The only thing scarier than Joel Embiid on the block is Joel Embiid in a mask

After last Friday’s win over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, several Philadelphia 76ers offered the same response when asked what they thought their team — now winners of 15 straight, headed for home-court advantage in the opening round of the 2018 NBA playoffs — would become when they get Joel Embiid back in the lineup after he recovers from surgery to repair a broken orbital bone around his left eye. From Sarah Todd of Philly.com:

“It would be scary. Scary,” Ben Simmons said after the game.

“It’s very scary to know we’re doing this without Jo,” Markelle Fultz said echoing Simmons.

When Robert Covington was asked if he thinks about what the team will look like in the playoffs with Embiid he had the same answer.

“Yeah. Scary.”

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Maybe this is a classic case of groupthink. Or maybe they’d just already gotten a look at the prototype for the mask the ailing big man might wear upon his return to the lineup. Because Embiid shared something on his Instagram story on Tuesday night that looked like that, and …

No one cared who Joel Embiid was until he put on the mask. (Image via joelembiid on Instagram)
No one cared who Joel Embiid was until he put on the mask. (Image via joelembiid on Instagram)

… yeah, “scary” is the word I’d use.

Embiid’s been out of action since March 28, when his head connected with teammate Markelle Fultz’s shoulder in a nasty collision that wound up landing him in the league’s concussion protocol. The Sixers announced last Friday that the surgeons who performed the procedure to repair the orbital fracture “were pleased with how the affected area is presenting to date,” and that Embiid had been “cleared by an independent neurologist” earlier in the week. That allowed him to move forward in the return-to-play protocol to the point where he could “begin the non-contact cardiovascular exertion steps required” to keep getting closer to full clearance to return to the floor.

The 7-foot-2 All-Star, predictably, has been documenting the recovery process on Instagram, declaring his belief that rehab work should be “illegal” before offering Tuesday’s sneak peek at what might be a model of the mask he’ll likely need to wear when he does get the go-ahead to come back to the lineup … whenever that might be.

“I do not think that. I don’t think anybody thinks that,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said Tuesday during a Philadelphia radio interview when asked if Embiid could be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs this weekend. “I think it’s just trying to get him with the ball in his hands — touch a ball. At some point soon, really focus on the cardio side of it all. All of those things that will equal him playing an incredibly physical, fast playoff game. Right now, we’re starting to make inroads, but I think it would be misleading to suggest that he could play in Game 1.”

The Sixers have done all they can since Embiid went down to prove that they’re capable of surviving without him, winning six straight games to reach the 50-win mark behind the all-court excellence of Rookie of the Year contender Simmons. But while Philadelphia has looked dominant without Embiid against largely inferior competition, there’s no doubt that the best Sixers club in years will need its two-way interior linchpin back in the fold, fully operational and ready to dominate, to reach its lofty goals. Whether or not JoJo will be wearing this particular brand of protection once he gets back, the Sixers are banking on his return making them at least as scary on the floor as their big man looked on the ‘gram.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!

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