The Philadelphia 76ers are reeling from Ben Simmons’ knee injury but are aware that nobody is going to feel sorry for their plight.
Simmons will soon undergo knee surgery that will likely be season-ending, but the 76ers aim to stretch their winning streak to four games when they battle the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night near Orlando.
Simmons suffered a dislocated left kneecap during Wednesday’s victory over the Washington Wizards, and Philadelphia announced Saturday that the two-time All-Star will undergo a procedure to remove a loose body from the knee.
There wasn’t an immediate timetable announced, but the overriding belief is that the 76ers won’t see Simmons on the floor again until the 2020-21 campaign.
“You’re just numb to it. You just move on,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown told reporters. “You figure it out. You coach who you have. I do genuinely believe this can galvanize our group and bring us an inverted way together.”
The loss of Simmons prompted Brown to put veteran power forward Al Horford back in the starting lineup and the move paid off during Friday’s 108-101 triumph over the Orlando Magic.
The 34-year-old Horford was 8-of-14 shooting while recording 21 points and nine rebounds. He had averaged just 7.0 points over the first three games since the resumption of play.
“It’s hard to replace Ben,” Horford told reporters. “The way we look at it is we just have to step up more.”
Horford was one of four 76ers to top 20 points against Orlando. Small forward Tobias Harris recorded 23 points and 15 rebounds, center Joel Embiid had 23 points and 13 boards and backup guard Alec Burks made three 3-pointers while scoring 22 points.
While Philadelphia (42-27) is assured of a playoff spot — the team is currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference — the Trail Blazers are on the fringe in the West.
Portland (32-39) suffered a costly 122-117 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday to fall 1 1/2 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies, the eighth-place team in the West. The Trail Blazers are just a half-game ahead of the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns and one game in front of the New Orleans Pelicans for the play-in berth.
The setback leaves Portland close to a must-win position on Sunday when it plays the second end of a back-to-back.
“Sixers are a challenge whether it’s a back-to-back or not,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said afterward. “This loss today really hurt, so hopefully we have the mindset of how important that game is tomorrow.”
Portland star guard Damian Lillard scored 22 points but was taking blame for the loss. He missed two free throws with the Trail Blazers down by one with 18.6 seconds left and was off the mark with a 3-pointer that could have tied the score with 9.5 seconds to play.
“I was like ‘OK, we are going to be up one,'” Lillard told reporters of heading to the line. “Come down, get a stop and then it is a free-throw game. And then left the first one short. Even after that, I was like alright, it is going to be tied and they going to get the last shot. And then left another one short … sometimes that has to happen.”
Backcourt mates CJ McCollum (29 points) and Gary Trent Jr. (22) each drained six 3-pointers. Trent is 28 of 45 (62.2 percent) from behind the arc in the five games since play resumed.
Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside (hip) could miss his second straight game. Philadelphia forward Glenn Robinson III (hip) is questionable and hopeful of seeing his first action in the restart.
Philadelphia prevailed 129-128 in the first meeting between the clubs on Nov. 2, when Furkan Korkmaz drained the winning 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in Portland.
–Field Level Media