Joel Embiid's return date still unclear after reported LCL sprain diagnosis: 'I just don't know the answer'

The Philadelphia 76ers are simultaneously the first team to have reached the conference semifinals of the NBA playoffs and a team facing some major uncertainty.

That uncertainty comes thanks to the status of MVP favorite Joel Embiid, who missed the final game of the Sixers' first-round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets with a right knee sprain. Embiid's availability for the beginning of Philadelphia's next series, either against the Boston Celtics or Atlanta Hawks, remains in question.

A little more clarity, but not optimism, arrived Tuesday when the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Embiid's injury had been diagnosed as an LCL sprain, an injury that typically requires more than a week of recovery time.

Joel Embiid headshot
Joel Embiid
C - PHI - #21
2022 - 2023 season

Speaking with reporters, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said the team wouldn't know more about Embiid's availability for a couple more days. He had previously said Embiid's chances of being ready for the start of the next round were "probably 50% at best".

From the Inquirer:

“There really isn’t any update yet,” Doc Rivers said of Embiid’s availability. “We won’t know anything for at least another couple of days probably before we can move forward.”

Doc Rivers doesn't rule out Joel Embiid being done for the season

The start date of the next round depends on who advances out of the Celtics-Hawks series, and the Sixers have reasons to root for the Hawks beyond wanting the lower-seeded opponent. The Celtics currently hold a 3-1 lead in the series. If they win Game 5 on Tuesday, the Celtics-Sixers conference semifinals will start on Saturday. A Hawks win would mean the Sixers don't have to play until Monday, per the Inquirer.

Rivers also didn't rule out Embiid being done for the season, though he did say, "I don't think it is [season ending]."

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid reacts after being hurt during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Thursday, April 20, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Joel Embiid's status looms large for the Philadelphia 76ers ahead of the Eastern Conference semifinals. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Embiid originally sustained the injury in the third quarter of Game 3, when he fell over Nets guard Cam Thomas after contesting a layup. The big man walked away from the play clearly limping, but played through to the end of the game.

The Sixers ended the series without Embiid one game later and gave themselves plenty of time off for Embiid to recover, but it looks like the team isn't close to knowing if that will be enough.

Game 5 of the Celtics-Hawks series is scheduled for Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET at the TD Garden in Boston.