No Brand & No Answer

76ers power forward Elton Brand did not practice today, nor was he available at practice. Instead he was receiving an MRI to check the state of his injured right shoulder. The MRI test revealed that Brand's injury is still healing as expected. According to the Sixers, the injury is not fully healed, but in the process of healing. Tomorrow, Brand is seeing Dr. Craig Morgan in Delaware to evaluate the shoulder, which was dislocated on Dec. 17. The Sixers said Brand is "day-to-day" but is expected to play tomorrow night against the Indiana Pacers.

Brand played only 8 minutes, 40 seconds in last night's 100-99 loss to the Boston Celtics. He did not score and looked to be more out of rhythm than usual -- it was his sixth game since returning against the New York Knicks. This injury with Brand is tough to decode because, it goes without saying, the Sixers have played better without him. So, naturally, you wonder if the Sixers (and Brand) are being especially cautious because they're doing fine without him.

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Elton Brand had an MRI today confirming his injured right shoulder is healing as expected.

Last night, Sixers coach Tony DiLeo knew that Brand was hurting, that his shoulder had stiffened up, but that Brand was willing to play if the Sixers needed him. Brand did not play. Today at practice, DiLeo said that if Brand had not notified the training staff that his shoulder was hurting, DiLeo absolutely would have played him in the second half. DiLeo said, "It's difficult not knowing if he's 100 percent or not." I imagine it is. I imagine it's tough for a coach. You already have a thousand different things racing through your brain during a game, let alone trying to weigh the pros and cons of playing Brand vs. not playing Brand vs. playing a slightly injured Brand vs ....

This whole situation leads to the question: Are the Sixers going to shut down Brand?

Not that DiLeo has heard. "We're deep enough right now," said DiLeo when asked if knowing the status of Brand is critical as the trading deadline approaches. "We're still expecting to work him into the lineup. We're not thinking about shutting him down ... We're close in the healing process ... We expect him to play, contribute ..."

This situation has no clear-cut answer. Should the Sixers shut him down? If the long-term stability of his shoulder is at risk, absolutely. Anyone who is going to post that Brand is a baby (and we've seen these posters out there) is ridiculous. This guy has been a workhorse throughout his career. A ruptured Achilles is a career-threatening injury. We all saw the bone in his shoulder pressing against the skin when he injured it against Milwaukee. This is not a case of a guy strolling through the season faking injuries. Anyone who posts as such has no concept of this guy's history and reputation. A shoulder injury in basketball is almost as cumbersome as a knee injury (although nothing surpasses knee injury in terms of lingering issues).

Now, should the Sixers shut down Brand for their own benefit? That is to say, Brand's long-term productivity wouldn't be in jeopardy if he played, but the Sixers realize he is not effective because he is out of rhythm, and therefore deem it in the best interest of the team to shut him down. (Obviously we would never hear this as the actual reason.)

Like I said, there is no answer. This is a short-term vs. long-term question. As Samuel Dalembert said it best, "We want him healthy, but we also want him for the next four years ...." Hmmmmm ....

Okay, onto a little recap of last night's game. I just watched the Ray Allen shot about 35 times on youtube. Check it out for yourself here: Ray Allen breaks hearts.

Watch both Samuel Dalembert (guarding Glen Davis) and Thaddeus Young (guarding Ray Allen). Each completely loses sight of the guy he's guarding. Each turns his back to Ray Allen, who quietly begins to fade to the open corner even before the flare screen is set. Dalembert doesn't even see Big Baby slide to the elbow to put a screen on Thad. But even if Big Baby doesn't set the flare screen, Allen still would have been open because Young had completely lost sight of him.  

I can't even imagine what Ray Allen was thinking when he saw Thad completely turn his back on him. Nothing sends a shooter's heart rising quicker than seeing your defender lose sight of you. It's like you're invisible for a second and you're free to find the spot on the court as far from your defender as possible, free to create the space you know you'll need when your defender does locate you again. Also, Ray Allen had to have been thinking, "How can I have been in this league 12 years and people forget to guard me?" In addition, he was probably also thinking, "I even made that awesome movie with Spike Lee called 'He Got Game,' where my character's name was 'Jesus' and still people forget about me?"

This play is baffling. Totally baffling. Today, Dalembert said, "I blame myself because as a defender it's my job to see the whole floor from behind ... " (Hey, that's better ownership than Thad tossing Dalembert under the bus for not switching quickly enough.)

Today, DiLeo said that last night he thought he sent his guys onto the court with full knowledge, full acceptance of the "switch everything" game plan. He said when they broke from the timeout, he thought he had conveyed precisely what was to be done. Specifically he said "we thought everything was clear," and on that flare screen, "yes we wanted to switch on that." DiLeo said he was thinking of the Houston Rockets game when the "switch everything" worked perfectly.

My final assessment? Both Young and Dalembert had a complete basketball IQ freeze. But watch Thad's hustle on the play. Yes, he may not have been thinking as well as most would have liked, but his heart and effort were there.

Okay, back to reality. No matter how much we dissect that final play .... It still will have happened. And as easy as it would be to get digruntled because it shouldn't have happened, there are 47 minutes, 59.5 seconds of very good basketball that the Sixers played last night.

And, let us not forget, Andre Iguodala is continuing to make bigger and bigger shots at the end of games. Both of his big shots (that runner against Dallas and last night's against Boston) have been overshadowed by the eventual game-winner. But we're watching the evolution of a player -- he's gaining confidence each time -- and that's fun to watch.