Sixers visit Heat in battle for playoff positioning

Joel Embiid gave the Philadelphia 76ers a jolt of energy when they needed it the most.

Embiid returned from knee surgery to play his first game in nine weeks and produced 24 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals in a 109-105 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.

The Sixers (41-35) are likely headed for the play-in portion of the Eastern Conference playoffs but could still be dangerous if Embiid can regain his Most Valuable Player form.

Philadelphia will now face the host Miami Heat (42-33) on Thursday as the teams jostle for playoff position.

“I thought I could have been better today,” Embiid said. “I’m happy with the win. We needed that one. I want us to go on a run to finish the season, but every one of these matters, so we got to take them and keep competing. But I just said the only thing that I want is for us to be healthy.”

The Sixers won without Tyrese Maxey, De’Anthony Melton and Robert Covington.

Having Embiid back in the lineup gives Philadelphia a much-needed lift, emotionally and physically.

“Where I really thought he impacted the game was defensively late,” Sixers coach Nick Nurse said. “He looked pretty good for not playing for a couple of months, that’s for sure.”

Kelly Oubre Jr. led the Sixers with 25 points and Tobias Harris had 18.

Having Embiid back gave the role players more freedom on both ends of the court.

“I mean it’s everything,” Oubre said of Embiid’s return. “The hype is real. He’s one of the most dominant players in the NBA and that we’ve ever seen.”

The Heat will look for their fourth consecutive win when they battle the Sixers.

Miami defeated the New York Knicks 109-99 on Tuesday thanks in large part to a 34-point performance from Terry Rozier, adding 17 points from Jimmy Butler, 15 from Bam Adebayo and 14 from Haywood Highsmith.

The game had playoff intensity, and Rozier more than proved his mettle with eight made 3-pointers.

“More than anything, this was an introduction to our new players, especially Terry, to Heat-Knicks,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This is what these games are … two teams that are very committed to doing tough things, especially on the defensive end.”

Rozier went 10 of 15 from the field and made some big shots when the Knicks were making a late push.

“We stayed poised and figured out what we needed to do on offense,” Rozier said. “And we did it.”

The Heat received a boost from the return of Kevin Love, who had been out the previous 16 games with a heel injury.

“Obviously, still have work to do,” Love said. “Things still could fall in our favor. We can either be in the top six or we could be in the play-in. These last seven games are huge for us. We’ve got two weeks to really do some work, show what we’re about.”

But they were still missing Tyler Herro, who has been sidelined for 19 consecutive games with tendinitis in his right foot. The Heat remain confident.

“We know that we’re capable of anything,” said Love, who had eight points, three rebounds and three assists in 16 minutes off the bench. “We can beat anyone. We can beat anybody in a seven-game series.”

–Field Level Media