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February 15, 2017

Embiid out for all-star weekend, but Sixers hopeful he'll return after break

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Following Wednesday night's game in Boston, the Sixers will be off for over week – their next game is Feb. 24 against the Wizards at home – thanks to an extended all-star break.

And when they take the court at The Center next Friday night in the first leg of a back-to-back, the team is hopeful that its best player, rookie center Joel Embiid, will be back out there with his teammates, much to the delight of Sixers fans who have spent much of the last month wondering when he will return.

The Sixers came under fire over the weekend when Derek Bodner broke the news that Embiid had a partially torn meniscus in addition to a bone bruise, forcing Bryan Colangelo to admit to the injury after he twice denied Embiid was suffering from anything more than a bone bruise earlier in the week.

Now, the team is trying to explain that the decision not to reveal the extent of Embiid's injury was not an intentional ploy to trick fans into buying tickets with the hopes that he would be back on the court in a few days. While it may have been a bad look for the front office, it certainly wasn't anything that dastardly. More likely, it was a combination of things, including the fact that the team didn't want to put a hard return date on Embiid without being almost certain that he would be ready to play. Should the Sixers have been more transparent? Sure. Were they intentionally trying to mislead the fans? Or tank? Or some other wild conspiracy? Not likely.

And with some wondering whether Embiid would be out even longer, head coach Brett Brown tried to calm some nerves during his Wednesday appearance on the WIP Morning Show with Angelo Cataldi. 

Here's what Brown had to say:

"Everybody should hear this, our intention is we’re gonna play him. He’s gonna do what he’s doing, he’s gonna come back after the all-star break and it’s our intention to get him back on the court. Nobody would do that if it was something that we felt was significant. The injury was a bone bruise and I feel like when people hear 'meniscus,' people’s eyes and ears go up and I understand. But really the end game for us, is we hope to get him back on the court after the all-star break.” [CBS Philly]

Brown went on to explain that the bone bruise -- an injury that often makes it difficult predict recovery time -- is actually the part of the injury that's keeping the 7-foot-2 rookie sidelined for an extended period of time. In fact, the meniscus tear is a pre-existing injury that Embiid has likely been playing with for much of the season and didn't reveal itself until he went for an MRI following the Blazers game in which he first hurt his knee.

And, should he return next week, it's an injury with which he'll continue to play.

"The minimal way that they’ve explained [the meniscus tear], you just sort of dust it off and you move on," Brown added. "The problem is the bone bruise ... and it’s something that perhaps should have been said and delivered just like I just did, where it was something where nobody was really raising their eyebrows about. The injury is the bone bruise and the preexisting injury we can deal with later.”

Wednesday's game against the Celtics will be the 13th game in the team's last 14 that Embiid will be sidelined with a slight meniscus tear. In the 12 games he's missed so far while rehabbing his latest injury, the Sixers have gone 5-7, with wins in each of their last three games. 

In preparation for his return – and to make sure he doesn't suffer a setback in the interim – the team said Embiid will make the trip to New Orleans this weekend, but will not participate in either of the all-star events in which he was invited to play: the BBVA Compass Rising Star Challenge (Dario Saric and Jahlil Okafor will take part) and the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. He will be replaced in those contests by Alex Abrines (OKC) and Nikola Jokic (DEN), respectively. 

Should Embiid return to action against the Wizards, it means that the frontrunner for rookie of the year will have played just one game in the previous month (since Jan. 20). And that could mean a temporary shortening of his 28-minute-per-game limit, if only for a few games.

In 31 games this season, Embiid is averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 25.2 minutes per game. Despite being snubbed in the all-star voting, Embiid has been named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for all three months of the NBA season. No Eastern Conference player has won the award in each month of his rookie season since LeBron James did it in 2003-04. The most recent player in either conference was Blake Griffin in 2010-11.

That streak is in jeopardy this month as Embiid has yet to play a game in February and will have just three games on his ledger before the calendar turns to March, assuming he's cleared to return for the Sixers' first game after the break. 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin