Welcome back, Joel Embiid.

After missing the past nine games while in health and safety protocols, the 76ers’ All-NBA center returned to action Saturday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Standout forward Tobias Harris also returned after a two-game absence with a hip injury sustained late in a Nov. 20 game at Portland. Rivers said both Embiid and Harris participated in a scrimmage for low-minute players on Friday and “they both got through it.” They were listed as questionable entering Saturday’s game.

Embiid, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 8, had returned to individual workouts at the Sixers’ practice facility in Camden last weekend. The Sixers, meanwhile, finished up a six-game road trip primarily out West on Wednesday at Golden State, before getting two days off ahead of Saturday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center.

Embiid’s initial matchup is an interesting one, as Timberwolves All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns was also questionable to play entering Saturday with a sprained finger, But Towns was ruled available about 30 minutes before tipoff.

The Sixers were 2-7 without Embiid, with many of those games also played without some combination of Harris, Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Matisse Thybulle because of injuries or health and safety protocols.

Though Embiid’s numbers were down slightly by his MVP-contender standards (21.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, four assists and 1.4 blocks per game) in his nine games played this season, Philly was 8-2 and on a six-game winning streak before Embiid went into protocols.

Harris was averaging 20.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 11 games entering Saturday. He also missed six games earlier this month while in health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 1.

Embiid and Harris started alongside Tyrese Maxey, Curry, and Thybulle. Backup point guard Shake Milton was ruled out with a groin injury.

Paul Reed briefly assigned to G League

The Sixers on Saturday assigned Paul Reed to the G League’s Delaware Blue Coats for that afternoon’s 120-94 win against Raptors 905. Reed posted 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting, 11 rebounds, and two blocked shots in the victory.

“He just needs some playing time,” River said of Reed. “He struggles in execution a lot, so we want to really put him through it and let him play more minutes and see if he can get through it.”

The Sixers immediately recalled Reed following the game.

Reed had briefly slid into the rotation in Embiid’s absence, but his minutes diminished drastically on the Sixers’ road trip. That was partially due to the emergence of rookie Charles Bassey, who particularly flashed his potential when he totaled 12 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks against the Nuggets on Nov. 18.

Rookie Jaden Springer and two-way players Aaron Henry and Grant Riller continue to play for the Blue Coats.

Homecoming for Timberwolves’ coach Finch

Saturday’s Timberwolves visit to Philadelphia was a homecoming for coach Chris Finch, who hails from Reading and was expected to have about 30 friends and family in the Wells Fargo Center.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of them yet,” Finch said during his pregame media availability. “The best they’ll get is a wave, with COVID protocols and the tight schedule. A little bittersweet there, but it’s not been a distraction. It’s still meaningful in all the right ways.”

Finch grew up during the Sixers’ heyday in the 1970s and ‘80s and said he went to several games during that time. Naturally, Julius “Dr. J” Erving was his favorite player. But some of his most poignant memories involved Kevin McHale, who grew up in Minnesota before becoming a Hall of Famer with the Boston Celtics that Philly fans loved to hate.

“I used to tell Kevin McHale all the time [that] I’d come down here on Sundays to the Spectrum and boo him,” Finch said. “He was dirty, and no one liked Kevin McHale in Philadelphia, that’s for sure.”

Finch has been on NBA coaching staffs since 2011 and was hired as the Timberwolves’ head coach midway through last season.