UNIONDALE, N.Y – This game was all about Joel Embiid.
The 76ers center made his preseason debut after missing the last eight months recovering from a torn meniscus in his left knee. So Wednesday was the first in-game opportunity to get a glimpse at how the big man was doing.
After settling down, the fourth-year player showed why he received a lucrative contract extension despite playing in only 31 career games.
He finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one block in the Sixers’ 133-114 victory over the Brooklyn Nets at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Twenty of his points came before intermission. Embiid made 4 of his 9 shots and 14 of 18 free throws in 14 minutes, 45 seconds of action.
“It’s just a very potent offensive package that people sort of have to game-plan for,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Embiid’s versatility for a 7-foot-2, 285-pounder. “We see the impact that he makes on the defensive end and all over the place.
“Something like tonight will remind us all that’s why he was paid what he was paid.”
Embiid said it felt good to be back. However, he wasn’t totally satisfied with his performance. The big man thought he was “pretty bad” on the defensive end after he gave up a couple of dunks.
“I don’t think it should be easy [to do against] a guy that’s as big as me, and as strong as me,” Embiid said. “I don’t think that should happen.”
However, he was pleased with the energy he provided for his teammates.
While this was Embiid’s debut, Markelle Fultz was sidelined for the second time in three games.
This time, the first overall pick in June’s NBA draft was out with a sore right knee. He missed Friday’s game against the Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center with a sore right shoulder.
Fultz injured his knee during Monday’s rematch against the Celtics in Boston.
“I’m not sure how it came about,” Fultz said. “It’s just something that happened, and I realized it when I woke up at [in the middle of the] night. So it’s just what happened, and they made the best decision for me.”
He said, “I have no clue” when asked if he would be available for Friday’s preseason finale against the Miami Heat in Kansas City, Mo.
“It’s pretty much a day-to-day thing,” Fultz said.
Friday’s matchup will be a homecoming for Embiid, who played one season at Kansas in 2013-14. His fans in Kansas and Missouri would be overjoyed if he duplicated Wednesday’s performance.
Embiid made his first basket of the game to knot the score at 2-2. However, he responded by committing a foul at the other end. Embiid then looked a little jumpy for a few possessions before leaving the game at the 9:02 mark..
It was completely different after he returned with 3:53 left in the quarter. He scored nine points the rest of the quarter and added nine more in the second quarter. Embiid left the game with 8:43 seconds to play in the third.
“I didn’t expect that, but I’ve been working hard all summer,” Embiid said of his production is less than 15 minutes. “I didn’t have a lot of time on the court. So I feel like I’m still behind. But with repetition, it’s going to come.”
This performance came two days after his signed a five-year extension for $146.5 million. The contract is heavily protected because of his injury history.
Embiid played in only 31 games last season before the team announced on March 1 that he would need season-ending knee surgery. His last game was Jan. 27.
He missed the previous two seasons because of two surgeries to repair the navicular bone in his right foot. He also had a stress fracture in his back that kept him out of the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments during his lone season at Kansas in 2014.
But on this night, Embiid showed that he’s worth the money if not more..
“Bryan [Colangelo] did a good job,” Dario Saric said. “He signed [Joel] for just $146 million.”
Saric finished with game highs of 26 points and nine rebounds in a reserve role. The power forward made 5 of 8 three-pointers. J.J. Redick added 18 points for the Sixers (1-3). Ben Simmons had nine points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.
De’Angelo Russell finished with 24 points to pace the Nets (3-1).