By Bob Cooney
FOLLOWING A four-game road trip to the West Coast, the 76ers returned to the practice floor on Thursday to prepare not only for Friday's game against former teammate Nerlens Noel and the Dallas Mavericks, but for the remaining 15 games of the season.
Not surprisingly, Joel Embiid was not on the floor with the Sixers, which has been the norm since the team announced March 1 he was going to miss the remainder of the season. What was a bit surprising was where Embiid was.
The 7-2 center met up with the Sixers last weekend in Los Angeles, where they played back-to-back games against the Clippers and Lakers. The team said he was going to meet one of his doctors there to check out the torn meniscus in his left knee. Then Thursday, the team announced that Embiid stayed behind in Los Angeles with Dr. David Martin, the Sixers' director of performance research and development, and the two traveled to San Diego to see another specialist. The team said there was no timetable for anything and that it wanted to get Embiid in front of as many specialists as it can, and that the visit coincided with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons annual meeting.
Surgery hasn't been something the Sixers have discussed, but according to two orthopedic surgeons, it would seem probable. A minor repair could mean a six-to-eight-week recovery. If the tear is bigger, a recovery of six to eight months could be required. The team has said numerous times that the tear is "slight" and "minor."
Still, the same thing was said about Jahlil Okafor's meniscus tear suffered last season, and the team said his would be an eight-week recovery period. It was close to seven months before Okafor was able to resume basketball activities.
Embiid, who turned 23 Thursday, played just 31 games this season and just one of the past 26 after he took an awkward fall in the Jan. 20 game against Portland. After initially being diagnosed with a bone bruise, the team said an MRI also revealed the meniscus tear.
In his absence, roles have changed. And on this most recent trip, in which the team played well but went 1-3, coach Brett Brown pointed to the play of Dario Saric, Okafor and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot as bright spots.
Saric averaged 24.5 points and seven rebounds on the trip, while Okafor averaged 18.8 points and shot 56.9 percent from the floor. Luwawu-Cabarrot started three of the games and continued to impress with his all-around game.
"Dario just seems to get better and better and seems to be more comfortable and more comfortable," said Brown. "We've talked lots about his skill package, as we should. I see more poise and an intellect how he handles situations the more and more he plays. He clearly has felt more empowered since Ersan (Ilyasova) left.
"Jahlil has just jumped through so many hurdles this year, and to end up in a place where we're still mindful of not playing him too much . . . At times you want to give him a ton of minutes but you can't, it's not responsible. Mentally, he's just handled the whole thing like a real mature professional, all over the place. And Timmy has grabbed that starting spot and not been shy about jumping into someone defensively and not been shy about trying to impose himself offensively."
Tiago Splitter amped up his workouts Thursday and a return to the court appears close, perhaps starting with the Delaware 87ers.
"I feel great playing basketball after this long injury," said the 6-11 Splitter, who hasn't played this season due to hip and leg injuries. "I'm pretty close. I just need a little bit more of five-on-five. I'm trying to do as much as I can with running, treadmill, exercise and lifting weights and getting ready to get back on the court."
Acquired Feb. 22 from Atlanta Hawks in the Ilyasova trade, Splitter, 32, will be an urestricted free agent following this season. He hopes to get on the court to prove he still has some worth for someone.
The Sixers signed forward/center Shawn Long to a contract that includes the rest of this season and two nonguaranteed years, plus incentives to achieve more salary protection, according to a source.
The 6-9, 255-pounder has appeared in four games with the team since signing a 10-day contract on March 6 and has posted averages of 4.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in just under eight minutes of play. In 39 Development League games this season, Long averaged 20.2 points and 11.1 rebounds.