76ers star Joel Embiid (knee) late scratch vs. Nuggets

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Sunday, January 28, 2024

DENVER - Philadelphia 76ers star center Joel Embiid was a late scratch from Saturday afternoon's 111-105 loss to the Denver Nuggets and MVP challenger Nikola Jokic because of left knee soreness.

After going through his typical pregame workout ahead of the game, the team's medical personnel didn't like how the NBA's reigning MVP was moving around, and chose to shut him down for the game. Embiid was sporting a large wrap on his knee in the locker room before Saturday's game.

"Not until about 20-25 to go on the clock," 76ers coach Nick Nurse said when asked when he knew Embiid wouldn't be able to play. "He did go out to do his regular warmup and the medical care team just didn't like what they saw and ... they just decided that it was safer, much safer for him not to play today."

Embiid missed three games earlier this month with the same issue and appeared to tweak the knee again in Thursday's road loss to the Indiana Pacers, though it's unclear how much time he will miss with the injury this time around.

Nurse said Embiid, Tyrese Maxey (ankle) and Tobias Harris (illness) will all be re-evaluated Sunday ahead of Monday's game in Portland against theTrail Blazers.

Philadelphia will travel to playGolden StateTuesday night, before ending its five-game road trip in Utah Thursday night.

"Joel obviously after the San Antonio game was feeling pretty good," Nurse said. "We went to Indiana. He didn't look great at Indiana, as far as his movements. I was a little concerned there.

"Again, it was just, I don't think it's anything super major, but they're always kind of monitoring any of the swelling or whatever's going on and try to get it under control and get him ready as soon as we can."

Adding to Embiid's absence Saturday was the fact he wasn't listed at all on the injury report before the game, despite, as Nurse said, looking limited in his movements in Thursday's loss to the Pacers.

The late scratch after Embiid wasn't listed on the injury report could lead the NBA to investigate the circumstances around him not playing, and why he wasn't on the injury report to begin with. Last season, for example, the Miami Heat were fined $25,000 after Jimmy Butler was scratched with a back issue after not being on the injury report, with the league stating the fine was for "failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting."

Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he expected there to be an investigation.

"I don't know how you go from being active, and available, to out," Malone said. "I'm sure the league will do their due diligence, because that's frowned upon. We've had situations this year where we talked to the league, and if we have a player that goes from active to out, there's going to be an investigation. I'm sure that'll happen.

"Joel hurt his knee in the Indiana game. It's real. We watched the game. He hurt his knee in that Indiana game, so I'm sure he is hurt, but it's really tough when a player, and a team like us preparing for them, and then all of a sudden, last minute, he's out. But we have to do a better job of handling those situations."

Regardless, it has now been four straight seasons that Embiid has not played here at Ball Arena, dating back to Embiid and Jokic beginning their annual battle for the league's top individual honor in the 2020-21 season.

Embiid missed a March 2021 game because of a meniscus injury, a November 2021 game because of COVID-19 and then sat out in March 2023 with a calf issue.

Embiid's string of missed games in Denver has been a consistent storyline over the past couple of seasons, including when he missed the meeting between these two teams here late in the 2022-23 regular season at the height of the debate over who should win MVP. Eventually, it was Embiid who won his first, beating out Jokic, who was going for a third straight.

Meanwhile, fans in Denver started a loud "Where's Embiid at?" chant midway through the first quarter after Denver raced out to an early lead.

He then received another round of chants late in the game, after coming out to the bench in the fourth quarter. After acknowledging the crowd, they showered him with another round of boos.

"I think that's always disappointing, and I think that for any fan that wants to see the star players play, it's always disappointing," Nurse said, when asked about how fans should feel about seeing the 76ers play with their top three players sidelined.

"Listen, he really wanted to play and the medical team did not deem him fit to play today. And it's too bad for those fans. It's too bad."

Missing Saturday's matchup also left Embiid with 11 missed games this season -- moving him closer to not being eligible for this season's MVP award. Under the new player participation rules put in place this season, players are ineligible for many season-ending honors, including MVP and All-NBA, if they play in fewer than 65 games.

Embiid can now only miss six of Philadelphia's final 38 games in order to be able to win a second straight MVP award.

On the court, however, the starless 76ers nearly pulled off a shocking upset, leading after three quarters and being tied midway through the fourth quarter before Denver finally pulled away behind 26 points, 16 rebounds and 7 assists from Jokic.

"I feel there was a letdown when we found out at the tip-off that Joel Embiid would not be playing tonight," Malone said. "I think there was a collective exhale and when you do that in this business, you can make for an interesting game like today. So first off, give them credit ... those guys played outstanding, and we're lucky to come out of here with a win today, let's be honest."

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