Erik Spoelstra is not a doctor and doesn’t pretend to be as he coaches the Miami Heat.
So whether it is the damaged thumb ligament, orbital fracture or concussion that has had Joel Embiid first compromised and then sidelined during these NBA playoffs, Spoelstra has gameplanned as if the Philadelphia 76ers could center reemerge in the mix.
“You have to plan for it. Whether he does or not, it would be irresponsible not to,” Spoelstra said, as the Heat set their focus on Friday’s 7 p.m. Game 3 at Wells Fargo Center, with a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series. “I mean it changes dramatically. You’re talking about MVP talent, you know. So we’ll just have to see.
“We knew that this series was going to shift and was going to change pretty dramatically. It’s better for it to change dramatically when we’re able to get a couple of wins. But, yeah, he changes the equation quite a bit.”
In contrast to Spoelstra, the 76ers have taken the approach that there are no guarantees with Embiid.
“If Joel’s back, that’s great,” guard Tyrese Maxey said in the wake of his 34-point performance in the 76ers’ 119-103 Game 2 loss Wednesday night at FTX Arena. “If he’s not back, then you just got to keep fighting. It’s a fight. It’s gonna be a fight again on Friday.”
Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers departed South Florida uncertain of what will come next.
“He’s got so many steps to go through,” he said of Embiid’s medical tests and the NBA’s concussion protocols. “And I don’t think he’s cleared any of them right now. So we just have to wait and see.”
Heat forward Jimmy Butler said he is hopeful for his friend and former 76ers teammate.
“Health is always first. I know that,” Butler said. “That’s my guy. And I want to compete against him. I really do. I think they’re a completely different team whenever he’s out there on the floor, both offensively and defensively. So we’re looking forward to that.”
Butler said a return by Embiid would do more than reset the series.
“Just how much attention that he’s going to draw from everybody on the floor, whether he’s on the perimeter, at the elbow, on the block,” he said. “And then what he does defensively for those guys is pretty incredible, too.
“I’m not a statistics guy or analytics, but I can tell you right now, whenever he’s on the floor they’re a much better team. But like I said, I want him to get right, because we want to play against who I call the MVP.”
Considering the stakes and situation, Heat center Bam Adebayo said it only is logical to expect to be facing someone other than DeAndre Jordan for Friday’s opening tip.
“They’re coming home. They’re in an 0-2 hole, so I do expect him to play,” Adebayo said of Embiid.