Rivers misses Sixers' first practice after All-Star break


The Sixers’ first game after the All-Star break won’t be a typical one — not that any have been this season.

All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will both be sidelined for Thursday’s matchup between the 24-12 Sixers and 16-18 Bulls. They’re both quarantining after being exposed to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19.

Here are the essentials for Thursday’s game:

  • When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 p.m.
  • Where: United Center
  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

And here are a few notes on the Sixers following Wednesday night’s practice:

Rivers misses practice

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers, who coached the team captained by Kevin Durant in the All-Star Game, did not attend Wednesday’s practice. According to the team, Rivers was feeling under the weather and his absence was not related to COVID-19. An update on his availability to coach against the Bulls will be shared Thursday.

In his absence, assistant coach Dave Joerger spoke with reporters following practice.

“It was a little strange,” Joerger said, “because generally this is the most difficult practice of the season, in my opinion as a coach. They’re still a little groggy; they’re like, ‘Come on, I’d like to have two more days off on my break.’ So we just try to bring a lot of juice and a lot of energy. Certainly we miss Doc and certainly also missing Ben and Jo out there, it had a bit of a strange feeling.

“As assistants, our job is to get the rust off a little bit, try to get some shots, get up and down the floor, bring some juice and energy, work on some things that before the break we needed to polish up a little bit on offense and defense. Our guys were tuned in. We have a great leader in Tobias Harris … Dwight Howard and those kinds of guys. Guys got their work done and we’ll get after it tomorrow.”

Rivers assembled an impressive crew of assistants this season. Joerger has six seasons of head coaching experience with the Grizzlies and Kings; Sam Cassell, who’s worked closely with Simmons, seems destined to lead a team soon; Dan Burke is a very experienced, well-regarded defensive coordinator. The Sixers will hope Rivers is well enough to coach Thursday, but they’ll know what they’re doing if he’s not.

Replacing the All-Stars

There’s no easy answer for how to compensate for the temporary loss of two All-Stars.

An aggressive, efficient game from Harris would be helpful, though. He was crucial in the Sixers’ win over the Jazz, scoring 11 overtime points and relieving the hefty offensive burden on Embiid.

The last game Simmons missed was also against Chicago. Embiid scored a career-high 50 points in that Feb. 19 Sixers win, while Matisse Thybulle started and played strong defense on Zach LaVine. Though LaVine scored 30 points, he only shot 9 for 28 from the floor. We expect Thybulle will start again, or at least see an increase in minutes. Mike Scott and Furkan Korkmaz are two other players who might need to play more than usual.

The Dwight Howard vs. Wendell Carter Jr. matchup should be an interesting one. Though Carter had a hot scoring start against Embiid in February, the fact that he doesn’t attempt many three-point shots should allow Howard to stay in his defensive comfort zone.

Back into the swing of things  

Despite no fans having attended a game yet this season at Wells Fargo Center — that will change Sunday, when up to 3,100 fans will be permitted — the Sixers have a striking home-road disparity. The team is 16-3 at home and 8-9 on the road.

Though the circumstances aren’t ideal with Simmons and Embiid sidelined, the Sixers would obviously like to earn a couple of away wins before welcoming back their stars and their fans. The transition back to basketball after some necessary recuperation likely won’t be seamless.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” Danny Green said. “Myself, I’m always motivated. I don’t need extra motivation. But it’s not the best way to start (after) the break, without our All-Stars, basically, (playing) teams that are very capable of beating anybody in the league. We’re in a good space mentally. We know we’ve got to get some rust off.

“We came out today to get up and down a little bit. We know the first couple days, first couple minutes, will be ugly. We’ve just got to play hard, communicate and get through it, and hopefully get back into rhythm and shape sooner than other teams.”

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