The road ahead for Sixers, Joel Embiid. Plus, Caitlin Clark’s revenge

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“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” was everything I needed it to be – 2 Kong 2 Zilla!

Embiid’s Status

How does the MVP affect the playoff picture?

After two months away due to a displaced flap with his meniscus, reigning MVP and 76ers star big man Joel Embiid is nearing a return to action, perhaps as soon as tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As of this morning, however, Embiid was listed as out on the Sixers’ official injury report. But coach Nick Nurse was optimistic last week about Embiid returning before the postseason. The Sixers are 40-35, slotted into eighth in the East right now, and sit two games behind the Pacers for sixth to avoid the Play-In. Let’s figure out how we feel about Embiid potentially being back with this much time left before the postseason. It’s time to talk to myself with some Q&A!

Should we be worried about Embiid’s return? Absolutely. Even if this aligns with the timeline to return from his operation, Embiid is a big, heavy guy who still needs to get back into shape for his body to work with him. He would essentially be dropped into a playoff atmosphere pretty much right away, so there’s good reason to question if this is the right decision for his long-term health. But regardless, he’s back.

What does the road ahead look like for Embiid? There is at least a day off between remaining games in these final two weeks. The 76ers will be in Miami (41-33, seventh in East) on Thursday after the Thunder game before a road back-to-back in Memphis (25-50, 13th in West) and San Antonio (18-57, last in West) on Saturday and Sunday. The final week of the season has home games on Tuesday (Detroit – 13-62, last in East), Friday (Orlando – 44-31, fifth in East) and Sunday (Brooklyn – 29-47, 11th in East). That certainly helps him get rest and treatment between games, should he return. Philly has the second-easiest schedule the rest of the way.

What’s the ceiling for this Sixers team with Embiid healthy? If they can get to the top six, then maybe we can see Philly get to the second round of the playoffs. One misstep in the Play-In means 76ers are playing Boston (59-16, first in East) in the first round, though. Clinching the seventh seed results in taking on Milwaukee (47-27, second in East). Get to the sixth, and you can try your hand against an oft-battered Cleveland team (45-30, third in East). I think you’d rather end up facing Milwaukee later in the playoffs (second round), when Embiid has more of a chance to round into top shape.

Is this worth it? Only if they get to the conference finals or he doesn’t get hurt further. There is a delicate line here for Embiid and the Sixers to toe. They do have to figure out what the potential cost is of Embiid coming back, maybe in the hopes of proving to free agents or disgruntled stars that he’s healthy and you should join Philly this summer. But this team isn’t winning a title or getting to the NBA Finals as is, so it just may have to pray.

Is this more about Embiid playing in the Olympics? It’s a thought that’s crossed my mind! Embiid wants to play for Team USA in the Olympics this summer. And certain talking heads might criticize him for missing the rest of the season and playoffs but playing in Paris. Regardless, let’s just hope Embiid stays healthy and gets back to dominant form. He’s too talented and special not to want to see him play to the fullest of his capabilities.

Shams has more injury news that could affect the East playoff race.

The Latest From Shams

Knicks continue to stay afloat

As we get to the last days of the NBA regular season, when Julius Randle and OG Anunoby might return to the Knicks (44-30) remains up in the air.

For Anunoby, who continues to deal with inflammation in his elbow, I’m told it’s more a matter of when that inflammation goes down and he feels he’s able to get back on the court. Randle’s situation is a bit more uncertain, as I’m told he still hasn’t done anything more than controlled contact workouts as he deals with the dislocated shoulder he suffered in late January.

Despite being without those two key players for weeks, the Knicks are holding on to a top-four spot in the East, but they’re just a half game ahead of Orlando. New York visits Miami tonight before hosting the Kings on Thursday.

Former NBA guard Kevin Porter Jr. has agreed to a deal with Greek club PAOK for the rest of the season and is expected to join the team soon, league sources tell me and Kelly Iko. Porter, 23, was traded by the Rockets and waived by the Thunder in October. In January, he reached a plea deal in a New York City domestic assault case.

The Rematch

Caitlin Clark had to geaux get revenge

We all remember a year ago, when Angel Reese celebrated in front of Clark as LSU beat Iowa for the national championship. The Tigers “held” Clark to 30 points on 9-of-22 shooting with eight assists and six turnovers in that game. The result sparked a lot of controversy – all of it forced and tired – because we decided to clutch our pearls over Reese talking trash to a trash talker in Clark.

Last night, in a showdown to return to the Final Four, Clark buried the Tigers. She went for 41 points, made 9-of-20 from 3-point range and had 12 assists. Clark obliterated LSU in the third quarter and got her revenge on her way back to a chance to play for that elusive national title.

I have no idea what Kim Mulkey was doing last night. This has nothing to do with press conferences threatening papers and their reporting. It has everything to do with leaving Hailey Van Lith in single coverage on Caitlin Clark all night and never sending help for a defender not equipped to stop the greatest scorer in college basketball history.

Reese and Clark have clarified that they’re friends off the court but competitors on the court. And it showed before, during and after the game. Nothing was personal, but Clark’s revenge was a dish best served by dotting the eyes of every defender in front of her. It was a reminder that rivalries don’t have to be hateful to be palpable. They just have to be competitive and fierce.

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Clark torched HVL as Mulkey never sent help. Iowa won 94-87 but separated itself with a dominant third quarter. We’ll see Clark try to get more revenge on Friday, this time against a UConn program that didn’t recruit her. For whoever is guarding her that night, send help.

Goodbye, Raptors

Why Toronto must build around Barnes

The Raptors were eliminated from Play-In Tournament contention last week, so it’s time for us to take a look at the season that wasn’t for them. After trading away Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby this season, they’re currently in the middle of an impressive tanking job. Let’s tie a pretty bow on their bad year.

Toronto’s bright spot from this season? Barnes took another leap and was named to the All-Star team, just like Darko Rajaković said he would be. The Raptors also acquired RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley in the Anunoby deal, as well as a potentially valuable trade piece this summer with Bruce Brown Jr. in the Siakam move.

Key free agents for Toronto: Bruce Brown Jr. (team options), Gary Trent Jr., Immanuel Quickley (restricted free agent)

Biggest position to address: They need some offensive punch and guys who can create. This team was actually good in the brief stint it had Barnes, Quickley and Barrett together. But the Raptors struggled to make shots all season.

What’s the draft pick situation? Wondering why they’ve lost 13 straight? The product on the floor just so happens to help them suddenly protect their top-six protected pick. It’s currently slotted to be sixth.

Will they have cap space? No. The Raptors could clear enough salary to get under the salary cap, but it would not be worth it to do so.

2023-24 yearbook quote: “We’re going to bet on ourselves.”

Bounce Passes

Jazz executive Justin Zanik is one of the best guys I’ve met in this business. Our prayers are with him and his family.

Can the Pelicans fix their Achilles’ heel at center before the postseason?

David Aldridge describes how lost bets are changing the NBA experience.

How do you vote for NBA awards in a league without positions

Screen Game (All times Eastern)

  • Main Screen: Mavs-Warriors (10:30 p.m. TNT). Dallas is the hottest team in the NBA, and Golden State needs to keep Houston at bay.
  • Second Screen: Clippers-Kings (10 p.m.). Both teams are on opposite ends of the standings battling the Dallas and New Orleans.
  • League Pass Game of the Night: Rockets-Wolves (8 p.m.). Houston needs to get back on track to potentially gain on the Golden State. Minnesota must keep pace with competing for the No. 1 seed. Full schedule here.

(Top photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images )

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