Sixers Need Joel Embiid to Quickly Return to His Dominant Ways

The reigning MVP is nearing his return from knee surgery.

Joel Embiid underwent surgery to repair an injury to his meniscus on on February 6. He has not suited up for the Philadelphia 76ers since January 30. Without their star center, the Sixers have struggled, limping to a 10-17 record. They desperately need Embiid back and dominating.

Philly entered Thursday occupying the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 39-34 record, but shouldn’t be without their best player for long. Nick Nurse told reporters on Thursday that Embiid has begun participating in light practices and would be joining the 76ers on their road trip this weekend.

The 76ers may not get Embiid back tomorrow, or even Sunday, but he’s inching near the point of return. Not a second too late, either. With the postseason rapidly approaching, Philadelphia is hoping an Embiid return could propel it to a surprise postseason run. The question is how quickly the reigning MVP can round back into form after suffering the second meniscus injury of his career.

The 76ers hope sooner rather than later. They will be jostling for position in the Eastern Conference playoff picture in the final nine games of their season. The Sixers, Miami Heat, and Indiana Pacers are currently the sixth, seventh and eighth seeds in the East and their records are separated by 1.5 games. Getting Embiid back in any capacity could help the Sixers earn a more favorable playoff matchup by avoiding the play-in tournament entirely.

He will not immediately be the same player he was in the first half of this season, nor should we expect him to be. Embiid is coming off multiple months with no basketball activity and knee surgery. He was also really, really good before the injury. In 34 games, the superstar center averaged 35.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists along with 1.8 blocks and 1.1 steals per contest. Those are absurd numbers and Philadelphia would be ecstatic if he could even bring half of that production to the table when he returns.

The team will really take whatever Embiid can give. It has reached the ceiling of this version of the roster featuring Tyrese Maxey as the No. 1 option. Maxey is a lightning bolt scorer who has blown up this season and will likely win Most Improved Player. He’s averaging 25.8 points and 6.1 assists per game this year. He’s also 23 years old and pretty green when it comes to playoff experience.

Maxey is entirely capable of winning the odd game without Embiid around but the Sixers haven’t managed to keep their heads above.500 with the Kentucky product as the primary threat. Adding Embiid to the mix changes things to Maxey’s benefit. It doesn’t even matter if the Embiid plays near an MVP level. As long as defenses have to focus on the reigning MVP, Maxey will have more room to operate. So will everybody else on the roster.

It’s simple for Philadelphia. Adding Embiid in any capacity will improve the team and give them the capability to make noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Should he come back and play pretty well, Philadelphia has the makings of a squad that could make a deep postseason run. And if Embiid can get back to something resembling the force of nature he was early in the season, watch out.

Liam McKeone is an editor at The Big Lead.

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