It’s as if injuries seek out Joel Embiid.
The 76ers big man is one of the league’s most dominant players while healthy. Unfortunately for Embiid and the Sixers, he has a tough time avoiding injuries.
An MRI determined that Embiid has a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. As a result, he will be sidelined Wednesday night in Game 5 of the Sixers’ first-round playoff series against the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. He’s listed as day to day.
“Yeah, I do, at least I’m hopeful,” coach Doc Rivers said when asked if he expects Embiid to return this postseason. “I think that would be a better way of putting it. You know he’s going to do his treatment. We are going to assess the day to day and see where we can get him.”
Embiid, however, spent 20 minutes participating in dribbling and shooting drills before Game 5. Displaying his shooting stroke, the MVP candidate burried jump shot after jump shot. He even attempted several shots off one leg while working up a sweat.
The Sixers entered Wednesday’s game with an advantage of three games to one in the best-of-seven series.
If they advance, they will face the winner of the New York Knicks-Atlanta Hawks series in the second round. The Hawks took a 3-1 lead into Wednesday’s Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. The second-round series will begin Sunday if both first-rounders are clinched in six games or fewer. If not, it will begin Tuesday.
“I have no expectation other than I hope for him to be back,” Rivers said of Embiid returning in time the second round. “But I can’t give you a timeline. I can’t give you anything right now.
“I can just tell you he’s willing to go through whatever it takes to get back on the floor. He’s a warrior. And if there’s way for him to get back on the floor, he will find it.”
The Sixers think going 4-2 on a tough six-game road road trip in late March without Embiid will pay dividends for them now. They opened that trip with victories over the Knicks, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers before losing to the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets. The capped the trip by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers.
They just didn’t think it would pay dividends like this.
They thought it would help them out in a game where Embiid was in early foul trouble. In that scenerio, the Sixers would have to “man up.”
“So the fact that we were able to win games on the road on the West Coast trip without Joel,” Rivers said, “it clearly helps out vision.”
Embiid suffered the injury in Monday’s Game 4 loss to the Wizards.
He took a hard fall on his backside when Robin Lopez blocked his driving layup with 4 minutes, 43 seconds left in the first quarter. While falling to the court, Embiid hyperflexed his right knee. After getting up gingerly, Embiid sat on the bench during a timeout and returned to the game.
He stretched out his back before resuming play. Embiid later reached down to touch his right knee. He was subbed out of the game with 36.5 seconds remaining in the quarter. Embiid then went to the locker room. Moments later, the team trainer and team doctor went to the locker room to attend to Embiid.
Embiid spent the second quarter in the locker room being evaluated. The team announced at halftime that he wouldn’t return due to knee soreness.
He had his MRI on Tuesday, and there was further evaluation of Wednesday. Depending on the size of the tear and the location, it can be repaired, removed, or treated. All three options have risks.
Considering he is listed day to day, the Sixers will likely try to treat it and get the swelling down.
For a lateral tear, the timeline to return after removal is a couple of weeks. The timeline following repair is a couple of months.
Embiid’s health and playing shape will may determine if the Sixers can win their first NBA title since 1983. That’s why they did their best to deliver him healthy and well-conditioned to the postseason.
“It’s tough because he’s done such a great job,” Rivers said. “If you look at this body right now, he couldn’t be in better shape. You see the tone. You see the play. For this to happen at this point going through the whole year, it’s really difficult.
“But he’s hanging in there. Our job is to keep the spirits up and keep pushing him to get ready.”
Rivers spoke with Embiid a couple of time since the injury.
He said Embiid was bothered by having to miss Game 5. But the coach said he’ll be fine.
“He has high hopes,” veteran guard George Hill said. “His mindset is to always come back. His mindset is to always be here and play for us and compete.
“So talking to him, he’s very ecstatic of doing what he has to do to get back here on this court and that’s all you can expect from a leader.”
He has a long injury history.
Embiid missed 21 of the 72 games this season due to injuries, illness, and COVID-19 contact tracing. He was sidelined during 10 of those games with a left knee bone bruise.
The four-time All-Star has missed time due to an injury and/or injuries in each of the seven seasons since the Sixers drafted him in 2014.
The 27-year-old sat out his first two seasons because of two foot surgeries. He had season-ending surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee during the 2016-17 campaign. The following year, he missed time because of an orbital bone fracture near his left eye.
Embiid missed time during the 2018-19 season with tendinitis in his left knee. Last season, he missed time after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left ring finger, due to a left shoulder sprain, and other ailments.
The orbital bone fracture sidelined him the final eight games of the 2017-18 regular season and in Games 1 and 2 of the Sixers’ opening round playoff series with the Miami Heat. He was less than 100% in the 2019 postseason due to the tendinitis. And last season, Embiid twisted his left ankle with four games left in the regular season.