CAMDEN, NJ — More than any other team in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs, the Philadelphia 76ers have had the luxury of time on their side. They were the only team to sweep a series in the first round, dispatching the lowly Brooklyn Nets and earning a week-long break. The Sixers have really needed it after Joel Embiid sprained his right LCL in Game 3.
Embiid made a brief appearance at the very end of the Sixers’ first practice since ending the series in Brooklyn, working out in the weight room with some light resistance drills. Doc Rivers said that he just watched film with the rest of the team and that there won’t be another update from the team for at least a couple of days.
Rivers initially said that the chances that Embiid is able to play to start the second round were 50 percent. Recent reporting has expressed some optimism that he will be able to play to start the series but as of now, his status is still uncertain. After practice, Rivers was asked about the frustration of dealing with yet another postseason injury to Embiid, who dealt with a face and thumb injury last season and a small meniscus tear the season prior. The Sixers’ head coach offered a different angle to the question.
“It’s not what you want but I don’t know if the word frustrated is what I would use,” the Sixers coach said. “I mean, it’s just part of our journey and part of our story. You go through stuff. It could be someone else — we don’t care. We want everyone to be healthy, right? It doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen, so what are we going to do about it? What we have to do is prepare everybody.”
The Sixers’ preparation for Game 4 was good enough to prevent another game against the scrappy Nets. Their next opponent will most likely be the Boston Celtics, who lead the Atlanta Hawks 3-1 with Game 5 being at home. Should they take care of business — an outcome bumped up from super likely to super duper likely following Dejounte Murray’s suspension — the Sixers-Celtics series will begin on Saturday, April 29 at TD Garden.
While Joel Embiid obviously wants to make it back out there, his availability is not close to a given at the moment. Rivers claimed that this year’s Sixers team has been better at playing without Embiid than the prior two Philly teams he led. After posting Embiid-less records of 10-11 and 6-8 in each of the past two seasons, this year’s team went 12-5 with the superstar center out (including Game 4 vs. Brooklyn). Rivers laid out three reasons why they have been able to survive without him when they needed to.
“I think number one, accepting it,” Rivers said. “My first year here, I remember the first couple of games Joel didn’t play. You walk in the locker room, you’re looking at guys like, ‘Oh my,’ and I kept [being] like, ‘Okay, he’s not playing today. It’s gonna happen. You gotta still play.’ And I thought we talked about that a lot the first year. We don’t talk about it anymore.
“Secondly, we have better players,” Rivers added. “We’ve added more guys. Even the guys who were here are better. So I think that’s big.” Having P.J. Tucker, De’Anthony Melton and Jalen McDaniels on the roster and Paul Reed in the rotation has certainly given the Sixers a boost of physicality, as has James Harden’s superior health at this point in the season compared to last year.
“And then the last thing is we believe we can win games. Period. No matter who plays,” Rivers concluded. “I think that’s been our message all year and that may serve as well moving forward for a while.”
The Sixers will need to hone in on that message as intensely as they can while Joel Embiid looks to get healthy and the rest of the team prepares to start the next round of the playoffs with or without him.
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