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Joel Embiid on opener: 'It's going to be special'

No more exhibition games. Things are about to count for Joel Embiid. And if Wednesday night is anything like his seven preseason games, it could be an exciting time in the Wells Fargo Center regardless of the outcome.

No more exhibition games. Things are about to count for Joel Embiid. And if Wednesday night is anything like his seven preseason games, it could be an exciting time in the Wells Fargo Center regardless of the outcome.

With Ben Simmons down and the 76ers expected to remain among the NBA's worst teams, much of the hype surrounding the team centers on Embiid. Some might argue that as long as he plays well - and remains healthy - the sting that comes with mounting losses will be nothing more than a "Trust the Process" moment.

There's no doubting the fact that because the opener against the Thunder is at home it will be an extra-special night for the self-proclaimed "Trust the Process" kid himself.

"Yeah, it's special," said the third overall draft pick in 2014, who missed his first two seasons after surgeries on his right foot. "I have been waiting for a long time and I haven't played in two years, and I was a high pick and [Sixers fans] have been waiting for a long time. So it's going to be special for the city, for myself, for the coaches, my teammates, and my family."

But he's going to do his best to make this a regular day.

The 7-foot-2, 276-pound center plans to eat breakfast, then drive to the Camden waterfront to put up some shots at the team's practice facility. Afterward, he'll go to the shootaround before partaking in his normal pregame routine at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Cameroonian center wants to make everything as normal as possible to ensure that he doesn't duplicate his performance in the Oct. 4 preseason opener against Boston. He was overly excited about that game and ended up rushing his shots.

After calming down, the 22-year-old improved in every game he played. Embiid has shown signs that he can become one of the league's young stars. He averaged 11.4 points and six rebounds in 14.7 minutes in the seven exhibition games. Embiid, whose playing time has been restricted, is scheduled to play 20 minutes against the Thunder. They will come in five four-minute segments.

So far, he has scored in a variety of ways - three-pointers, layups, putback dunks, alley-oops, mid-range jumpers, and fadeaways. Embiid has even dribbled the ball up the court on occasion.

"He has everything," Sixers reserve center Jahlil Okafor said. "I talk about Joe a lot. He has everything. There's not one thing I can pinpoint from his characteristics on the floor, off the floor, how hard he works, how competitive he is. Then you add in his skill set and his size, it's unbelievable."

As jovial as he is off the court, he's just as hardworking on it.

Embiid is often one of the last Sixers to leave the court after practice and shootarounds. And his competitiveness is arguably his best trait.

He didn't back down from Memphis power forward Zach Randolph's physical play on Oct. 11. As a result, Embiid instantly gained the post player's respect. The former Kansas standout also stepped up his game after receiving several hard fouls from Detroit center Andre Drummond. At one point, the players had to be separated after Drummond knocked Embiid to the floor. Moments later, Embiid glanced over at the Pistons bench as if to say, "I'm not going anywhere."

"He is so competitive," coach Brett Brown said. "He is just fiercely competitive. If you made me give somebody one quality, that's the quality that I choose for any one of my players. He is maniacal in his competitiveness."

But there was a time when it appeared that Embiid would never get an opportunity to display his competitiveness.

He missed last season after having bone-graft surgery in August 2015 to repair the navicular bone in his right foot. Embiid already had missed what would have been his rookie season after undergoing surgery in June 2014 to repair a stress fracture in the same bone. A setback in his recovery led to the second operation.

After Embiid was cleared to play, there was a thought that he was going to be the least healthy of the team's three starting-caliber centers, which includes Nerlens Noel and Okafor.

However, as it turns out, he's the healthiest.

Okafor is getting over right knee soreness after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in March. The Sixers have not determined his limit in minutes for the opener. Okafor said it would be more - but not a lot more - than the 7 minutes, 32 seconds he played Friday in Miami.

Meanwhile, Noel had surgery Monday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York to address inflamed tissue above his left knee. He will rehabilitate the knee under the direction of Kevin Wilk at Champions Sports Medicine in Birmingham, Ala. Noel is expected to be out three to five weeks. That timetable could be altered if he experiences swelling.

While he recuperates and Okafor gets back into game shape, the spotlight will be on Embiid. The first act, so to speak, comes Wednesday night in a nationally televised game.

"It's a new experience," Embiid said. "I don't know the last time we had an ESPN game. So it's going to be good, and the fans are going to show up. We are going to have a lot of fun."