ATLANTA - The Sixers were on the court for shootaround less than 24 hours after hearing the extent of Joel Embiid's injuries. They have prepared for games without him in the past. This time, though, they are preparing for critical games leading up to the playoffs.
"Your immediate reaction is disappointment for him," Brett Brown said Friday morning. "It then quickly goes to the team. But we are excited to feel like something will uncover. Something will unfold that we might not have seen otherwise."
Brown spoke with Embiid over FaceTime following the news that Embiid suffered a concussion and would require surgery for left eye orbital fracture. Embiid, Brown said, was disappointed. The Sixers head coach noted how much the Sixers have to be there for Embiid during this period. There is no timeframe set for his return. The team will have a better idea after Embiid's swelling decreases and he undergoes the operation.
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The Sixers' outlook is to "buy time" until Embiid returns. Play tough basketball. Keep the edge they have built in the East. Chase home court advantage. Maintain their current success so Embiid can come back into winning basketball and not have to play catch up to try to turn things around.
"It's frustrating," Ben Simmons said. "But you can't sit here and just put your head down the whole time. We've got to stay together as a team and hold it down until he gets back. He's a huge part of this team, as everyone knows, defensively and offensively. For us, we've got to stay together and compete still."
The Sixers will look different, and play different, without Embiid. Expect a faster pace and more three-point shooting. Brown noted the team's "offensive firepower" and versatility at move players around to different positions.
While Amir Johnson will start Friday against the Hawks, Brown is not necessarily locked into a specific lineup for the duration of Embiid's injury. Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes and Ersan Ilyasova all can play the five.
"I don't feel the need to feel like I am handcuffed to anything, really," Brown said. "You want to try to find some semblance of order for sure but you might see different things now without Joel."
The one non-negotiable is defense. Whoever is on the court, at whichever position, they have to step up in the absence of their defensive anchor.
Brown still has confidence the Sixers can lock up one of the top four spots in the East for home-court advantage … if they play D.
"I believe in the group," Brown said. "Defense is where our premortem would be. If we're not able to get that home court, where are we going to die? It's going to be through our defense. We had a privilege, a luxury in Joel Embiid behind our defense.
"We've got to be perfect."