Incoming return of Eastern Conference superstar spells trouble for Pacers

Joel Embiid may return soon, and for the Pacers, that is the last thing they need.

Philadelphia 76ers v Indiana Pacers
Philadelphia 76ers v Indiana Pacers / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

The Pacers may have some revamped competition for the sixth seed in a short while.

Currently, Indiana sits in sixth place in the East standings with eight games to go in the season, but have not created separation. With Wednesday's loss to Chicago, the Pacers squandered their opportunity to take a full two-game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers and maintain their 1.5-game lead over the Miami Heat and can no longer afford to play with their food as they have been doing recently.

This is especially true now since 76ers superstar and last season's MVP Joel Embiid is expected to return soon. Embiid, who missed the last 27 games and counting due to a lateral meniscus injury, has been rumored to return at various points in the season, including the playoffs, a potential Play-In Tournament game, and even at the end of the regular season. As it turns out, the 76ers social media account felt confident enough to post a teaser of Embiid returning sooner rather than later.

For the Sixers, who hold a 13-26 record without Embiid but a 26-8 record with him, this may be exactly what they need to make that last push out of play-in territory. As it stands, they currently sit 1.5 games out of sixth place and hold the eighth seed with nine games left in their season. Embiid's return makes them a completely different team, as they go from borderline playoff team to sleeper contender and that is the last news the Pacers or Miami Heat want to hear.

The Pacers' recent loss to Chicago echoed a recurring theme with them this season, which is the repeated losses to inferior teams, most of them not even in playoff contention. Of the eight games left on Indiana's schedule, four of them are against non-playoff teams and three of them are against conference rivals.


With the added pressure of Embiid's looming return and the Sixers becoming a completely new team sooner rather than later, it is up to Indiana to control their own destiny and take themselves past the play-in once and for all.