There’s optimism Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid could return as soon as Game 3 or 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Miami Heat, sources told ESPN on Sunday.
Embiid will not travel for Games 1 and 2 (Monday and Wednesday) because of an orbital fracture and concussion, but a reevaluation on Wednesday could clear the way for his return when the series shifts to Philadelphia on Friday, sources said.
There’s an expectation that Embiid will clear protocols for the concussion soon, sources said, and he’ll need to be cleared to play with the facial injury — presumably with a protective mask.
Embiid — who was already playing with a torn ligament in his right thumb — suffered the orbital fracture in the final minutes of the Sixers’ Game 6 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Thursday.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers told reporters following practice Saturday that Philadelphia will be trying different options to replace Embiid, including second-year big man Paul Reed — who impressed as Embiid’s understudy against Toronto — veterans DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap and rookie Charles Bassey.
“We may need all four guys, even if it’s to burn minutes,” Rivers said. “The one thing Miami is, if they’re nothing else, they’re clever. They’re foul magnets. That’s a concern for us. Two reasons: They shoot free throws well, so we don’t want to play the whole series in the penalty. And No. 2, getting some of our guys in foul trouble.
“Bam [Adebayo] does a great job of that, Jimmy Butler may be the best at it in the series now without Joel, and Kyle Lowry does it. We just have to be very smart in how we plan our bigs.”
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.