It's hard to deny that part of Joel Embiid — though he certainly suffered through a concussion and eye-socket surgery a few weeks ago after a collision with teammate Markelle Fultz — is relishing the opportunity to adorn a mask to kick off the 2018 playoffs.
“No one cared who I was until I put on the mask”.... The Phantom of The Process pic.twitter.com/JOkQxCAxYA— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) April 12, 2018
There's nothing more Embiid than that mask.
There's also, unfortunately, nothing more Embiid than a hazy injury status.
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Let us be clear — Embiid will play in the playoffs. He's already been lightly practicing and was seen shooting around prior to the Sixers 16th straight win against the Bucks to end the regular season Thursday night. The question is, will he be starting against the Heat in Game 1, Saturday night in South Philly?
"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.''
Head coach Brett Brown echoed the sentiment, saying "I do feel confident to tell you and the public that Game 1 is highly unlikely."
But gamesmanship is part of the NBA. And if muddying the water before clearing Embiid to play in Game 1 helps the Sixers get even a slight edge, Brown is sayng exactly the right thing.
One thing is clear, though. The Miami series could be a great one. The match up is one of the better first round draws in the NBA, with the surging Heat and streaking Sixers two of the NBA's hottest teams. And there's sure to be plenty of trash talk to boot — thanks to Embiid's trolling and trash-talking Heat big man Hassan Whiteside earlier this season.
“I don’t know if he’s playing or not,’’ Whiteside said. “I don’t know what they’re saying, or if he’s not playing one game, two games, three games ...”
Whiteside no doubt hopes the Sixers' All-Star center takes his time to return.