What the Sixers need to decide this week after Embiid's ankle injury

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — If you’re searching for some sense of normalcy five months into this pandemic, turn your attention to the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Just as they were before COVID-19, the Sixers display glimpses of their pre-season potential — but remain inconsistent in putting it all together. 

They showed flashes of brilliance with an encouraging comeback against the Portland Trail Blazers, yet lost in the end, as their defense during the NBA restart gave up another 50 points to an opposing player. 

And probably the most important and unfortunate of all, a cornerstone superstar injured himself — again. 

Headlining the Sixers’ 124-121 loss to Damian Lillard and the Blazers on Sunday, Joel Embiid exited in the first quarter with a left ankle injury after it appeared his foot went awkwardly into the stanchion of one of the baskets.

This is apparently whereJoel Embiid hurt his ankle.He will not return tonightIt just doesn’t stop pic.twitter.com/NrMESpPYer

— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) August 9, 2020

Embiid, who had two points on one-of-six from the floor in just under six minutes, left the game shortly after.

Joel Embiid is in the locker room.Here is the most recent play where he went for a loose ball before the timeout. pic.twitter.com/ovZyMWQXvq

— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) August 9, 2020

Mind you, this was just 24 hours after we learned that Ben Simmons will undergo surgery to remove a “loose body” in his left knee, as a result of the partial left patella dislocation he suffered against Washington last week. 

“I was just telling you how much I can’t take any more of this,” NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Alaa Abdelnaby said to fellow broadcaster Marc Zumoff on Sunday’s telecast. “It’s just one thing after another — the big fella out now. … Ben and his woes.”

But as the game went on, it was encouraging to see Embiid upbeat on the bench in the second half. 

Jrich scoring on repeat here.He seals his 28th point at the end of the third with this beauty. pic.twitter.com/lnm5A0aqk5

— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) August 10, 2020

Unlike Embiid — who was seen with a huge smile as the Sixers made a third-quarter run — Simmons did not return to the bench after leaving the victory over the Wizards. Instead, he was walking gingerly in the venue corridor.

Ben Simmons leaving arena after injuring his left knee and not returning to the game“Walking gingerly”#Sixers pic.twitter.com/aBIeEaUGsq

— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) August 5, 2020

“Joel was fully engaged as a teammate,” head coach Brett Brown said after Sunday’s game. “As it relates to what his injury is or what it actually means, I can’t comment. I don’t know. But, it was great just to see him being a part of the group.”

The Sixers have three “seeding games” left before the playoffs begin. They can finish with no worse than the sixth seed in the East, which they presently are — one game behind the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers and fourth-seeded Miami Heat. They can finish no higher than fourth. 

In other words, they’re not playing for much before the postseason. 

They’ll either face the Boston Celtics, Miami or Indiana in the first round. Each of those teams present unique challenges. And, quite frankly, with how inconsistent the Sixers are — Embiid or not — it really doesn’t matter who they play. 

They also don’t have the traditional home-court advantage.

Regardless of the condition of Embiid’s ankle, it may be best to limit his minutes or sit him entirely this week. It’s a difficult balance that Brown recognizes for not only Embiid, but for other key players, like Tobias Harris and Al Horford. 

“You want an honest medical assessment of anything that equals a potential problem (that) you just want to avoid,” he said. “And, landing the plane and entering the playoffs from this sort of vision line of a bubble, and time off, and tip-toeing on pins and needles where you don’t want people to get injured, and still find a rhythm — that’s a slippery slope.”

Despite losing another franchise player, the Sixers still almost stole one against Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Carmelo Anthony. They trailed by 17 in the first half, yet rallied back to lead by six with 4:23 left in the fourth. 

“It’s not positive, honestly, like we were kinda nervous hoping it wasn’t too bad,” Josh Richardson said of Embiid. “But honestly, you never want any of your teammates to get hurt, but when it’s your best player, it’s definitely a bigger hit, so we just tried to pick the slack up for him.” 

Richardson certainly did that by dropping 34 points on 13-of-20 from the floor. 

Despite his valiant effort, along with Alec Burks — who scored 20 off the bench — the Sixers will need Embiid in the postseason to have any prayer of proving naysayers wrong. 

Three decisions must be addressed if they want to move forward: First, the Sixers need to announce the severity of Embiid’s ankle. As of Monday morning, the team has not.

Second, they need to make a decision about how to treat the last three “seeding games.” 

And third — based on however the Sixers approach this week — is finding a way to balance staying sharp and staying healthy, before these games ramp up to another level. 

The fun of the NBA Playoffs begins in a week. However, this is a crucial week for the Sixers to make sure they’re as ready as possible, without losing more key players for an undetermined amount of time, like they did Simmons.