PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia 76ers closed out their first-round playoff series with a 129-112 Game 5 victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night at the festive, filled-to-capacity Wells Fargo Center, earning them a trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
For the joint to continue jumping in the postseason, it comes down to when the Sixers’ franchise cornerstone will be able to play again.
Star center Joel Embiid was out after the team announced earlier in the day that orthopedic surgeons reviewed Tuesday’s MRI on his right knee and found a small lateral meniscus tear.
No surgery is planned and the injury will be addressed with physical therapy and treatment, according to the team. Embiid is listed as day-to-day.
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What that means for the Sixers going forward is unclear.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t know if Embiid would be able to play in the second round.
"I have no expectation, other than I hope for him to be back," Rivers said. "But I can’t give you a timeline — I can’t give you anything right now — so I can just tell you he’s willing to go through whatever it takes if that gets him on the floor. He’s a warrior. And if there’s a way for him to get back on the floor, he will find his way."
Joel Embiid's status for the second round is uncertain with a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. (Photo: Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports)
Asked if he thinks Embiid will return at some point in the playoffs, Rivers replied, "I do. I don’t know when. I’m hopeful — I think that’d be a better way of putting it."
The Sixers clearly need Embiid, a finalist for the NBA MVP award, if they plan to fully utilize the home-court advantage they earned by accumulating the East’s best regular-season record and top seed.
Late in Wednesday's victory, the fans chanted "We want Brooklyn." Without Embiid, it’s hard to imagine the Sixers winning a best-of-seven series in the conference finals over the Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks — and getting past the second round is no guarantee.
To a question about changing the franchise’s stated championship aspirations, Rivers said: "The things that are far away, you can’t focus on. You have to focus on today and our job is to win (Game 5)."
Embiid, who did some shooting drills before the game and seemed to be moving pretty well, suffered the injury on a hard fall in the first quarter of Monday’s loss in Washington and sat out the final three periods with what was deemed a sore right knee.
Jim Owczarki of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic break down how the Bucks match up with the Nets in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Despite Embiid’s elite offensive abilities, the Sixers missed him the most at the defensive end Wednesday. The Wizards typically encountered minimal resistance when they reached the lane, which was a primary reason they led for nearly the entire first half.
Dwight Howard is the lone other legitimate healthy big man on the roster, and he’s not the shot blocker he was earlier in his career. Ben Simmons started at center in Game 5, with the undersized Mike Scott also getting some playing time at the 5 spot.
Rivers and the Sixers had success with a Seth Curry (30 points) and Tobias Harris (28 points) two-man game that looks like it’ll be worth pursuing further.
One concern with Embiid being sidelined is his penchant for falling out of game shape quickly, which he has explained by saying he doesn’t like to do any cardio activities other than basketball, which could result in a minutes restriction when he returns to the lineup.
"I honestly don’t know (the chances he’ll be the player you need him to be and be ready for 35 minutes right away)," Rivers said. "I don’t think we’re going to put him out on the floor if we don’t feel that, let’s put it that way — or at least feel like he’ll give us a pretty good effort. I think that will be for another day. I would love to answer that, I can tell you that. I think that would make us all happy."
The Sixers have always said that Embiid's long-term health will be the driving force in their decision-making and that is unlikely to change, even with the team having such a terrific opportunity for a long playoff run. It shouldn't, either, though it might be tempting.
Follow Tom Moore on Twitter @TomMoorePhilly.
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