The Philadelphia 76ers have been treading water without Joel Embiid. They managed to beat the rival Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets by relying on their other options at center, but after two key losses to the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks, the 76ers can’t afford to wait much longer for their superstar center’s return. 

Fortunately, things are moving in the right direction. Embiid had been cleared for non-contact conditioning drills, according to Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice. While that won’t get him back on the court immediately, the next update is expected in around a week. Slowly but surely, Embiid is working his way back. 

After seeing a specialist following a recent win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was determined that Embiid tore his radial collateral ligament in the fourth metacarpal — the bone connected to the ring finger — in his left hand, as reported by ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. He had surgery last Friday, and it was successful according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. Brett Brown acknowledged the challenge of adjusting to playing without Embiid for the time being.

“All of a sudden, we’re different,” Brown said. “We’re just different. I look at this as an opportunity. Nobody’s crying. This is not a ‘woe is me’ moment, not for me, at all. And not for my players. We’ll take what we have, and what we have, I love.”

Embiid has a complicated and unique injury history, and for that reason, the Sixers are especially cautious with their All-Star center any time he suffers an on-court ailment. Thus, when he sustained the dislocated finger, it was surprising to see Embiid back out on the floor again against the Thunder considering the fact that his finger was pointing in the wrong direction. The injury was pretty gruesome: 

Embiid didn’t let the injury end his game. Instead, he went back out on the floor mere minutes later, recording a near triple-double (18 points. nine rebounds, eight assists) and helped lead Philadelphia to a much-needed 120-113 win over Oklahoma City. When Embiid dislocated his finger, the original thought was that he suffered a fracture. X-rays taken on Monday night showed that there was no break, which led to Embiid seeing a specialist and learning about the torn ligament.

“I think it happened a couple of plays earlier, I felt my finger snapping and I thought I fractured it,” Embiid said of the injury. “I went in the locker room, they did some X-rays and they said it was nothing,” Embiid said, “I came back … and then it just happened. It was just unfortunate … It was pretty bad. I was basically playing with one hand.” 

The next step will be figuring out how to manage without their All-Star center and leading scorer on the floor. Al Horford and Norvel Pelle played well in Embiid’s absence on Thursday, but surviving one game is one thing. Lasting weeks or months is quite another. 

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