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Joel Embiid Back at Philadelphia 76ers After A Challenging Injury Battle

Joel Embiid (Via NBA)

Returning to the court exactly eight weeks after undergoing a procedure on the lateral meniscus in his left knee, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid acknowledged that the mental recovery from this injury was as challenging as any he has experienced in his NBA career.

“Usually, when I have injuries, I just tell myself, move on to the next one, get better, and then fix it,” said Embiid, who recorded 24 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, and 6 turnovers in a 109-105 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night. “But this one took a toll mentally, being depressed … It was not a good one.

“So, still not where I’m supposed to be, especially mentally, but I just love to play and love basketball and I want to play and any chance that I can be out there, I’m going to take it.”

When asked to elaborate on his mental state, Embiid admitted the injury left him feeling depressed.

“For some reason this injury was just … It was disappointing,” he said. “It was depressing. It took me a while to get over it, and I still haven’t gotten over it. So just got to take it day by day, look at the positive.

“I’m back. So, hopefully every single day, try to get better and get back to myself.”

It will take Embiid some time to regain the form he had before the injury, when he was averaging over 35 points per game and on pace to score more points than minutes played—something only Wilt Chamberlain has ever done in NBA history.

The injury also cost Embiid a chance to defend his MVP title and make one of the All-NBA or All-Defensive teams.

In his absence, Philadelphia struggled significantly. Including Tuesday’s victory, the 76ers are now 27-8 this season when Embiid plays and just 14-27 when he doesn’t.

Joel Embiid (Via NBA)

These struggles have left the 76ers in a precarious position for playoff seeding, as they will wake up Wednesday two losses behind both the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, who occupy the sixth and seventh spots, respectively, in the Eastern Conference standings.

Despite a crucial upcoming game in Miami against the Heat on Thursday night, the focus on Tuesday was on Embiid successfully completing his first game in over two months.

Embiid, who had his first full-contact, 5-on-5 practice on Saturday without any issues, was still listed as out for Tuesday’s game as late as two hours before tipoff.

However, just before 76ers coach Nick Nurse spoke to the media at 5:45 p.m. ET, a team spokesperson announced that Embiid had been upgraded to questionable. After taking the court for his customary workout less than an hour before tipoff, he reclaimed his starting center position.

This is not the first time the 76ers have violated the league’s injury reporting rules—which prohibit changing a player’s status from out to questionable within two hours of tipoff—and it could result in a hefty fine for the franchise.

Regardless, the team will gladly pay the fine. Philadelphia got its MVP back on the court and secured a win, largely thanks to Embiid drawing a pair of fouls and hitting four free throws in the final minute, as well as stealing the ball from Thunder guard Josh Giddey.

After appearing fatigued at times during the game, Embiid showed an impressive burst of energy in the final minutes of his 29 minutes on the court.

“I think minutes-wise that was probably where I thought we would end up,” Nurse said, noting that Embiid played in shorter stints to conserve energy. “I thought we got a good start into the half and it mapped out, something like that, minutes-wise.

I thought the biggest impact, he scored some, I thought he passed the ball really well, but again, when we start amping up our defense in the last six minutes he was down there again as I talked about before the game.

Some of those [Thunder] drives didn’t look as productive, so that to me is where I really thought he impacted the game.

Joel Embiid (Via NBA)

“He looked pretty good for not playing for a couple of months, that’s for sure.”

Tuesday also marked the first time Embiid played with both of Philadelphia’s starting guards, Cameron Payne and Kyle Lowry, as well as reserve Buddy Hield off the bench—the lack of chemistry was evident at times.

Still, forward Tobias Harris said it shouldn’t take long for everyone to get accustomed to playing alongside one of the league’s dominant forces.

“Just get ready to pass him the ball, and then be ready for when he gets double-teamed,” Harris said with a laugh.

“Seriously, that’s really what it comes down to. I think all those guys know how to play basketball. But he’s who we go through. He’s who the offense is generated by, having his presence out there and him being able to make plays are huge.”

Now, the focus shifts to Embiid’s recovery from his first game and how his left knee responds moving forward.

He was able to play Tuesday because there were no flare-ups after his extensive workout Saturday, and Embiid said the plan is for him to play Thursday against the Heat—assuming there are no setbacks.

“I think it’s all about how it responds,” he said. “Hopefully everything goes well.

“We just got to take it day by day, see how the knee responds tomorrow. We got a big one in Miami. If I’m good to go, obviously go.

But I think, it’s actually funny, the timeline was eight weeks and I’m back on that eight weeks. So I think I’ve learned a lot over the years and I got to take care of myself, got to stay healthy because I still have a long career ahead of this.”

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