February 16, 2023
You could tell the Sixers were ready for the All-Star break watching the pace at which they moved in the locker room. By the time reporters got there on Wednesday night, James Harden was fully dressed with a carry-on suitcase by his side, ready to get out of town. With just one All-Star representative for Philadelphia this year, everyone except for Joel Embiid can focus on getting healthy and relaxing.
Based on what Embiid said Wednesday, however, he may be joining his teammates and resting this weekend. Embiid's focus, he says, is on getting his body right in advance of an important final stretch of the year.
"I’m not sure, I’m not healthy," Embiid said when asked if he'd play in Sunday's game. "I haven’t been healthy for the past three weeks or month, I was just trying to get to the All-Star break without missing games and stuff. I feel like I’ve reached the point where I really need to follow the doctor’s advice and miss, back then he said I should have been sitting for two weeks. Going to see how the next few days go and go from there."
Embiid has been a fixture on Philadelphia's injury report during that time period, appearing as questionable for basically every game before being declared good to go a half hour before game time. There have been few signs that would cause you to worry if you're judging him strictly on performance, but when it comes to the big man's feet, caution is always warranted.
It has been one thing after another for Embiid on that front dating back to last summer. In the opening weeks of the season, it was revealed that Embiid had suffered from plantar fascitis during the offseason, cutting down on his workout program and eating into his prep for the season. Over the first month or so of the season, Embiid worked his way back into full form, only to get knocked out of the lineup for four games in late November after falling awkwardly in a collision with Georges Niang. That moment was the genesis of this current foot problem, which flared up again in early January and has dogged him in the time since.
Any time missed due to injury could obviously have a dramatic impact on the Sixers, who are about to embark on their toughest stretch of the season with only two games separating them (in both directions) from the second-place Bucks and fourth-place Cavs. Their margin for error is thin, with the month of March loaded with back-to-backs and tough matchups, including battles with the new-look Suns and Mavericks toward the end of that run.
There are personal stakes, too. Embiid is right in the mix for the NBA MVP award once again, and if he plays in every single game the rest of the way, he would hit the 70-game mark for the season. It's a critical threshold — Bill Walton is the only NBA MVP in league history to play fewer than 70 games in a full 82-game season, and with competition thick for the award this season, any time missed would spell doom in what might already be a doomed campaign for the top individual honor.
That concern, though, is being kept to Embiid's private grumbling. if it's happening at all. With his focus on the second half of the season, health was the overarching theme of his parting chat with the media, Embiid emphasizing that it's the most important thing for Philly to get right between now and the end of the season.
"Stay healthy. I think that's the key," Embiid said Wednesday. "And then keep learning how to play with each other, obviously we have a couple of new guys that we got to get up to speed. But the guys who have been here, we know what we got to do. You look at the way we started the game, that's the way we should be playing."
"I’ve been having this lingering foot issue, according to the doctors [it] needs a lot of rest and staying off of my feet. The focus is on winning, especially getting ready [for] the second half of the season and the playoffs. I’m focused on winning a championship, and whatever helps me get there healthy, that’s what I’m going to do. Just going to see how it goes. Obviously, just what the doctors said, I got to follow whatever they say, just need rest and stay off of my feet."
It doesn't sound like a man ready to give it a go this Sunday in Salt Lake City.
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