The Sixers Game 4 loss to the Wizards was a reality check—Joel Embiid isn’t invincible, and therefore neither is this team. Despite a number of talking points coming out of the loss, all focus has understandably been on the health of Joel, who left the game with apparent “knee soreness” following a hard fall at the end of the first quarter.
A Tuesday morning MRI was apparently inconclusive, as he’s set to undergo further testing over the next 48 hours.
While that’s obviously not enough information to get a read on, it’s certainly not good news. Between the initial “soreness” description and the “doubtful” designation, I think we can assume the injury isn’t threatening him long-term, but if it was a mere day-to-day, nagging type of injury then there wouldn’t be a need for further testing.
Sixers fans will need to wait another 24-48 hours for a better understanding of Joel’s health—a tradition as old as The Process—but in the meantime the conversation will pivot to playing Game 5 without him. With capacity restrictions fully lifted, the Wells Fargo Center will be rocking tomorrow night, and the Sixers should be eager to take advantage of that. Closing out this series in five games is vital in terms of preserving the team’s rest/health advantage and providing extra healing time for Embiid.
There’s obviously no real fear of the Wizards coming back to win this series, but they can take a good chunk out of us here if things go wrong. Milwaukee already cruised through their first round series, and Brooklyn is poised to dispatch Boston in Game 5 tonight; if Embiid can’t play and the Wiz find a way to send this series back to DC then the Sixers are all of a sudden the least rested team in the conference.
How will Doc handle the non-Dwight minutes at center?
I’ll have more on this tomorrow, but as I see it his options are simple. Whether he chooses to start Dwight or keep him with the bench unit is one question—he’ll play as much as possible (or as much as he can stay out of foul trouble)—but the more important decision is how to fill the other minutes?
Despite a poor outing in Game 4 I’d expect Mike Scott to get another crack here, though I also expect him to be limited to short bursts (think 8-12 minutes total). He’s been bad all season long, but as the most experienced big left on the roster we can’t afford to bury him on the bench now.
As for Paul Reed, while I’m fearful of playing an inexperienced rookie in the playoffs—he’ll get pushed around and routinely blow assignments, just like he did in the regular season—I don’t see there being much of choice here given the need to match the length and bounce of Daniel Gafford, who can be a nightmare for the Sixers without Embiid. None of the other bigs on this roster (Dwight aside) can defend above the rim or work the glass like Reed, and for that reason he’ll be given a shot to supplement Howard in Game 5 (just don’t don’t expect his leash to be long).
Beyond that Doc could turn to 36-year old Anthony Tolliver, who provides a similar skillset to Scott, but there’s no real appeal there. Gary Clark is a versatile and strong defensive player who is somewhat of a wing/big tweener, and if the Sixers chose to lean into small lineups without Joel then having Clark’s size out there would make a lot of sense—he can defend a few positions and make a difference as a weakside defender if need be. Obviously these are “break glass in case of emergency” options, but if Embiid misses time then it’ll be all-hands-on-deck until he returns.