The 76ers received some positive news Friday when Joel Embiid returned to practice and was a full participant.
Embiid, who on Thursday was named an All-Star starter for the third consecutive year, tore a ligament in his left ring finger during the Sixers’ 120-113 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 6. He had surgery on Jan. 9.
Friday was the first time since the injury that Embiid was a full participant in practice.
“It is great,” Embiid said afterward. “I am just trying to get back into it, just making the progress necessary but it is great.”
The Sixers said that Embiid would be reassessed on Monday.
Embiid said that he would definitely be able to play in the All-Star Game, which will take place on Feb. 16 in Chicago, although he hopes to be back sooner.
“Hopefully by next week I will be able to play,” Embiid said.
Later, Embiid wasn’t as bold in predicting his return date, but he said he was encouraged by being able to go through a full practice with no restrictions.
“That was my first [full] practice since this thing happened, so it is encouraging," he said. "I don’t know when I am going to be back, we will see how it goes. I will continue my two-a-day [workouts] every single day and try to get better.”
Coach Brett Brown couldn’t contain his excitement. He the tone of practice changes a lot when Embiid participates fully.
“He comes in with a spirit,” Brown said. “He was just named for the third straight year a starter for the All-Star team, he is obviously highly gifted and highly important to what we do. So to get him into the group and have him be around is significant.”
Embiid has averaged 23.4 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.35 blocks, and 31.1 minutes in 31 games this season. Since the injury, Embiid has missed eight games. The Sixers (29-16) are 5-3 in that span and return to action on Saturday when they host the Los Angeles Lakers (36-9).
As for his All-Star selection, Embiid expressed appreciation, but also felt great pride that fellow Cameroonian Pascal Siakam, of Toronto, earned his first All-Star berth.
“It was great, third time in a row,” Embiid said about his selection. “A lot of us don’t get a lot of opportunities, so I was happy, was excited.”
Then he talked about Siakam, who won last year’s NBA Most Improved Player award.
“I was more excited about Pascal,” he said. “Two guys from Cameroon, we barely started playing basketball 8-9 years ago. To see us especially as starters means a lot, and I think it means a lot and I am proud to be from Cameroon and from Africa and represent them.”
There was no additional news on guard Josh Richardson, who is out with a left hamstring strain that he suffered in Wednesday’s loss to Toronto. He will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks. The Sixers said Richardson is participating in physical therapy daily.
On Friday, the Sixers recalled Zhaire Smith from the G League and will be available for Saturday’s game. In 27 games for the G League affiliate Delaware Blue Coats, Smith has averaged 13 points and is shooting 35.6 percent from three-point range in 27.4 minutes per game.