January 24, 2023
When Joel Embiid got the night off in Sacramento on Saturday, it felt like a move from a team happy with a 4-0 start to their road trip. Resting Embiid and James Harden during a game that would be played at 10 p.m. on the west coast, in the middle of an Eagles playoff game, would give their two stars nearly a week between games. Sort of a no-brainer.
But Doc Rivers cast at least a little bit of doubt on that line of thought on Tuesday, when he told reporters at practice that Embiid did not go during the team's group session.
"He's here, but he didn't go," Rivers said Tuesday. "We didn't do much. We did a lot of skeleton work and walkthrough stuff. I don't know [if he'll play vs. Brooklyn]. It's day-to-day, we'll see if it progresses.
"We just want to make sure it's right. If it's right, he plays, if it's not, we wait another game and see where he's at."
Embiid had been listed with "left foot injury recovery" over the weekend, and the big man has been dealing with soreness/pain in his foot throughout the season, after getting tangled up with Georges Niang in a loss to the Timberwolves on November 19. The big man missed four games at the end of November but has been available for most of the last two months, missing another three games after reaggravating the area in a win over the Pelicans at the start of this month.
If Embiid is thinking about skipping Wednesday's meeting with Brooklyn, though, he isn't sporting the look of a man preparing for a layoff.
While reporters waited to talk to other players at the facility on Tuesday, Embiid spent the better part of 30-45 minutes working up a sweat on the practice floor. What started as a series of shooting drills from midrange, with Embiid moving to different spots on the floor to receive passes from assistant Sam Cassell, eventually turned into spirited three-on-three battles with members of Philadelphia's staff.
We did get an Embiid sighting post practice today pic.twitter.com/ZQgIDIfWVo— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) January 24, 2023
Embiid has been out here with coaches for quite a bit post practice pic.twitter.com/I4uYRo3jIv— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) January 24, 2023
Watching a player like Embiid in a scrimmage setting against staffers is a genuinely hilarious sight, the big man touching the ball on every single offensive possession while dwarfing most of the other guys in the game. What started as a halfcourt game eventually progressed into full-court hoops, and Embiid wasn't much less competitive in that setting than he is on an average night in the NBA. He was not thrilled with a couple of fouls called by staffers during the game, showing his frustration by kicking the ball with a deafening thud off of a practice facility wall.
In the hour before a game, you can usually tell by watching Embiid if he's going to suit up or not, as there's a clear difference between a standard walkthrough and Embiid laboring through a half-hearted warmup. As of now, he looks like a guy ready to play the Nets on Wednesday, at the very least in a position to test it out on Wednesday evening.
Who could blame him for being revved up? This would (and perhaps should) be the first time Embiid has taken the floor against former teammate Ben Simmons, which is an event by itself. The team has spoken about the personal rivalries as if they are a thing of the past, with Rivers and other players noting their focus is on the Brooklyn Nets, not any outstanding beef between old teammates.
Perhaps Simmons' dip in form has dampened energy for the personal battles — Simmons is producing exactly half of his career scoring average this season, fading into a secondary role next to Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the rest of the Nets. It has become harder to bill Simmons vs. the Sixers or Embiid vs. Simmons as a clash of stars, especially with Kevin Durant on the shelf due to an injury.
Even as the Sixers have made those comments downplaying the Simmons factor, they've noted the hostile atmosphere they expect in South Philly upon his return. And like the rest of us, they're intrigued by the idea of Embiid catching the ball with Simmons guarding him on a switch.
"We like that matchup," Shake Milton said Tuesday. "We're going to throw him the ball and let him go to work for sure. We like Jo against anybody, honestly, so it really don't matter.
"Obviously, there's a lot of hype around it, the matchup and the teams and everything that's gone on. But for us it's going to be about getting another win."
Here's hoping for some fireworks. I wouldn't bet the farm on the big man playing, but it sure doesn't feel like one Embiid will miss.
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