CAMDEN, N.J. - The Sixers have a heap of players on their roster who could easily, if called upon, play center. But, with Joel Embiid set to sit Friday against the Hornets, there was never any real question who would take over down low.
Al Horford will start against Charlotte in the Sixers' second preseason game, Brett Brown said after Thursday's practice. Embiid won't play "in accordance with his planned care program," according to a team spokesperson, but is expected to play in Sunday's game at the Magic.
Embiid played in the first half of the Sixers' Blue x White Scrimmage on Saturday and scored 17 points in 13 minutes Tuesday vs. the Guangzhou Loong-Lions. General manager Elton Brand has said the Sixers will have "daily, strategic, thoughtful consultation" with Embiid. The Sixers made several changes to their medical and performance teams this summer, among them hiring Lorena Torres as performance director and promoting Scott Epsley to medical director (see story).
This will be Brown's first opportunity to figure out how the Sixers want to play on load management nights for Embiid. Horford is the obvious starting center, but what other shifts might we see?
"I am [excited,] because it's coming," he said. "To be able to take this opportunity and knowing that it's coming, that Joel will be out some games this year, I am. What it does is I can move Tobias [Harris] up to a four and fill in underneath. Or I can keep Tobias at a three and start Mike Scott - I'll figure out what I'm doing. But your point is true, and there are the ripple effects that we have to figure out."
Brown hadn't yet made a decision on the replacement for Embid in the starting lineup. Scott is an option, as he said. Starting a wing instead - perhaps impressive rookie Matisse Thybulle - is another possibility. Brown indicated that, at this point, "figuring out what we have" is his highest priority, not tailoring the lineup to best match up against a preseason opponent.
The Sixers signed Horford in part because of this specific scenario. The team was abysmal without Embiid on the floor last year. In games Embiid sat during the regular season, the Sixers had an 8-10 record, and they had a plus-7.6 net rating when he was on the floor compared to a minus-3.5 net rating when he was off it.
Horford is a superior alternative to Greg Monroe, Amir Johnson, Boban Marjanovic or any of the Sixers' backup centers last season. Kyle O'Quinn is another option the Sixers will be glad to have for games in which Embiid sits.
Mike Scott, a teammate of Horford's for four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, gave a strong summary of what the 33-year-old big man will bring to the table.
"He's too unselfish," Scott said. "Five-time All-Star. Great person. Plays the right way, makes the extra pass. He could get 20 [points] and [10 rebounds] if he wanted, but he knows his role, plays within the system. Great defender."
While Ben Simmons hasn't played much with Horford yet, he knows what the Sixers will get from their starting center Friday night, and throughout the season whenever the team is without Embiid.
"It's Al Horford," Simmons said. "Every time I've played against him, he gives us a tough time defensively. His IQ is at a high level, and he's a leader."
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