Sixers starters have dominated, but need health as playoffs approach

At the NBA trade deadline, the Philadelphia 76ers’ front office traded for Tobias Harris, putting the finishing touch on a starting lineup that’s been one one of the most effective starting lineups in the NBA during this latter half of the season.

But even so, that same starting lineup of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid has only played 10 games together. In those 10 games, the Sixers are 8-2.

With the playoffs near, though, a legitimate question surrounding the Sixers is whether the starters have played enough together to make a deep playoff run.

The top of the East boasts some of the best teams in the league. The Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics — all of these teams could present challenges for the Sixers, even if they are fully healthy.

Injuries have been a primary factor for why the starter haven’t played together much. Embiid has missed 11 of the Sixers’ past 19 games because of left knee soreness.

On Saturday, coach Brett Brown said Embiid would not travel with the Sixers for the team’s three-game road trip because of knee soreness. The team’s road trip will end Wednesday when Philly will play the Atlanta Hawks.

Along with Embiid sitting out in most games recently, Simmons didn’t play March 25 against the Orlando Magic because of a stomach virus. Butler missed Philly’s game Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks because of back tightness.

The Sixers only have five games left in their schedule, and they will most likely be the third seed in the playoffs; they’re currently 3.5 games ahead of the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. It’s going to be important for Philly to finish the regular season strong — it’s always good to have momentum heading into the playoffs.

But it’s also imperative that the team get healthy. Embiid especially needs to take some time to rest before the playoffs. With Embiid being the hub of Philly’s offense, the Sixers will need him at full strength.

During the 11 games Embiid has recently missed, the Sixers are 6-5. That’s not a bad record, but the Sixers certainly aren’t at their best when Embiid is out.

Though the Sixers haven’t had their usual starting lineup lately, different players on the bench have contributed at times.

Jonah Bolden scored a career-high 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds during the Sixers’ win Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. James Ennis III scored 14 points off the bench during the Sixers’ win over the Charlotte Hornets on March 19; he was the only bench player to score for the Sixers.

It’s good the Sixers have received contributions from their bench players while some of the starters have been hurt.

But it’s also not realistic to expect those same bench players to consistently thrive in roles that require them to do more, particularly in the playoffs.

Teams don’t usually have big rotations during the playoffs, especially as the postseason progresses. Brown might decide to play eight players, and that means the starters are going to need to play well consistently for the Sixers to win.

With the regular season winding down, the Sixers should still finish the regular season strong. But in the same breath, they need to also focus on getting star players such as Embiid ready for the playoffs.

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