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76ers’ Joel Embiid dealt with depression during injury absence: ‘I still haven’t gotten over it’



Joel Embiid dealt with depression during his extended absence for a knee injury, the 76ers star said after making his long-awaited return.

The reigning NBA Most Valuable Player underwent surgery on the lateral meniscus in his left knee in February and missed about two months, derailing the best statistical season of his decade-long career and ending hopes of an MVP repeat.

“Usually, when I have injuries, I just tell myself, ‘Move on to the next one, get better, and then fix it,’” Embiid, 30, said Tuesday night. “But this one took a toll mentally, being depressed.”

The do-it-all Embiid recorded 24 points, six rebounds and seven assists over 29 minutes in Philadelphia’s 109-105 win against Oklahoma City on Tuesday, marking his first game action since Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga landed on his knee on Jan. 30.

Embiid is averaging career highs with 35.0 points and 5.7 assists per game to go along with 11.1 rebounds but is ineligible for postseason awards because he won’t appear in the requisite 65 games.

The 7-foot center missed the entirety of his first two NBA seasons from 2014-16 after breaking the navicular bone in his right foot. He played in only 31 games as a rookie in 2016-17 but appeared in at least 51 in each of the last six seasons.

“For some reason, this injury was just … disappointing,” Embiid said Tuesday. “It was depressing. It took me a while to get over it, and I still haven’t gotten over it, so just got to take it day by day, look at the positive. I’m back, so hopefully every single day, try to get better and get back to myself.”

The 76ers were 29-17 and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference when Embiid went down. They went 11-18 without him and fell into eighth place.

It’s been an eventful season for the 76ers, who traded disgruntled All-Star guard James Harden to the Clippers in late October. Tyrese Maxey, who assumed Philly’s primary point guard duties after Harden’s exit, is averaging career highs with 25.6 points and 6.2 assists per game.

Philadelphia entered Wednesday two games behind the Pacers for the conference’s sixth seed with six games to play. Moving into a top-six seed would allow the Sixers to avoid the dreaded play-in game.

“Still not where I’m supposed to be, especially mentally, but I just love to play,” Embiid said. “Any chance that I can be out there, I’m going to take it.”

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