Joel Embiid struggling in return from COVID: ‘I think it’s going to take me a while’

At first, it looked as if Joel Embiid hadn’t missed a step after his extended battle with COVID-19.

The Philadelphia 76ers star dropped 42 points in his first night back after a nine-game absence, and seemed completely fine.

But now that he’s a few games in, Embiid knows his body isn’t fully recovered. Wednesday's 88-87 loss to the Boston Celtics, where he shot just 3-of-17 from the field, was a perfect example of that.

“I would never use it as an excuse, but obviously I think it’s going to take me a while to get back, especially legs and cardio and all that stuff,” Embiid said, via ESPN. “But every single day I got to keep working hard and keep getting better.”

Embiid: ‘I really thought I wasn’t going to make it’

Embiid entered the league’s health and safety protocols on Nov. 8, and ended up missing nine games after testing positive for the coronavirus.

That battle, he said after returning to the court for the first time on Saturday, was a harrowing one.

“I really thought I wasn’t going to make it,” he said. “It was that bad. I’m just thankful to be sitting here. I struggled with it, but I’m just glad that I got over it and I’m just here doing what I love with some good people.”

Though he put up 42 points and 14 rebounds on Saturday in their double overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, he’s struggled in their two games since. Embiid has shot a combined just 7-of-33 from the field in Monday's game against the Orlando Magic and on Wednesday against Boston.

He did have 13 points with 18 rebounds against the Celtics, so it’s not like he’s been completely useless. Embiid, though, is still being hard on himself.

"I can't be playing the way I've played these last two games, especially when it comes to shotmaking," he said Wednesday, via ESPN. "If teams are going to double me and I'm not going to get easy baskets, I have to create for myself and my teammates, and I've got to make those shots."

While Embiid will almost certainly find his game again, coach Doc Rivers knows they have “got to get Joel going” in order to keep the team moving in the right direction.

Rivers just doesn’t know how long it’s going to take. When it comes to recovering from the coronavirus, that timeline is always unknown.

"Everybody with COVID, I just don't know those answers," Rivers said, via ESPN. "Some guys come back quickly and play pretty well, a lot of guys have played the one great game when they've come back and then gone into a little fog.

"You could tell he's definitely struggling getting going. Yeah, we've just got to keep playing him and letting him play through it."

Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers
Joel Embiid missed nine games after testing positive for COVID, and said he “really thought I wasn’t going to make it." (Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) (Adam Glanzman via Getty Images)