With Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler out, Sixers wisely focused more on big picture


The Sixers will be without the services of Jimmy Butler (back) Monday and Joel Embiid (knee/load management) for Monday and Wednesday.

If they’re unable to beat the lowly Mavericks and Hawks, you might as well pack it in. They have no shot to reach the NBA Finals if they lose these next two games in Dallas and Atlanta. Brett Brown should lose his job right after the sure losses. All these bold moves by Elton Brand for naught!

But seriously, is it more important to beat two teams that are a combined 37 games below .500 or deliver Embiid and Butler to the playoffs healthy? Maybe those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, but then again, maybe they are. Besides, the Sixers have a 4.5 game lead for the East's third seed with six games to play. How much is really at stake here?

That’s not to say Embiid and Butler missing time is ideal. The Sixers’ new-look starting five doesn’t have much experience together. They still need to develop a little more chemistry — especially on the defensive end.

But look at what they’ve done when they’ve played together. They’re 8-2 in 10 games when they’ve all started. They took down the team with the best record in the NBA on the road and finally beat their boogeyman in Boston. Among current NBA starting lineups that have played at least 160 minutes together, the Sixers’ unit has the best net rating at 17.6. They also have a plus-7.5 point differential, the highest mark of any five-man lineup that’s played at least 10 games together.

Last week, NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh wrote an in-depth piece examining how important it is for teams to be peaking going into the playoffs. Haberstroh basically proved that momentum going into the NBA playoffs is a myth.

Take last year’s Golden State Warriors. They stumbled into the playoffs, losing six of their final 10 games and 10 of their final 17. In Game No. 82, the Warriors suffered the worst defeat under Steve Kerr, getting trampled by the Utah Jazz by 40 points even with Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green playing. It’s hard to imagine a team more out of sorts on their quest to repeat.

If you hit the panic button and sold all your Warriors stock right then, well … poor move by you.

Golden State proceeded to go 16-5 in the postseason and were so good that they swept the Finals, the first 4-0 championship series since 2007. Meanwhile, the Cavs team the Warriors swept entered the postseason victorious in 11 of their final 14 contests. Hot, cold, lukewarm -- it didn’t seem to matter.

Sixers fans need look no further than the team they root for as a prime example. The Sixers took a 16-game winning streak into the playoffs last season, capped by a Markelle Fultz triple-double in the regular season finale. By Game 2 against the Heat, the Sixers clearly needed Embiid, who was recovering from a facial fracture, while Fultz played his way out of the playoff rotation. Chemistry is important, but nothing is more important than having your best players healthy in a talent-driven league.

While it’s not great for a team to turn it off and on, the Sixers do appear to have the ability to do so. The wins over the Bucks and Celtics show what they can do when they're locked in. Their recent letdown loss to the Hawks shows what happens when they just coast through a game.

When the Sixers are fully engaged come playoff time, a healthy Embiid and Butler will mean more than the results of the last six games of the regular season.

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