CAMDEN, N.J. — For the Sixers, seeing Joel Embiid fully participate in practice was a sight for sore eyes.
The team is coming off a rough loss in Toronto, lost another starter in Josh Richardson just four minutes into that contest and has a brutal nine-game slate before the All-Star break.
When Brett Brown was asked what changes with the All-Star center back at practice Friday, he was silent for a moment and then leaned in the reporter’s direction:
“A lot. I don’t mean to be smart, but say no more.”
This was the first time Embiid has fully participated in a practice since he tore the radial collateral ligament of the fourth metacarpal on his left hand back on Jan. 6. He had surgery in New York on Jan. 10 but has been seen before games running and getting shots up with his guide hand off the ball.
His return to practice comes on the heels of Embiid being named an All-Star starter for the third straight season. His participation in last year’s All-Star game became a hot button issue after he missed the following eight games with knee tendinitis.
While Embiid does think he’ll be ready for that game, that’s not what’s fueling his desire to get back on the court.
I'm doing the progress necessary,” Embiid said. “I feel great. My finger feels good. I'm not too concerned about what the All-Star game is gonna look like. Right now, we're sixth in the East so hopefully by next week I'm able to play.
A team spokesman said that Embiid would be re-evaluated Monday, leaving room for optimism that the team’s leading scorer could possibly play next week.
In the times we’ve seen Embiid since his surgery, he’s sported some type of hard plastic splint. On Friday, it appeared to be more of a wrap as we saw him catching passes, dribbling with his left hand and using both hands to finish around the rim.
Joel Embiid scores on Roy Hibbert: pic.twitter.com/l8MjPOmeu7— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) January 24, 2020
When he does return, Embiid said he will have to play with some sort of support on the finger. As he’s ramped up his activity, it seems like the focus now is on getting him game ready.
“I'm still getting used to it,” Embiid said. “From time to time during a game you get slapped on the hand so just going through practice and go through those scenarios and seeing how it goes, and then also getting back into it. I had a little bit of time off where I couldn't do anything with the surgery so I was a little bit winded. Just gotta get my conditioning back.”
And the other sticking point: conditioning. When Embiid has experienced long absences in the past, his fitness level has routinely been a cause for concern. Since the injury was to his hand and not his lower body, he’s been able to do more while he’s been out.
The team has taken heat in the past for Embiid perhaps not returning in the best condition.
Ultimately, Embiid is taking it upon himself.
“Well, me personally, as a professional, you gotta take care of yourself,” Embiid said. “You got to take care of your own business. From summertime to when the season started and to this moment, you got some bike, you got some elliptical, so every night, just got to come in and get some sweat on and your heart rate up.”
He’s getting healthy. It sounds like he’s motivated. Looks like we’ll find out soon enough.
He can be whatever he wants to be,” Brown said. “The ultimate aim, the ultimate goal that we all talk about is his legacy as an NBA champion. The other stuff is great, but it doesn’t even come close to the end game, the thing that to me is kind of everybody’s judgement day — are you an NBA champion? And there have been many great players and many great coaches who just have not been able to claim that. That’s my ambition, that’s my aspiration for him, to help him achieve that.
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