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Bruised, battered, short-handed Sixers hobbling toward season finale

The 76ers have played remarkably well and hard despite missing nearly half their team due to injury.
Dario Saric is one of the few healthy Sixers left after a grueling 2016-17 season.Getty Images

The 76ers are limping to the finish line.

Literally.

Before the Sixers set out to battle the Atlanta Hawks, coach Brett Brown went through injury updates. It wasn’t pretty. It isn’t pretty.

The Sixers had seven and a half players available. Seven and a half? Yep. T.J. McConnell, Dario Saric, Nik Stauskas, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Richaun Holmes, Justin Anderson and Shawn Long were healthy. Gerald Henderson and Tiago Splitter were both probable, though neither seemed close to 100 percent. Henderson appeared to struggle with left hip soreness and Splitter was a DNP-CD.

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This is the dilemma that Brown faces as he prepares to close out his fourth season. And with the roster dwindling by the day, the stretch run is unlikely to be a smooth ride.

Amazingly, the Sixers have managed to win 28 games, which equals 75 over four nearly completed seasons. Do the math and you realize that’s not a lot of wins. But Brown remains unfazed. He just might be the most positive person in all of professional sports.

“You still try to set a foundation for your culture,” Brown was saying before the game. “How can you develop a culture if you're losing all the time? Aren't you just getting used to losing? That isn't true. Pieces matter. How you practice matters. … I certainly don't think like that. I think, 'Let's just do the right thing and not compromise any of our standards.' I think we've done that. I think that foundation is there for whoever is here.”

Brown was responding to a question about dealing with the loss of franchise cornerstones Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid played 31 games. Simmons never put on a Sixers uniform. Jahlil Okafor continues to be out with right knee soreness and his future appears to be in doubt.

“You continue to fight with what you have,” Brown said matter-of-factly.

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What’s left doesn’t resemble a healthy NBA team at the end of March.

Yet …

“We have exceeded expectations,” Brown said. “I’m completely enamored by these guys. I respect them. I enjoy coaching them.”

The MASH unit could use the assistance of Hawkeye Pierce or Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III. It’s that dicey right now with injuries.

To be clear and fair, none of this is any fault of Brown’s. Injuries occur. No NBA team is 100 percent healthy as April approaches. But Brown is a coach who has been used to competing deep into June from his San Antonio Spurs days.

Four years in Philadelphia, and Brown is light years away from those glory days.

The future could be extremely bright. Embiid and Simmons need to be on the court next season. They need to play the majority of the season and reinvigorate this fan base which had a taste of success in January. The draft must be successful. Other moves must be made.

Year No. 5 of the Brown era has to be a major step forward.

For now, Brown continues to work with what he’s been given.

“I love it,” he said of player development. “It’s my background. It’s where you establish relationships. You build sweat equity.”

It’s time to build a winning program. The Sixers will limp through the remainder of this season. Every offseason is huge. This particular one will be extra huge for this franchise. A monumental amount of progress has to be on the horizon. The fans deserve it.

 
 
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