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Joel Embiid says recent injury ‘took a toll mentally’ following his victorious return to the court

By Matias Grez, CNN

(CNN) — Joel Embiid said his recent injury “took a toll mentally” as the Philadelphia 76ers big man returned to the court eight weeks after undergoing knee surgery.

The reigning MVP posted 24 points, six rebounds, seven assists and three steals in his first game back to help the 76ers to a vital 109-105 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.

The Sixers’ season has suffered a sharp downturn in Embiid’s absence. The team now has a 27-8 record this season when Embiid plays and is just 14-27 without him.

After falling from fifth to eighth in the Eastern Conference since Embiid’s surgery, the 76ers are now two games back from the Indiana Pacers in the sixth and final automatic playoff spot as the team bids to avoid the Play-In Tournament.

Philly is also two games back from the Miami Heat in seventh.

“Usually, when I have injuries, I just tell myself, move on to the next one, get better, and then fix it, but this one took a toll mentally, being depressed,” Embiid said after the game. “It was not a good one.

“So still not where I’m supposed to be, especially mentally, but I just love to play and love basketball and I want to play and any chance that I can be out there, I’m going to take it.”

Embiid was averaging more than 35 points a game before his injury and was the frontrunner to defend his MVP title, but he is now ineligible for the NBA’s end-of-season awards as he doesn’t meet the league’s new threshold of 65 games played.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored a game high 25 points to help the Sixers to victory, while Chet Holmgren led the way with 22 points for a Thunder squad that was without MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Next up for Philly is a huge game against Miami on Thursday and Embiid said the plan is for him to play again.

“I think it’s all about how it responds,” he said. “Hopefully, everything goes well. We just got to take it day by day, see how the knee responds tomorrow. We got a big one in Miami. If I’m good to go, obviously, go.

“But I think, it’s actually funny, the timeline was eight weeks and I’m back on that eight weeks. So I think I’ve learned a lot over the years and I got to take care of myself, got to stay healthy because I still have a long career ahead of this.”

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