Through the first half of the 2020-2021 NBA season, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid established himself as one of the most dominant players in the game this year. As the big man notched his fourth-straight NBA All-Star nod, Embiid was viewed as a frontrunner for the NBA MVP award heading into the mid-season break.

Unfortunately, a knee injury derailed his spectacular run. In the second matchup of the second half of the season, Embiid injured his knee after successfully throwing down a slam dunk with authority. Although the big man certainly dodged a bullet with his official diagnosis, he still couldn't return to the court right away.

An MRI revealed no structural damage, which was great, but a deep bruise forced the Sixers' medical staff to shut Embiid down for at least two weeks before he could get re-evaluated again. When re-evaluation time came around, the Sixers were in the midst of a difficult six-game road trip.

Although the 76ers wouldn't confirm there wasn't a chance Embiid would join the trip at some point, it was apparent that the four-time All-Star was going to stay home, continue to rehab, and work on ramping up his conditioning.

At this point, the return is near. According to a team source, Embiid is continuing to respond well to on-court work and conditioning. Barring any setbacks, the Sixers anticipate Embiid's return will come on Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. If and when that happens on Saturday, Sixers veteran center Dwight Howard believes Embiid's return will put the entire NBA on notice.

“I’m excited,”  Dwight Howard said on Thursday. “I think when we add Joel back to the lineup, it’s going to be lights out. I think everybody’s shooting the ball well. The second unit, we’re moving the ball, we’re finding our stride. The first unit has been great all year, so adding Joel back, it’s just going to make us more dominant.”

Earlier in the year, the 76ers often fell apart without Embiid on the floor. Before his latest injury, the Sixers were 2-5 without Embiid in the lineup. Lately, though, they've stood strong as the Sixers picked up seven wins in their last 10 games without Embiid.

Now, they'll get him back in the mix. While the 76ers will likely ease Embiid back into the game to avoid any further setbacks, his presence alone should make a notable difference -- and the Sixers can't wait to get him back on track to dominance.

Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_ & Instagram: @JGrassoNBA.