Sixers: Joel Embiid’s orbital fracture is world’s biggest bummer

Joel Embiid, Sixers (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid, Sixers (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

Well, this sucks. Joel Embiid will miss at least five days with a concussion, and beyond that, his availability is very much in doubt after suffering an orbital fracture in the Sixers‘ Game 6 victory over Toronto. Rather than play the blame game, let’s just take it for what it is: the world’s biggest bummer, and a hurdle the Sixers probably can’t overcome.

Nobody deserves a healthy postseason run more than Embiid. Every year it’s something else. He even suffered the very same injury when Markelle Fultz collided with his head a few years ago, and it appropriately ended with him returning mid-series to beat the Heat. I’m not sure the Sixers can pull off the same end result this time around, but no matter how you feel about the series, you just have to feel bad for Embiid.

Very few NBA players have overcome what Embiid has overcome to reach this point. He battled personal tragedy and years of lower-leg injuries to not only play in the NBA, but eventually become a perennial MVP candidate. He’s the shining example of perseverance and competitive spirt. This just sucks. A lot.

The Sixers will be without Joel Embiid to start their second round series vs. Miami

Embiid probably won’t return until Game 3 or 4 at the earliest, which puts Miami firmly in the driver’s seat now. The Heat have injuries of their own to worry about — both Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry missed practice yesterday — but Embiid’s injury is far more severe. Miami probably smells blood in the water.

I’ve seen a lot of people saying the Sixers can hang with Miami even if Embiid misses time. I tend to disagree. The Sixers generally can’t win the eight minutes Embiid sits, so I’m not sure why they’d be able to win 48 minutes. At least, not frequently enough to properly challenge the one-seed Heat.

James Harden was brought here to elevate the Sixers independently of Embiid, but let’s be honest. The current version of Harden makes for an excellent secondary star and set-up man. He is not, however, an elite No. 1 option who can single-handedly carry a team to victory in the playoffs. Not right now at least. Miami’s defensive scheme is well-suited to contain Harden — Bam Adebayo and P.J. Tucker can both switch onto Harden and keep him out of the paint. It would take herculean stuff from Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris, on top of the best basketball of Harden’s Sixers career, to challenge Miami. Color me skeptical.

If the Heat aren’t healthy, then it gets interesting. If Embiid can return when the series shifts to Philadelphia, then it gets interesting. But generally speaking, the Sixers only have four reliable players and now they’ve lost their most reliable player. Paul Millsap will probably be starting in the playoffs now. Or, if we want to get truly dark, it might be DeAndre Jordan who gets the nod. That will not end well for Philadelphia.

Even if the Sixers do get Embiid back, he will be playing through a torn thumb ligament while donning a mask that we know from experience makes him uncomfortable. The Sixers can’t reasonably expect Embiid to return at full strength, and the Heat are one of the deepest, most connected teams in the NBA. Erik Spoelstra, two top-30 players, and immense firepower off the bench is more than enough to beat the half-healthy Sixers.

In the end, all we can do is lament the extremely unfortunate circumstances. This was shaping up to be a fun and competitive series. I’m not so sure it will be anymore. Embiid deserves better. He’s in the best shape of his life, playing the best basketball of his life, and two freak injuries have cut into Philadelphia’s postseason plans. It’s brutal. It’s a bummer.

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