PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid is out at least four weeks — presumably much, much longer — following surgery Tuesday to address an injury to the lateral meniscus in his left knee.
Embiid’s bid at a second straight NBA MVP is over. The Philadelphia 76ers can only hope any shot they have at a deep postseason run hasn’t been derailed, as well.
The 76ers’ outlook is bleak.
Only two weeks after Embiid scored a franchise-best 70 points, he is expected to miss significant time because of the knee injury believed to have been suffered in a hard fall last week at Golden State. The 76ers did not release any kind of timetable Tuesday on Embiid’s return, saying only that the two-time NBA scoring champion — and still this season’s leader at 35.3 points — will be evaluated in four weeks.
Embiid was hurt after Golden State’s Jonathan Kuminga fell on the 7-footer’s left leg.
That game marked Embiid’s return to action after an issue with his left knee prevented him from playing in a Jan. 27 game at Denver — scrapping a highly anticipated matchup with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.
Under coach Nick Nurse, in his first season, the 76ers were again pegged as an Eastern Conference contender. But without Embiid in the lineup, the 76ers are an ugly 4-11 — and have Stephen Curry and the Warriors in town Wednesday night.
“No one wants to see him get hurt, or have to push it,” Curry said Tuesday. “It’s kind of a freak injury, too.”
The 76ers have dropped six of seven overall.
Embiid has an injury history that stretches to the day they drafted him with the No. 3 pick in 2014. He missed his entire rookie season after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot in June 2014. He needed a second surgery on his right foot in 2015 and missed his second season, too. Embiid has been riddled with injuries ever since on most parts of his body and has never played more than 68 games in a season; he played just 66 a year ago in his first MVP award.
The NBA added and tweaked some policies this season with hopes of getting players to appear in more games and take fewer nights off to rest. Part of the enticement to play more was adding a rule where players, in most cases, need to be in 65 games so they can be eligible for postseason award voting.
The league just didn’t like the look of star players resting, especially in nationally televised games.
Embiid, who turns 30 next month, had said he would not force himself to play to meet the MVP games requirement.
“I’ve already done it,” Embiid said in early January. “If I have a chance to get a second one, I’ll do it. I’m not going to force myself or push for it. My game is always going to speak for itself. We’re winning. That’s the main thing. We’ve got to keep winning and you put in the stats to be in the (MVP) conversation that’s great, too. But at the end of the day, if there’s something going on, and I can’t meet the requirement for the amount of games played to qualify for that, then so be it.”
Embiid, though, took some serious heat when he sat out against Jokic and the Nuggets. The Sixers had scratched Embiid only minutes before tipoff after he had discomfort in his balky left knee during warmups. Philadelphia was fined $75,000 by the NBA for failing to list Embiid on the injury report.
The question that only Embiid can only answer is, did he force himself to play through injury, no matter the reason?
Curry, a two-time MVP and four-time NBA champion with the Warriors, said he “absolutely” would have played with an injury to meet the 65-game mark.
“But that’s also the trust of the medical staff to save you from yourself at times,” Curry said. “I would definitely push it. I’m always trying to petition to come back sooner than I probably should.”
The 65-game rule (it can be less in limited cases) is part of the new collective bargaining agreement that went into effect last summer and determines whether players are eligible for things such as the MVP award, an All-NBA Team, Defensive Player of the Year, an All-Defensive Team or Most Improved Player.
“I understand why it was implemented,” Curry said after practice at the Palestra. “I don’t think it was necessarily right for all the awards; for it to be that black and white kind of blanket over all (the) NBA. That affects people’s money, too. MVP, you can talk me into. That’s being a part of the definition of what an MVP is, availability. I think for a lot of guys who have been in positions where you’re playing for championships and you’re trying to lead a team to that level, and the individual accolades that come with it, you’re always trying to play.”
The best the 76ers can do is hope to tread water in the East standings and not fall into the play-in tournament. The NBA trade deadline is Thursday. What the 76ers do — if anything — could depend on how they really feel about Embiid’s chances of being healthy for the postseason when it starts in mid-April.
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