SAN FRANCISCO – Joel Embiid is putting up solid numbers, but he is not the same player as he was a year ago.
For the most part, the 76ers center is showing signs of not being comfortable and being fatigued when he's on the floor. Missing is the quickness and explosiveness he displayed for extended periods last season.
Yet, he has team-leading averages of 20.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 1.56 blocks in 28.1 minutes. Months removed from March surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, Embiid is having an "exceptional year," coach Brett Brown said.
Folks here in the Bay Area will find out for themselves Saturday night, when the Sixers (6-5) face the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. Embiid's bravado alone will make the game interesting.
This matchup will mark the first time he will have faced the Warriors (9-3). And let's just say that he's not shying away from the moment.
"I saw Draymond [Green, the Warriors' all-star power forward] this summer and told him I was going to kick his [butt]," Embiid said. "So I can't wait to play against him, because I love the way he talks trash and I feel like I'm the same. So I feel like it's going to be a fun battle."
He's also eager to square off against Golden State's other all-stars: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant.
While Embiid's trash talking is expected, the 23-year-old exceeded every expectation Brown had in regard to time on the court. Embiid has been working hard to raise his fitness level and treating his knee.
However, the coach acknowledged that the franchise player is still experiencing a little knee soreness following games.
"I think some of that is just to be expected from a man of 7-foot-2,  pounds," Brown said following Friday's light "stationed" practice at St. Ignatius College Preparatory. "It's just part of the wear and tear of playing 30-something minutes. There is soreness.
"And with him because there are other injuries, those have been acerbated a little bit."
His knee soreness is not to the point where the Sixers are overly concerned. They think it's just part of Embiid's recovering and maintenance.
"Nah, I'm good," Embiid said when asked about the soreness. "I just have to get in shape."
Embiid pointed out that he has dropped six pounds since the start of the season.
"I just got to keep on working," he said, "keeping playing and not taking days off and I'll be fine."
The team's franchise player has missed two games this season in order to rest the knee.
Not cleared to play on consecutive nights, Embiid was held out of the Oct. 21 road loss to the Toronto Raptors. The previous night, he posted 11 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in 28:02 during a loss to the Boston Celtics.
Embiid was also held out of Tuesday's road victory over the Utah Jazz. He didn't join the Sixers on their West Coast trip until Wednesday evening in Sacramento.
He played a season-high 32:19 and finished with 22 points, a game-high 15 rebounds and three blocks in Thursday's loss to the Kings. However, he looked fatigued and uncomfortable despite it being his first game in six days.
The Sixers will travel to Los Angeles following Saturday's game for next week's matchups with the Clippers (Monday) and Lakers (Wednesday). The team intends to play Embiid in both games.
"At the moment, his game time is his opportunity to get in shape," Brown said. "It's not like he's in here running on a treadmill in between games. We don't expect to have that."
Embiid wasn't cleared to play five-on-five basketball until Oct. 5. His first game action came in a preseason matchup against the Brooklyn Nets on Oct. 11. It marked the first time he'd played in a game of any kind since Jan. 27.
"So it's a little bit of a Catch-22." Brown said. "But I think if we're all fair, he's been remarkable given the level of conditioning and practice time he's really had."