The Sixer’s Joel Embiid has been upgraded from out to doubtful — but is still unlikely to play in Game 3. (Chris Szagola/Associated Press)
The first round of the NBA playoffs continues today with three pivotal Game 3s. Follow along here for the latest analysis and commentary from The Post’s NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, and ask him questions in the comments section. Catch up on last night’s games here.
Joel Embiid watched from the bench Monday night as his Philadelphia 76ers lost for the first time in weeks. Immediately after the Game 2 loss, he took to Instagram and made it clear how he felt about being forced to sit out during the first two games of his team’s first-round series against the Miami Heat with a fractured orbital bone around his left eye.
“[Expletive] sick and tired of being babied,” Embiid wrote.
Then, he spoke to ESPN about it, and said, “I promised the city the playoffs and I’m not on the court, and I may not be on Thursday [for Game 3], either.
“I wish more than anything that I was out there. I just want the green light to play.”
Now he’ll get it.
After listing Embiid as doubtful both Wednesday and early Thursday, the Sixers upgraded their star center to probable two hours before Game 3, making it likely he’ll make his playoff debut in Thursday night at American Airlines Arena in Miami. It appears listing him as doubtful was the kind of typical gamesmanship teams engage in during the postseason.
Sixers Coach Brett Brown said before Thursday’s game that Embiid would not be on a minutes limit in his first game back since suffering the injury at home March 28 against the New York Knicks. There still remains some intrigue about just what Embiid’s mask will look like, though. He’s been wearing a black mask, but the NBA has banned those previously.
Philadelphia has been one of the NBA’s hottest teams, winning 17 games in a row before losing in Game 2, and has won nine of those games — including beating the Cleveland Cavaliers at home earlier this month — with Embiid sitting out. That part of the streak has been the latest impressive aspect of the Sixers’ rapid development this season, giving them pause about putting Embiid back out there before he’s completely ready to play.
While players can wear a mask with such an injury — and Embiid has been fitted with one — it is risky for someone like Embiid, who plays in the paint, to come back too soon and risk catching an elbow or shoulder the wrong way, like when teammate Markelle Fultz ran into him in the first place.
But the Sixers have been cautious with his health at every turn. Now we’ll see how the “Phantom of The Process,” as he’s now calling himself, will look in his return.
Embiid’s return is also sure to have an impact on the series, with both teams forced to adjust to his presence.
Philadelphia has grown accustomed to playing a very different style without their massive center, and there will be a stretch where Embiid both shakes the rust off and the Sixers get used to having him back.
It’s a great problem to have, one with which all 16 playoff teams would be fine. But it still is something Philadelphia will have to work through.
There also exists the potential for Hassan Whiteside to actually have a role in the series for Miami with Embiid back. Whiteside has largely been ineffective against the small, floor-spacing Sixers through the first two games of this series.
Like the stylistic changes, it’s another thing to pay attention to as Embiid makes his return.
- Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat (TNT)
- Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans, 9 p.m. (NBA TV)
- Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs, 9:30 p.m. (TNT)
Hop into the comments section below to chat with The Post’s Tim Bontemps about all of your NBA questions.