SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Jazz fans hoping to get an in-person look at Joel Embiid are out of luck.
The 76ers rookie center will sit out Thursday night’s game against the Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. He is likely to play on Friday versus the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.
Power forward Ersan Ilyasova will replace Embiid in the starting lineup. His absence will also provide more playing time for third-string center Nerlens Noel. The Sixers won't give a minutes projection for Noel. However, one would think that he could play anywhere from the 16- to 20-something minutes range.
Noel and Jahlil Okafor are the only available centers on this West Coast trip. Richaun Holmes (concussion) remained home. Okafor has started at center while Embiid got the nod at power forward the past six games. Meanwhile, Noel is averaging just 7.8 minutes in five appearances this season.
Thursday will mark the 10th game the 7-foot-2, 275-pound center has missed and first since Dec. 11 at the Detroit Pistons. He was sidelined that game with inflammation of his right elbow. However, the other nine were scheduled off days in back-to-back situations.
The Sixers (7-23) decided to carefully manage Embiid's workload and the stress on his right foot during games and practices. The third overall pick of the 2014 draft sat out the previous two seasons after surgeries to repair his navicular bone. Not having Embiid play on back-to-back nights lessens the stress on the foot.
From the standpoint of maximizing the chances to win games, having Embiid rest Thursday and play against the Nuggets (13-18) makes sense.
The Jazz (19-13) are one game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Northwest standings. Even with Embiid, the Sixers would be hard pressed to defeat Utah. He finished with 14 points and nine rebounds in a 25-point loss to the Jazz at Wells Fargo Center back on Nov. 7.
Plus, the Sixers also without their best perimeter defender in shooting guard Gerald Henderson (left hip pain) on Thursday and Friday. His absence also hinder the team's chance to pull out an upset victory against the Jazz.
However, the Sixers have a legitimate chance to win Friday. Embiid could play a major role in helping his team avenge an eight-point loss to Denver back on Dec. 5.