The Sixers beat the Bulls in Game 82, but that wasn’t even close to being the main topic around the team.
Even learning that the team’s first-round playoff opponent will be the Brooklyn Nets paled in comparison to what happened before the game.
In a pregame presser, GM Elton Brand said that he’s “optimistic” that Joel Embiid will be ready for Game 1, but when pressed, conceded that “it’s possible” the All-Star center won’t play (see story).
While it was nice to see Zhaire Smith and Jonathon Simmons step up in a 125-109 win Wednesday (see observations), most questions directed at Brett Brown were going to be about his “crown jewel.”
“I expect our starters to be available,” Brown said. “If somebody tells me different, then so be it. But I hope my gut feel is right. That’s what I expect and if somebody comes and says that’s not going to happen, then I’ll deal with it.”
Well, that’s a relief.
“I don’t know. I think that when the medical people and Elton can address that we’ll all get better information.”
“Let me just say this for everybody: The club will make a statement in a clearer way than I guess I have about Joel. I’m done with the Joel questions. We’ll put out something that is fair. I get your questions, but I’m done answering those.”
That doesn’t sound great, but the Sixers’ PR staff did clarify that the “statement” Brown is referencing is the normal NBA injury report.
There’s been a weirdness about injuries and the way the team handles them — especially when it comes to Embiid. So if you’re feeling a little anxiety over this, it’s hard to blame you.
The knee soreness that has plagued him seemed to pop up out of nowhere after the All-Star Game and caused him to miss eight games out of the break. That same knee soreness has forced Embiid to miss 14 of the last 24 games to close out the regular season.
That’s not ideal for a team with so many new pieces that’s still trying to develop chemistry. The Sixers are 8-10 without the guy who is their clear MVP.
If the optimist in Brand and Brown is right, Embiid’s fitness level will still be a source of concern. Despite the missed time and battles with rust, Embiid has managed to average 28.8 points, 14.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks while shooting 49 percent from the floor down the stretch.
Still, Brown is keeping a cautious outlook.
“I think none of us should expect anything greater than a B,” Brown said. “I think he’s doing some good work behind the scenes, but there’s nothing like playing basketball to get in shape to play basketball. I think that over a course of a series, we have to make sure that he’s able to sustain that. To come out and play one game and then go away for a few days is a lot easier than backing stuff up. I think that’s where we’ll learn a lot.”
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