It’s uncertain when 76ers’ running back Joel Embiid (knee) will return

Tim BontempsESPN4 minutes of reading

Doc Rivers doesn’t know when Embiid will return to the playoffs

Doc Rivers explains he’s not sure when Joel Embiid will be healthy enough to return for the NBA playoffs.

New York — Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers’ message to injured superstar Joel Embiid and the rest of his teammates ahead of Game 4 of their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center was one thing: Dealing with Embiid’s latest offseason injury is another. It’s a matter of managing what the 76ers hope will be a long and successful playoff run.

Rivers spoke about Embiid’s injury history after spraining his right knee in Thursday night’s Game 3 win over Philadelphia. “But as I said, this is another obstacle in the story that I will write this year. You are right, it may take a minute, but this is only a part.

“For me, I’m sure … he’s human, and good, and this is happening again. Let’s win, let’s get him back on the ground, and let’s continue our own journey.”

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported Friday that Embiid’s sprained right knee will sideline him for Game 4, though there was hope Embiid could return as early as next week.

Asked if he believes Embiid can return to the series, assuming Brooklyn extends it to at least a Game 5 with a win Saturday, Rivers said, “I don’t know. I can’t answer that, but I’m not sure.”

Embiid suffered the injury early in the third quarter when he landed badly after trying to contest a drive by Nets forward Cam Johnson. Embiid made a game-saving block off a drive by Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie in the final seconds to preserve the win — putting Philadelphia up 3-0 before Rivers made the save. He said swelling and pain behind the knee prompted the MRI.

“Tests after the game in the locker room,” Rivers said when asked what caused Embiid to look at his knee. “You think about it, he made two great plays. The blocked shot was huge, but from my understanding they checked his knee right after the game because he was complaining of some pain behind the knee, which is always scary. The thing to ask the players, there was already swelling, It was too early, so we did an MRI.

“As a trainer, I hate that word. I hate those three letters because it never goes well. It feels like that, whenever they tell the trainer you’re going to get an MRI, it doesn’t come out right. Most of the time, it doesn’t this time.”

A finalist for the Most Valuable Player award for the third straight season, Embiid led the NBA in scoring for the second straight year with a 33.1-point average. However, this isn’t the first time the 76ers have played without him.

Philadelphia went 11-5 this season without Embiid, who suffered injuries during the 76ers’ previous playoff runs, including a thumb injury and facial fracture in last year’s postseason.

Rivers joked that he was happy to see Brooklyn continue to trap Philadelphia’s centers with Embiid out, before hoping Nets coach Jack Vaughn would do no such thing.

Although he declined to specify who would start in Embiid’s place, he added that he is confident in his team’s ability to finish the series.

“They’re going to change [what they do],” Rivers said. “We don’t need to discuss that. But having said that, I didn’t [know]. When Joel gets off the floor in those 10 to 12 minutes, we’ll get back to playing the way we play and we’ve had some good runs. We have a collection of seniors, we have a lot of guys on our team that can play basketball, and we just have to find the right group that can win games for us.”

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