After hindering a recurrence of knee and foot injuries that had hampered his NBA careers, Philadelphia-76's Joel Embiid had stayed healthy in the first 73 games before injuring himself on Wednesday with a stab wound.
Embiid Collided With teammate Markelle Fultz, who plays a loose ball in the second quarter of the Sixers win over the New York Knicks, the team announced on Thursday that Embiid is in a concussion protocol and needs surgery to repair an orbital fracture
Having reported to ESPN that Philadelphia awaits him, Zach Lowe would have missed 2-4 weeks, which would end his regular season and endanger the opening round of the playoffs. How does Embiid's misfortune affect the 76ers and the rest of the Eastern Conference?
Sixers without Embiid
Few players have made a bigger difference this season for their teams than Embiid, who had a huge impact on the court at both ends. According to NBA Advanced Stats, Philadelphia has outperformed Embiid in the lineup by 1
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Surprisingly, although Philadelphia coach Brett Brown has staggered the minutes of his two stars, Ben has kept Simmons on the pitch more than 80 percent of the time Embiid is on the bench. With Simmons, but not Embiid, the 76ers are still topped with 2.3 points per 100 possessions. As Lowe noticed, that was better lately. Philadelphia's net share with Simmons alone is a healthier plus-4.2 since the All-Star break.
The Sixers are deeper since they've added Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova over the buyout market, and that has given Brown more flexibility to play without tradition Center. That was much of the Wednesday game that veteran backup Amir Johnson had missed due to illness. Third stringer Richaun Holmes played 22 minutes and Philadelphia gave 17 to lineups with Ilyasova or Dario Saric as the nominal center. The 76ers were plus-5 in those minutes, and the smaller units provide plenty of extra ground clearance on offense if they can get enough protection from Simmons and the team's strikers. Ultimately, I would expect the Sixers to be more playing a team with an average league during the absence of Embiid than the under-500 team that they have played as he has with him on the bench this season. But that's a drop in how good Philadelphia played with Embiid. The 76ers are up to the ninth-highest point difference of the NBA at plus-3,4 points per game, an important reason – coupled with a relatively simple schedule – simulations with FiveThirtyEights' CARM-Elo projections and ESPN's Basketball Power Index (BPI) ) both had them as favorites to claim the third seed in the Eastern Conference before Embiid's injury.
The good news is that the simple schedule will not change. Philadelphia will only have two more playoff teams for the remainder of the year, compared to four games against teams with more than 50 defeats (two against Atlanta, Brooklyn and Dallas) and two more against teams likely but not yet sure of the lottery ( Charlotte and Detroit). The bad news is one of those playoff opponents is a showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 6, which could determine the third seed in the East. A Cleveland win in this game would also give the Cavaliers the head-to-head tiebreaker, making it a big swing for the Sixers. (The other is against the Milwaukee Bucks on the last night of the season, who may be locked up in their seeds by then.)
Playoff image impact
The Toronto Raptors retain the third seeds in the race the playoffs of the Eastern Conference. Considering that the Raptors are finished with the first place on the grid – a race that the Boston Celtics have made interesting by closing in three games in the table, but are still overwhelmingly likely to win the Raptors – they will be the Winner of the 4-5 matchup in the second round. Toronto would certainly prefer to postpone a third consecutive playoff meeting with the Cavaliers until the final of the conference, so the Raptors hope that Cleveland will be able to hold Philadelphia for third place.
The Indiana Pacers lurk half a game back from the 76ers. Because of their difficult schedule Indiana had to end the BPI forecasts on average two games behind the healthy Sixers. If Philadelphia stumbles without Embiid, it could be an opportunity for the Pacers to move up to fourth place and get a home advantage in a potential first-round match between the two teams.
With the Washington Wizards losing Thursday in Detroit 3.5 games back in the table, the 76ers can feel comfortable, they will avoid falling to sixth place in the East. But somewhere between the third and fifth remains a possible result.
When will Embiid return?
The Sixers will certainly need Embiid in the lineup to win a playoff series, and here the outcome of his operation will be crucial. The schedule reported by Lowe agrees well with InStreetClothes.com's Jeff Stotts investigation into past NBA facial fractures that needed surgery.
Among players with orbital fractures, Stotts found players coming back as fast as after five games – a little less than two weeks – and three (Tarence Kinsey, Larry Sanders and Etan Thomas) missing out on more than 10 games. A two-week schedule would bring Embiid back just in time for the start of the postseason, while a four-week recovery would cost him much of the first round. A brief difference in severity could make a big difference to Philadelphia's hopes of progressing.
The timing of Embiid's injury is obviously difficult for him and the Sixers with their multi-year recovery process on the verge of carrying playoff fruits. However, if Philadelphia does better without Embiid and returns at the front end of the schedule, it's possible the 76ers are still a threat in the Eastern Conference.