Why the NBA's Return Format From Coronavirus Shutdown Is a Blessing for Sixers

The NBA's Board of Governors has agreed on a format to return to play, but here's an unfortunate reminder that the Sixers weren't in an advantageous spot when play was suspended on March 11.

They sat sixth in the Eastern Conference, likely out of reach of anything better than the four seed. What's worse is they were beset by injuries, baffling road woes and underperformance from some of the team's high-priced talent.

The league announced on Thursday it will play eight more regular-season games starting on July 31 - and that's great news for the Sixers because they need all eight of them.

Let's begin where everything begins with the Sixers: Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Before the stoppage of play, Simmons had missed eight games with a nerve impingement in his lower back. Prior to us finding out about Rudy Gobert's positive test for COVID-19 and the league's decision to suspend the season, Simmons addressed the media that night. He said he had "no pain" and seemed to have a positive outlook on his injury overall.

On May 5, GM Elton Brand said he was "optimistic" Simmons would be ready if a return to play happened. Brand did admit, though, that Simmons' ramp-up period may be a little different from other players since the All-Star point guard hasn't played in a game since Feb. 22. These eight games will be invaluable for Simmons to get his feel back.

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While the rest may have been good for Simmons, it may have been a bit of a mixed bag for Embiid. Sure, the break likely gave Embiid time to rest his body, but the All-Star center has admitted in the past that he can get out of shape easily with too much time off. At 7-foot and 280-plus pounds, Embiid will need these eight games to get his fitness level up so that Brett Brown can play him "about 38 minutes" a night in the postseason.

Then there's Josh Richardson, whose first season with the Sixers has been mired by injuries. Multiple hamstring injuries and a concussion have cost Richardson 17 games. He also had a wrist issue in his right shooting hand that he played through. We've seen Richardson struggle to get his shooting touch back after long layoffs. He's hit just 32.7 percent of his threes this season, which would be the lowest mark of his five-year career. When healthy, Richardson has had a couple excellent stretches. Perhaps he can use those eight games to find his form.

But all the health in the world won't mean much if the Sixers don't get the best out of their high-priced starting five.

The struggles of Al Horford have been well documented. Brought in to space the floor with Embiid and be an elite backup center, Horford has really only provided half of that equation. The five-time All-Star is on pace for his worst shooting season since 2014-15. While Horford is a clear upgrade over Boban Marjanovic and Greg Monroe, the pairing of Embiid and the veteran big offensively has been plain bad.

The duo of Embiid and Horford has an offensive rating of 100.6. That's almost six points worse than any of the Sixers' two-man pairings last season (minimum 500 minutes). It doesn't take an analytics wizard to see that it hasn't worked.

Brown has been hellbent on making the pairing work despite fairly strong evidence that it does not. The best blueprint for the Sixers was their win over the Clippers right before the All-Star break. Horford did not start but closed the game out in an impressive win. Perhaps these eight games will allow Brown to get the duo going or, more reasonably, see that it won't work and go in a different direction.

Last but certainly not least is the man who signed the richest contract in Sixers history. Tobias Harris has not been bad by any stretch. In fact, you could make the argument that he's been the team's most reliable and consistent player this season. But is that worth over $32 million this season?

Harris was re-signed to be a leader - a role he's filled well - and to be a scoring complement to Embiid and Simmons. During that trio's time together, they've all scored 20 points in the same game once. These eight games are crucial for them to figure out how to coexist.

There will be several teams that will benefit from getting eight more regular-season games. Teams like the Pelicans and Trail Blazers have a legitimate shot to earn a playoff spot.

But there's no doubt the Sixers need every regular-season game they can get.

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2020 NBA return format: Why NBA's return format is a blessing for Sixers originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

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