Joel Embiid has been out of the lineup since the All-Star break due to lingering knee soreness, but he is expected be back on the court Sunday when the Philadelphia 76ers take on the Indiana Pacers, according to a report from ESPN. Embiid's return is great news for a Sixers team that went just 4-4 during his eight-game absence.
Embiid's extended absence was largely precautionary, as an MRI revealed no structural damage to the knee, and speaking to reporters last weekend Embiid made it clear that he could have returned to action earlier, but he wanted to focus on his long-term health.
"It's all about long-term preservation and making sure I'm ready not just for the playoffs, but also for the next 15 years," Embiid said before Saturday night's game at Wells Fargo Center. "Knowing the team, what we've been through, and knowing me and I like to push everything, I like to play through anything. We just felt like it was better to preserve.
Initially reticent to give a specific time frame for his return, Embiid eventually relented and said -- after saying he'd be back "soon" several times -- that he plans to return sometime next week.
"Game by game, I felt like it was getting worse," Embiid said. "I felt like me, personally, I didn't feel comfortable. Coming from me you know that if I don't want to push through anything, I really need [the rest].
"But I'm glad it was nothing, and the MRIs showed nothing, so it was good."
Embiid has a well-known injury history dating back to his days at the University of Kansas when a broken foot just prior to the draft saw him drop to No. 3 overall. Then there was a series of knee injuries and surgeries which forced him to miss what should have been his first two seasons in the league and limited him to just 31 games in his eventual rookie season in 2016-17.
This season, however, he's been relatively healthy, playing in 54 out of the Sixers' 66 games, while averaging over 33 minutes a night. There have been nights off for rest, and the usual reports of minor problems like back tightness, but nothing to this point that has kept Embiid out for a long stretch.
And certainly, nothing that has prevented him from playing dynamite basketball. Voted as an All-Star Game starter, Embiid averaged 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game in the first half of the 2018-19 campaign, putting together easily the best season of his short career.
With Embiid producing at levels like this for Philadelphia, the Sixers will need him on the court as much as possible down the stretch if they want to put themselves in the best position to make a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It's a good sign, then, that both Embiid and the team are on the same page about keeping him healthy for the long-run. Even if it ends up potentially hurting their playoff seeding, the Sixers aren't going anywhere in the postseason without a healthy Embiid.