Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid looks on against the Nets...

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid looks on against the Nets during Game 3 at Barclays Center on Thursday, April 20, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid will miss Game 4 on Saturday against the Nets because of a right knee sprain suffered in Game 3, according to multiple reports.

Embiid had an MRI, which revealed the injury, and there’s hope he’ll be available early next week, ESPN reported.

Embiid, who had 14 points Thursday, was limping for most of the second half. He appeared to suffer the injury in the third quarter while trying to stop a layup by Cam Johnson.

The Nets, who trail 3-0 in the first-round series and face elimination at Barclays Center, have done a good job limiting Embiid. The MVP finalist has averaged 20 points and only 13 shot attempts, both below his season averages, in the series. The Nets have held him to 46.2% shooting.

It’s one advantage the Nets have had in their favor despite failing to win a game. With Embiid out, their chances of extending the season may have gotten better.

The story of this series has been the Nets doing just enough right to be competitive yet not enough right to win.

In Game 3, the Nets won the turnover battle for the second consecutive game. They got more scoring from Spencer Dinwiddie and Nic Claxton. Yet they had no answer for Tyrese Maxey or their inability to close out games.

“We’re hitting certain goals that we had in mind for the series,” Johnson said after practice Friday. “And realistically, we should have been able to spin them into at least one or two wins, right? But that’s not reality.”

The reality is the Nets blew their best chance for a win in Game 3. They led 96-91 with 2:15 left, but when a team scores only two field goals in the final 7:08 of regulation and has two late turnovers, it makes it hard to win. They wound up dropping a 102-97 decision.

James Harden was a fourth-quarter spectator after his ejection for a flagrant foul 2 on Royce O’Neale. But whatever the Nets have done, the 76ers countered and finished better.

Coach Jacque Vaughn tried to avoid the disappointment by focusing on the positives.

“I mean, what’d they score? 102 points yesterday? And 96 the game before that? Are you kidding me?” he asked. “So we’ve done a lot of good things. I think that’s what I want to hang our hat on is that we put ourselves in position to win.”

No NBA team has rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a series and only three have forced a Game 7. The last time was in 2003 when Dallas held off Portland.

So despite the odds, the Nets can only hope things change Saturday to help salvage some pride.

“Why not be us? Do something different,” Dorian Finney-Smith said. “Do something that has never been done before.”

For that to happen, they’ll have to slow down Maxey. In addition to scoring 33 and 25 points in consecutive games, he’s shooting 53.8% (14-for-26) on three-pointers in the series.

The Nets knew Maxey could be an X-factor, but they’ve found out the hard way despite containing Embiid.

“This easily could be 2-1 without Maxey, right? It’s not like he wasn’t on the scouting report,” Vaughn said. “He doesn’t get the isos like James does and Embiid does, but he’s been able to just pull up for threes in transition, which is an extreme amount of confidence.”

Maybe the biggest issue comes from what the Nets don’t have: cohesion. This group has been together for only two months. The 76ers have had most of their core together for 14 months since acquiring Harden.

But as Johnson said, there’s no time for frustration. The Nets have to figure out something in Game 4 or face a worse feeling of being swept out of the playoffs.

“We got a maximum of four games left and a minimum of one, so I’ll be darned,” Johnson said. “We’re going to give it our all every possession. Just to fight and scrap and come away with wins.”

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