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March 29, 2021

Doc Rivers hints at Joel Embiid return later this week

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Joel-Embiid-Sixers-76ers-Bulls-021921_USAT Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Sixers center Joel Embiid.

Last we heard about Joel Embiid, the Sixers said all the right things about his return-to-play. Prior to their loss to the Clippers on Saturday, reporters were told that Embiid had resumed on-court basketball activities and was ramping up his conditioning. Those tend to be signs of a return sooner than later, but as with all things Embiid, the Sixers are content to remain vague and take the overly cautious approach on all fronts.

But thanks to head coach Doc Rivers, we can guess a likely return date: Saturday, April 3rd against the Minnesota Timberwolves, three weeks removed from the initial two-week timeline provided by the team.

Answering a question about Paul Reed, the big man who the Sixers moved from a two-way deal to a big-boy contract last week, Rivers noted the path to playing time for Reed was tough at the moment, noting the talent of the power forwards in front of him. But as he went on down the depth chart and discussed the big men for the Sixers, he gave us a bit of insight on Embiid's looming return.

"Obviously right now, we're down on men. We have one big right now on our team. You know, it's funny, about a week ago we had four centers, now we're down to two, without Joel [Embiid] we're down to one center and then a bunch of small guys. That's just what we are for the next two games probably, and then we'll get back to our normal rotations."

Without saying as much, it certainly seems to suggest Embiid will be back early in the team's upcoming homestand. Unless they have another big man in exile I'm unaware of, these last two games on the road against Denver and Cleveland should spell the end of the Embiid-less run.

A return following the team's road trip out west was always the likeliest scenario for Embiid. As Rivers has noted repeatedly, keeping Embiid close to home allowed him to focus on rest and rehab with the assistance of trusted staffers at the practice facility, rather than trying to figure out what that process looks like while traveling around the Western Conference for a couple of weeks.

The good news for Embiid? He's set to return to a team that has coped with his absence better than any other version of the team since he first suited up in 2016. Embiid's absence has frequently led to disaster, including as recently as the beginning of this season, but they have found a way to string together wins and defend at a reasonably high level without their backbone.

They'll look ever so different, with deadline acquisition George Hill also expected to link up with his new team once they are back in Philadelphia following the road trip. Rivers was a little meandering in an answer about Hill's health, noting only that he was hopefully to get him some decent minutes with the team before now and the playoffs.

"I think he'll join us when we get back from the road trip. He's still doing some rehab work, we want him to get through that, we're not going to force him back or push him back," Rivers said. "Even when he's cleared to play, conditioning is a factor."

"We have to wait for him to be healthy, but we knew that when we did the trade...hopefully we have a 10-game window or more that he can get acclimated with the team, but I'm very confident that he can fit in."

Given the team's most recent update on Hill, a 10-game window feels like an ultra-pessimistic hope — that would allow him to sit until basically the end of April, when the quality of the games won't teach us much about what he can offer Philly in the first place. But that does spell out the balance the Sixers will have to walk with all of their guys leading into the postseason, with a packed schedule and various injury and fatigue concerns to keep an eye on.

Other notes

• The only other real notable from Tuesday's practice session was, as has often been the case lately, some interesting musings on one "BBall" Paul Reed. A fun fact revealed by Dwight Howard at Monday's practice: Reed participated in a camp sponsored by Howard when both men were younger, a fact that Howard makes the elder big feel "ancient" by comparison.

But the real scoop from Howard — at least if you believe in him as a reliable narrator — is the swagger Reed showed up to training camp with.

"The first day he came into training camp, the first thing he said was, 'Call me Alley, throw me alley-oops," and I was like, who in their right mind comes in and says call me Alley? You at least say your first and last name and where you're from. He told us what he wanted and how he wanted it," Howard said.

The BS-meter is going off for me, but who knows, maybe this will birth some Paul Reed urban legends.

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