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



What Joel Embiid's return means for the Philadelphia 76ers and the East playoff picture

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

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

“Go quicker?” 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 recreation after swiping the ball from Thunder guard Josh Giddey.

Seconds after the steal, Embiid, in his first recreation in eight weeks after present process a process on the lateral meniscus in his left knee, jumped into Thunder middle 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 making an attempt to get the and-one,” Embiid stated postgame.

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



Joel Embiid comes up with essential steal in crunch time

Joel Embiid breaks away from Josh Giddey after the steal and is fouled in transition.

General, it was an uneven efficiency for Embiid: 24 factors on 6-for-14 taking pictures however 12-for-12 from the foul line, to go together with 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 6 turnovers in almost half-hour on the court docket. 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 along with his teammates since Golden State Warriors ahead Jonathan Kuminga inadvertently fell on his leg throughout a recreation 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 purpose is to play in that recreation, too.

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

Tuesday’s recreation, at the same time as 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 bought to take [the wins], and maintain competing.”

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

What Embiid means for Philadelphia on the court docket

For Philadelphia, the following two weeks are about two issues: getting Embiid up-to-speed and doing every little thing doable to keep away from the play-in match. Whereas Embiid’s return was an apparent increase, it confirmed how a lot his group has modified since he went out in late January. Earlier than Tuesday’s recreation, 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 recreation with a hip harm.

When Embiid is on the court docket 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 harm, 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, supplies stable two-way play and has a beneficial 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 nicely off the ball who ought to slip proper into some glorious two-man recreation actions with Embiid, simply as J.J. Redick and Seth Curry have with him up to now. And Nicolas Batum, after lacking a number of chunks of time attributable to harm earlier within the 12 months, has turn out to be a staple in Philadelphia’s lineup who may 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 associate 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.



Legler: With a wholesome Embiid, Sixers’ ceiling is convention finals

Tim Legler breaks down how the return of Joel Embiid impacts the 76ers’ playoff hopes within the Jap Convention.

Embiid’s affect on the East playoff image

Thursday’s matchup in Miami with the Warmth looms as a digital must-win for the 76ers to climb larger than eighth coming into the East play-in match. 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 need to 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 prone to a minimum of cut up its remaining six video games.

If Philly wins to tie the season sequence 2-2, that might push the tiebreaker to convention report. At 29-18, the Warmth are at present 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 remaining 5 video games in opposition to groups with bottom-eight data. Though the Orlando Magic have a greater report, Philadelphia would probably be favored within the remaining recreation by advantage of taking part in at dwelling with a wholesome Embiid.

If the Sixers win out, it is believable they may go 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 nicely. Not one of the convention’s prime groups wish 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 recreation and claims the eighth seed it might 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. Anticipate renewed consideration on the potential of prime seeds getting an opportunity to select their opponents sooner or later.

Whereas the Sixers can be an atypically difficult No. 8 seed, Boston would absolutely 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, may discover themselves a first-round underdog in opposition to Philadelphia with Embiid.

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