Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has been ruled out for Wednesday night’s Game Five of the Eastern Conference first round playoff series against the Washington Wizards, according to numerous reports. An MRI conducted Tuesday on Embiid’s right knee showed a small lateral meniscus tear in the MVP finalist’s right knee and could result in the team’s best player facing an extended absence.
Embiid suffered the injury during Game Four on Monday night – a contest the Sixers went on to lose 122-114. Philadelphia leads Washington 3-1 in the best-of-seven first-round series.
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The survivor of the Sixers/Wizards series will take on the winner of the Atlanta Hawks vs. New York Knicks series in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
What Lies Ahead for the Sixers Without Embiid?
In a dream scenario, the Sixers mop the floor with the eighth-seeded Wizards in Game Five in front of a safe, but packed Wells Fargo Center, and all fans are on their best behavior. Then they get a few days off to prepare for either the Hawks or Knicks – Atlanta enters their Game Five up 3-1 – and while they’re at it, why not have their other two potential opponents wear themselves out in a grueling seven-game series?
Perhaps the “day-to-day” tag slapped on Embiid’s injury status will end up being on the lower end and the superstar big man can be ready for a potential Eastern Conference Semifinals Game One next week. The worst-case scenario is obviously that the Sixers are utterly deflated by the Embiid news, Washington carries their momentum from Game Four into a steal of Game Five, defends homecourt in Game Six, and stuns the number one seed back in Philly in Game Seven.
A full-blown collapse seems unlikely, but even if the Sixers advance past the Wizards, with Embiid’s health now arguably the biggest x-factor in the NBA Playoffs, what does the rest of the postseason hold for this group? We’ll see what kind of rotations head coach Doc Rivers throws out tonight to contend with the loss of Embiid, but it’ll likely be some combination of Dwight Howard and Mike Scott at center, with Ben Simmons perhaps filling in on occasion.
How Far Can the Sixers Go Without Embiid, if They Need To?
It would seem that, outside of the ultimate Wizards’ homer, the consensus is that one way or another the 76ers will be able to withstand the Embiid injury to get to the next round. It helps the Sixers’ cause that Washington big man Davis Bertrans also went down with an injury in Game Four and has been ruled out for the remainder of the series.
So for the sake of argument, let’s dangerously advance Philadelphia to the NBA’s version of the Elite Eight. Though the Hawks will be the enemy at a surely raucous Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, they still hold a 3-1 series lead and have a good shot of making it through to take on the top seed.
If Embiid is still out for part or all of a best-of-seven series against the Hawks, the task will surely be harder than it is against the under .500 Wizards. The likes of Clint Capela and John Collins could make life difficult in a possible matchup with Scott down low, but with 100% fan capacity, the Sixers may still be able to edge out Atlanta with homecourt advantage.
The Eastern Conference Finals is where the road could certainly end for this years’ Sixers group. Even the Philly die-hards should realize that even with Embiid at full strength, the team would be in a battle for Eastern Conference supremacy between either the Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks.
Without Embiid available – admittedly a big jump from the current day-to-day status – it would be hard to see how the team advances to their first NBA Finals since 2001.