is not a small obstacle early in the season. 

“Now that we’ve been hit by injuries, illness, you’ve got to keep pushing through,” Niang said. “To grow through s---, you’ve got to go through s---. I think that’s kind of where we’re at there.”

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