Joel Embiid will miss time after injuring his left knee Friday night, but it appears the Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center somehow avoided a disastrous season-ending injury.
An MRI revealed no structural damage to his left knee, according to the Sixers. Embiid has a left knee bone bruise and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.
He rose for a dunk in the middle of the third quarter Friday during the Sixers’ 127-101 win over the Wizards, and his left knee buckled upon landing, a scary sight for anyone associated with the Sixers.
“Listen, it’s a long season, so at the end of the day, hopefully it’s not something where we lose him — obviously,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said Friday night. “But our guys will be good. We’ll be ready.”
The Sixers last season were 11-11 in games Embiid missed, and they’re two-five so far this season. With Embiid on the floor, the Sixers’ net rating has been 18.3 points better than with him off it, per Cleaning the Glass.
The team put together an excellent performance Thursday, beating the Bulls by 22 points despite the absences of All-Stars Ben Simmons and Embiid, and also had no trouble handling the Wizards Friday night. Both players were required to quarantine after exposure to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19. The expectation is that Simmons should be available for Sunday’s game vs. the Spurs as long as he continues to test negative for the coronavirus.
Dwight Howard, who’s totaled 24 points, 22 rebounds and three blocks in the Sixers’ first two games after the All-Star break, will likely step into a larger role for however long Embiid is out. Tobias Harris, who will presumably assume a larger offensive burden while Embiid is sidelined, believes the 35-year-old Howard is a good backup plan.
“When you just look at his body of work through his whole career and how he has recreated his game in his last two years in the league, Dwight’s a great leader for our team and our group,” Harris said Friday. “There’s a lot of things that he does behind the scenes in team meetings, team get togethers, in the huddles — always encouraging guys, keeping a positive attitude — that goes unnoticed. But he’s somebody that brings it every single night, works his tail off, is always in the young guys’ ears and getting their focus level where it needs to be.
“The last two games, you’re just seeing all of that come together. He’s been playing great basketball for us and he has been all year. That’s just really what we expect of him. Even in the Chicago game, I was out there watching and I was like, ‘Dang, this is like prime-time Dwight right now that we’re seeing.’ It’s great to see.”
One potential concern for the Sixers is that lineups in which Howard shares the floor with Simmons have generally been ineffective. Such units sport a minus-6.6 net rating in 422 non-garbage time possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Tony Bradley on Thursday night played by far his best game as a Sixer, making all seven of his field goal attempts, and he will likely now be a part of the team’s rotation. Rivers also mentioned Mike Scott’s ability to play center as a factor that gave him hope the Sixers could “hold down the fort” if needed.
Over his first 31 games, Embiid posted 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per contest, shooting 42.2 percent from three-point range and, per Cleaning the Glass, converting 48 percent of his two-point shots not at the rim. He was undoubtedly a leading MVP candidate and would seemingly have been the favorite for the award had the season ended at the All-Star break.
The 26-12 Sixers have a one-game lead over the second-place Nets in the Eastern Conference standings. The team has six games remaining before the March 25 trade deadline, the next four of which will be at home.
As many as 3,100 fans will be allowed to attend games at Wells Fargo Center beginning Sunday. The Sixers’ 16-3 home record is best in the East, and they moved above .500 on the road with Friday’s win in Chicago.
After Simmons’ 2019-20 season ended in August when he suffered a left knee injury in the NBA’s “bubble,” it looks like the impact of Embiid’s injury will not be as devastating, though replacing him in the short term will certainly not be easy.