There is optimism Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid may return as soon as match 3 or 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Miami Heat, sources told ESPN Sunday.
Embiid will not travel to games 1 and 2 (Monday and Wednesday) due to an orbital fracture and concussion, but a reassessment on Wednesday could pave the way for his return when the series shifts to Philadelphia on Friday, sources said.
There is an expectation that Embiid will soon clear the protocols for the concussion, sources said, and he will have to be approved to play with the facial injury – presumably with a protective mask.
Embiid – who was already playing with a torn ligament in his right thumb – suffered the orbital fracture in the final minutes of the Sixers’ Game 6 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Thursday.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers told reporters after training on Saturday that Philadelphia will try various options to replace Embiid, including second-year big man Paul Reed – who impressed as Embiid’s understudy against Toronto – veterans DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap and rookie Charles Bassey.
“We may need all four guys, even if it’s to burn minutes,” Rivers said. “The one thing Miami is, if they are not otherwise, they are smart. They are bad magnets. That is a concern for us. Two reasons: They shoot free throws well, so we do not want to play it all. Series in penalty kicks And No. 2 that gets some of our guys in bad trouble.
“Bam [Adebayo] does a great job with it, Jimmy Butler is perhaps the best at it in the series now without Joel, and Kyle Lowry does. We just have to be very wise in how we plan our big.
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.