PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia star Joel Embiid is out with a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, a potentially critical blow as the 76ers chase their first NBA championship since 1983.
Embiid sat out Game 5 against Washington on Wednesday night. He isn't scheduled to have surgery, and the Sixers will treat his injury with physical therapy. He is considered day to day.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers said only that he was “hopeful” the All-Star center could return at some point in the postseason.
“He's a competitor. The fact that he's not playing tonight, or whenever he can play, it bothers him,” Rivers said. “He's not in a great place that way. But he's good. He's fine.”
The Sixers held a 3-1 lead over the Wizards in the first-round Eastern Conference series and a victory would certainly give Embiid more time to rest before the next round.
Embiid walked out to big cheers for pregame warmups and shot mostly jumpers around the perimeter and some free throws. He hit fadeaways and appeared to move side-to-side with ease — putting on a little show perhaps to prove to fans and the league the big man just might not miss much time after all.
Matisse Thybulle got the start and the Sixers moved Ben Simmons to center.
Losing Embiid for a prolonged length of time could end Philly's run at the title — the Sixers played well in spurts without Embiid but went 10-11 without him in the regular season. The Sixers finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference and the 27-year-old Embiid led the way. He averaged 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds, and Rivers said they would not play Embiid unless he could handle big minutes and avoid further damage to the knee.
“He's willing to go through whatever it takes to get back on the floor,” Rivers said.
Embiid scored a postseason career-high 36 points in 28 minutes in a 29-point win for the 76ers in Game 3 on Saturday
Sixers guard George Hill said Embiid had “high hopes” for a postseason comeback.
“His mindset is to come back, his mindset is to always be here and play for us and compete,' he said. ”He’s very ecstatic of doing what he has to do to get back on this court, and that’s all you can expect from a leader like him.”
Embiid, who has a long injury history that includes missing his first two full seasons, was injured in Philadelphia's Game 4 loss. He wound up on the floor behind the baseline after having his shot blocked by Washington’s Robin Lopez on a drive to the basket in the first quarter.
After staying down for a moment, a wincing Embiid rose and then put his hand on his lower right back. He remained in the game briefly before eventually heading to the locker room in the last minute of the period.
Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, had surgery in March 2017 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
“Our job is to keep his spirits up and keep pushing him to get ready,” Rivers said.
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