A few times during the third quarter of the 76ers’ 121-90 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, Joel Embiid appeared to have discomfort in his right shoulder.
He kept moving it around, grimacing at the apparent soreness. Finally with 4 minutes, 9 seconds left in the third quarter and the Sixers up by 24 points, Embiid left the game for good.
He missed the previous game, a 132-94 loss at Milwaukee on Saturday, with right shoulder soreness and played just under 23 minutes against the overmatched Thunder, producing 21 points and five rebounds.
The question was: Should have Embiid played at all, especially since the Thunder are ranked 30th and last in the most recent Inquirer NBA power rankings? Monday’s defeat tied a franchise record of 14 consecutive losses.
Spoiler alert: The Sixers could have won the game without Embiid.
The Sixers (40-21) have 11 regular-season games left. They entered Tuesday one game behind first-place Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference. The Nets visited Toronto in Tampa on Tuesday.
Although earning first place in the Eastern Conference is a major benefit, especially since it would mean likely not facing the Nets or Milwaukee Bucks until the conference finals, the Sixers’ No. 1 priority is having Embiid healthy for the playoffs.
This season he has missed 19 games and the Sixers are 9-10 in those contests.
Before sitting out Saturday, Embiid had played in nine consecutive games and 10 of 11 after missing 10 because of a bone bruise in his left knee. Monday may have been a good time to give him another day off.
After the win, coach Doc Rivers was asked how difficult it is weighing whether to play Embiid if he doesn’t appear to be 100 percent.
“I have learned long ago, until someone tells me, one of the trainers, I have gotten out of that guessing game, you know what I mean,” Rivers said. “It’s our trainers and medical people’s job to tell me, ‘Hey, get him out’ or ‘He shouldn’t play.’”
Rivers says he doesn’t get involved in medical decisions.
“I think it is a bad place for a coach to be because we would tell them to play all the time,” Rivers said. “I think it’s a lot smarter to allow people with far better knowledge than me to tell me, ‘He’s good, he can play, keep going,’ and it made it easier for me as well.”
Embiid, who was not available for comment after Monday’s game, has said that he should be the MVP this season, but he won’t be helped by all the missed games. Still, being healthy is more important than the MVP award.
In their final 11 games, the Sixers will play only four against teams with winning records, but two of them are coming up when they host the Atlanta Hawks (34-28) on Wednesday and Friday.
Like many NBA teams, Atlanta has its own injury issues. Trae Young is among the ailing Hawks, having missed his third straight game with a left ankle injury Monday in a 100-86 loss at Detroit. That was the Hawks’ lowest-scoring game this season.
That loss came a night after the Hawks beat Milwaukee, 111-104, at home on Sunday. So despite the hiccup in Detroit, the Hawks, who are 11-4 in their last 15 games, are not a team to take lightly.
The Hawks won the only meeting this year against the Sixers, 112-94, on Jan. 11. The Sixers were woefully shorthanded. Ben Simmons was out with left knee soreness. Among the others sidelined rotation players were Seth Curry, who tested positive for COVID-19, and Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, and Matisse Thybulle, who were out due to contact tracing.
The starting lineup was Embiid, Danny Green, Mike Scott, Tyrese Maxey, and Dakota Mathias. It is one example of what a crazy NBA season it has been, when from game to game, the biggest area of suspense is often who is going to suit up — or as we get down the stretch, who should suit up.
The only Sixer named on the official NBA injury report for the Hawks game is Mike Scott, who is listed as questionable with left hip soreness.
Young is among four Hawks out. The others are De’Andre Hunter (right knee soreness), Cam Reddish (right Achilles soreness) and Tony Snell (right ankle sprain).
Kevin Huerter (left shoulder sprain) is doubtful and Brandon Goodwin (left ankle impingement) is questionable.