When the Philadelphia 76ers faced the New York Knicks on Friday night, they missed out on their two All-Stars. James Harden’s absence was expected as the star goaltender suffered a hamstring injury in his right foot against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday.
As for Joel Embiid, his status as a player was up in the air before the game. Last Friday, Embiid missed his first game of the season with a knee injury. While returning to the floor on the second night of a straight game against the Chicago Bulls, Embiid missed the following Monday’s game against the Washington Wizards due to non-COVID illness.
On Wednesday, he was also absent for the rematch. At this time, Doc Rivers revealed that Embiid had not been on the team. As the medical staff suggested he stay away from the team until he felt better, the big man agreed.
On Friday morning, Embiid was back at the Sixers practice facility. As the team was in a shootout hours before the call against the New York Knicks, a dodgy Embiid took to the field with the idea of potentially making his comeback on Friday night.
“We didn’t know,” Doc Rivers said of Embiid’s status ahead of Friday’s game. “Honestly, we didn’t know.” From Embiid’s appearance in the Friday morning session, Rivers wasn’t sure if he wanted the All-Star to play based on the eye test.
“I was 50/50 watching it in shootaround,” Rivers continued. “I thought he was really struggling. He went through about 25 per cent of the shots this morning. You can see he wasn’t feeling well. He showed up, got on the floor, got kicked fire and just felt bad.
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Embiid arrived at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night with the intention of potentially playing. Considered a game time decision, Embiid warmed up to play which was a step in the right direction. In the end, however, he was ruled out. Shortly after undergoing a brief warm-up, Embiid returned to street clothes and stayed away from the team.
“It’s just that time of year when the weather changes,” Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey said. “Philly decides he wants to be hot, 80 degrees, then he wants to be 40 degrees, and now I’m freezing. I think everyone is getting a little under the weather. We just have to keep pushing. Keep pushing. It’s been a long season, and it’s only the beginning.
Without Embiid, the Sixers fell to the New York Knicks 106-104. With the next two days off, Rivers and the Sixers will hope that’s enough time to get the big man back in motion.
“The way we look at it, we have the next two days off with training, and now we can ramp it up and get it back,” Rivers continued. “Obviously we want to win the game, and taking him down would obviously help us, but we also have to think about the long game. I thought it was the right decision not to play.
Embiid’s return process won’t be as simple as just showing up and picking up where he left off. With a recent history of plantar fasciitis, the big man was already struggling with his playing conditioning as he lacked time in the offseason. Adding the flu into the mix only makes the battle to get back to the MVP level he was for the past two years even more difficult.
“It’s hard for him to condition when you have a foot, you know what I mean?” The rivers explained. “We have things with the pool and the AlterG, which you can use without any supporting elements. But first, he needs to be healthy enough to breathe from the flu so he can start running again. That’s why we just have to be very careful in this upcoming stretch. Again, we have to think about the long game.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for All76ers, a Sports Illustrated channel. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.