Joel Embiid has not appeared in a game since Friday’s loss to the New York Knicks due to what the team reported as knee swelling. Just yesterday, though, Nick Nurse said he was hopeful the star big man would be able to play on Friday against Sacramento.
Nick Nurse said he’s “hoping” Joel Embiid can play Friday, that Embiid’s progressing well and he believes swelling is no longer an issue with his left knee.— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) January 10, 2024
OK, so at this point, we could be optimistic everything was generally fine. It’s a long season and guys get banged up, Embiid more than most. A few games off and Joel would be back on the court and we could go back to the good vibes of last month.
However, on today’s episode of The Woj Pod, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne paints a much stormier picture. The Sixers-related conversation occurs shortly after the 15-minute mark and here is the most pertinent snippet from Ramona:
“That knee injury is the same one he had during the playoffs last year. And during the playoffs, you know, he had to go. This is the kind of knee injury that normally is a four-to-six week injury. And he just played, after a little while off, because they were in the playoffs. You just got to try it. It was a thing he had to nurse over the summer. It’s just sort of always there.”
They go on to discuss the 65-game threshold for postseason awards and how that mark is in players’ minds, mentioning Embiid was the betting favorite for MVP prior to this most recent knee injury.
This is the point where I would insert the Mad Men ‘Not great, Bob’ meme.
Seriously, yikes. Embiid has a knee injury that’s sort of always there? And it was obviously bothering him against New York but he stayed in the game (presumably) because of the 30-10 streak that very few people outside of the NBC Sports graphics department care about? And he might come back sooner than he should because he has postseason awards criteria on his mind? All of this is bad, bad, bad, bad to hear as a Sixers fan.
Let’s talk through how this situation could play out. On the one hand, we probably want Embiid taking the four weeks off to get this injury right (or as right as something that’s ‘always there’ could be, I guess). His being as close to fully healthy as possible during the postseason is the only way any of this conceivably ends with a championship parade down Broad Street. In that scenario, the Sixers probably lose a lot of games, because that’s what they’ve been doing in games without Joel this season. They maybe fall to the four or five seed rather than the two or three seed and are looking at a much tougher playoff path that likely includes the Boston Celtics again in the second round.
The other path is Joel continues to try to play through this, coming back on Friday. We see games where he’s utterly dominant, and those where he’s moving around stiffly, only getting 30-10 because he’s one of the best players on the planet but we know he’s not playing anywhere near his best on both ends. He has to miss a few games here and there for swelling or maintenance and the whole thing lingers into the postseason where an 80 percent effective version of Embiid isn’t enough for the Sixers to finally get over the hump.
Either way, things don’t look great for the team’s prospects, but at least taking the time to rest the knee would reduce the chances of suffering another injury because his body is trying to compensate for the knee while he’s playing. Now I’m hoping Embiid doesn’t return to the floor for a while, something that seems insane after watching the team play without him the past couple games. BBall Paul, figure your stuff out quick. We need Playoff Paul badly.
Update from Ramona:
To clarify: the issue that has caused Embiid to miss this most recent time is swelling in his left knee—not the same issue he managed in the playoffs. There is not currently a long-term concern and he is considered day-to-day, per a source.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) January 11, 2024
Well, this is a much better scenario! What she said on the podcast seemed rather straightforward and she is as plugged into Embiid’s camp as anyone, so it’s confusing how she could have framed it that inaccurately. It’s also worth pointing out that Embiid’s LCL sprain during the playoffs happened to his right knee. The current swelling is in his left knee. Maybe just a simple mistake when speaking contemporaneously in the middle of a long conversation? Anyway, let’s hope this rosier outlook for Joel is what the Sixers have to work with moving forward.