Any championship aspirations the Philadelphia 76ers possess will hinge on the health of Most Valuable Player finalist Joel Embiid.
Right now, the Sixers must be nervous.
Even though the top-seeded Sixers can clinch the opening round series in five games at home against the eighth-seeded Washington Wizards on Wednesday night, Embiid will not be available to play.
The 76ers said their star center was out for Game 5 on Wednesday with a small meniscus tear in his right knee. There is no plan for surgery just yet, with a treatment program prescribed. He is being listed as day-to-day.
Embiid came away with a right knee injury after just 11 minutes of Game 4 when he crashed to the floor during Monday’s 122-114 loss at Washington. During the regular season, Embiid missed 21 of 72 games and the Sixers finished 10-11 without him.
“… Obviously we need Jo to win,” the Sixers’ Ben Simmons said, before the MRI results were revealed. “He’s a big part of this team. If he’s not there next game, we’ve got to close it out. We’ve got what we need. Hopefully, he is back.”
Simmons struggled mightily from the free throw line, going 5 of 11 in Game 4. Simmons is 5 for 20 in the series and was fouled on purpose down the stretch Monday.
Simmons has been heavily criticized for his poor free-throw shooting and unwillingness to shoot jumpers.
But head coach Doc Rivers vehemently defended Simmons.
“You guys keep this Ben Simmons narrative alive, which to me is freaking insane — how good this guy is and all the things he does,” Rivers said. “Ben is not a 40-point guy. That’s not what he does. He does other things for your team, and I just don’t understand why that’s not sinking in in our city.”
Without having to deal with Embiid, the Wizards found a way to extend the series.
Russell Westbrook, who had been dealing with a sprained right ankle, finished with 19 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists. Even though Westbrook shot 3 of 19, he kept attacking until the final buzzer.
Bradley Beal didn’t shoot particularly well (9 of 23) but came through with 27 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Washington received bad news Tuesday when it was reported that Davis Bertans would miss 4 to 6 weeks with a right calf strain. An MRI exam detected the severity.
Bertans scored 15 points in Game 4 before leaving with the injury in the third quarter.
Still, Beal is looking forward to Game 5.
“We played with more spunk, a little bit more attitude and then some excitement,” Beal said. “It just felt like we enjoyed being out there on the floor. We enjoyed playing defense; we enjoyed getting out and running in transition. These are (the things) that make us really good. This is what gave us success at the end of the year. We just got back to playing Wizards basketball the way we know how.
“Granted, we have our work cut out, we understand that (Embiid) is out (of Game 5), and we’re uncertain of how it is moving forward,” Beal added. “But we took advantage of what was on the floor, and we executed.”
The Wizards received a major lift from Robin Lopez, who scored 16 points, including five unorthodox hook shots.
“I say it’s hook-o-matic,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “It’s right there, and (Lopez is) making it. I mean, I’m faster than him. But he knows how to use his body and positioning. … His minutes in the first half, he gave us a chance to be in this game.”
–Field Level Media