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Philadelphia’s title dreams hinge on Joel Embiid‘s right knee — they need him to be MVP-level dominant to win the East, which is why this is disturbing news.
The 76ers announced that Embiid has a “small lateral meniscus tear,” something that does not require immediate surgery, but he is out for Game 5 and will be day-to-day after that as he undergoes treatment.
Getting Embiid back on the court is a matter of both pain tolerance and how well his knee is moving (there will be swelling to manage). If he can get back on the court, will he be near 100%?
Embiid injured his knee in Game 4 against Washington after an awkward fall after a contested dunk. While it looks like he should have hurt his tailbone on this fall (and probably did), watch his right foot kind of catch on the ground as he lands, tweaking his knee.
The 76ers will almost certainly still finish off the Wizards even without Embiid (Philly leads the series 3-1). Mike Scott and Dwight Howard will get time at the five, and Doc Rivers tried some Ben Simmons at center against Washington that we may see again.
However, the next round — likely against Atlanta — is a lot tougher without Embiid, and if he is not a dominant force they cannot knock off Brooklyn or Milwaukee. The 76ers were +12.4 per 100 possessions better when Embiid was on the court this season, they went 10-11 in the games he missed.
The story of Embiid’s career is that he is a dominant force on both ends of the court when healthy, but that health has held him and the 76ers back. This season he averaged 28.5 points on 51.3% shooting plus 10.6 rebounds a game and was in the mix for MVP at the season’s midpoint. Then he missed 11-of-13 games due to a bone bruise on his left knee — he was out for 21 games overall during the season — and that knocked him down a peg on most ballots (although he’s a top-three finalist for the award).
In these playoffs, he has averaged 24 points a game and did it in fewer than 30 minutes a night through the first three games of the series (he got extra rest because his team was in total control).