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Embiid still doubtful but ‘improving daily’; Harden says Achilles ‘not even a problem’

There were positive health updates from the Sixers’ last practice before their series with the Celtics starts Monday night.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

To get it out of the way, Joel Embiid is listed as doubtful for Game 1 against the Celtics Monday night.

But despite a discouraging report Saturday night, Doc Rivers did offer a glimmer of hope on Embiid after practice Sunday.

“Yeah, there’s been optimism all along, but there’s also realism,” Rivers told reporters. “You’ve got to be realistic. And I just don’t know. Still doubtful, but he’s improving daily. That’s good for us.”

Rivers said that Embiid still isn’t really practicing — he’s not running and is mostly just doing some shooting on the side. The videos from practice won’t make you jump for joy thinking Embiid will be available Monday, but it seems positive that he was doing at least light work and moving side to side. (Note: he does not appear to be wearing any sort of brace.)

Whenever Embiid feels good enough to return to the lineup, his team is ready to welcome its star big man back. Every teammate that’s spoken has said that Embiid has stayed positive despite yet another playoff injury.

“We communicate often, especially these last few days as far as how he feels and things like that,” James Harden told reporters. “I mean, it’s up to Joel. It’s up to him when his body feels like he’s ready to come back — or, if his body isn’t feeling all the way at 100 percent, he (could) still be like, ‘I’m still going to go out there and hoop, and try to figure it out.’ That’s all on him. I don’t think anybody in the world can have that mindset other than Joel Embiid.

“Obviously, we know the value that he brings to our team and what he’s been doing all year long. So when he’s ready to come back and hoop — when he feels like he’s ready — obviously, we’re waiting for him. But until then, we’ve got to go out there and try to win a basketball game — one game at a time. That’s our mindset as a team.”

The other positive update is that Harden said the Achilles injury he suffered back in mid-January is no longer an issue — if you choose to believe him.

As for what caused Harden’s struggles inside the arc against Brooklyn, there’s no clear answer. The 10-time All-Star said the issues stemmed from him needing to be the focal point of the offense with Embiid out. He believes the time off between series has remedied that.

Harden was elite setting the table this season and leading the NBA in assists. But if the Sixers want any hope of beating the Celtics without Embiid (if he is indeed out), the three-time scoring champ is going to have to turn in a vintage performance.

“For me, this whole year has been the playmaker role of James Harden — the sacrifice of not really scoring and all that good stuff,” Harden said. “And now it’s like, ‘All right, I’ve got to turn the switch on and be a little more aggressive’ — not only with scoring the basketball, but getting in the paint and generating really good shots for our team. That’s what’s going to help us. All of that said, it’s just going out there, reading the game of basketball, and playing off my basketball instincts. Just going out there and hooping.”

The Sixers head up to Boston to take on the Celtics for Game 1 Monday night (7:30 p.m. ET/TNT).

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