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Joel Embiid says he plans to return this season but there is no timeline

Milwaukee Bucks v Philadelphia 76ers
Milwaukee Bucks v Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia's ability to be a real threat to Boston in the East playoffs — or, possibly, just get out of the play-in if they continue to slide in the standings — hinges on Joel Embiid returning and playing like an MVP again.

The first step is getting him back for the end of the regular season and "that's the plan" Embiid told the media on Thursday.

"That's the plan. Obviously everything has to go right, as far as getting healthy and being as close as I'm supposed to be. But yeah, that's the plan."

There is no timeline for his return, he added.

Embiid was the MVP frontrunner before his surgery, averaging a league-best 35.3 points per game with 11.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 1.8 blocks a night. Despite the numbers, Embiid said he still didn't feel right, as reported by Noah Levick at NBC Sports Philadelphia. Embiid had missed five games in the weeks before his surgery, but did try to come back and play against the Warriors (something that did not go well).

"It wasn't (only) about those last couple games," he said. "It was the same thing that was happening a couple weeks before, where I just felt like I wasn't myself but I was still good enough to go out there because I know that 60 or 70 percent of me can still help the team a lot on both ends of the floor.

"At the time, we had just lost two, three games in a row and guys were going down. Like I said, my mindset is to play, so I've got to do whatever it takes to help the team. Sometimes it helps me, sometimes it doesn't.”

How much the Sixers miss Embiid is obvious. The 76ers are 4-8 since Embiid stepped away and they have a -8.8 net rating in that dozen games. The team is struggling to hold on to a top-six seed and avoid the play-in. Currently, four teams — Miami, Philly, Orlando, and Indiana — are seeds 5-8, and all are within half a game of each other.

Embiid said he is not concerned about what seed the team is, he just wants back on the court.

"It doesn't matter where we are (in the standings) — four, five, three, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11. It doesn't really matter where we are, I just want to play as much as I can and try to help us.”

Sixers management has to walk a fine line here: There are only so many years Embiid will be at the top of his game,
and they are no threat in the postseason without him. However, they need him back fully healthy and dominating, not at 60-70%. If he's
not that guy, while he will want to return, will that be worth the risk.

That's a question for another day. The hope now is he can get healthy, get back in time to get some run in before the postseason starts, then be ready to go.