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Embiid returns for win over OKC after being ruled out

David Dow / National Basketball Association / Getty

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid started Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder despite originally being listed as out.

Embiid, who had been sidelined since Jan. 30 with a meniscus injury, finished with 24 points, including the game-sealing free throws after a late steal on Josh Giddey led to Embiid getting fouled in transition with 25 seconds remaining. That swipe was the center's third of the night; he added seven assists and six rebounds while going a perfect 12-of-12 from the line in 29 minutes as the 76ers won 109-105.

"Usually, when I have injuries, I just tell myself 'Move on, onto the next one,' get better, and then fix it," Embiid told reporters after the victory, courtesy of The Athletic's Mike Vorkunov. "But this one, it took a toll mentally, being depressed. It was not a good one.

"Still not where I'm supposed to be, especially mentally, but ... I love basketball, and I want to play. Any chance that I can be out there, I'm going to take it."

The 76ers star seemed certain to miss Tuesday's matchup until he was suddenly upgraded to questionable just hours ahead of the game. Embiid then confirmed his return.

The 76ers never provided an official recovery timetable for Embiid, who was set to be re-evaluated at the four-week mark after undergoing a procedure on his left knee on Feb. 6 - now eight weeks ago. He missed 29 consecutive games heading into Tuesday.

The reigning MVP, Embiid was a strong contender to win his second straight honor this season but lost his eligibility due to his elongated injury absence. The NBA requires players to play in at least 65 games of the 82-game season; the Cameroonian star can play a maximum of 41 regular-season contests if he appears in all seven of the team's remaining contests, including Tuesday.

Philadelphia's win over Oklahoma City improves the 76ers to 41-35 on the year. However, stuck in eighth place, they're still on pace for a play-in tournament berth after plummeting down the Eastern Conference standings during Embiid's absence.

Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said he believes his big man won't need long to get back to game shape.

"Normally, I would say about a couple weeks, a week-and-a-half, whatever, but it wouldn't surprise me here in about one more game or two that he's ready to roll - if everything turns out O.K.," Nurse said postgame, according to Dave Uram of KYW Newsradio, before adding that Embiid slimmed down during his recovery to maintain his conditioning.

The seven-time All-Star was averaging a league-leading 35.3 points per game before going down with the knee concern. Following Tuesday's encounter, Embiid still tops the NBA with 35 points per game but won't qualify for any of the league's statistical leaderboards.

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