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Sixers Notebook: Joel Embiid, after playing suspense game, answers the bell

PHILADELPHIA — Backup point guard Cameron Payne and the newer Sixers additions had played in enough pickup games with the rehabbing Joel Embiid to get a snapshot of what life would be like when the Big Guy returned to action after surgery on the meniscus in his left knee.

It happened Tuesday when Embiid, sporting a new hairdo of tightly cropped corn rows, was upgraded from out to questionable at 5:30 p.m., then upgraded again to probable shortly before 7, and finally to active when the Sixers tipped off against the Oklahoma City Thunder at 7:35 p.m. at Wells Fargo Center.

It took a little time for the Sixers to warm up, but Payne was on point with his observations.

“Man, with him being out there you’re going to get a lot of open shots,” Payne said. “That’s what I know. They’re going to be sending a lot of doubles at him, so there’s a lot of opportunity out there. And even defensively, having that big body in there is a lot different. Having him in there is huge.”

Embiid in 29 minutes contributed 24 points, six rebounds, seven assists and three steals to spark the Sixers to a 109-105 win over the Thunder, which led most of the evening. Embiid’s steal and free throws late in the game sealed the decision for the Sixers.

“”We got the win,” Embiid said. “I think we’ve got a chance, even at the level I’m at.”

Embiid wasn’t at the shootaround Tuesday morning. Nor was guard Tyrese Maxey (25.6 ppg.), the team’s second-leading scorer. Maxey was scratched with a bruised hip.

Clearly the Sixers are better when Embiid is in the lineup regardless of whether he’s in game shape. Embiid led the league with a 35.3 scoring average to go with 11.3 rebounds until crashing to the floor and tearing a meniscus against the Golden State Warriors.

The Sixers entered the game Tuesday with a 26-8 record when Embiid plays this season compared to 14-27 without him, and now are in a fight to avoid the play-in round of the NBA playoffs. With Embiid the Sixers averaged 121.4 points. Without him the average was 108.6 points entering the game with the Thunder.

“Before he got injured, he was the clear cut MVP,” TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal said. “Clear cut MVP by far. I don’t know if he can get back to that level. Yes, him being back on the floor will give his teammates confidence. But that’s not the Joel Embiid Philadelphia wants to see. That’s not the Joel Embiid we want to see. So, hopefully he’s not rushing it.”

Embiid took his first rest after playing four minutes with just two points, but he opened the floor up for a squad that sorely missed Maxey.

While there are mixed opinions about whether Embiid should come back in a Sixers season stuck on unfulfilling, lest he reinjure the knee, there is no doubt what he can do at 100 percent or less than that.

“Been playing with him in pickup, it’s been fine,” Payne said. “You can hit him in the pocket. It’s like having another point guard on the floor. That’s huge to have him out there.”

Payne, 29, was averaging 7.6 points, 2.6 assists and 1.4 rebounds in a season split among the Sixers and the Milwaukee Bucks. Though there are a lot of folks who believe the Sixers with Embiid could do some damage in the playoffs, the reality right now is there were only seven games left in the regular season for new teammates like Payne, Kyle Lowry and Buddy Hield to figure out how best to fit in.

That hasn’t dampened the anticipation of basketball with Embiid.

Payne joked that the Sixers were every bit as curious about the Embiid return as the media.

“We’re all waiting patiently just like y’all,” Payne said with a grin. “Or, anxiously, you can say we’re all waiting.”

Patiently, anxiously, there is no shortage of drama when it comes to Embiid and what he means to the Sixers.

• • •

Listed as out for the Sixers are forward Robert Covington (left knee/bone bruise) and guard De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone).

For the Thunder, point guard Sha Gilgeous-Alexander (right quad contusion) and guard Jalen Williams (left ankle sprain) were out.

• • •

NOTES >> The Sixers entered Tuesday just 10-15 since the trade deadline brought them Hield and Payne. … A sculpture of Sixers icon Allen Iverson will be unveiled on April 12 at the Penn Medicine Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex. The sculpture will become part of the Legends Walk collection with fellow Sixers marvels Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain, Maurice Cheeks, Billy Cunningham, Julius Erving, Hal Greer, Bobby Jones, Moses Malone and Dolph Schayes.

Source: Berkshire mont

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