NBA MVP contender Joel Embiid is dealing with a slight tear in the lateral meniscus in his right knee. As a result, the Philadelphia 76ers’ big Center has been listed as questionable for game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Atlanta Hawks. Despite the injury, Joel Embiid is expected to play some role in game 1 and reportedly participated in shooting drills on Friday.
Regardless, he is not expected to be 100% fit, and certain other players in the Philadelphia 76ers’ roster will be expected to step up. In this article, we look at three players who might be required to dig in deep, against Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks.
The Atlanta Hawks are expected to be a much sterner test for the Philadelphia 76ers, especially defensively. The Atlanta Hawks’ young pairing of Trae Young and John Collins has been in terrific form. Clint Capela is also expected to be a challenge physically for the 76ers’ interior defense. Capela leads the NBA this season with 4.7 offensive rebounds per game, and might have a physically fruitful night, especially if Embiid is not fit enough to feature.
Without further ado, we look at three players who will have to step up owing to Joel Embiid’s injury troubles.
#1 Dwight Howard
Joel Embiid’s absence will mean that Dwight Howard starts at the Center position for the Philadelphia 76ers. Howard had limited minutes in the first round but certainly has the capability to make a difference on both ends of the court. He is a good interior defender but has a tendency to pick up fouls, something he will have to restrict if he ends up playing extra minutes at the center.
The Atlanta Hawks have plenty of big men, with John Collins, Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu all capable of hurting the Philadelphia 76ers. While the bulk of the extra offensive responsibility might have to be taken up by the likes of Simmons and Harris, Dwight Howard is also expected to play an increased role.
#2 Tobias Harris
Tobias Harris is coming off arguably his best ever playoff series performance against the Washington Wizards. He averaged exactly 25 points along with 9.2 rebounds per game, and barring game 3, shot at over 55% throughout the series. Regardless, Harris is also capable of defending physical matchups and guarded Daniel Gafford in game 5 against the Wizards.
Coach Doc Rivers had explained that Harris was guarding Gafford so that Simmons could be more of a “roaming defender”. Regardless, Ben Simmons might be up against the likes of Clint Capela and Trae Young. The 76ers are expected to start with Matisse Thybulle, especially if Joel Embiid has to sit out. In either case, Harris will have to do the job defensively and continue his scoring form on the other end of the court as well.
#3 Ben Simmons
In Embiid’s absence, Ben Simmons will be the defensive mainstay for the Philadelphia 76ers. Other role players such as Thybulle, Mike Scott and Dwight Howard are all expected to get extra minutes due to Embiid’s injury. Ben Simmons’ playmaking will also be crucial to the Philadelphia 76ers’ fortunes in Joel Embiid’s absence.
Simmons’ defensive ability and tendency to catch up to opponents in transition might end up playing a huge role in deciding the match. Of course, the Philadelphia 76ers will also look to have Simmons fresh until the end, which should result in extra minutes for quite a few bench players.
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