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Report: ‘Optimism’ Joel Embiid could come back by Game 3 or 4

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Sixers could have Joel Embiid back when the team returns back to Philly.

Philadelphia 76ers v Toronto Raptors - Game Six Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

The news Friday of Joel Embiid’s orbital bone fracture and concussion dampened the mood as the Sixers got set to take on the Miami Heat in the second round.

On Sunday, there was a glimmer of hope.

It’s not surprising to see that Embiid won’t be available for Games 1 and 2 in Miami. The MVP finalist suffered the injury Thursday late in the Sixers’ Game 6 drubbing of the Raptors after getting elbowed in the face by Pascal Siakam. Danny Green shared the details of what Embiid went through postgame on his “Inside the Green Room” podcast and it was clear the All-Star big was in rough shape.

But news that Embiid will not need surgery on his fractured orbital bone — as first reported Friday by Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice — left the door open for a possible return in this series. Embiid will likely have to wear a protective mask, meaning the return of the Phantom of the Process. When Embiid suffered an orbital bone fracture in 2018, it did require surgery, forcing Embiid to miss several weeks, including the first two playoff games against the Heat.

Time is a flat circle.

Miami isn’t coming to this series at 100 percent either. Philly native and veteran guard Kyle Lowry will be out for Game 1 with a hamstring issue. Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro are listed as questionable, but both players indicated they would play on Monday.

The key to the Heat’s success as the East’s No. 1 seed was their depth. That will apparently be tested a bit in this series.

As for the Sixers, Doc Rivers has said he’ll tailor his offense around James Harden with Embiid out. When you’re missing an MVP finalist, having a former MVP and top-75 player of all time be the focal point of the offense isn’t a bad option.

“We’re going to play more of a James-oriented offense than we have, because we have to,” Rivers said after practice Saturday. “We’re going to space the floor more. We’re going to play in space more. We play minutes without Joel, and it’s harder in the games he plays in because everything has been sort of tailored to his style. But now that he’s not in, we have to do something else.”

The Sixers will try to steal a game in Miami starting Monday, biding their time for a possible Embiid return.