The news of Joel Embiid’s injury was a crippling blow to the Sixers‘ playoff chances leaving many to wonder who could step up in his place. The franchise centerpiece has already been battling a torn ligament in his thumb and now has been diagnosed with a fractured orbital and concussion. There have been some signs of hope for Embiid’s return as the fracture does not seem to require surgery.
The show must go on, and the rest of the Sixers must prepare for the matchup with the Miami Heat. Joel Embiid is a vital part of what the Sixers do on both sides of the ball and will leave some large shoes to fill. The Sixers were 10-11 this year in games that Joel Embiid was not able to play. Finding a way to steal a game without Embiid would be a major lift to the Sixers’ series chances. With the MVP set to miss at least the first two games of the season, here are the three Sixers who must step up.
Three Sixers Who Must Step Up in Embiid’s Absence
There is no way around this one. The Sixers have been in search of the proper co-star for Joel Embiid, and this is the role James Harden is expected to fill. The brief honeymoon period when Harden came to the Sixers was great, but he has struggled since this time.
For the Sixers to find a way to win, they will need a throwback performance from James Harden. He is at an advanced stage of his career, but this is the same guy who once averaged 36.1 points per game over a series. The team will not need him to perform quite at this level, but he will need to carry the offense for stretches.
There also has been a feeling that he has struggled to find a balance between a scorer and a facilitator with this Sixers team. Look for James Harden to get back to his natural style of play and be a more prominent part of the offense. The matchup with the Raptors was a nightmare matchup for Harden as he struggled with their length and athleticism. There are far more exploitable defenders on the Miami Heat, so Harden will have winnable one-on-one matchups. Look for him to pour in far more than the 19 points per game he averaged in the first round.
It isn’t easy to put so much responsibility on a 21-year-old, but this is exactly what the Philadelphia 76ers must do. Tyrese Maxey has outplayed all expectations during his entire tenure with Philadelphia, and he has grown into a vital part of the offense. Maxey’s pace and shot creation is an asset against any team, and the Sixers must create looks for their young stud much more frequently.
The frustration with Maxey is how passive he can be at times in the offense. Especially when he begins to go cold, the Kentucky product tends to stop seeking out his own shot. Without Joel Embiid on the court, the Sixers cannot afford for Maxey to stop being aggressive. His first-round matchup was highlighted by a 39-point performance in Game 1, so he is clearly capable of stepping up when needed.
It is difficult to throw so much pressure on Maxey as he is still far from his peak as a player. However, there has been so much talk about his rapid improvement that it is time to put this on full display. James Harden has seemed more natural as a playmaker, and if he is unable to increase his scoring numbers, it will be up to Tyrese Maxey to pick up the slack.
Like it or not, DeAndre Jordan will play a role in this upcoming series. The Philly media and fans won the war against Doc Rivers for Paul Reed getting the backup minutes in the Raptors series. Bball Paul was effective in the opening round and is sure to see his role continue against the Heat.
As good as Reed was in the opening round, there is no way he can play all 48 minutes. Especially given the tendency to foul, Doc Rivers will be forced to give DeAndre Jordan some time on the court. While it is obvious that the level of play from Jordan has been on the decline, he must come with a rejuvenated effort in the series.
Bam Adebayo is a very talented big man and will be a difficult task for both Reed and Jordan. If Doc Rivers sticks to his principle of playing DeAndre Jordan against bigger matchups, Jordan may get some extended time. It is not a complex role that he will be expected to play, but if the 33-year-old is able to be effective on the board and active defensively, he could be a major help to the team.
It is an extremely disappointing blow to the Sixers that Joel Embiid is unable to be active to start this series. The Miami Heat are a talented team, but the Sixers (at full strength) match up much cleaner than they did with the Raptors. The goal must be for the Sixers to find a way to steal a game without their superstar and hope for him to be able to come back to take the series home. In order for this to happen, the Sixers will need the entire roster to step up, and this must be led by DeAndre Jordan, Tyrese Maxey, and James Harden.