NEW YORK — Joel Embiid sat and watched the Sixers’ shootaround Thursday morning in slippers.
About an hour before tip-off, he walked into the locker room, changed into warm-up gear, took questions from a hovering group of reporters as Boban Marjanovic stretched on a yoga mat behind him, then did a light workout on the Barclays Center floor. The whole scene was strange but, given Embiid’s recent history, it wouldn’t have been remotely surprising if it culminated in him playing in Game 3.
Everyone asked about Embiid’s status before and after the game — from Brett Brown to Marjanovic to Embiid himself — stuck with the line of him being a “game-time decision” besides Greg Monroe, the man who stepped into Embiid's spot in the starting lineup in the Sixers’ 131-115 win over the Nets (see observations).
“They told me this morning at shootaround that most likely Joel would be out so he was going to start me,” Monroe told reporters. “So I knew right away in the morning and was able to get mentally focused.”
Embiid attempted to describe his left knee soreness, which he again classified as “tendinitis.”
It’s just about working on your strength and just getting in the practice facility or whatever, basically. Just trying to do whatever you can do to stay strong. At the end of the day, what cures it is just loading. You gotta load in the right way. Can’t do too much and then can’t also sit out and do nothing. It’s hard to manage, but gotta do it. Gotta push through the pain and see where it goes.
Though “pushing through the pain” doesn’t sound like an ideal situation for a team’s best player, Embiid said he’s making progress.
“It is becoming better, slowly but surely,” he said. “We just gotta be smart about how we handle it every single day. I’m sure these guys wouldn’t let me get on the court if there was a chance of something bad happening. Gotta Trust The Process.”
The confounding part of Embiid’s knee pain, at least as he describes it, is the unpredictability. The fact he had an extra day off before Game 3 didn’t automatically increase the odds of him playing.
“Kind of,” Embiid said of whether the extra day was helpful. “The body reacts differently every day. I might feel good after the game and then in two days, maybe feel it. So I just gotta manage it.”
The one certainty with Embiid is his importance to the Sixers.
As Brown said before Game 2, when game planning with Embiid and without Embiid, “There is night and then there is day.”
Monroe and Marjanovic combined for 23 points and 21 rebounds in Game 3, but they're likely not a long-term solution if the Sixers aim to win the Eastern Conference.
“We definitely need him,” Jimmy Butler said of Embiid. “We’re capable of winning some games, but we’d all definitely rather have Jo out there.”
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