US basketball

NBA MVP Joel Embiid nears Sixers return after two-month absence


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NBA MVP Joel Embiid nears Sixers return after two-month absence

APPLAUSE. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) reacts with fans after leaving the game in the closing seconds of a victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Wells Fargo Center.

Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid - now ineligible to go back-to-back due to a two-month absence - seeks to improve the Philadelphia 76ers' playoff seeding with his impending return from injury

Don’t expect to see Joel Embiid on the court Tuesday (Wednesday, April 3, Manila time).

The Philadelphia 76ers star, who hasn’t played since January 30 after undergoing left meniscus surgery, has been ruled out for Tuesday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Philadelphia.

Embiid’s return, however, looks to be coming soon.

Before Embiid was listed as out on the injury report, ESPN and others reported Embiid was closing in on a return and could play this week. Embiid could return Thursday when the 76ers play in Miami.

Philadelphia is 26-8 with Embiid this season and 14-27 when he doesn’t play.

The 76ers (40-35) enter the matchup with Oklahoma City in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They are looking to climb out of play-in position and into the main playoff field in their last seven games.

Philadelphia could once again be without another key piece Tuesday, as Tyrese Maxey is listed as questionable.

Maxey missed Sunday’s 135-120 win in Toronto with left hip tightness.

“When you’re playing without two main guys on offense, you have to find ways,” forward Nicolas Batum said after Sunday’s game.

Against the Raptors, that was with 3-point shooting, as the 76ers set a franchise record with 24 3-pointers.

The Thunder (52-22) come into Tuesday’s game a half-game ahead of Denver for the top spot in the Western Conference.

In Sunday’s 113-112 win at New York, Oklahoma City clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2020.

“We’ve got to continue to sharpen our blade down the stretch here and prepare ourselves,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said.

The meeting is the second and final between the teams this season. Philadelphia won 127-123 on Nov. 25 in Oklahoma City.

Embiid was instrumental in that win, with 35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists while Maxey had 28 points and eight rebounds.

One player who didn’t play in that game was Thunder second-year forward Jalen Williams. He is coming off a 33-point, 14-for-18 performance in Sunday’s win.

“He’s obviously really developed into a three-level player,” Daigneault said. “Still makes all the right passes, has developed a really good blend for when to get kind of his pull-up and get to spots and when he can just punch the gas and get to the front of the rim. … Just continues to get better and better.”

Williams is averaging 19.5 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 54 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from beyond the arc.

A big part of Tuesday’s game figures to be the turnover battle. Both teams are among the league’s best teams in forcing turnovers and avoiding them.

Philadelphia leads the NBA with a low of 11.8 turnovers per game, while the Thunder are tied for fifth at 12.5.

Oklahoma City leads the NBA in forcing turnovers, with 15.7 per game defensively, while the 76ers are No. 4 at 14.5.

The Thunder come into the game having won back-to-back games and 10 of their last 13. Tuesday’s game is the second in a five-game road trip for Oklahoma City. –

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