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May 6, 2022 3:02 pm

In 0-2 hole, 76ers hope for Joel Embiid’s return vs. Heat

The 76ers are back home and desperate for a turnaround in Philadelphia. Any rally from a 2-0 series deficit might have to happen without MVP candidate Joel Embiid.

With the Miami Heat in control of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals, Philadelphia on Thursday officially ruled out Embiid with myriad battle wounds from the 76ers’ first-round series win over Toronto.

On Friday, the 76ers upgraded Embiid to doubtful after he cleared concussion protocol and participated in the team’s morning shootaround.

He still has what coach Doc Rivers called “hurdles to clear” — including an orbital fracture and torn thumb ligament — before he can rejoin the lineup.

Miami won’t be caught off guard if the Philadelphia star returns after missing the first two games of the series.

“They’re coming home. Obviously, they are in an 0-2 hole, so I do expect him to play,” Heat forward Bam Adebayo said before the injury report was released.

Embiid’s return, even at less than full strength, might put a spring in Philly’s step. His continued absence, however, would put the onus on the rest of the supporting cast to play a starring role without the All-Star in the middle.

“How much attention he’s gonna draw from everybody when he’s on the floor whether he’s on the perimeter, at the elbow, on the block,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “What he does defensively for those guys is pretty incredible, too. I’m not a statistics guy or analytics, but I can tell you, whenever he’s on the floor, they are a much better team. I want him to get right because we want to play against who I call the MVP.”

Shooting has been dismal for the Sixers in the series, but Rivers said shot selection and his perspective that good shots are available are selling points to motivate Philadelphia for Friday’s pivotal game. Philadelphia made just 21.9 percent (14 of 64) from 3-point range in the first two games of this series.

Embiid has done only light workouts since sustaining his head injuries April 28 at Toronto. He led the NBA in scoring (30.6). He also averaged 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists.

There could be a shift in the rotation on Friday, but Rivers likely can’t avoid playing DeAndre Jordan big minutes against Adebayo. Jordan has a plus-minus of -22 in the series.

Home court could be a benefit to the Sixers. Philadelphia went 24-17 at home this season, which is identical to Miami’s road record.

The Sixers shot 36.4 percent from 3-point range in the regular season, relying on players such as Tyrese Maxey (42.7 percent); Georges Niang (40.3); Seth Curry (40.0); Embiid (37.1); and Tobias Harris (36.7).

Niang went 0-for-7 from distance in Game 1 and fouling out in just 10 minutes and five points in Game 2.

Here’s the 3-point shooting in this series from other struggling Sixers: Danny Green 2-for-14; Maxey 2-for-10; James Harden 3-for-12; and Harris 3-for-9.

“We’ve got to make shots,” said Harden, who is averaging 18.0 points in the series. “It’s simple.”

Maxey is averaging a team-high 26.5 points in this series, and Harris is averaging 23.0 points.

“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board,” Maxey said. “We have to figure it out.”

The Heat have never lost a playoff series after taking a 2-0 lead, going 18-0, while the Sixers are 0-19 after going down 2-0.

History aside, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wants to guard against overconfidence.

“It’s never easy to get playoff wins,” he said.

Butler and Adebayo are playing well with the staring unit and Tyler Herro remains the one player Rivers said he doesn’t want the 76ers to leave alone.

Adebayo is averaging 23.5 points and 10.5 rebounds against Embiid’s fill-ins. Herro is averaging 21.5 points, and Butler has been an all-around force with 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and a team-high 7.5 assists in building the 2-0 lead.

Miami is playing without starting point guard Kyle Lowry, who is questionable due to a strained hamstring. Lowry is lobbying to return on Friday, but Spoelstra said the team is being cautious.

“We’re not basing our decisions on whether we are winning or losing,” Spoelstra said. “It’s about what we think is best.”

The Heat also listed Herro and defensive stopper P.J. Tucker (calf) as questionable. Both played in Game 2 and Tucker, part of the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks last season, made it sound like he’s not sitting.

“It’s about who’s built for this,” Tucker said of the playoff injury report earlier this week. “Who’s going to put the mask on, knee sleeve on, and icy hot and going to give you what I got.”

–Field Level Media

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