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Why Joel Embiid deserved better and what his injury says about the NBA’s 65-game rule

Written by The Anand Market

Updated on:

SAN FRANCISCO – Joel Embiid has not spoken.

Not with his words, anyway.

The Philadelphia 76ers big man, ridiculed for three days after his latest disappearance and whose MVP defense is in jeopardy so early because of the league’s 65-game rule that puts so much pressure on his sensitive situation, didn’t didn’t have to do it. say anything after leaving the Chase Center floor in such pain Tuesday night due to an apparent knee injury.

As was the case on Saturday afternoon, when his late elimination against the Denver Nuggets sparked a chorus of criticism over his lack of willingness to face a great compatriot in Nikola Jokić, the horrible optics were enough.

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Only this time, unlike that Mile High City mishap, Embiid had suddenly become a sympathetic figure. What if someone was afraid, as he had been accused of being in some high-level media circlesit is the Sixers team (29-17) which now finds itself fifth in the Eastern Conference standings after losing 119-107 against Golden State.

It says a lot that Sixers coach Nick Nurse was excessively slow in attending his postgame press conference, or that his responses to questions about the left knee injury suffered at the 4-minute mark and 4 seconds left in their fourth straight loss seemed so rehearsed. It’s never a good sign when the top executive in a team’s front office, in this case Daryl Morey of the Sixers, tours the back hallways of the visiting arena looking for the staff’s perspective team medical. All parties of the Sixers that matter most were clearly affected.

As for Embiid, he chose not to speak to reporters afterward, prioritizing an ice bath that lasted late into the night. And for good reason.

The MRI results will determine how worried these Sixers need to be as they move forward in this title contending mission. For Embiid’s resume, he can only miss five more games before being deemed ineligible for the kind of postseason accolades that have shaped the legacies of greats for so long. This is the microphone of all of this. Jonathan Kuminga of the Warriors fell on Embiid’s left knee late in the game, and his night full of laborious moves happily ended with Warriors fans wishing him luck on the outing with cheers and even a few mini standing ovations.

But the macro, and what should make fans and reporters alike think twice about how we discuss this massive man who is such a basketball treasure when his body allows it, is that Embiid is very clearly battling through the same kind of physical ailments that have dogged him for much of his 10-year career.

As a Sixers source indicated Tuesday night, he has been dealing with soreness in the same left knee all season. And while Nurse indicated that the injury that forced him out late was somehow different from the one that had dogged him of late, Embiid’s theme remained unchanged: He was battered and bruised even before the arrival of February, and his ability to be at his best. From now on, everything is seriously called into question again.

Have we all forgotten that the reigning MVP missed his first two full seasons due to foot injuries, or that he’s only reached the sacred 65-game mark twice in the seven seasons he’s disputed? There are shades of Yao Ming here, with the talent so transcendent but that nagging sense of physical unhappiness and sadness always waiting around the proverbial corner.

Embiid has already accomplished far more than the 7-foot-6, 310-pound former Houston Rockets big man was able to during his nine-year career that was cut short by injuries, but the unwanted parallels are there. Starting with the size.

You could see it long before he was injured against the Warriors. Embiid, who missed Philadelphia’s game at Portland on Monday night, looked like a player who pushed himself to play Golden State because the entire basketball world was screaming in his ear. There are people within the Sixers who are convinced he only played because of all the scrutiny.

He was awful by his high standards, finishing with 14 points, seven rebounds and two assists while missing 13 of 18 shots and settling for jump shots on all but one attempt. Embiid still ran the floor heavily, but it was a level of hesitation and instability he hasn’t seen often. And hearing Sixers guard Kelly Oubre discuss Embiid’s ill-fated night afterward was a reminder that gravity has never been his friend. Although Embiid is 7 feet and 280 pounds, it is widely believed that those measurements are below his actual height.

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“(You have people) pressuring him to force himself to be great when he’s 300 pounds (and) 7-foot-5? » Oubre said, exaggerating Embiid’s size. “Like, come on bro. … I think this year people will really understand that throughout his career he had to make sure his body was right. It’s like NASCAR, right? If their cars aren’t working and their mechanics aren’t really capable of doing the work before the race, what can they do? They can’t run.

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“These are our bodies. Our body is our car and we must treat it with respect. He weighs 350 pounds, brother. So you know, I pray for him for a speedy recovery, so that he can come in and give himself the best chance. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter. His body and his career (are) the most important.

So maybe we all should have dug a little deeper before destroying him for his absence in Denver. Yours truly included.

There was evidence that was largely ignored in Thursday night’s game against Indiana, when Embiid went down midway through the second quarter and seemed to have pain in the same left knee it would be his undoing in Denver. Nonetheless, he played against the Pacers and finished with 31 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes.

Fast forward two nights, and it was completely fair to wonder why Embiid wasn’t on the injury report before the Nuggets game (and make no mistake, the league investigated this question). But criticism of his absence went much further than that.

Embiid was considered a coward in some circles, someone who would rather be booed (which he was) than face Jokić in his building. Never mind that he had just beaten Jokić in Philadelphia less than two weeks before.

Still, while it’s true that Embiid hasn’t played in Denver since 2019, and has now missed six of their eight games in the Mile High City while Jokić played each time, context matters a lot here . A quick recap in fairness to Embiid.

His first two absences in Denver (December 30, 2017, And January 26, 2019) came at a time when rest was an even more important part of his rehabilitation program. And while they were the most suspect of the six, the fact that Embiid was still in the early days of putting together a sustained run in the NBA while trying to stay healthy was surely no small postman. Yet the three that preceded Saturday’s absence – and all come after the last Jokić-Embiid confrontation on November 8, 2019 – were different enough to be worth examining.

  • March 30, 2021: Embiid had been out since March 12 due to a bone bruise in his left knee, and he wouldn’t return until April 3 (two games later against Minnesota). This one is undoubtedly legitimate.
  • November 18, 2021: Embiid missed his sixth straight game after entering the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. He was absent from November 6 to 27. Also legit.
  • March 27, 2023: Embiide he is sitting with a sore right calf. He played the game before and the game after. This one, it is safe to say, can be the subject of debate.
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None of this is to say that the story of Embiid not playing in Denver isn’t strange. But it’s one thing to wonder out loud why this trend appeared, and another to attack the competitive nature of a player who already deserves to be considered one of the greatest of all. time. These hot takes seem cold in more ways than one now.

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Ditto for premature approvals of the league’s 65-game rule. While fans, owners, television partners and league officials have every right to want to resolve the league’s load management dilemma, the early feedback here is enough to make you wonder if it might may need to be revisited due to unforeseen consequences. Is it a good thing that the reigning MVP is about to leave this conversation before we reach the All-Star break?

“I didn’t sign for that (65-game rule),” Sixers backup center Paul Reed said of the rule agreed to as part of the league’s collective bargaining agreement that was ratified in last April and applies until 2029-30. season. “I don’t remember signing any documents, you feel me?” I guess the (players) union agreed. But they probably didn’t have a choice, to be honest. Yeah, it’s hard. This adds a lot of pressure to the players. We were talking about just that. A lot of pressure – especially guys like (Embiid who) are trying to become MVP again.

Embiid being healthy is the only priority that matters now.


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(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)