Holding Out Hope for Joel Embiid's Return

by Marc Narducci | Feb 23, 2024
Holding Out Hope for Joel Embiid's Return
The NBA regular season is now in sprint form. With teams ready to return to action after the All-Star break, there is less than two months left in the regular season, which ends April 14. 

The 76ers’ season has been marked by injuries, most notably by seven-time All-Star Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a meniscus injury. Nobody knows, or at least nobody is leading on to when or if Embiid will return this season. 

The general belief is that he will return and assuming that is true, can the Sixers make a run in the Eastern Conference?

The consensus opinion is that the Boston Celtics will be difficult to beat in the Eastern Conference and there is good reason for that assumption. The Celtics are 43-12 and face a six-game lead over Cleveland in the Eastern Conference. 

Still, Boston relies too much on the three-pointer and that could hurt them in the postseason.

That said, the Celtics are picked to reach the NBA final for a reason.

If Embiid recovers from the injury and is in the Sixers lineup, then they have a passing shot against anybody in the Eastern Conference. 

Without Embiid, it would be a serious uphill struggle, which is no revelation. 

The Sixers entered the All-Star Break with a 32-22 record, which was fifth in the Eastern Conference, two games ahead of sixth place Indiana and 2.5 ahead of both Miami and Orlando.

The top six teams qualify for the playoffs, with the No. 7 through No. 10 seeds having to compete in the play-in tournament to earn the other two spots.

The Sixers’ main goal should be to hold the fort and not be in the play-in. They also could earn home court advantage in the first round, trailing the New York Knicks by a half game for fourth place. The Sixers are two games behind current No. 3 Milwaukee (now guided by former Sixers coach Doc Rivers) and 4.5 games behind the second place Cleveland Cavaliers. (They won’t catch No. 1 Boston, which owns a 10.5 game lead over the Sixers). 

The reason the Sixers could be dangerous with a healthy Embiid, is that Tyrese Maxey, who earned his first All-Star berth in his fourth NBA season, has proven that he could be a viable second option on a championship team. Maxey is averaging 25.2 ppg. and 6.2 assists. 

Tobias Harris, who is often criticized due to his large expiring contract ($39.2 million), is a solid player, just not worth that big deal. He is averaging 17.7 points. 

Another reason for optimism is the addition of Buddy Hield, who the Sixers acquired at the trade deadline from Indiana. Hield is on an expiring contract, but one would expect the Sixers to make a big effort to re-sign him.

He has only played four games for the Sixers, but is averaging 22.3 points and shooting 45% from three-point range as a Sixer. It is a small sample size, but Hield has always been a major threat from three-point range his entire career, a player who can help spread the floor and help teammates get open looks.

For his career, he is a 43.5% three-point shooter. 

With Embiid drawing double-teams, Hield should get plenty of open looks.

Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey called Hield, the best deadline acquisition, and that isn’t hyperbole. 

Besides Embiid, the Sixers will have to get healthy among other key contributors, including Nicolas Batum and De’Anthony Melton. 

Cam Payne, who was acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks at the trade deadline, has averaged 10.8 points in his four games as a Sixer and adds depth.

Kelly Oubre is an instant offense (14.0 ppg.) although he can be streaky.

This is a club that nobody will want to face in the playoffs if Embiid is healthy. 

The Sixers have 28 games left. That is time for the newcomers to get used to their new teammates and the Sixers hope for Embiid to get healthy enough to help them for their postseason run

Photo Courtesy of Joel Embiid X/Twitter

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Author: Marc Narducci

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