As the Sixers enter a tough part of their schedule ahead of the All-Star break, it appears they'll now be down two starters for the bulk of it.
Josh Richardson on Thursday was diagnosed with a slight strain of his left hamstring, a team source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. He'll be reevaluated in approximately two weeks. Shams Charania of the Athletic and Stadium Sports was the first to report the news.
Richardson sustained the injury just four minutes into Wednesday night's loss in Toronto. He missed six games earlier this season with right hamstring tightness.
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The 26-year-old has been an important piece for the Sixers. He's fourth on the team in scoring (15.4 points) and third in assists (3.5). His ability to handle the ball, create off the dribble and navigate the pick-and-roll has helped the team's offense. It's allowed Ben Simmons to play less like a traditional point guard and utilize his strengths as a screener and roller.
In Richardson's absence Wednesday, Brett Brown turned to little-used Shake Milton. The second-year guard hadn't played more than 10 minutes since the beatdown the Sixers took in Indiana on New Year's Eve. Milton's 23 minutes against the Raptors were the most he'd played since last year's season finale.
A second-round pick out of SMU in 2018, Milton signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Sixers last season. After showing flashes with his ability to shoot and be the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, GM Elton Brand elected to convert Milton's contract into a full NBA deal.
Though he hasn't shown it consistently at the NBA level, his outside shooting was part of the reason Brett Brown went to him when Richardson went down.
"The J-Rich thing hurt," Brown told reporters postgame in Toronto. "[The Raptors are] physical all over the place, they scramble, and so we thought that our best opportunity to steal a win on the road without [Joel Embiid] and J-Rich was going to be to hunt some threes and spread the thing around and play fast and share the ball. ... I give Toronto credit for really amping up their defense. But Shake was a part of that environment that I just said and I thought played really quite well."
Though the numbers won't bear it out (3 of 10, 3 of 6 from three), Milton did well considering the circumstances. His teammates came away impressed.
"He was great," Tobias Harris said. "He came in, he was shot-ready. Shake's a great player, he can score the basketball, shoot the three-ball. If he's in this moment of getting more playing time, he'll get more confident and be able to continue to bring what he did tonight."
The Sixers are already missing Joel Embiid as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn ligament in the ring finger of his left hand.
The team has preached the "next man up" mentality recently. With Embiid and Richardson both out, they'll need multiple men to step up, especially given the upcoming schedule.
Here are the nine games before the All-Star break:
Saturday – vs. Lakers
Jan. 28 – vs. Warriors
Jan. 30 – at Atlanta
Feb. 1 – at Boston
Feb. 3 – at Miami
Feb. 6 – at Milwaukee
Feb. 7 – vs. Grizzlies
Feb. 9 – Chicago
Feb. 11 – at Clippers
Reinforcements could be on the way from outside the organization with the Feb. 6 trade deadline looming.
But that's a daunting stretch at full strength. Without Embiid and Richardson, the Sixers' depth and mettle will be tested.
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