Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid upgraded to probable for Game 3 vs. Heat

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts from the bench after a missed foul shot by LeBron James in the final seconds of the game at the Wells Fargo Center on April 6, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Cavaliers 132-130. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

MIAMI — It looks like Joel Embiid’s playoff debut will come in Game 3.

After Sixers coach Brett Brown called Embiid doubtful before morning shootaround, the All-Star center was upgraded to probable just a few hours before Thursday night’s game against the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. Embiid missed the final eight games of the regular season and the first two games of the playoffs after undergoing surgery to repair an orbital bone fracture.

Embiid practiced with some contact for the first time Tuesday and did it again Wednesday. He participated in Thursday’s shootaround, too, and will wear a protective mask when he returns.

“It’s trending in a positive way,” Brown said of Embiid now being listed as probable for Game 3. “We like what we have seen over the past few days. We liked what we saw at shootaround today. There needed to be league approval of a mask and the design of that and the sophisticated process that goes in with shaping that to his face and all of the things that you know go into caring for his health. So that’s moving forward in a positive way, as well.”

Embiid, 24, made it clear after Monday’s Game 2 loss that he wants to play. He wrote on his Instagram account following the contest: “[Expletive] sick and tired of being babied.”

Brown made it clear, though, that Embiid won’t decide whether he’s playing Thursday on his own.

“It’s a collaborative thing with Joel and doctors and me,” Brown said. “It’s all this stuff. It revolves around comfort. I feel like we’re responsible with his health, those types of things.”

Monday marked Philadelphia’s first loss since Embiid suffered the injury on March 28. The Sixers have posted a 9-1 record in the 10 games he’s missed.

Philadelphia has already started two different centers in Embiid’s place in this first-round series. The Sixers took a traditional approach and started the physical Amir Johnson in Game 1 before turning to a small-ball look and starting stretch forward Ersan Ilyasova in Game 2.

If Embiid returns Thursday, he will start at center. Embiid averaged 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 63 regular-season games.

“We anticipated he would be a part of this series at some point,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Embiid. “The logical conclusion would be after a couple of days in between games. If it wasn’t today, we knew it would be some time soon.

“We’re not trying to duck competition at all. We expect them to have their guys. We have to prove that we can overcome. They’re a very good basketball team with him, same without him. It still comes down to us, how we impact the game and certainly there are some things we have to prepare for with a player of this caliber.”

Playing on the road: The Sixers posted a quality 22-19 road record in the regular season. Will that success away from home continue in the playoffs?

“We embrace it,” Brown said before the Sixers played their first road playoff game of the year. “I like our guys. I think if they have shown anything, they have shown a belief. They’ve shown a togetherness. I think there’s a mental toughness that’s been emerging with this group over the past month and a half, two months, for sure, since the All-Star break.

“I feel like if you look at our ability to close out games and come back into games, we’ve shown that. I think those things will serve us well tonight. I am not intimidated by the road. I speak as the coach of the team, we are not intimidated by the road. I think it’s going to bring an even higher level of togetherness into this group.”

Ready for Whiteside: Even though Heat center Hassan Whiteside is averaging just 3.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 13.8 minutes through the first two games of the first-round series, Brown said the Sixers are still aware of the impact Whiteside can have.

“He is their interior difference maker for good reason,” Brown said. “You better have a plan. You go in there, you better have a plan. You better go in and dunk it. You better go into the paint and throw it up to somebody that’s open on a three or little drop-off passes to other players. But you better have a plan if you drive the paint with him in there.

“I think that he’s a committed offensive rebounder that you really have to tag team against. It can’t just be the guy that’s guarding Whiteside, it might have to be somebody coming in from the perimeter to help their teammate. He’s a committed offensive rebounder.”

[Dwyane Wade on his 28-point performance in Game 2, and what is motivating him]

[Sixers take offense to Goran Dragic’s layup in final seconds of Game 2. Dragic: ‘I don’t care’]

[Despite his numbers, Heat’s Hassan Whiteside buoyed by teammates and coaches: ‘They say I’m playing well’]

[Erik Spoelstra makes it clear Heat’s rebounding must improve vs. Sixers: ‘They’re burying us’]

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