76ers' Al Horford on team's lineup changes: 'We'll be fine'

Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown admitted after Tuesday's practice inside the NBA's bubble in Walt Disney World Resort that Joel Embiid and Al Horford have yet to play together in practice -- the latest indication that the shift of Ben Simmons from point guard to power forward is a permanent one.

Brown, who said last week that Shake Milton had slid into Simmons' spot in the starting lineup at point guard, said Horford, a 13-year NBA veteran, has been "great" in how he has handled his demotion.

For his part, Horford said Tuesday that all of the talk about the lineup changes is making a bigger deal of things than need be.

"I haven't," Horford said, when asked if he had spoken to Brown about whether he and Embiid would play together at some point, either in practice or in games. "But the reality is that it's going to happen at some point. I think we'll be fine.

"I do understand the changes and things like that, but I don't want people to make more of this than what it is. The reality is we'll be fine, and we'll be playing together at times, and at times we won't, and that's just it."

Even Horford, however, knows it isn't that simple. His fit issues with Embiid throughout the season have been a nonstop topic of conversation in Philadelphia, as the marquee free-agent signing simply hasn't found his groove in the City of Brotherly Love.

Much of that is because of his struggles playing alongside Embiid, whom Horford had masterfully defended over the prior three years as a member of the Boston Celtics. The Sixers were outscored by 1.3 points per 100 possessions when the two big men were on the court together this season. But when Horford was on the court without Embiid, Philadelphia was plus-5.2 points per 100 possessions; when Embiid was out there without Horford, the Sixers were plus-8.9 points per 100 possessions.

What complicates matters is that Philadelphia's projected starting lineup of Horford, Embiid, Simmons, Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson has actually been quite good (plus-8.9 points per 100 possessions) when it has been on the court together. The problem, however, is that the group was together for 244 minutes, and appeared in only 22 games.

The new starting lineup, on the other hand -- Milton and the other four starters -- has yet to see the floor this season.

When Horford was asked if the break had done anything to help improve the Sixers' chemistry on the court, he said it would be up to Brown to figure out a solution for that.

"Well, really, that's Coach [Brown] that has to figure things out in that way," Horford said. "Now that the games mean more at this point, and especially the playoffs coming in, the focus really shifts to defense. We have to make sure we are great defensively.

"The offense, it will come. We'll figure that out. But defensively we have to make sure that we're great, and I believe that we will be."

As for Horford himself, the 34-year-old has dealt with knee tendinitis on-and-off over his final season in Boston and his first with Philadelphia. But he said that the final games before the season was suspended were the best he felt all season. He said the time off in between then and now has also helped him be fully prepared for the rigors of what he hopes will be a long postseason run.

"It was good to get the break," he said. "Honestly, at the end, before the season got suspended, that's when I actually felt my best all year. Leading up to that, those last few games were when I felt like I was turning the corner healthwise, and you know now when you ramp back up and start doing different things.

"We continue to work hard on the day-to-day stuff to make sure I am where I need to be. But for me, looking back on it, I actually was feeling well and I'm at a point now where I'm pretty good to go, as well."

The question now will be what role Horford will be preparing for when the season officially resumes next week. All anyone knows for sure at this point is that Horford will be coming off the bench.

"This is the way that [Brown] wants to go about it, and the biggest thing for us is that we are all healthy now," Horford said. "The team is healthy. We are ready to go. And teams are going to have to deal with our depth that we have."