With the opening of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks approaching, 76ers coach Doc Rivers wasn’t about to tip his hand concerning the status of injured center Joel Embiid.
The four-time All-Star has been listed as day-to-day since suffering a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee during Monday’s 122-114 loss in Washington.
The Sixers, who won their opening best-of-seven series against the Wizards in five games, will open their second-round series at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center.
After practice Friday, Rivers wouldn’t say whether Embiid would play Sunday, but he did provide an update on his recent activity.
“He went through a lot of the stuff today,” Rivers said. “I mean, he didn’t do a lot of live stuff, obviously we will not allow that yet, so nothing’s changed. He’s got to go through his treatment, but as far as when we’re doing shooting and stuff like that, he looked great.”
Backup center Dwight Howard, agreed with his coach.
“We want to make sure we hold down the fort until he comes back, but he looked great today,” Howard said.
When asked whether Embiid could play Sunday, Rivers responded, “It’s too early. I don’t want to say one way or the other, it’s just too early. You know, so we’ll just find that out.”
Howard added that Embiid’s status doesn’t change his own preparation.
“I make sure I prepare every day whether coach needs me to play big minutes or not play big minutes,” said Howard, who had 12 points and eight rebounds in the 129-112 series-clinching win over Washington on Wednesday. “I will do whatever it takes for us to win and that’s been my mentality all year.”
Atlanta, which won its opening-round series over the New York Knicks in five games, is putting plenty of work in on Embiid while preparing for the Sixers.
“We are approaching it as if he will be in uniform on Sunday,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said Friday after practice. “If that is not the case we will have to make adjustments. Our preparation is he is playing on Sunday. We will adjust as we get the news who is healthy for Philadelphia.”
There are obvious differences the Hawks will have to prepare for if Embiid isn’t in the lineup. The Sixers are more of a half-court team with him. Without him, they get out in transition more. They had 16 fast-break points in the clincher over the Wizards.
Hawks forward John Collins, who averaged 12.2 points and 6.0 rebounds in the series win over the Knicks, outlined the differences in facing a team with or without Embiid.
“When you go from having a real true old-school [center] to starting whatever you want to call Ben [Simmons], a modern point forward or whatever you want to say, it definitely changes the game. It is more fast-paced, the ball moves more,” Collins said. “A lot more shots from the perimeter. ... They are not throwing it to the big fella, who is trying to go eat. It changes our thought process as well and we have to be ready for it.”
The Sixers won two of three games during the regular season against Atlanta, but there is little to determine from them. In the Sixers’ 112-94 loss in Atlanta on Jan. 11, they had a depleted lineup and dressed just nine players.
The Hawks lost consecutive games played in a three-day period at the Wells Fargo Center. They dropped a 127-83 decision on April 28 and lost, 126-104, on April 30. Atlanta had a depleted lineup for both games.
Since then, the Hawks won seven of their last eight regular-season games before going 4-1 in the first round against the Knicks. Led by Trae Young, who averaged 29.2 points in the series against New York, this is a different Hawks team than the one the Sixers saw the last time Atlanta visited Philadelphia.
“Atlanta is coming here shooting the heck out of the ball,” Rivers said. “They are a lot better team than the last time we saw them.”