The ineffective Philadelphia 76ers will attempt to snap a four-game losing streak Monday night when they host to the reeling Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Sixers (39-21) were just swept in a pair of road games against the Milwaukee Bucks, including a 132-94 rout on Saturday. Playing without Ben Simmons (illness) for a fourth-consecutive game and then having Joel Embiid (shoulder) scratched shortly before tipoff was too much to overcome.
As both players work toward better health, coach Doc Rivers has started to turn his focus toward the upcoming playoffs. Rivers said he things Embiid, an MVP candidate despite missing 19 games already this season, will be just fine come playoff time.
"You don't play any back-to-backs in the playoffs, typically," Rivers said. "You get a day off in between every game, so I'm not that concerned. I think Joel has built up through this year. I think he's in better shape this year physically."
With 12 regular-season games remaining, the Sixers will continue to battle for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Heading into Sunday's games, they were one game behind the first-place Brooklyn Nets and 1 1/2 ahead of the third-place Bucks. But health, not a playoff seed, is of vital concern.
"We just gotta get healthy these last few games down the stretch and get on the court together and figure it out," the Sixers' Seth Curry said. "It's a tough season. A lot of teams are going through it right now. But every time we step on the floor, we've got to use this to get better and try to get wins down the stretch. Health is the most important thing."
The rebuilding Thunder (20-40) are not thinking playoffs, as they try to find a way to end a 13-game losing streak, hoping to avoid matching the franchise record of 14 consecutive losses, set in their inaugural season (2008).
In their most recent game Friday, they were throttled at home 129-109 by the Washington Wizards. Theo Maledon and Darius Bazley scored 20 points each while Isaiah Roby and Lu Dort added 18 each.
"We've just got to keep getting better and better and seeing the positive things out of it," Maledon said. "We're obviously going through a tough time right now. But I feel like it's going to help us for the future to make sure that we're playing our best basketball and we compete our best to get our chance to win."
Because of trades, injuries and inexperience, the Thunder will be undermanned for the remainder of the season. Oklahoma City's best player, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (foot), is not likely to return for the last 12 games.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said he has at least witnessed some improvement over the back half of the losing streak, calling some of the team's recent defeats at least competitive.
"We've scratched and clawed," Daigneault said. "We've taken a couple of them down to the last minute and I think that's a reflection of our guys' engagement and our guys' competitiveness and the fact that we're a connected team right now."
--Field Level Media