Sixers Stars’ Return to the Court Looking Imminent

Tyrese Maxey, James Harden

Getty Tobias Harris #12, Tyrese Maxey #0, and James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers watch from the bench against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first half at the Wells Fargo Center on November 19, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Despite the injury bug not being kind to the Philadelphia 76ers, the team continues to surge through it and now sits at 11-9 on the season. The reinforcements appear to be on the way as there has been some positive news regarding the status of the Sixers’ stars. Most notably, Joel Embiid has been upgraded to questionable ahead of tonight’s matchup with the Hawks. Matisse Thybulle joins him in being labeled as questionable after missing the previous three games himself.

Sixers in Embiid’s Absence

Embiid has missed the previous four matchups after suffering a left mid-foot sprain during the November 19th loss to the Jazz. The injury occurred when Georges Niang fell in Embiid’s path and resulted in a scary-looking collision. Embiid remained in the game and finished with 32 points, nine rebounds, and six assists, but has been sidelined since.

With Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey all on the sideline expectations were not high for the Sixers. The remaining healthy players stepped up in a major way and have gone 3-1 in Embiid’s absence and the team has won six of their last eight overall. Shake Milton and Tobias Harris have especially stepped up in recent games with both players receiving nominations for Eastern Conference Player of the Week as a result.

The Sixers have embraced a much more team-centric style of play and have seen better overall movement within the offense during the stars’ absence. In the past four games, the Sixers have ranked 9th in the league in passes per game. Over the previous 16 games, they sat at just 21st. The 118.1 points per 100 possessions they have produced during this stretch is the best offensive production the team has seen since late October.

While there are no guarantees Embiid makes his return to the court tonight, this is a promising sign. The Sixers would not upgrade him unless they thought there was a legitimate chance he can play. While the stretch of play from the undermanned roster has been impressive, the Sixers will need their superstars to reach their peak. The next step is maintaining this level of offensive production and movement with Embiid back on the floor.

When are Maxey and Harden Returning?

There is not as clear of a sign of when the two star guards will be making their returns to the court. While Doc Rivers hinted there was a chance Harden and Embiid could be making their return together, this does not look to be the case as the former MVP remains listed as out. Harden did make his return to practice in a limited capacity and was seen jogging on the treadmill which is a step in the right direction for the Sixers’ point guard. Harden has been out since November 2nd with the initial timeline expecting him to miss a month, so his return should be coming soon.

Before his injury, Harden was averaging 22.0 points, 10.0 assists, and seven rebounds per game. He looked to have regained some of his burst in the way that fans were hoping with efficient production from the midrange becoming a notable addition to his game. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Sixers are targeting his return in the next few days so this will something to monitor in the short term.

On the other hand, Maxey has been out since November 18th with a small fracture in his foot. The initial timeline for his injury was expected to be between three and four weeks. By this standard, Maxey still has a little time before he will make his return. Given that it is a bone injury he likely will need less time to ramp up his return to play compared to the other stars but for now, he must continue allowing it to heal.

Getting the Sixers’ big three back on the court together will be important for the Sixers moving forward. It has been a chaotic start to the season and these three still need to find their chemistry with each other. The reserves have done a terrific job keeping the team afloat but Philadelphia will not reach its ceiling until the trio takes control. There is still plenty of time left in the season for this to occur, but the sooner they can begin to build up their chemistry the better.

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