Joel Embiid suffered an LCL sprain and could wear a brace for the Sixers’ second-round series, sources confirm

Sixers center Joel Embiid hunches over during the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets during Game 3 in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs on Thursday in New York.

Life shouldn’t be so uncertain for an NBA team in any world after its most impressive first-round playoff performance. Yet inside the 76ers’ practice facility on Tuesday, there was a sense of concern from the Eastern Conference’s hottest team.

While the Sixers have the league’s most unstoppable player in presumptive MVP Joel Embiid, his availability for the start of the Eastern Conference semifinals is unknown due to a right knee injury. A source confirmed that Embiid sprained his lateral collateral ligament. Recovery time for an LCL sprain is usually more than a week.

“There’s really no update yet,” Doc Rivers said of Embiid’s availability. “We won’t know anything for at least another couple of days before we can move forward.”

The Sixers await the winner of the first-round series between the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks.

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Boston took a 3-1 series advantage into Tuesday’s Game 5 at TD Garden. If the Celtics win on Tuesday, the conference semifinals begin Saturday in Boston. If Atlanta wins, Game 1 won’t be until Monday.

Does Embiid have a better chance to play in Game 1 if pushed back to Monday? “I don’t know the answer,” Rivers said. “So I’m not going to give an answer that I don’t know yet. “

Nor is Rivers 100% confident that Embiid’s injury is not season-ending. “But I don’t think it is,” Rivers said.

Embiid watched film with teammates but did not participate in Tuesday’s practice. After the session, he worked out in the weight room with Sixers head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson.

Even when he returns, the 7-foot-2, 280-pound center may have to wear a brace on his knee, a source confirmed. How will it affect his mobility? Will he dominate like he did before the injury? And will it be in shape?

Embiid suffered the injury in the third quarter of Thursday’s 102-97 Game 3 win over the Nets at Barclays Center. While trying to block Cam Johnson’s shot, Embiid tangled with Johnson and both players fell under the basket. The six-time All-Star stayed in the game, finishing with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.

However, he complained of pain in the back of his knee after the game, and doctors noticed that he had some swelling.

An MRI on Friday in Philadelphia revealed that Embiid suffered a sprained knee. As a result, he was ejected from Saturday’s Game 4 of the first-round series. And assuming the semi-finals start this coming Saturday, that would be nine days after the injury.

However, the thinking was that Embiid needed to stay healthy and play at an elite level for the Sixers to make a deep postseason run.

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Embiid won his second straight scoring title this season, averaging a league-best 33.1 points per game. He also ranked seventh in rebounds (10.2) and blocks (1.7).

The Celtics won three of four meetings against the Sixers this season. In their only win on April 4, Embiid needed to finish with 52 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two blocks in a 103-101 decision against a Boston team without Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams III.

The Sixers will have to rely heavily on James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris in the second round.

Harris, the team’s fourth option, has been solid when involved in the Sixers’ game plan. However, Harden struggled on 34.3% shooting in the first round series. And Maxey is averaging a career-high 8.4 points on 34.0% shooting against Boston, an expected semifinal opponent.

But this isn’t the first time Embiid has missed time in the playoffs. Of the Sixers’ six consecutive postseason appearances, Embiid was only healthy in 2020.

Last season against the Toronto Raptors, Embiid suffered a right orbital fracture and mild concussion during the Sixers’ series-clinching Game 6 win in Toronto. The injury occurred when the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam inadvertently elbowed Embiid in the face while driving to the basket late in the fourth quarter.

Embiid, already playing through a torn ligament in his right thumb, missed Games 1 and 2 of the conference semifinals against the Miami Heat.

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Then in 2021, Embiid suffered a torn lateral meniscus in Game 4 of the Sixers’ first-round series against the Washington Wizards. Robin Lopez suffered the injury when he fell hard on his back after blocking his driving layup with 4 minutes, 43 seconds left in the first quarter.

He played with left knee tendinitis in 2019 and suffered a left orbital fracture and concussion in 2018. He missed the final 10 games of the 2017–18 regular season and the first two games of the first-round series against the Miami Heat after suffering the fracture. Orbital bone in his left eye. Upon his return, Embiid wore a protective face mask.

But Rivers believes the Sixers are better equipped to deal with Embiid’s absence than they were last season. They were 11-5 in games missed in the regular season. And their 96-88 Game 4 win on Saturday came without Embiid. They were the only NBA team to be swept in the first round.

“We’ve gotten better every year when guys get injured,” said Rivers, in his third season as Sixers coach. “The first year in the first half of that year, we struggled, I remember. Then we started winning some games when one of our key guys was out. Last year we were better. This year, we are much better.

“So that gives me confidence.”

Summer League

The Sixers will participate in the Salt Lake City Summer League in early July.

The league will include the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Sixers summer-league teams. The games will be played on July 3, 5 and 6 at the Vivint Arena. The NBA Summer League, which includes the entire league, is set for July 7-17 at UNLV.

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