Ford: Embiid-Okafor combo debut slips away

Fans of the 76ers finally got what they've been waiting for Wednesday night. Joel Embiid played just as many minutes as any other player on the court in the Wells Fargo Center.

In fact, if you add in all the time Embiid spent visiting with courtside fans, bouncing a ball, and shooting imaginary jump shots while waiting for the game to be postponed, he actually led both teams in court time. Hallelujah. The Process worked. And to think I didn't trust it.

We'll leave aside the irony of a team that went into the tank for three seasons being unable to play a game because of too much moisture, but that's pretty much what happened on Wednesday when something went wrong with the court.

If only Sam Hinkie were around to channel Archimedes and explain the analytics of an ice surface beneath a wooden surface on an unusually warm November day and how that could lead to the sight of DeMarcus Cousins pushing a large mop around a basketball court. Unfortunately, Hinkie fell victim to the NBA's own principle of displacement, which holds that losing too much, even in a brilliant manner, will cause a general manager to be displaced. So, we didn't get to hear that lecture.

I do know that if you were Cousins of the Kings, one of the best players in the league, and you heard that Sixers coach Brett Brown intended to guard you with Jahlil Okafor, you'd be out there mopping, too. "Feels fine to me, guys. I say let's play."

In the end, which arrived at 8 p.m., the same time many other 76ers games have ended in the last few years, the decision to cancel was disappointing, but it wasn't surprising. The game officials, along with members of the Sixers organization, had been on the phone with the league office in New York and everyone agreed that the worst ability is liability. Once it was determined the conditions weren't optimal, any decision to play could have led to a lot of trouble with the suits, and that includes lawsuits.

"The league makes the call, but it was a pretty unanimous decision to do what's best for the players," Sixers CEO Scott O'Neil said. "The shame of this is for the fans that came out. When the game is rescheduled, they will have their tickets honored and we will offer them tickets to another game."

That's good business, and the right thing to do, but it had better not be one of the games in which Embiid gets the night off. These people have suffered enough.

Wells Fargo Center Complex president John Page said it hadn't been determined what caused the floor to be slippery. There wasn't any unusual amount of condensation on the "ice deck" in areas away from the court, and, well, the arena does have thermostats, and, well, they've played nearly 1,000 basketball games in the building, mostly with the hockey rink beneath the floor, and this didn't happen before.

"We've never had a problem like this," Page said. "It's something you don't ever want to have happen. It's a black mark. We take great pride in what we do."

Well, except for Wednesday. In any case, there wasn't any game, and for the purpose of tracking The Process, that was disappointing because Brown did intend to play Embiid and Okafor together for extended minutes for the first time this season. So far, they've shared the court for exactly 2 minutes, 36 seconds in the first 18 games.

On Wednesday, however, Embiid's playing-time restriction was eased and he is now allowed to play 28 minutes per game, and the Kings came in with a twin- towers lineup that made matchup sense for both of Brown's big men.

"It will happen tonight," Brown said before the non-game. "Tonight, there are matchups the other team puts on the floor that justify it and feel it's not hurting the team. You want to judge it on defense and are we getting up and down the floor and matchups, but tonight seems like a good night to make it happen."

Apparently, the basketball gods were not ready to watch that, particularly since Brown said he would keep Embiid near the basket on defense to rebound and deal with 7-foot center Kosta Koufos while Okafor chased Cousins around the perimeter. It might not have been pretty.

Everything else aside, Brown was happy Wednesday that the reins had been further loosened on Embiid's minutes restriction.

"We are the second-rated defense in the NBA when he's on the floor and we go to 30th when he's not," Brown said. "Those extra four minutes are significant in my eyes."

Of course, the flip side of one player improving your defense is that another player, in this case Okafor, is the big man on the floor when the defense is last in the league. That's a little unsettling, but it's all part of that unending Process.

The next step, seeing if the two can play together, will have to wait for another night. The NBA doesn't cancel games too often, and you can be sure the Wells Fargo Center staff will have the floor ready, so that could happen as soon as Friday if Brown thinks the Orlando Magic's frontcourt combination of Nik Vucevic and Serge Ibaka presents the proper matchup.

We'll have to wait and see about that, but waiting for the Sixers is nothing new. Neither is being unable to finish a game, Now, being unable to start one? Yes, that was different, even for them.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports