Joel Embiid has missed the last eight games with left knee soreness, and in that time the Sixers have tread water at 4-4, holding steady in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of Boston.
The problem with that is, anything better than .500 over that post-All Star game stretch could have lofted them into the third spot out East and out of a first round matchup with the Celtics. Philadelphia currently sits a game back of the Pacers, who have managed to hang on to third at 42-24, a game ahead of the 41-25 Sixers, but will have a chance to pull even on Sunday when they meet in Philly.
For that key matchup, the Sixers are getting their star center back and that bodes well for their chances.With Embiid, the Sixers are 36-18 this season, compared to 5-7 without him, and facing Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and the Pacers they need his presence inside.
How much he plays remains unknown, but simply having his presence, even if only in shorter bursts, will be a huge boost for this Sixers team. It’s truly incredible, given how many other good players are on the Sixers, how impactful Embiid is. His 8.1 net rating leads all Sixers and when he’s off the court they are a -2.4. The offense is 4.8 points per 100 possessions better with Embiid and the defense is 5.8 points per 100 possessions better with him than without him.
Philadelphia was wise to give him time to let that knee heal, but it’s not unreasonable to assert that they’ll go as far as he takes them this postseason, even with a stellar supporting cast around him.