The Philadelphia 76ers have dealt with a ton of challenging obstacles to start the 2021-2022 NBA season. In addition to the Ben Simmons saga, which hasn't resulted in a trade or a season debut from the three-time All-Star, the Sixers have also dealt with physical setbacks and several cases of COVID-19 on the roster.
At this point, three of the four members that entered the NBA's health and safety protocol over the last few weeks have returned. Meanwhile, Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid remains the fourth and final player in the protocol.
For the last eight games, Embiid has been off the floor. His absence started at the beginning of a three-game stand in Philly, and he missed the first five games of a difficult six-game stretch out West.
During his time off the floor, the Sixers have struggled as they've won just two of their last eight games. While Embiid is finally back to work at the team's facility, according to Sixers coach Doc Rivers, the big man is more than likely out for Philly's final road game during this stretch, which is set to take place against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night.
The good news is that Embiid's return could come sooner than later. While Rivers couldn't put an official timeline for his return out there when he discussed Embiid's status prior to Monday's game in Sacramento, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Embiid is on track to return as soon as Saturday.
"There's optimism that Joel Embiid can be back on this upcoming homestand in Philadelphia," Wojnarowski said Tuesday on NBA Today. "They play Saturday, they play Monday, and there's optimism it could be as soon as Saturday."
When the Sixers return home for the first time in over two weeks on Saturday, they will face the Minnesota Timberwolves. As the 76ers have been struggling to collect wins in Embiid's absence, they could really use his services as soon as possible. If Embiid does make his anticipated return, he'll likely be eased back into the swing of things as he's missed so much time lately. However, his presence alone should offer the Sixers a much-needed boost when he's finally back in the fold.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.