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April 29, 2023

Report: Joel Embiid's LCL sprain 'more serious than Grade 1'

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Embiid-Sixers-Mavericks-March-2023 Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Sixers MVP candidate Joel Embiid warms up ahead of the team’s home game against the Dallas Mavericks.

Joel Embiid is doubtful to play in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics, and the problem could be much worse than that, with reporting coming out on Saturday evening that Embiid could be dealing with a more serious sprain than was initially thought.

Over at The Athletic, Shams Charania reports that Embiid's sprain is "considered to be more serious than a Grade 1 LCL sprain." Immediately after reporting this, Charania included an anecdote regarding Embiid's history of pain tolerance/management:

The two ideas are a bit incoherent, based on the information we have available about this specific injury. PhillyVoice spoke to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Christopher Selgrath this past week, with Selgrath explaining the grades of LCL sprains as follows:

If we look at a physical exam, think of a ligament like silly putty. It stretches out a little bit, so we can test that on a physical exam to see if there's a little laxity there. That's one way to determine the grade and say if this is a mild problem, a moderate problem, or a severe problem. Then when you get the MRI, you can look for different hints and criteria. Is there fluid – they probably saw fluid around the lateral collateral ligament, and that's where they would come up with, we think he sprained his LCL. And then you could determine, an MRI is the test to see if it's completely torn. If it's a mild sprain, you can be better as quickly as maybe 10-14 days. If it's a really bad sprain going into that Grade 2, you're looking at four weeks of some irritability, and then if it's a Grade 3, you're looking at over 6-12 weeks probably.

By definition, a sprain worse than a Grade 1 is either a Grade 2 (a month of irritability) or a Grade 3 (which is a complete tear of a ligament with a longer timeline). In other words, if Embiid's sprain is worse than a Grade 1, appearing at all in this series would appear to be far-fetched.

Frankly, it's too early to tell what's going to happen with Embiid, but the recent signs are not good. Embiid missed practice again on Saturday, Philadelphia's second-to-last tuneup before round two, and was only able to go through some light shooting on the side of the gym while the rest of the team ran through active drills. The message Doc Rivers delivered was pretty straightforward, with the head coach not expecting him to play in the series opener.

"There is no latest," Rivers said Saturday. "Doctors looked at him and he didn't do anything today. I'll say this, if I was a betting man I would say doubtful for at least Game 1, but we'll see."

Beyond that, though, it's simply too early to say whether Embiid will miss time or (in a disaster scenario) miss the entire round. Philadelphia's franchise center is undergoing treatment and evaluation every day leading into the series, and no one has been willing to put a firm label on his availability outside of Rivers' doubtful label for Game 1. That doesn't mean this is all a smokescreen, or that he's better or worse off than is being let on. But it's an evolving situation based almost entirely on how Embiid's body heals and responds, which is why you've seen the reporting couched in words like maybe and could and doubtful, rather than will and can't or won't.

In any case, it has left the Sixers and the Philadelphia fanbase in the same position they have been stuck in many times before, crossing their fingers that they might get a good version of Embiid, let alone the best version of Embiid, during the most important time of the season. 

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