By: Rob Bishop
Back again, and the 76ers, already without Ben Simmons indefinitely (back), lost Joel Embiid to a shoulder injury during Wednesday night’s showdown with the Cavaliers. Without Embiid, Philadelphia lost to the hapless Cavaliers. Unlike with Simmons, Philadelphia does boast a natural replacement for Embiid, with Horford shifting to center. However, Horford’s first season with the 76ers has been a massive disappointment. Plus, losing Embiid further stresses Philadelphia’s already tenuous depth. Depending on Embiid’s diagnosis and timetable to return, things could go from frustrating to disastrous for the 76ers.
No Embiid and No Simmons opened the door for Tobias Harris to claim the role as Philly’s go-to option on offense, and the veteran thrived with the increased responsibility on Thursday night. Harris posted 34 points, seven boards, and seven dimes while operating as Philadelphia’s primary scorer. It was a much-needed win for the 76ers as Philadelphia is keen to stay ahead of the Pacers in the Eastern Conference standings, avoiding a first-round playoff match-up against either Boston or Toronto. As it stands following both Indiana and Philadelphia winning on Thursday, the 76ers are a mere 1.5 games up on the Pacers in the standings. The 76ers will next be in action on Sunday afternoon against the L.A. Clippers.
Boston’s push to catch Toronto in the standings continued as the Celtics improved to 3-1 during a West Coast road trip, capping off the impressive stretch with a win in Utah. The only loss for Boston during the trip was a hard-fought, last-minute defeat against the Lakers. The Celtics suddenly look like legitimate championship contenders due to tremendous depth and the continued emergence of Jaysom Tatum. Against the Jazz, Tatum recorded his third-straight 30-point game while shooting greater than 60% from the field in all three. Making the team’s recent stretch even more impressive–All Star point guard Kemba Walker has been a cheerleader for the duration as he nurses a nagging injury.
Prior to the aforementioned loss, Utah seemed to announce a shift to its starting lineup: replacing struggling point guard Mike Conley with Royce O’Neale. However, that plan changed before tip-off, and the Jazz instead benched Joe Ingles in favor of O’Neale. The results were less than encouraging as Conley continued to struggle with integrating into the Donovan Mitchell-led offense and Ingles’s strength being negated while working primarily with the second unit. Utah has a shot at a deep playoff run this year, but not without embracing its strengths while also praying Conley rediscovers his game-changing ability.
Rookie Coby White was thrust into a larger role during February following an injury to Kris Dunn, and the young point guard is seizing the moment for the Chicago Bulls. White entered Tuesday night with consecutive 33-point games, and against the Thunder, exploded for 35. White is pairing with Zach LaVine to give Chicago a dynamic, explosive backcourt duo of late, yet for confounding reasons, the Bulls remain committed to the notion of White being a reserve. Coach Jim Boylen is no stranger to–ahem–questionable decisions. His treatment of White is yet another.
There may not be a more overlooked star-level player in the NBA than wing Danilo Gallinari of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last season, as a member of the Clippers, Gallinari flirted with making an All-NBA team. This year, with the Thunder, he has paired with Chris Paul to be the driving force of a surprisingly—and surprisingly fun—Oklahoma City team. On Thursday night, Gallinari was instrumental in OKC erasing a 19-point deficit to notch a fifth straight win, improving to 37-22 on the season. The Thunder will be tested tonight, however. It is never fun to face the Bucks. It is even less fun to face Milwaukee on the second night of a back-to-back. Anything close to a solid showing for the Thunder tonight will be impressive.