Last January, the Philadelphia 76ers were chugging along through the regular season just fine.

They were third in the East despite trading away 10-time NBA All-Star James Harden in November, Tyrese Maxey was emerging as a bona fide star, and Joel Embiid looked primed to win back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player trophies.

However, Embiid suffered a knee injury in Philadelphia’s 119-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors last January 30 and the team suddenly spiraled down the standings.

Including that ominous defeat at the hands of the Warriors, the Sixers went 11-19 over their next 30 games without their star center. Embiid needed surgery and finally made his return earlier this week, but by then, Philadelphia was already without a guaranteed playoff berth as they fell to eighth place and into the middle of the play-in tournament picture.


All is not lost for the Sixers’ season though.

Embiid’s return is quite timely as it provides him with two weeks to ramp up before the start of the play-in. Since his return, he has played limited minutes over his first two outings, yet it looks like he has not missed a beat. He has led Philadelphia to, coincidentally, a pair of 109-105 wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, respectively.

In their win against the Thunder, Embiid made the most of his 29 minutes on the floor. He scored 24 points, including 12-of-12 shooting from the free throw line, while he also tallied six rebounds, seven assists, and three steals. Two days later, he recorded 29 points, three three-pointers, four rebounds, three assists, a steal, and a block in only 32 minutes to beat Miami.

The Sixers are now on a three-game winning streak and with four of their last five games remaining on their schedule against lottery-bound teams, Philadelphia could enter the play-in as the hottest team in the NBA. Furthermore, their last three regular season games will be at home which should help them keep Embiid fresh.

This team should be highly favored to come out of the play-in and if they can qualify for the first round, they are sure to give either of the East’s top seeds, whether it be the Boston Celtics or Milwaukee Bucks, a run for their money. It could actually be argued that Philadelphia is a better team than Milwaukee at the moment, especially after former Sixers head coach Doc Rivers took on the Bucks’ head coaching job last January.

The Eastern Conference playoffs are suddenly wide open and it will be exciting to see how far Philadelphia and Embiid can make it given their lower seed.