Fueled by another dominant performance from star center Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers got perhaps their best win of the season Friday with a 110-102 victory over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. They didn’t leave the Wells Fargo Center completely unscathed, though.
Late in the first half, third-year guard Tyrese Maxey—who went off for 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting in only 21 minutes—stepped on Bucks guard Jevon Carter’s shoe on a drive to the basket and rolled his left ankle. He was ruled out for the night after halftime, and he left the arena in a walking boot, according to multiple reports.
On Saturday, an MRI revealed that Maxey suffered a small fracture in his left foot, according to ESPN’s rian Wojnarowski. He’s expected to miss three to four weeks as a result.
Maxey’s injury is the last thing that the depleted Sixers needed. They’ve already been without James Harden, who suffered a foot tendon injury in early November against the Washington Wizards, for the past seven games.
Harden was expected to miss roughly a month of action, and he did tell reporters Thursday that he’s still on track with that timetable. However, that still has him on pace to miss at least seven more games.
Second-year guard Jaden Springer, who has been shuttling back and forth between the NBA and the G League this year, suffered a right quadriceps strain this week, according to the team. He’s set to be re-evaluated in one week.
Furkan Korkmaz, who played well in a brief stint against the Atlanta Hawks last Saturday, suffered a knee injury in that game and hasn’t played since. He told reporters Friday that he hadn’t done “contact stuff on the court” since the injury, but he said it was “really like day-to-day stuff a little bit still.” It doesn’t sound like he’ll be sidelined for much longer, but it’s unclear exactly when he’ll be ready to play again.
Without Maxey, Harden, Korkmaz and Springer, the Sixers are woefully thin at guard. They still have De’Anthony Melton, who has been starting in place of Harden lately, and Shake Milton. That’s it.
Until Harden and/or Maxey return, Embiid figures to remain the focal point of the Sixers’ offense. After a slow start to the season, the big fella has forced his way back into the MVP conversation lately, punctuated by a career-high 59-point eruption against the Utah Jazz last Saturday night.
However, the Sixers’ lack of guard depth will impact how their offense operates for now. They don’t have the caliber of entry passers who can routinely feed Embiid when he establishes deep post position, so he’ll have to create more for himself and his teammates at the elbow.
Turnovers also figure to be a problem. The Sixers had a season-high 22 giveaways in their shorthanded loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night, including six each from Embiid and Milton. The latter did make up for his carelessness with the ball by scoring a season-high 27 points, though.
The Sixers scored only 104.8 points per 100 possessions against Minnesota, per Cleaning the Glass, which was their fourth-worst offensive performance of the season. Had they not lived at the free-throw line—Embiid had 20 of their 32 free-throw attempts on the night—the Timberwolves would have cruised to an easy victory.
Embiid suffered what initially looked like a concerning ankle injury midway through the fourth quarter against Minnesota, but he somehow remained in the game. Afterward, head coach Doc Rivers told reporters that he thought Embiid turned his ankle, but he didn’t seem too concerned about it.
If Embiid misses any time along with Maxey and Harden, the Sixers will be effectively drawing dead until at least one of them return. But if Embiid plays through the injury—as he did Saturday—the Sixers will need him to anchor them on both ends of the floor.
The Sixers held the discombobulated Timberwolves to only 15 points in the fourth quarter, which helped them stage a furious rally that fell just short. They switched between their typical defensive scheme and some zone looks, which seemed to flummox Minnesota. They’ll need to continue keeping their opponents off-balance and generating missed shots and turnovers to fuel some easy shots for them, as their half-court offense figures to remain inconsistent with so many key pieces out.
While Harden and Maxey aren’t likely to return before December, getting forward Tobias Harris back in the fold could help alleviate some of Embiid’s offensive burden. Harris missed the past two games because of left hip soreness, but he’ll now get two more days to recover before the Brooklyn Nets come to town Tuesday.
Each of the Sixers’ next four opponents—the Nets, Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic (twice)—currently have losing records, so they’re at least heading into a soft stretch of their schedule. However, matchups against the Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies await after that, which will be far more difficult if both Harden and Maxey remain sidelined.
At this point, the Sixers can only hope to tread water until Harden and/or Maxey return. They soon might find themselves in another early-season hole barring more MVP-caliber heroics from Embiid.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM. All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook.