When news broke that Joel Embiid had been diagnosed with a “small lateral meniscus tear” in his right knee, a predictable malaise fell over the City of Brotherly Love. The team’s stated goal all year was to win a championship and now their best player was ruled out for the foreseeable future. Embiid is officially listed day-to-day on the injury report.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers was upbeat in his media availability on Wednesday afternoon prior to Game 5. He has spoken with Embiid and remains confident the MVP candidate can return to the floor. Rivers wouldn’t say when — “I can’t give you a timeline” — but the organization is hopeful Embiid’s season isn’t over.
“Yeah, I do,” Rivers said when asked if he expects Embiid back. “I mean I don’t know when. Or at least I’m hopeful, I think that would be a better way of putting it. He’s going to do his treatment and we’re going to assess the day-to-day, and see where we can get him.”
And rest assured that the 7-footer from Cameroon will do everything in his power to make it back. Rivers called him a “warrior.” Embiid is lucky that he suffered a lateral meniscus tear (outside of the knee) versus a medial meniscus tear (inner side). That could help expedite the recovery process.
“I have no expectation other than I hope for him to be back,” Rivers said. “I can just tell you he’s willing to go through whatever it takes to get back on the floor. He’s a warrior. And if there’s a way for him to get back on the floor, he will find that way.”
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Sixers Won’t Risk Further Injury to Embiid
Rivers did make it clear that the organization won’t risk ruining the career of their 26-year-old big man. The Sixers will only put him back on the court if he’s able to take on his normal workload of around 35 minutes per game. Embiid doesn’t have to be 100-percent, but he has to be able to endure the grind of playoff basketball. Time will tell on that front.
“We’re not going to put him on the floor if we feel like he can injure himself,” Rivers said.
The head coach pointed to Embiid’s conditioning as one reason for optimism. The four-time All-Star came into training camp in the best shape of his life after Rivers challenged him to take better care of his body. Despite missing 21 games this season — a good portion due to a left knee bruise — Embiid is physically capable of a quick recovery.
“If you look at his body right now, he couldn’t be in better shape,” Rivers said. “You see the tone, you see the play, and for this to happen at this point, after going through the whole year, it’s really difficult. But he’s hanging in there, our job is to keep his spirits up, keep pushing him to get ready.”
Next Man Up Mentality in Locker Room
George Hill knows how tough it can be returning from a serious injury. The Sixers guard missed 42 games this year while fighting back from surgery to fix a mallet finger injury. He came over to Philadelphia at the trade deadline and averaged 6.0 points in 16 games off the bench. Hill talked about the team embracing a “next man up” mentality as they trudge through the playoffs without Embiid.
“We just have to the next-man-up mentality,” Hill said. “We’re going to need all the guys to come in off the bench and make a spark, and even the staters to play above what they normally play.”
Hill said he had spoken to Embiid and the All-Star center remains in good spirits. He expects him to cheer on the Sixers from the bench and continue to use his voice to lead them in the locker room.
“He has high hopes. His mindset is to come back,” Hill said. “He’s going to be here through spirit and he’s going to cheer us on.”
Added Rivers: “We have to win. Just focus on that.”