Embiid's expected return is indeed ‘close'


Sixers head coach Doc Rivers might have spilled the beans earlier this week on Joel Embiid's expected return.

At the conclusion of an answer about Paul Reed, he mentioned the Sixers would probably return to their "normal rotations" in two games.

Though Rivers on Tuesday said his response didn't indicate Embiid would definitely play Saturday, he acknowledged Embiid was "close" to a return from his left knee bone bruise. 

Indeed, a Sixers official on Wednesday night said Embiid continues to respond well to on-court work and conditioning and is expected to return this weekend. The team will provide a formal update Friday on Embiid's availability. 

The Sixers will finish their six-game road trip Thursday night in Cleveland, then play a home back-to-back this weekend against the Timberwolves and Grizzlies. The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Embiid will be back Saturday "barring any setbacks." 

Since Embiid's injury, the Sixers have a 6-3 record. Their 103.5 defensive rating during that stretch is best in the NBA, per Cleaning the Glass, which is remarkable given Embiid's immense defensive impact. Tobias Harris has been the Sixers' best player with Embiid out, averaging 22.7 points on 52.2/42.3/93.5 percent shooting, 7.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists. Danny Green has shot 49.3 percent from three-point range on 8.1 attempts per game since Embiid's injury.

The team has been shorthanded after the trade deadline, with backup big man Tony Bradley heading to the Thunder and new addition George Hill not yet available. There's no timetable for Hill's return from right thumb surgery in early February, but he'll join the Sixers for the first time after their road trip.

“It’s not like we can throw him in with a cast on his arm," Rivers said Monday. “We have to wait for him to be healthy. But we knew that when we did the trade. George Hill doesn’t have to do a rehearsal for us to find out if he can play or not. We know exactly what he does, and he’s one of those guys that I believe you can throw in and he’ll figure it out for us. Hopefully we have a 10-game window or more that he can get acclimated with the team. But I’m very confident that he can fit in.”

The 32-15 Sixers are second in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind the Nets after Brooklyn's win Wednesday over the Rockets. They'll be looking to snap a two-game losing skid and clinch a winning road trip Thursday against the Cavs. The return of their four-time All-Star should be sweet regardless.

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