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Joel Embiid gets back on the floor for the 76ers, two months after leg injury

PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid returned to the Philadelphia 76ers’ lineup on Tuesday night, getting his first start in nearly two months after the reigning NBA MVP had knee surgery.

Embiid was cleared to return ahead of Philadelphia’s game against Oklahoma City and played for the first time since he was injured in the Sixers’ last game of January. The Sixers plummeted in the Eastern Conference standings without him. Playing for a top-four spot in the East before Embiid’s injury, the Sixers are 14-27 overall without him this season and 11-18 since he was injured in a Jan. 30 loss at Golden State.

“I want to get him out there and evaluate where we’re at,” coach Nick Nurse said.

Sixers fans were ready for the All-Star center’s return, chanting “MVP! MVP!” as Embiid warmed up. His hair in braids, Embiid received a roaring ovation when he was introduced in the starting lineup. Embiid had started the day listed as out on the injury report before he was upgraded to questionable by late afternoon.

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The Sixers played without All-Star guard Tyrese Maxey (hip tightness). The Thunder played without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (quad) and Jalen Williams (ankle).

The Sixers entered Tuesday eighth in the East with seven games left this season and seem poised to make the play-in tournament. The No. 7 seed plays No. 8. The winner is in and gets the No. 7 seed for the playoffs. The loser has a second chance.

“I usually don’t worry about the seeding stuff,” Nurse said. “There is some common sense here that we need to get this team ready, whatever that means, to be the best they can be, if there’s a postseason.”

Embiid, a two-time NBA scoring champion, has averaged 35.3 points and 11.5 rebounds this season. He scored a franchise-record 70 points to go along with 18 rebounds on Jan. 22 in a 133-124 victory over San Antonio.

“He’s a really good defensive player. He’s a very good rim-protector,” Nurse said. “I think just his presence limits the quantity of number of drives you have at the basket. That’s always a really good starting point.”

Embiid had meniscus surgery on Feb. 6 after Golden State’s Jonathan Kuminga fell on the 7-footer’s left leg. Before that, Embiid had been held out because of left knee swelling in Philadelphia’s two previous games.

“One thing I give our team credit for is, they’ve continued to fight, with the idea of, let’s get better, let’s get better and when he gets back, we’ll be ready to go,” Nurse said. “There’s been a couple kind of punches to the gut along the way on that. For the most part, I’m super-happy with the way they’ve prepared and focused and the effort they’ve given.”


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