Here’s the good news, Philadelphia 76ers fans: Unlike Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving (done for season), Joel Embiid sounds like he’ll be ready to rock at some point during the first round of the NBA playoffs.
But here’s the bad news: It doesn’t seem like “ready to rock at some point” refers to the start of their series with the Miami Heat.
Embiid admitted as much while speaking with the media before the Sixers nabbed their 16th straight victory in the regular-season finale, per Derek Bodner of The Athletic:
Joel Embiid, on whether he'll be available for game 1: "Unlikely, but there's still a chance." #Sixers.
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) April 11, 2018
SO YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE?
We’ll take it.
Embiid missed the Sixers’ final seven games after suffering an orbital fracture near his left eye that required surgery. Returning in time for the start of the playoffs always seemed like an ambitious timeline, especially considering his injury history. Other setbacks are unrelated to this one, but the Sixers have max money invested in him, with limited outs, moving forward.
At the same time, you could imagine them pushing him back as soon as possible. After all, they obviously cannot win a playoff series without him.
Or can they?
The Heat are a terrifying team. Postseason sets are largely chess matches between head coaches, and Miami’s sideline-stalker, Erik Spoelstra, is among the best at making adjustments on the fly and over the long haul. But the Sixers are growing into their own independent of Embiid. They’re now a net plus when Ben Simmons plays without him for the season, according to NBA.com. They’ve fared even better during his solo stints since the start of March, outpacing opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions across 451 minutes of total action.
This matters. It doesn’t mean the Sixers will beat the Heat should Embiid fail to return at all. It doesn’t even mean they’ll take down Miami with him. They’re young and relatively inexperienced at the playoff level. Any one of Embiid, Simmons, Markelle Fultz and Robert Covington could fold to the moment.
That doesn’t change what can only be touted as an incredibly crucial development: The Sixers don’t need to rush Embiid back if he’s not, in fact, ready. Not only would it be reckless, but, well, they’re starting to show they can compete and win without him.