The Sixers, COVID-19, Tyrese Maxey, and the Next 10 Games
Last Friday was supposed to be a day of rest before the Philadelphia 76ers headed back home to face the Denver Nuggets but as we all know, it was anything but that. Seth Curry was told he tested positive for COVID-19 the night before while he was literally sitting on the bench for the Sixers and the entire team was forced to quarantine in New York on Friday. They ended up leaving NYC around 11pm on Friday night and returned to Philly around 1am Saturday morning.
Their recovery day was gone and the afternoon matinee against the Nuggets was still in jeopardy. The 76ers held the team’s Saturday walk-through without head coach Doc Rivers, who was tied up on the phone talking to the league. He then joked with the media about how Dwight Howard would most likely play point-guard due to the fact that his entire team was either injured or forced to miss the game against the Nuggets due to health and safety protocols.
Required by the NBA, a team must have eight players in uniform to avoid postponement of the game. The Sixers had seven. Dwight Howard, Tyrese Maxey, Dakota Mathias, Isiah Joe, Danny Green, Tony Bradley, and Paul Reed. To put it in perspective, you’re looking at one Sixers’ starter, four rookies, and two players on two-way contracts. Joel Embiid was out with back stiffness and Ben Simmons was out with knee swelling. Rivers then had to activate injured Mike Scott so that he could be in uniform for the Sixers to have a total of eight players to face the conference finalists from last year in the Denver Nuggets.
It was incredible to watch as the Sixers, a 7-2 basketball team that has exceeded all expectations this year, took the court in their brand new City Edition uniforms, without Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Tobias Harris. The young team that was playing resembled more of a “process years” team but to their credit, gave the Nuggets everything they had and kept it close until the 3rd quarter of the game.
Rookie Tyrese Maxey shined and scored a variety of ways that Sixers’ fans have not witnessed in recent memory. Maxey has his trademark floater and was incredible at attacking the basket off the dribble. He fought through screens and hit pull-up jumpers as will from two-point range. He threw down dunks off the fast break and knocked down three-pointers too, a part of his game which was said to be one of the reasons 20 other teams passed on him in last year’s NBA Draft. He ended the day shooting 18-33 from the floor and 3-8 from long-range, scoring a career high 39-points with seven rebounds, six assists, and committed only two turnovers in 44 minutes of action.
Maxey’s 39-point effort is the most by a 76ers rookie since Iverson scored 40 points against the Washington Bullets in ’97. Before that, it was Hal Greer of the Syracuse Nationals during the Eisenhower administration that was the last rookie to score 39-points.
The 76ers and fans alike need to keep their emotions in check. No one disagrees in the fact that Maxey was stellar and seems to be the steal of the draft, as we have written about extensively here on The Liberty Line. It was however, a small sample size where the 76ers were left with no other option than to have a rookie shoot 30+ shots. Maxey is still a rookie and we’re all just a few weeks into the season. Maxey and Shake Milton are absolute spark plugs off the bench and will most likely stay that way, which is a good thing for the Sixers team who finally have pieces to the puzzle to resemble a championship caliber basketball team.
Saturday’s game against the Nuggets was a perfect time to evaluate younger talent on the 76ers roster. This is something that a first place team in the NBA rarely has the opportunity to do. The 76ers gave their young players a chance to prove that they belong in the NBA and they did just that. Saturday didn’t seem worth it in the grand scheme of things. But as we all know, the past year hasn’t made any sense to anyone and all of us, including the NBA are looking to adapt and keep this season moving.
While it remains unclear how the players availability will look tomorrow night against the Atlanta Hawks, the next 10 games for the 76ers will be one of the toughest stretches of the season.
As mentioned above, the lack of a “rest-day” certainly influenced the team’s decision to rest Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons due to injury on Saturday. Ben was experiencing some knee swelling during the loss to Brooklyn and Embiid told Rivers his back was tightening on Friday. If the Sixers continue to fight against the health and safety protocols and are unable to court a starting lineup, it’s highly unlikely Rivers will rush either player back while his team remains a skeleton crew.
We’ll have to wait until news breaks on who’s available for Monday night but until then, Doc Rivers will have to steady the ship as the 76ers enter a tough stretch over the next 10 games.
Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY