What Joel Embiid’s return means for the Philadelphia 76ers and the East playoff image

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By Calvin S. Nelson

PHILADELPHIA — When Joel Embiid barreled down the courtroom inside the ultimate 30 seconds of Tuesday night time’s sport in opposition to the Western Convention-leading Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder, the sellout crowd inside Wells Fargo Heart rose to its toes.

In the meantime, 76ers coach Nick Nurse held his breath.

“Go sooner?” Nurse stated postgame, when requested what was going by his thoughts when he noticed Embiid driving the paint within the closing moments of a one-point sport after swiping the ball from Thunder guard Josh Giddey.

Seconds after the steal, Embiid, in his first sport in eight weeks after present process a process on the lateral meniscus in his left knee, jumped into Thunder heart Chet Holmgren on the rim. The collision despatched the rookie into the photographers behind the basket and Embiid to the free throw line. “Man, I used to be attempting to get the and-one,” Embiid stated postgame.

Embiid knocked down a pair of free throws, and after a last sequence that noticed Oklahoma Metropolis miss three potential game-tying 3-pointers inside the ultimate 13 seconds of the sport, Embiid and the 76ers have been in a position to have fun a 109-105 victory over the Thunder. Philly’s MVP large man was formally again.

Total, it was an uneven efficiency for Embiid: 24 factors on 6-for-14 capturing however 12-for-12 from the foul line, to associate with 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 6 turnovers in practically half-hour on the courtroom. Most significantly, Embiid appeared to emerge unscathed from a well being perspective, simply as he did from Saturday’s prolonged 5-on-5 apply, his first full session together with his teammates since Golden State Warriors ahead Jonathan Kuminga inadvertently fell on his leg throughout a sport on Jan. 30.

Now, the 76ers shift to Miami for one of many largest remaining video games within the common season Thursday night time. Embiid, who was visibly exhausted at occasions throughout Tuesday’s win, stated the aim is to play in that sport, too.

“We simply gotta take it daily, see how the knee responds tomorrow,” Embiid stated. “We obtained an enormous one in Miami. If I am good to go, clearly go.”

Tuesday’s sport, whilst fellow All-Star Tyrese Maxey and the group’s different beginning guard, De’Anthony Melton, watched in road garments, was an indication that this contender, with lower than two weeks to go within the common season, is near turning into entire.

“I would like us to go on a run to complete the season,” Embiid stated. “So, we obtained to take [the wins], and hold competing.”

As the remainder of the Jap Convention’s contenders watch Embiid and the Sixers over their last six video games of the common season, here is how the reigning MVP’s return might shake up the playoff race.

What Embiid means for Philadelphia on the courtroom

For Philadelphia, the following two weeks are about two issues: getting Embiid up-to-speed and doing every part potential to keep away from the play-in event. Whereas Embiid’s return was an apparent enhance, it confirmed how a lot his group has modified since he went out in late January. Earlier than Tuesday’s sport, Embiid had by no means performed a single second with beginning guards Kyle Lowry and Cameron Payne and sixth man Buddy Hield — all three arrived at or close to the Feb. 8 commerce deadline. Embiid’s victorious comeback additionally got here with fellow All-Star Tyrese Maxey sitting out for a second consecutive sport with a hip damage.

When Embiid is on the courtroom this season, Philadelphia is scoring 120.6 factors per 100 possessions and permitting 110.5. These would rank because the second-best offense and third-best protection within the NBA over a full season. However throughout Embiid’s damage, Philadelphia was outscored by 4.9 factors per 100 possessions, the ninth-worst mark within the league in that span.

Now, there are causes for optimism that the group assembled across the reigning MVP is healthier than the roster when Embiid went down. Lowry, the North Philadelphia native, has hit 39% of his 3-pointers as a Sixer, offers strong two-way play and has a invaluable reference to 76ers coach Nick Nurse from their shared time along with the Toronto Raptors.

Hield, in the meantime, is the most recent in a line of sharpshooting guards that transfer properly off the ball who ought to slip proper into some wonderful two-man sport actions with Embiid, simply as J.J. Redick and Seth Curry have with him prior to now. And Nicolas Batum, after lacking a number of chunks of time as a result of damage earlier within the 12 months, has change into a staple in Philadelphia’s lineup who might excel alongside Embiid and Harris within the 76ers’ frontcourt. One unknown is the standing of guard De’Anthony Melton, a key two-way participant for Philadelphia and, if wholesome, Maxey’s companion within the group’s beginning backcourt. Melton has performed in simply 5 of the 76ers’ final 44 video games due to ongoing again points, and his return timetable stays unclear.

Embiid’s impression on the East playoff image

Thursday’s matchup in Miami with the Warmth looms as a digital must-win for the 76ers to climb greater than eighth getting into the East play-in event. Miami additionally received Tuesday, beating the New York Knicks, and can enter Thursday 1.5 video games up within the standings with a 2-1 lead within the season sequence.

A Warmth win Thursday would imply they should go simply 3-3 down the stretch to guarantee ending forward of Philadelphia by advantage of the head-to-head tiebreaker. (The Sixers, who misplaced the season sequence 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers, fare no higher in a possible three-team tie.) Miami finishes with back-to-back dwelling video games in opposition to the lottery-bound Toronto Raptors and is more likely to at the least break up its last six video games.

If Philly wins to tie the season sequence 2-2, that will push the tiebreaker to convention report. At 29-18, the Warmth are at the moment forward of the 76ers (27-21), however that is not settled but. Maybe extra importantly, a win Thursday would give Philadelphia a sensible path to easily end forward of Miami within the standings.

After Miami, the 76ers end the season with 4 of their last 5 video games in opposition to groups with bottom-eight data. Though the Orlando Magic have a greater report, Philadelphia would seemingly be favored within the remaining sport by advantage of enjoying at dwelling with a wholesome Embiid.

If the Sixers win out, it is believable they may move each the Warmth and Pacers and keep away from the play-in altogether. Projections primarily based on ESPN’s Basketball Energy Index (BPI) confirmed Philly claiming a top-six seed in 6% of simulations earlier than Tuesday’s win.

The place the 76ers end has vital implications for the highest half of the East standings as properly. Not one of the convention’s high groups need to face the reigning MVP within the first spherical as a reward for incomes a top-three seed.

If Philadelphia wins the second play-in sport and claims the eighth seed it could imply a matchup in opposition to the top-seeded Boston Celtics for the second straight 12 months after the groups met within the 2023 convention semifinals. Count on renewed consideration on the potential for high seeds getting an opportunity to select their opponents sooner or later.

Whereas the Sixers can be an atypically difficult No. 8 seed, Boston would certainly be favored in a first-round sequence. So too would the No. 2 seed Milwaukee Bucks, albeit by a narrower margin. Whichever group finishes third out of the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Orlando Magic, might discover themselves a first-round underdog in opposition to Philadelphia with Embiid.

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