The 76ers sprung a gameday surprise on Thursday, changing the status of center Joel Embiid from doubtful to probable for Game 3 of its playoff series against the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Embiid, who has missed 10 games with a fractured orbital bone near his left eye, was upgraded to probable, meaning he's expected to play,
Though Sixers coach Brett Brown stopped short of saying Brown definitely would play, he said "it's trending in the right direction" and that Embiid has been medically cleared to play.
"We like what we've seen the past few days. We like what we saw at shootarond today," Brown said.
Brown revealed that one holdup, which has been overcome, was receiving league approval for a mask that Embiid will wear. Asked what type of mask Embiid will wear, Brown said it will be surprise.
Brown said Embiid won't have a specific minute restriction but added there will be "a natural minutes restriction with the knowledge that he hasn't played basketball in several weeks."
"I'm blown away by what an athlete he is," Brown added. "He is a big mobile man that has a skill package that contradicts his frame."
The Heat expressed no issue with the change in Embiid's status two hours before game with, with Erik Spoelstra noting "we anticipated he would be a part of this series at some point. We're not trying to duck competition."
Teammates say Embiid has repeatedly made clear how much he wants to play immediately.
He went through some contact work in practice the past three days.
With Embiid, the 76ers are getting back an All-Star who averaged 22.0 points and 11.9 rebounds in 63 games.
"Defensively, he immediately comes in and changes the landscape," Brown said. "The adjustment offensively might be a little bit more noticeable than defensively initially. He really is as smart and instinctive a player as I’ve coached. He can look at something without doing it and then go do it.
"As you would expect after being off how ever many weeks not playing, it’s going to take time getting his fitness up. Whenever the time comes where he does play, I think it will move in a more rapid way. His body looks great."
In three head-to-head meetings this season, Embiid averaged 19.0 points and 8.7 rebounds, while Heat center Hassan Whiteside average 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. The teams split the four-game season series, but the Heat won two of three in which both centers played.