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Joel Embiid clears concussion protocol, will miss Game 2 vs. Heat

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The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t need Joel Embiid for Game 1 of their first round series against the Miami Heat on Saturday. The third seed in the East torched their conference rival by 27 points, 130-103, as Ben Simmons nearly marked a triple-double in his first playoff game.

Still, Embiid is on his way back from an orbital fracture whether the rest of the East likes it or not. While the Sixers center entertained fans pregame while wearing a “Phantom of the Opera” style mask against the Heat, the team now says Embiid is one step closer to suiting up after clearing concussion protocol.

Embiid last played on March 28 in a game against the New York Knicks. He collided with teammate Markelle Fultz while going after a ball.

Via Twitter:

Philadelphia will still be without Embiid when they take on the Heat in the city of brotherly love on Monday, but it now seems likely he’ll see the court sooner rather than later.

Game 3 of the series isn’t until Thursday, which gives Embiid five full days after clearing the protocol to get ready to play again.

Joel Embiid ‘unlikely’ to play in 76ers-Heat Game 1

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid said it’s unlikely he’ll be available for at least Game 1 of the playoffs against the Heat this weekend.

Embiid hasn’t played since March 28 when he suffered a broken bone around his left eye in a collision with teammate Markelle Fultz. Embiid, who has since been cleared of a concussion suffered from the accidental headbutt, had surgery on March 31. The 7-footer wore the mask during pregame shooting drills and would need one in the postseason.

“I don’t think I’m ready to play,” he said. “It still doesn’t feel all the way right.”

The Sixers clearly need their big man if they’re going to make a run in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Embiid leads the team with 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games, helping Philly clinch its first playoff berth since 2012.

Embiid says it’s “unlikely but still a chance,” he plays in Game 1.

“I want to play but right now I feel like I’m not ready yet,” Embiid said. “It’s getting there. I’ve got to keep working every day. With the way it’s been progressing, I’m hopeful I’ll be back soon.”

He said the eye was still swollen and he doesn’t suffer from blurred vision.

“I’m actually surprised how fast it is getting better,” he said.

The Sixers have won a team-record 16 straight games.

Embiid said he hoped the NBA would allow him to wear a black mask that made him look like the 76ers’ version of Zorro.

“With a clear mask, it kind of feels like there’s so much reflection, and I can’t really see,” he said. “With the black mask, it kind of gives you a clear vision. Hopefully, it gets approved and I get to play in it.”

Embiid has yet to participate in any contact drills and has limited his activities to light workouts.

Embiid is used to sitting out with the Sixers – he missed his first two seasons with a broken foot and played just 31 games last season because of a knee injury. The Sixers had been cautious this season and initially held him out of the back end of consecutive games on the schedule. But he stayed healthy until the freak injury and developed into one of the league’s top defenders (1.8 blocks, 38 double-doubles).

He stumped for Brett Brown to win NBA coach of the year, teammate Ben Simmons for rookie of the year and himself, naturally, to win NBA defensive player of the year.

“I feel I’ve been the best defensive player in the league this year,” Embiid said. “We have the resume. We won a lot of games. We’re a top-three defensive team in the league and a lot of that speaks for itself. Last year, I kind of had a knock on me for not playing a lot of games. This year, when I actually do play a lot of games, I don’t know what excuse they’re going to find next.”

Anything else?

“I should be first-team All-NBA, too,” he said, smiling behind his mask. “I feel like I’m best the center in the league.”

 

Markelle Fultz becomes youngest player with triple-double, gets mobbed by 76ers (video)

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It’s been a trying season for No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz.

But the 76ers rookie ended it on a high note.

The 19-year-old Fultz (13 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) broke the NBA record for youngest player with a triple-double. That helped Philadelphia beat the Bucks, 130-95, and secure the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference – which means avoiding the Cavaliers and Raptors until the conference finals.

Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball set the triple-double-by-age record earlier this season.

Three Things to Know: Who is in, who is out, games that matter in West playoff chase

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Where we stand: Insane West playoff chase explained (mostly). Back in 2014 — the year Taylor Swift was shaking it off and we were all trying to shake off hearing her again — the Suns won 48 games and missed the playoffs. It was unprecedented.

This season is getting close to that. Some team is going to win 46 games and miss the postseason in the West. After a wild weekend of games, here is where the playoff chase in the West stands and what to watch, in bullet point form:

• The magic number to get in is going to be 47 wins — reach that and teams will be invited to the dance. There are scenarios where 46 wins is good enough, but get to 47 wins and teams are safe.

• The Pelicans, Spurs, and Thunder are all at 46-34 and made up seeds 5-7 currently, the Timberwolves and Nuggets are both 45-35 and tied for 8-9.

• With their win over the Lakers Sunday night, the Jazz are officially in (with 47 wins, they cannot fall out due to tiebreakers). Seeding is still up in the air, they could land anywhere from three to eight (with eighth being unlikely but technically possible).

• After their loss to the Nuggets Saturday, the Los Angeles Clippers are officially out.

• Monday night games to track: Oklahoma City at Miami, Memphis at Minnesota, Sacramento at San Antonio, New Orleans at the Los Angeles Clippers, and the big one is Portland at Denver.

• If Minnesota beats Memphis Monday (very likely) and Denver beats Portland that same night (less likely, but possible), then the Timberwolves and Nuggets will remain tied and play Wednesday for the eight seed — a play-in game. Denver technically is the nine seed by tiebreaker, but they control their own destiny — win out and they are in.

• Utah at Portland on the last night of the season could determine the three seed. That assumes that the Jazz beat the Warriors Tuesday, something that is no lock (although Golden State is locked into the two seed and not very focused right now). Utah will be on a back-to-back and it will be their third game in four nights, but this is a determined team right now.

2) Philadelphia gets to 50 wins and locks up home-court advantage in the first round. Read that again, because it’s harder to believe than alien abduction stories. Almost. This team won 28 games a season ago, 10 the season before that, 18 the one before that. Throughout the tribulations of “the process” Philly, on paper, looked like a team that could come be a force if things broke right — but for it to all break right that fast is mind-boggling. And that is without No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz contributing much.

Brett Brown deserves a lot of credit here. Throughout the years of losing, he had them playing hard and learning defensive principles. He built a culture despite the challenges. He is not going to win Coach of the Year this season, but the man has to be considered.

The Sixers may well finish with the three seed in the East (they currently are the three, one game up on the Cavaliers in fourth). Do that, get through the first round (against likely Miami or Milwaukee, which will not be easy), get Joel Embiid back, then beat the Celtics/the seven seed that knocks off the Celtics, and the Sixers are in the Eastern Conference Finals. That is a completely reasonable path. And if you had said “the Sixers can make the Eastern Conference Finals next year” last April we would have put you in the asylum with the alien abduction people.

3) Mitch Kupchak is the new GM in Charlotte. It became official on Sunday, the North Carolina guy got the job with the North Carolina team owned by a North Carolina grad. This was the safe play for the Hornets. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong play, or that it will not work out, but it’s the safe play. Kupchak brings a resume to the table the Hornets can sell — he’s got four rings as the Lakers GM — and a style and standing that will sell in the community. He’s got a good relationship with the owner, Michael Jordan. There’s a lot of good reasons to make this hire.

Kupchack’s GM record in Los Angeles is hit-and-miss. There were highs — the Pau Gasol trade, drafting Andrew Bynum (who was good with the Lakers and helped them to rings), and even the failed Steve Nash/Dwight Howard move was bold and seen as brilliant before that team took the court. In general, he drafted well, often at the back of the draft. Nobody should question his eye for talent.

However, in his final years in Los Angeles, there was a sense from some around the team that the game had passed him by. Kupchak completely misread the market in the contracts for Luol Deng (four years, $72 million), Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) and even Jordan Clarkson (four years, $50 million, although the Lakers were able to eventually trade that one). He expected there to be an amnesty clause in the new CBA and there wasn’t, and he though those contracts could be easily traded (it cost the Lakers former No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell to move Mozgov). There also were reports that the old-school Kupchak was a bit behind the modern NBA curve — he wouldn’t reach out through back channels to agents and free agent players before July 1, and that had him starting steps behind other teams. Not all of this was on Kupchak he was a good soldier for the Lakers’ organization and certainly the former head of basketball operations in L.A. Jim Buss had the ultimate say on those moves. However, Kupchak at the very least didn’t talk Buss out of those decisions. (Both Buss and Kupchak were trying to keep their job, which also can account for the errors.)

There are real questions in Charlotte for Kupchak to answer. The big one is a matter of direction for the coming years: do they trade Kemba Walker and jump-start a rebuild, or do they retool around him (with Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum on the roster) and aim to be a playoff team for a couple more seasons? Ultimately that is a decision Jordan must make, and in that market moving Kemba followed by a few bad years may sting more than the “tear it down” contingent realize, but it’s something where Kupchak needs to sway Jordan.

What does Kupchak’s hiring mean for coach Steve Clifford’s job security? That is up in the air, but Clifford was an assistant coach with the Lakers while Kupchak was a GM, that could buy him some trust and another year.

Joel Embiid undergoes surgery for facial fracture

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Joel Embiid‘s surgery to repair the broken orbital bone in his face — the eye socket, to us non-doctors — was on hold for a few days because the swelling in his face needed to go down after Wednesday’s collision with Markelle Fultz.

It finally has, and he has had the surgery, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The time frame on these surgeries are usually 2-4 weeks, and his ability to get back on the court includes factors from how things heal to pain tolerance.

The Sixers are optimistic Embiid will only miss a game or two of the playoffs (which start in two weeks). That’s possible. Or, it’s possible he misses more time (and for the Sixers, thinking long-term, there is reason to be a little cautious). What we know is that without Embiid on the court the Sixers are not near the same team, their defense goes from elite to average, their offense falls to one of the league’s worst. That’s not a recipe for lasting long in the postseason.

However, the Sixers remain a team a lot of others in the East would like to avoid, because if Embiid is back and in peak form, this is a bear of a team to beat.