Okafor returns to scrimmage and is paired with Embiid

Jahlil Okafor made his long-awaited appearance in a scrimmage Monday while being paired with Joel Embiid in the 76ers' latest version of the Twin Towers.

"Now the priority is trying to see how I recover, how I'm going to feel tomorrow when I wake up," Okafor said after his first scrimmage since the final day of training camp on Sept. 30 at Stockton University.

The second-year center had surgery in March to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. That injury sidelined him for the final 23 games of last season.

Okafor worked out with Sixers strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright and spent time in the cold tub after practice.

"I'm trying to take care of my body as best as I can," Okafor said. "But it felt good in the five-on-five, pretty much the same stage I was at in training camp. The key is to see how it feels after doing it."

Okafor had a setback in training camp after scrimmaging against Embiid, experiencing a little bit of pain and soreness. He said he thought his knee would feel better after applying ice during the bus ride back to Philadelphia.

"When I woke up the next morning, it was really sore," Okafor said. "So I called our guys and we started taking care of it since then."

Then came Monday when he and 7-foot-2, 276-pound Embiid formed a towering front line. Both big men will have their playing time restricted. As a result, Sixers coach Brett Brown said the team will not start the duo on the court together early in the season. However, he hasn't ruled out playing them together at the end of games.

The Sixers unsuccessfully tried to pair Okafor with Nerlens Noel last season. The spacing was horrible and both players struggled defensively against combination forwards who can stretch a defense.

But unlike Noel and Okafor, Embiid is a solid three-point shooter. That should create space on the offensive end. However, like last season's experiment, both players are defensive liabilities in space.

But the Sixers still gave it a try Monday, the 12th day Noel has been sidelined with a left groin strain.

"Us playing together, I've always thought if you want to put the best defender on him, that leaves me open," Embiid said of Okafor. "And if you put your small defender on me, that will leave him open.

"So we complement each other pretty well. It's just a matter of [defense]. But offensively, I think it's easy."

Brown, a former longtime assistant in San Antonio, emphasized over and over that he wasn't comparing the duo to former Spurs Twin Towers Tim Duncan and David Robinson. He did, however, look at old video of the San Antonio pair this summer in preparation of this season.

"I get flashbacks from memories," Brown said. "You learn about a lot of things - both sides, offense and defense. I think it starts with a real willingness to want to play with each other. These two guys [Embiid and Okafor] do. They are friends."

Embiid feels that playing with Okafor will give him an opportunity to showcase his all-around skills. He'll get to roam the perimeter on the occasions when Okafor's on the block. The Sixers haven't assigned one to strictly play power forward and the other center when they're paired together.

"I like to think I'm a guard," Embiid said. "So playing with him, I'm going to try to let him get his space. That gives me a chance to work on my outside game."

As of Monday, Okafor was listed as doubtful for Friday's preseason finale at Miami. However, there's a good chance he'll make his debut in the season opener Oct. 26 against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder.

"But my knee is feeling better than it did in training camp after my first five-on-five," he said. "So that's a positive sign and now I'm going to do the positive steps to make sure that I'm fine. So everything is going well."

kpompey@phillynews.com

@PompeyOnSixers

www.philly.com/sixersblog

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