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April 30, 2023

Joel Embiid sighted at practice, but Sixers still sound doubtful he will play

The latest on Joel Embiid after he was seen at Sixers practice ahead of the team's playoff matchup with the Boston Celtics.

Joel Embiid made a noteworthy appearance at Sixers practice on Sunday, hoisting up jumpers in view of the media for roughly a half hour. But based on his lack of movement and what was said by members of his team, it does not sound like Embiid will emerge from behind a smokescreen to play in Game 1.

According to head coach Doc Rivers, Embiid is making forward progress, though not the sort of big leap forward anyone rooting for Philadelphia is hoping for.

"He did a little bit more, not much. But he didn't do any running or anything like that. Just did some shooting and stuff," Rivers said Sunday. "There's been optimism all along, but there's also realism, you've got to be realistic. And I just don't know, still doubtful but he's improving daily. That's good for us."

Watching Embiid work out at Philadelphia's practice facility, it was difficult to get a read on his state of being one way or another. Paired up with James Harden, Embiid did little else except take catch-and-shoot jumpers from different areas of the floor. Most of those shots came from around his favored spots at the elbows, with Embiid eventually stretching the range out to the three-point line.

What you see in these videos is a good summation of what we have been able to see in person – Embiid's touch was more than fine on those shots, but he was not putting much stress on his lower body or running through any drills that would do so. The actions that would put real stress on his body, or live-action drills with Embiid running up and down the floor, look a way's off at this point.

For those in the "They're deceiving everybody!" camp, you had some morsels to hang onto on Sunday. Harden would remark that Sunday was Embiid's "first time shooting" while speaking with the media, people around the team had noted that Embiid was able to do some shooting on the side of the gym earlier in the practice week. So there's at least a small disconnect between what we've known is happening and what the message being delivered is.

However, Harden sounded as pessimistic as anyone on Embiid's chances to play, noting that they'd been hoping to have Embiid back to open this series vs. Boston.

"Well, we was hoping it'd give enough time for big fella to be back and ready for Game 1," Harden said of their long layoff. "But a little adversity, just be ready to go out there and play well for Game 1."

Assuming Embiid misses at least Game 1, Harden becomes the center of Philadelphia's universe, a boon for his backers and a bad sign for those troubled by his finishing woes in round one. The Celtics, in theory, have multiple big, athletic wings to throw at Harden to slow him down, and without Embiid on the floor to suck attention in, the pressure on Harden to win isolation matchups swells in stature.

Throughout the season, Harden has noted many times that balancing responsibilities and sacrificing for the team as necessary has been his top priority. And while he told reporters Sunday that Embiid's looming absence warranted an uptick in aggression, he made sure to clarify that does not necessarily mean just going into Houston Harden mode and hunting his shot relentlessly for four quarters.

"I got to turn the switch on and be a little bit more aggressive, not only just scoring the basketball but getting into the paint, generating really good shots for our team," Harden said. "That's what's going to help us. Just going out there, reading the game of basketball, playing off of my basketball instincts and just going out there and hooping."

For now, all the Sixers can really do with regard to Embiid is wait, as all the quotes and hope and updates in the world fall secondary to how Embiid's body feels. And Harden drove that theme home to end Sunday's practice, saying that while only Embiid can determine when he's ready to return, the rest of the Sixers have to focus on the task at hand.

"It's up to Joel, it's up to him when his body feels like he's ready to come back, or if his body isn't feeling all the way 100 percent and he's still going to go out there and hoop and try to figure it out," Harden said. "That's all on him, I don't think nobody in the world can have that mindset other than Joel Embiid, you know what I mean?"

"Obviously, we know the value that he brings to our team and what he's been doing all year long. So when he's ready to come back and hoop, when he feels like he's ready, obviously we're waiting for him. But until then, we got to go out there and try to win a basketball game one game at a time. That's kind of our mindset as a team." 

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