Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid entered the 2020-2021 NBA season with two concrete goals in mind. One, help his team win as many games as possible. Two, stay healthy and available.

Through the first half of the season, Embiid's plans couldn't have gone any better. While he did miss a game here and there, he was healthier than ever and never missed consecutive matchups.

When it came to winning, the Sixers were doing just that as they entered the All-Star break as the number one team in the Eastern Conference. At that point, Embiid was considered to be the frontrunner as the MVP of the NBA this season.

But a sudden knee injury in his first game back during the second half derailed his phenomenal progress. A negative MRI was good news for Embiid and the Sixers as the big man wouldn't have to undergo an operation and miss the rest of the season.

However, the idea of missing Embiid for more than two weeks wasn't a promising scenario. Considering the Sixers looked rough without Embiid through the first half of the season, it seemed there could be a chance the 76ers find themselves in a slump without the big man on the floor.

That's not how everything played out, though. Since Embiid went down, the Sixers achieved a 7-3 record, even during a stretch that included six-straight road games. And now that Embiid's on his way back as he's on pace to return to the floor on Saturday, his backup Dwight Howard can't help but look at the positives that may come from Embiid's extended time off.

“I think that was kind of a blessing for him to get some time off, to really heal his body," Howard said after Thursday's game. "[It can] also kind of get that fire up under him knowing that this second half of the season is his time. A lot of people kind of written him off in the MVP and stuff like that. I’m pretty sure he’s looking forward to getting back and being the most dominant center in the NBA right now, so I can’t wait to see him on the court.”

As the Sixers embarked on a long trip, Embiid remained in Philly, working through his rehab program and getting his body back in basketball shape for his eventual return. If all goes well and no setbacks occur, the big man is expected to take the court on Saturday at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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