With Ben Simmons dislocating his knee this past Wednesday, the 76ers suffered another blow to their roster with Joel Embiid injuring his left ankle in the first quarter against the Trail Blazers. Despite the severity of this injury seeming pretty low for Embiid long-term, the 76ers were left without their top two stars against a Blazers team that’s fighting for a spot in the Playoffs.
As the current 9th seed in the West, the Trail Blazers were able to continue their fight for a Playoff berth and take advantage of a heavily injured Sixers team. With 51 points, Damian Lillard was able to take over and lead his team to victory in a surprisingly close game. Despite only scoring 4 of 12 3-pointers, Lillard was able to exploit the lack of interior defense from Embiid and Simmons by shooting 75% from 2 and making 15 free throws.
Through this victory for the Blazers, they are now only half a game away from surpassing the 8th seed Grizzlies and making the Playoffs. However, with both Memphis and Portland having a difficult final two games, either team can potentially pull through. With the Grizzlies final games against the Celtics then the Bucks, it is very possible for them to lose both games. For the Trail Blazers, they have a challenging matchup against the Mavericks then a winnable game against the Nets. Despite currently being the 8th seed in the West, Memphis will likely need to win an upset in order to actually make the Playoffs.
Although the 76ers have already clinched a Playoff berth, last night’s game and the remainder of the regular season are still very important to them. First off, with Simmons leaving the bubble for knee surgery, it is not likely that he will return unless the 76ers make a deep Playoff run. Because of this, these regular season games should be vital for the 76ers to figure out how to operate without their top playmaker.
Secondly, even with the 76ers’ loss against the Blazers, they are still only 1 game behind the 4th seed Miami Heat and 5th seed Indiana Pacers. If the 76ers manage to move their seed up in their final two games, they would avoid a difficult 1st round matchup against the Celtics and play either the Heat or Pacers instead.
Although Embiid is currently dealing with his ankle injury, the 76ers may need him in order to move up to the 4th or 5th seed in the East. Especially without Simmons, the 76ers need to adjust their game plan and figure out how they can compensate for injured players.
For the Blazers, after a hard fought victory against Philly, they are now one step closer to making Playoffs. Although it looked unlikely before, Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers now have a solid chance to make the 8th seed (despite Paul George disagreeing on social media).