Sixers center Joel Embiid has been through a lot throughout the first stretch of the 2021-2022 NBA season. During the first game of the year, Embiid bruised his knee, which caused him to be questionable for several games moving forward. After finally getting fully healthy physically, Embiid then caught a case of COVID-19.
On November 8, the Sixers planned to offer Joel Embiid a rest day as they hosted the New York Knicks. However, his one-game absence turned into a multi-week absence as he was entered into the NBA's health and safety protocol.
For nine-straight games, Embiid sat out. He missed a three-game home stretch and the Sixers' difficult six-game road stretch. When the 76ers were wrapping up the six-city tour in Golden State on Wednesday, it was being reported that Embiid was targeting a return on Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves or Monday against the Orlando Magic.
Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell took Embiid and the Sixers' plans as some sort of shot as the 25-year-old had a strong message to send following Minnesota's double-overtime victory in Philly on Saturday night.
"This was a huge win for us to come into Philly and take it from their home court," Russell said after the game. "We got guys that haven't played. They got guys that sat out, and they thought it was sweet to come back and play against us. It ain't sweet. So, trying to put the league on notice. One game at a time. One win at a time. One practice at a time. Never too high and never too low -- simple as that."
Russell had himself a phenomenal outing. In 43 minutes, he collected 35 points and eight assists while hitting on 60-percent of his threes. While he had every reason to gloat on Saturday night as he helped the Timberwolves secure their tenth win of the year in a double-overtime thriller, Russell's assumption that the Sixers had Tobias Harris and specifically Joel Embiid return on Saturday for an easy matchup is off-base.
For starters, Embiid nearly missed Saturday's game, which would've been his tenth straight absence. After struggling with his conditioning during a workout on Friday, Embiid was contemplating taking another game off.
"The first time I went up and down was probably two days ago," Embiid revealed following the loss. "I honestly didn't think I was gonna play tonight after the workout last night. I really couldn't go up and down more than three times. I guess, to me, it's a miracle I even played this many minutes."
Not only did Embiid nearly sit out of Saturday's game, but he also returned knowing he was going to battle with one of the best and most versatile centers in the league. While Embiid and Karl Anthony-Towns have had their differences in the past, the MVP runner-up knows that the Timberwolves big man is far from an easy matchup.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.