PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Sixers will be without their All-Star center for Game 1 of their opening round playoff series against the Miami Heat on Saturday night.
Joel Embiid hasn’t played since March 28 when he suffered a broken bone around his left eye in a collision with teammate Markelle Fultz. Embiid, who has since been cleared of a concussion suffered from the accidental headbutt, had surgery on March 31. The 7-footer wore the mask during pregame shooting drills and would need one in the postseason.
Embiid previously said he didn’t think he would be ready for the first game of the series.
“I don’t think I’m ready to play,” he said. “It still doesn’t feel all the way right.”
The Sixers clearly need their big man if they’re going to make a run in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Embiid leads the team with 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games, helping Philly clinch its first playoff berth since 2012.
“It’s getting there. I’ve got to keep working every day. With the way it’s been progressing, I’m hopeful I’ll be back soon,” said Embiid.
He said the eye was still swollen and he doesn’t suffer from blurred vision.
“I’m actually surprised how fast it is getting better,” he said.
Embiid said he hoped the NBA would allow him to wear a black mask that made him look like the 76ers’ version of Zorro.
“With a clear mask, it kind of feels like there’s so much reflection, and I can’t really see,” he said. “With the black mask, it kind of gives you a clear vision. Hopefully, it gets approved and I get to play in it.”
Embiid has yet to participate in any contact drills and has limited his activities to light workouts.
Embiid is used to sitting out with the Sixers — he missed his first two seasons with a broken foot and played just 31 games last season because of a knee injury. The Sixers had been cautious this season and initially held him out of the back end of consecutive games on the schedule. But he stayed healthy until the freak injury and developed into one of the league’s top defenders (1.8 blocks, 38 double-doubles).
He stumped for Brett Brown to win NBA coach of the year, teammate Ben Simmons for rookie of the year and himself, naturally, to win NBA defensive player of the year.
“I feel I’ve been the best defensive player in the league this year,” Embiid said. “We have the resume. We won a lot of games. We’re a top-three defensive team in the league and a lot of that speaks for itself. Last year, I kind of had a knock on me for not playing a lot of games. This year, when I actually do play a lot of games, I don’t know what excuse they’re going to find next.”
“I should be first-team All-NBA, too,” he said, smiling behind his mask. “I feel like I’m best the center in the league.”
The Sixers won 16 consecutive games heading into the playoffs.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)