Can the 76ers stay afloat without Joel Embiid?

Embiid 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, right, reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Philadelphia.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

By DAN GELSTON AP Sports Writer

There is but one guarantee in Philadelphia sports: that the 76ers must slog through stretches of games — if not months, or even seasons — without Joel Embiid.

Here they go again, about to start an indefinite span without Embiid after the reigning MVP underwent surgery Tuesday to address an injury to the lateral meniscus in his left knee.

The 76ers did not say how much time Embiid was expected to miss. But there is no doubt, given the nature of the injury, that Embiid will miss a significant amount of time.

“We’ve got to try to pick off a win anywhere we can against whoever we can,” coach Nick Nurse said Monday.

It didn’t happen against the Mavericks. The Sixers lost 118-102 to Dallas, falling to 4-11 this season without Embiid. They have dropped six of seven overall.

Sixers guard Patrick Beverly asked reporters to leave the locker room once they were already inside for postgame interviews. Beverly, who uses most interviews to promote his podcast, said the Sixers wanted to congratulate a teammate he did not name who just had become a father. It was not immediately clear which Sixer, if any, had a baby.

Embiid 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey, left, and Brooklyn Nets’ Mikal Bridges chase a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in Philadelphia.AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Embiid won’t win a second straight MVP award because the 7-footer will not meet the 65-game minimum to become eligible for major NBA honors.

Should Embiid miss a month or two, the Sixers hope they’re still in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers fell to 30-19 with one game left ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline. They are closer in the standings to possibly having to qualify for the play-in tournament than contending for a top spot in the East.

“It’s that time of the year where things start to come about and it is a distraction at certain points of times,” forward Tobias Harris said. “We have enough talent in the locker room to be able to try and figure out a way to try and maximize it.”

Nurse, in his first season as coach, acknowledged the thorny path ahead.

“Can we get the guys here to dig in and fight and give ourselves a chance to win?” Nurse asked. “We’ve got to salvage a ‘W’ somewhere along the way here.”

With Embiid sidelined, the 76ers will need first-time All-Star Tyrese Maxey to carry their offense.

Maxey has two 50-point games this season, including a career-best 51 last Thursday at Utah, where he made seven 3-pointers and led the Sixers to their only win on a 1-4 trip. Harris upgrades from an oft-invisible third option to a suddenly vital scoring piece needed to keep the Sixers afloat. Harris and Maxey both started against the Mavericks.

“We need more firepower,” Nurse said.

He wasn’t necessarily going to find it on a regular basis out of Danuel House Jr., Kelly Oubre Jr. and Paul Reed, who formed the rest of a lineup that doesn’t exactly stand as one worthy of a contender.

“I don’t think there’s a guy or two that we can say, OK, he’s got to take all those minutes and take all those shots,” Nurse said.

Embiid, the winner of the past two NBA scoring titles, hurt his left knee last Tuesday night in a loss at Golden State. He had already been hampered by knee injuries this season.

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 missed all four games on the 76ers’ holiday trip with a sprained right ankle, and they went 2-2.

“We need to find out what the other guys can do, so we can find out who’s going to be there, like, really there,” Nurse said. “This is their chance.”

Embiid said last month he wasn’t concerned about winning another MVP. He just wanted to help the 76ers win their first NBA championship since 1983.

“I feel really bad for him,” Nurse said. “He’s having a historic season. I thought everything he’s done, he’s practiced hard, he’s prepared, he’s just doing everything at a super-high level.”