2018 NBA playoffs: Heat haven’t seen the best of 76ers C Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid has made an impact already, but he’s still not himself. (Getty Images)

CAMDEN, N.J. — 76ers center Joel Embiid has had plenty working against him as he tries to settle into this first-round playoff series against the Heat, and he’s only halfway toward playing like his usual all-star self.

As if his first foray into the postseason isn’t enough of an awakening, he’s been simultaneously trying to regain his rhythm after being out almost three weeks and adjusting to a cumbersome protective mask that covers pretty much everything but his mouth.

The thought that Embiid could snap back into his normal self at any moment is concerning for a Miami team that trails 3-1 heading into Tuesday’s Game 5 at Wells Fargo Center.

He’s played two games, and while his defense was impressive, the Heat know they haven’t seen the best of him offensively yet. He’s averaged 18.5 points, 2.5 assists and 5.5 turnovers while shooting 31.8 percent.

“The difference of Joel Embiid offensively versus Joel Embiid defensively is night and day,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said today. “He is unbelievable at the rim (defensively). That’s energy and activity, just a committed physical, aggressive player. Those qualities don’t equal a poised offensive player. It’s not his fault.”

“Playing basketball, regaining his core balance and all those things, that will happen over time.”

He was still a factor in his first two games with totals of 19 rebounds and eight blocked shots. The Heat were repeatedly frustrated by his defense in Game 4 and have shot 3 for 15 against him within 6′ of the basket since he entered the series.

Embiid and the 76ers haven’t been harping on the mask as an excuse, but it’s undeniably hampering his peripheral vision. Brown believes it was a big factor in him committing eight turnovers Saturday. Teammates Markelle Fultz and Amir Johnson tried out the mask after today’s practice and quickly saw how restrictive it is.

Embiid, who has to wear it because he broke an orbital bone during a game in late March, is doing his best to acclimate and not allow it to become a mental issue in which he blames every shortfall on it.

“That can’t be an excuse,” he said. “I have to get used to it. That’s the only way I can be on the court, so I’ve just gotta do it. I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it. Some days it’s gonna work out well, some other days not.”

The 30 minutes he logged in Game 3 was his most extensive playing time since March 19, and he didn’t respond physically the way he’d hoped. That likely affected him Saturday, and it helps that the teams have an extra day off before the series resumes in Philadelphia.

“My body was hurting all over the place,” Embiid said. “Going into (Game 4), it was really bad. But it’s basketball. I’m the type of guy where it doesn’t matter how I’m feeling. If you put me on the basketball court I just forget everything. You’ve just gotta do it.”

In the regular season, his first full one since Philadelphia drafted him third overall in 2014, he showed exceptional skill for a player who stands skilled player he is for someone who’s 7-foot, 260 pounds. He’s a remarkable matchup nightmare for almost every team.

Embiid averaged 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 30.8 on 3-pointers. That’s the potential all-around impact he can have, whether it be against Miami or perhaps later in the playoffs, and the 76ers will be much more fearsome once he gets back to it.

“It’s part of the complete belief, when I look at our team versus other teams, that I think we can continue to improve,” Brown said. “I really see tremendous improvement possibilities in general with our team, and certainly by Joel playing more basketball.”

[In a series that Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid have thrived, Heat pleased with progress from their own young duo]

[Heat must finish vs. Sixers, or season will be finished]

[Was Heat’s Game 4 loss Dwyane Wade’s final game in Miami? Wade: ‘I don’t want to answer that right now’]

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