ATLANTA – Perhaps he was just putting a positive spin on the 76ers’ latest misfortune. But coach Brett Brown appeared confident Friday morning in his first media availability since the team announced Thursday night that Joel Embiid has a fractured orbital bone in his left eye.
The all-star center, who also suffered a concussion when he collided Wednesday night with teammate Markelle Fultz, will have surgery in the coming days. That could come as early as Saturday. However, the time frame of the surgery depends on when the swelling subsides.
Embiid is expected to be sidelined two to four weeks.
“In a very sort of twisted way, we look forward to seeing what we learned without Joel,” Brown said.
Even with that, the coach feels for Embiid, who has a long history of being injured. The two have spoken a few times via FaceTime since the injury.
“He’s just disappointed,” Brown said. “He’s [gone] through a lot. We need to help him, the team. Buy some time. Continue to play good basketball.”
The Sixers took a 44-30 record and an eight-game winning streak into Friday night’s game against the struggling Atlanta Hawks. The Sixers, 12-3 in March, will face only two teams with winning records during their remaining seven regular-season games.
“Just buy time to welcome him back,” Brown said of the team. “We all talk about how much we need Joel from a basketball standpoint, and this is true. He needs his team now.”
There are some areas the Sixers will try to figure out during his absence, and they could show a different style of play.
“You are probably going to see a faster team,” Brown said. “They are probably going to embrace the three-point shot a little bit [more].”
Starters Dario Saric and JJ Redick could have larger roles in the offense. So could reserves Ersan Ilyasova and Richaun Holmes.
“Defense is my biggest area of concern,” Brown said. “[Embiid’s] presence defensively cannot be dismissed, and so everything’s got to be perfect or as perfect as we can be defensively.”
Embiid’s 7-foot-2, 275-pound frame provided an intimidating presence. His 1.76 blocks per game rank fifth in the NBA.
Brown coach of the year?
Hawk coach Mike Budenholzer thinks Brown should win coach of the year this season. After nearly four seasons of tanking, the Sixers were the Eastern Conference’s fourth-place team heading into Friday’s game. They secured both their first playoff appearance and first winning season since the 2011-12 campaign.
Budenholzer pointed out Brown’s connection to his the team and players and the way he turned the Sixers into an elite team after struggling for four seasons.
“I don’t want to be too dramatic,” Budenholzer said, “but I think he’s one of the only guys that can pull a team and an organization through what they’ve been through. He’s got such unique character, a perspective and energy and humor. He’s just been amazing.”
The two are close friends and former assistants for the San Antonio Spurs.