Shams: 'Optimism' Joel Embiid Could Return from Knee Injury Sunday vs. Pacers

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMarch 8, 2019

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 13: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers smiles during a game against the New York Knicks on February 13, 2019 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, who has been out with a sore left knee since the All-Star break, may return at home against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported the news Friday:

Stadium @Stadium

Our NBA Insider @ShamsCharania says there is some optimism Joel Embiid can return as soon as Sunday against Indiana. Here’s more. https://t.co/GlUQyaG629

"There's optimism Joel Embiid can play on Sunday against the Indiana Pacers, I'm told," Charania said. "He will have final workouts [Friday] and on Saturday before they make a decision on if he will return on Sunday."

Embiid is averaging 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, and a Sunday return would be a welcome sight, especially considering the 76ers' opponent.

Entering Friday, Philadelphia sat 0.5 games behind the Pacers for third place in the Eastern Conference. The difference between Nos. 3 and 4 is minimal most years, given that both seeds enjoy home-court advantage in the first round before hitting the road to start the conference semifinals—assuming no upsets occur. But a giant quality gap exists between the East's fifth- and sixth-seeded teams this year.

Despite their inconsistency, the No. 5 Boston Celtics are coming off an emphatic road win over the title-defending Golden State Warriors and may finally be on track. They're 6.5 games ahead of the 32-31 Detroit Pistons, who spent most of the season with a losing record before a recent surge.

If the season ended today, the 76ers would enter a first-round matchup with the Celtics, to whom they've lost three times this season. Philadelphia also fell 4-1 to the C's in the second round of last year's playoffs.

Granted, the rosters are now quite different on both sides. Notably, the 76ers added Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler, while Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving have returned for Boston after missing the previous postseason with injuries.

Taking over the No. 3 seed and facing a team floating around .500 makes for a far more comfortable proposition than matching up against Boston. Furthermore, a Sunday win over the Pacers would give the Sixers a 3-1 series edge and seal the head-to-head tiebreaker for playoff seeding.

Embiid has averaged 27.3 points and 14.7 rebounds against the Pacers this season, so a comeback would go a long way toward a crucial victory.

Game time Sunday will be 3:30 p.m. ET.