Nine days after suffering a fractured rib, Kelly Oubre Jr. was back on the basketball court at the Sixers' training complex in Camden, New Jersey.
Oubre sustained the injury on Nov. 11 when he was walking in Philadelphia and struck by a motor vehicle, the Sixers said.
He’s progressed to the point where Sixers vice president of athlete care Simon Rice and the team’s medical staff cleared him to do non-contact drills after Monday’s practice with assistant coach Rico Hines.
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“It was his first day back on court,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said. “Simon has told me that today and tomorrow are pretty critical in the evaluation. I think getting him moving was the first step. Getting him into some contact and things is the next step. I think after tomorrow we’ll have a little better read on the timeline.”
Patrick Beverley was enthused about Oubre’s return to the floor.
“Obviously we miss his play, but just his swag, his energy,” Beverley said. “Just good to see his face, good to know he’s cool. We’re supporting him through it all, so it’s good to have him back out here.”
Next up for the 10-3 Sixers is a Tuesday evening matchup vs. Cleveland, which is their final group-stage game of the NBA’s in-season tournament. The 7-6 Cavs extended their winning streak to three games Sunday by beating the defending champion Nuggets.
Oubre was the one Sixer on Monday night’s injury report. Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro and Ty Jerome are sidelined. Caris LeVert is questionable with left knee soreness.
If the Sixers lose, they’ll be eliminated from the in-season tournament. If they win, a quarterfinals spot is still possible, contingent on other results falling the team’s way.
“I think it’s a good test and good for us to be in a competitive situation with a little more on the line than just a regular-season game — and against a very good team who’s playing very well,” Nurse said. “Looking forward to it.”
You can count Beverley among those who have enjoyed the novelty and increased stakes of the NBA Cup.
“I think it’s been good,” the veteran guard said. “Obviously the competition has been raised a ton since they started it. The courts have been great; I like the color. But the competition’s been great. It’s been giving me an early playoffs feel.
“It’s getting to a point where guys are getting a little too energetic; some fights are breaking out and stuff like that. But it’s good for the game of basketball, guys showing emotion and all that. I’m a big fan of that.”
The Sixers will see double-big lineups against both the Cavs on Tuesday and the Timberwolves on Wednesday, which should pose an intriguing challenge.
Cleveland starts an Evan Mobley-Jarrett Allen frontcourt. The T-Wolves have Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert.
“It’s going to shift from the four-guard lineups that we’ve been seeing a lot to a bunch of bigs,” Nurse said. “They’ve got some size, and they’ll run some of their backup guys in there as well. Tristan Thompson’s another (Cavs) big; I’m sure they’re going to throw everybody they can at Joel (Embiid).
“The first couple things that come to mind … can you keep ‘em off the glass? If we’re playing a little bit smaller — which we will be — can we score at the rim on them? That’s what they do. They try to protect the rim with those guys, rightly so. And then I think we’ll be in a lot more coverages than we are with switching. … Lots of little things adding up there.”
According to Cleaning the Glass, Cavs opponents have shot just 58.4 percent at the rim. That led the NBA going into Monday night.
Meanwhile, Minnesota was a top-10 team in both defensive rim frequency (third) and opponents’ accuracy at the rim (ninth). The Timberwolves ranked second overall in defensive rating, while the Sixers were No. 1 in offensive rating.
Besides leaning heavily on Embiid as always, how else will the Sixers counter the Cavs and Timberwolves’ interior strength?
Asked a question about Nicolas Batum potentially playing small-ball center minutes at some point, Nurse suggested that backup big man Paul Reed might be due for more playing time soon.
“Maybe,” Nurse said. “I think Paul’s played so well that it’s hard to not let him stay out there. In fact, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to keep him out there a little longer.
“Maybe we can do that with two bigs out there. There may be some other options there too at the small-ball five — maybe Marcus Morris as well. But we shall see.”
Even with outside shooting not yet a regular part of Reed’s game that opposing teams respect, Nurse said he still intends to try Reed-Embiid minutes.
“Yeah, we’re going to get there, eventually,” he said. “I don’t know when. But again, if Paul goes out there and just continues to play hard and have effective minutes, we need to try to figure out a way to give him some more.
“If he’s going to impact the game positively and he’s really playing well, then I just believe in that. When guys are playing well, give ‘em longer stints. We’ll see if we can figure it out one of these days.”