LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown did his best to put on a brave face as he spoke to the media Thursday afternoon. But in the wake of learning that All-Star Ben Simmons would be out indefinitely with a subluxation of his left patella, Brown couldn’t help but admit the obvious frustration over the situation.
“This one stings, for sure,” Brown said.
Simmons was injured during the third quarter of Wednesday’s 107-98 victory over the Washington Wizards. After he grabbed an offensive rebound, he slowly dribbled to the corner in front of the Sixers’ bench and flipped a pass to Al Horford. As a whistle blew to stop play, Simmons turned, flexed his left leg and touched the back of it. He walked directly off the court and back to the team’s locker room.
He was soon joined there by Sixers general manager Elton Brand, and was later shown on television, walking gingerly as he left the arena before the game ended.
A subluxation of the patella means that the kneecap popped out of place but returned on its own.
“I don’t even remember [the injury] happening,” teammate Shake Milton said. “I just remember him walking off to the sidelines. Yeah, it’s tough for us.
“Ben is an incredible player, an incredible athlete. … A super human. So hopefully he’s able to heal superfast and get back out on the court, because we need him.”
Brown said the Sixers should know within the next 24 hours what the next steps for Simmons will be. The team said in its statement Thursday that treatment options were being considered. Simmons has already been ruled out for Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic.
“Yeah, it’s a little frustrating sometimes,” guard Josh Richardson said of losing Simmons. “But that’s the way the game goes. So we’re going to just have to have a next-man-up mentality like we’ve had all year. Guys will pick up the slack, and when we get him back, he’ll fit back in seamlessly.
“Ben is an All-Star, so he’s not going to be easy to replace, but the rest of our team will do as good of a job as we can.”
One immediate adjustment, Brown said, is that big men Horford and Joel Embiid are going to be playing together on a more regular basis.
With Simmons shifting to power forward for the season restart, and Milton playing point guard and replacing Horford in the starting lineup, Brown has played Horford and Embiid together only in short bursts. But when Simmons has been in foul trouble during the seeding games — and when he wasn’t available at all in the fourth quarter Wednesday because of his injury — Horford has been on the court in his place.
“If I had to tilt one way or another, I will pair them,” Brown said of Horford and Embiid. “… We’ve played around in game-planning and spitballed what this actually looks like now. If you made me weigh one area or the other, I would pair them.”
After Simmons suffered a back injury in the first quarter of Philadelphia’s loss in Milwaukee on Feb. 22, it was unclear whether he was going to be available for the playoffs. He didn’t play again before the season was shut down in March, and both sides have been coy about whether he could have played in the playoffs had the season gone on as scheduled.
“We all felt like, you know, with the [coronavirus] pandemic and are we going to play again, this obviously bought time for Ben,” Brown said. “And had the season kept going, it was anybody’s best guess.”
Now the Sixers are staring at the possibility of going into the playoffs dealing with injuries once again — just as they have each of the past two seasons. In the meantime, they will wait to see what Simmons’ prognosis is.
“In relation to sort of being incredibly down about it, I’m not,” Brown said. “When I think too long about it, probably, I can go there. But I feel numb to it. I feel conditioned, that we’ve gone through this type of thing before. There is a level of faith I have in the rest of the team that we can hold the fort until we can get hopefully him back.”