MIAMI (AP) — The best Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers could offer Saturday on Joel Embiid’s possible availability for the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Miami was a two-word answer.
“There is hope,” Rivers said.
For now, Philadelphia will hang on to it.
The 76ers and Heat both hit the practice floor Saturday to begin the adjustment process for a playoff series that won’t have Embiid early on — at a minimum. Embiid, the NBA scoring champion and MVP runner-up this season, has a right orbital fracture and a mild concussion, injuries sustained Thursday in a first-round playoff series in Toronto and announced Friday night.
Game 1 is Monday in Miami. And the 76ers will be without their center, who has averaged 30 points per game this season.
“I don’t know how you make it up, but you know how,” Rivers said. “Yeah, I mean, it’s just a tough injury. The good news, I guess, is that he already had it. The bad news is that there is simply no timeline for his return.
The Heat went from 4.5-point favorites in Game 1 to 8.5 points, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, after the 76ers announced Embiid’s latest injuries. But there were no outward signs of celebration in Miami on Saturday due to Embiid’s absence.
Quite the contrary, in fact.
“I feel bad for my guy,” said Miami’s Jimmy Butler, who played with Embiid in Philadelphia. “Obviously one of my former teammates. Without doubt, the MVP of this league. And I think I speak for everyone on this team – we want Jo to play. We want to take them on at full strength and prove that we can hang on to anyone and we can beat anyone. It’s an accident. I hope he recovers well and comes back very, very soon.
Losing Embiid would be hard enough for the 76ers under any circumstances. The fact that it happened with a 29-point lead and 3:58 to go in a game that had essentially been decided only makes it worse.
Rivers bristled at criticism of why he had Embiid in the game at the time. Philadelphia’s lead was never less than 18 in the fourth quarter on Thursday, was still 25 with 5 minutes left and had reached 29 on back-to-back field goals from Tobias Harris and Embiid.
Rivers said the Raptors still had their starters and was about to call time to replace his starters when the lead reached 29. He also said that in one-sided closing games, it would be at around the time the shoals would be cleared. .
“Not upset that he’s here,” Rivers said. “You can make it a big deal if you want. Just go see every team and every game, and their guys were there until about 4:00, 3:00.
Embiid suffered a similar problem – orbital fracture and concussion – in 2018 and missed 10 games, as well as needed surgery because of the fracture. The 76ers didn’t mention surgery as a possibility this time around, which would seem to raise the possibility that Embiid could be back sooner than he was four years ago.
The concussion would be the first hurdle to overcome, and everyone’s guessing when Embiid would escape those protocols anyway. If Embiid is starring in this series, it would seem likely that he would have to don a protective mask – something he did four years ago and didn’t really enjoy.
“Obviously tough news to take,” Harris said. “As a group we want him to be healthy and better. And whenever it does, we’ll be ready.
Embiid led the 76ers with averages of 30.6 points, 11.7 rebounds and assists, and 1.5 blocks per game during the regular season. And while he’s hampered by a right thumb ligament injury that will require offseason surgery, he also averaged 26.2 points and 11.3 rebounds in six games against the Raptors.
He is one of three finalists for MVP, along with Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“I think it’s going to change all of our roles, honestly,” said 76ers center DeAndre Jordan, who now looks likely to have a bigger role in Miami’s series. “You can’t replace the MVP. He’s averaging 30 and whatever for the season, and he’s extremely dominant, has been in these first-round playoffs. It will therefore be difficult to replace it. But I think we’ll just have to take it back to committee and everyone will be good to go.
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