CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Philadelphia 76ers suddenly have a lot more to worry about than their poor road record or playoff seeding.
Their star players are getting hurt.
Joel Embiid left Wednesday night's 108-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers with a sprained left shoulder in the first quarter and didn't return. The All-Star center scored three points in 8 minutes.
The 76ers, already playing without All-Star guard Ben Simmons, never led against the team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference and fell to 9-21 on the road.
Embiid had his left arm in a sling and was in visible discomfort following the game. He declined to talk to reporters and had an equipment manager carry his backpack out of the locker room, where the quiet atmosphere summed up the team's mood.
The Sixers are fifth in the conference. Coach Brett Brown said he didn't know how long Embiid, who scored a career-high 49 points Monday against Atlanta, will be sidelined.
“I'm really unsure,” Brown said. “It's not coach-speak, but this is part of the NBA landscape. That's why you try to accumulate talent and depth.”
Al Horford said his team had a difficult time adjusting without Embiid, who averages 23.8 points and 12 rebounds.
“Obviously, we play through him and once he was out, we didn’t really know what was next,” said Horford, who scored 10 points. “We didn’t quite know how to play. We have to figure out how to play without him.”
Embiid collided with Cavaliers center Ante Zizic while being fouled late in the first quarter. The 7-footer held his shoulder in obvious pain but stayed in the game and missed both free throws.
The Sixers pulled Embiid at the next time stoppage and he walked to the locker room while rubbing his shoulder. He briefly returned to the bench in the second quarter, but went back for more evaluation and treatment. At halftime, Embiid rejoined his teammates on the bench with a wrap on his injured shoulder.
Brown, sensing his team was in early trouble, called timeout two minutes into the game, but Cleveland steadily built its lead. The Cavaliers shot 58% in the first half and led 70-50 midway through the third quarter. Philadelphia cut the lead to 85-80 in the fourth, but got no closer.
Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr., who had 13 points and 15 rebounds, said Embiid's absence made a difference.
“You never want to see that,” Nance said. “He's one of the best, most dominant players in this league. Anytime he's not there, same with Ben, is important.”
Collin Sexton scored 28 points for Cleveland, which had five players in double figures. Tristan Thompson had 14 points and 13 rebounds. Cavaliers center Andre Drummond didn't play because of a strained left calf.
Shake Milton, who replaced Simmons in the Sixers' lineup, scored 20 points. Furkan Korkmaz scored 14 points and Alec Burks had 13.
Simmons missed his second straight game because of a nerve impingement in his lower back. The team hasn't given a timeline on when he'll be back.
After hosting New York, Philadelphia will begin a four-game trip in Los Angeles on Sunday. Philadelphia is fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The Cavaliers are 3-1 under coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who took over when John Beilein resigned during the All-Star break.
76ers: The NBA fined Embiid $25,000 on Wednesday after he made an obscene gesture on the court and used profane language during a live television interview Monday. ... Tobias Harris scored 11 points.
Cavaliers: Drummond is considered day to day. ... Bickerstaff said G Dante Exum will miss an “extended period of time” because of a sprained left ankle. Exum was injured Monday.
Philadelphia trails Miami by a half-game for fourth in the conference.
"When you don't have Joel and you don't have Ben, it's an opportunity for guys to raise their hand up — and we didn't have that tonight," Brown said. “We've got to find ways to move forward and improve.”
The Cavaliers are showing signs of improvement despite their 17-41 record.
“There's been a concerted effort, to a man, to go out and get after it a little bit harder,” Bickerstaff said. “There's an energy that's building and you don't want to be the one guy that's not participating in it.”
76ers: Host New York on Thursday. The Sixers are 27-2 at home.
Cavaliers: Visit New Orleans on Friday. Cleveland has lost eight straight at the Pelicans.
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