We can talk about any assortment of Sixers topics as the NBA’s Orlando return draws closer, but the key to their postseason success is always going to begin and end with Joel Embiid’s health, conditioning, and availability.
You saw it last year in the Toronto playoff series, when a sick Embiid struggled through 35 minutes of a game four in which he shot 2-7 from the floor. In the prior game, a win, he was 9-18 and 12-13 from the foul line, exemplifying how his form shot up and down throughout a nail-biter of a series.
With the time off due to this season’s postponement, perhaps the silver lining is that Embiid had four months off to rest, train, and get himself in shape for the stretch run here, which is basically eight meaningless games before the start of the playoffs, in an environment where there’s no home court advantage and no crowd noise.
Brett Brown today was asked about an earlier comment, that he’d like to get Embiid to 38 minutes fitness for the playoffs, and didn’t shy away from the number:
“His fitness base has been well-earned. I don’t know what footage is coming out of our practices, but I will tell you, when we go up and down and you watch Joel move and watch him run, there is zero doubt that he would have had to put in a lot of time to arrive in Orlando in the shape that he has arrived. I said to everybody on the (earlier) call that it would take me about three seconds to say ‘he did something, or he didn’t do something’ as it pertains to obtaining that ‘B’ fitness goal. All of my guys have come in (with that level of fitness). We will get to an ‘A,’ and I think Joel’s health and fitness, with what I’ve seen, I think he can attain that number I said. I hope to play him, we’re talking NBA playoffs, I hope I can keep him somewhere in that range. 38 is probably ambitious, but I said it, I’ll own, I’ll stand by it, and I think his fitness base can only improve. The base he’s come in with is much noted and respected.”
Embiid averaged 30 minutes per game game in last year’s playoffs, a number that increased to 34 for the Toronto series, perhaps skewed by the 45 he played in game seven.
He’s actually only played 38 minutes in three total playoff games dating back to 2018, and here’s the log from highest minutes to lowest minutes, courtesy of Basketball Reference:
Embiid has appeared in 19 of a possible 22 career playoff games. He missed the first two games of the 2018 Miami series with the facial fracture and did not dress for game three of 2019’s Brooklyn series because of the knee issue that was bothering him. That’s the game in which Ben Simmons went off for 31 points.
If Brown is looking at 38 minutes for Embiid, it seems like an unreasonably large number on paper, considering Embiid’s past playoff experience. But this is a much different situation in the Disney bubble, with a long layoff and some unimportant games leading into the postseason. If the Sixers can get 38 minutes a night out of Joel Embiid, that would be an absolutely fantastic scenario.