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Joel Embiid says he hopes to come back this season

Philadelphia center Joel Embiid is still recovering from the left knee injury he suffered in late January.

Joel Embiid has been out of the 76ers’ lineup after having surgery on his left knee.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid is hoping he will be healthy in time to help his team however he can.

Embiid has been out of the team’s lineup since suffering an injured lateral meniscus in his left knee in a Jan. 30 game against the Golden State Warriors. Days later, Embiid had surgery on the injury and was to be reevaluated in four weeks.

On Thursday, Embiid talked with the media and said he hopes to be back before the end of the 2023-24 regular season.

“That’s the plan. Obviously, everything has to go right as far as getting healthy … but that’s the plan. There’s really no timeline,” Embiid said Thursday. “You can never tell how the body reacts, especially once you start ramping up. It all depends on how it feels.”

“I want to play basketball. I want to be on the floor as much as possible. I only have about 20 years to do this,” Embiid said. “Any chances that I get, I want to be on the floor. It doesn’t matter where we are. I don’t know, four, five, three, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, it doesn’t really matter where we are, I just want to play as much as we can and try and help us.”

Sixers’ outlook: The 76ers are hurting these days just as much as Embiid.

With Embiid and fellow All-Star guard Tyrese Maxey, the 76ers again hovered near the top of the Eastern Conference standings for most of the season under first-year coach Nick Nurse.

Without Embid, the Sixers would be lucky to avoid the draft lottery. They are 4-8 since Embiid went down when the Warriors’ Jonathan Kuminga fell on the 7-footer’s left leg. They are 7-17 overall this season without Embiid and dropped to 33-25 overall — closer to a spot in the Play-In Tournament even with new additions Kyle Lowry and Buddy Hield than they are making a serious run at their first NBA title since 1983.

As of Embiid’s injury, the Sixers were 29-17 and No. 5 in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers hold a tie-breaker over the Indiana Pacers (34-26), who are No. 7 in the conference. The Orlando Magic (33-26) are at No. 8 and just a 1/2 game back. There is distance between the No. 9-seeded Chicago Bulls (28-31) and No. 10-seeded Atlanta Hawks (26-32) and the Sixers.

Philadelphia has the second-toughest remaining schedule among the Pacers, Heat and Magic. Fifteen of its final 24 games (including 14 of the next 19) are against teams that currently have winning records.

“We are certainly hopeful of a return and as soon as possible and all that stuff,” Sixers coach Nick Nurse said Thursday. “I think our job remains to try and see what we can do to get these guys better. We know he’s going to slot right back in there and we make sure we figure out the right pieces around him. The right sets, style, all that stuff around him. The right defensive schemes around him.”

What’s next for Embiid?: The Sixers star said in the two months leading up to the knee injury he was “not even close” to 100% but his will to win kept him in the lineup.

“I know that 60 or 70% of me can still help the team, a lot, on both ends of the floor,” Embiid said.

Embiid also can’t forget Paris.

Embiid told USA Basketball in October that, after more than a year of deliberating, he had picked the Americans over France as his team for the Paris Olympics.

USA Basketball does not plan to announce its team until the spring of 2024, but if healthy, Embiid seemed to have a lock on one of the 12 spots on the squad that will be coached by Golden State coach Steve Kerr.

Embiid became a U.S. citizen last year and could have also chosen to play for France — or even Cameroon, his homeland, if it qualified for the Paris Games.

The U.S. will try for a fifth consecutive gold medal in Paris this summer. Embiid hopes to stay on the long list of top NBA players expected to play for the U.S., a group that includes Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

When healthy, Embiid has continued to perform at an MVP level. He is the NBA’s leading scorer at 35.3 points per game and is averaging 11.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists. He scored a franchise-record 70 points to go along with 18 rebounds on Jan. 22 in a 133-124 victory over San Antonio.

Embiid laughed when he said the only good part of the rehab process was spending more time with his wife and young son.

“He’s loving it right now,” Embiid said. “I’m not going anywhere, I’m not doing anything. He’s getting too used to it. He doesn’t want me to leave the house anymore.”

Embiid had already missed 15 games this season before his injury, and his four-week timeframe ended his chances of being eligible for a second straight Kia MVP award. The new collective bargaining agreement requires players, in most instances, to play in 65 regular-season games to be eligible for awards such as MVP or the All-NBA teams.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.