The 76ers will finish off a tough part of their schedule on Sunday night in Brooklyn.
After their matchup with the Nets, the Sixers will have played seven of their last eight games on the road, and done so in 15 days.
During this stretch the Sixers have gone 3-4, and one thing is clear — Joel Embiid is feeling the effects of his first complete NBA season.
"He's just played more basketball than he ever has in his life," coach Brett Brown said after practice Saturday in Camden. "And now it's starting to get to the interesting part of the season."
Embiid's recent slump may not be clear when looking at a box score (he's averaging 20.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game since Feb 25), but his efficiency and effectiveness have taken a hit.
"The first thing that I go to when Joel tells me 'I'm tired and feeling a little sore,' I go immediately to how he responds out of a post," Brown said.
Sometimes the competitive side of Embiid will take over and he'll try to bully his way into some offense. Other times he will pass out of the post when the defense collapses in around him, freeing up shooters. So when Brown sees a decline in Embiid's ability to score, or how much offense he's creating by passing, that's when he recognizes fatigue.
Since the Sixers' seven-game winning streak from Feb. 6 to 24, Embiid has seen a significant decline in his impact on the game.
The Player Impact Estimate (PIE) is a percentage stat that essentially shows how much a player was involved in game events. Embiid was averaging an impressive 18.4 PIE from the beginning of the season through Feb. 24, while averaging a double-double and a defensive rating of 99.7.
The numbers since Feb. 24 are a much different story. Embiid continues to log 30-plus minutes a game, but his points and rebounds are down, he has taken a hit in offensive and defensive rating, and his PIE has dropped to 11.1.
Brown and the Sixers see the decline and know that Embiid, along with the other Sixers starters, could use some rest. They're thinking and talking about it all the time. The problem is that only 18 games remain in the season and the Sixers are trying to not only stay in the playoff race but improve their position.
"We're walking this very slippery slope," Brown said. "There's not an incredibly well-defined answer to how do you win games, move up the food chain, and try to get as high a seed as you can, and still preserve your players. Send me a letter on how that works."
Conventional thinking might be to rest Embiid against the lesser opponents coming up, such as the 21-45 Nets. But Brooklyn reminded the Sixers in their Jan. 31 meeting that every NBA team is dangerous and beat the Sixers, 116-108.
"That's what we need to stay away from, thinking that we have an easy run." Simmons said Saturday. "We need to lock in and know that this stretch is really important."
Simmons added that nothing can prepare players for the grind of an NBA season but that he isn't worried about Embiid coming out of his slump.
"I think we've all had our ups and downs in how we think we're playing. I know I have," he said. "You're going to have great games and you're going to have some bad games, but that just comes with it."