After Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid’s left leg buckled and he crumbled to the floor of Washington’s Capital One Arena in the third quarter of a win in Washington last month, the MVP candidate thought the best season of his career had come to a premature end.

“When I got hurt, and was laying on the floor in Washington, honestly, I thought I was done,” Embiid said after scoring 24 points in a 122-113 victory over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night in his first game back from a bone bruise in that left knee. “I thought my season was done. The pain, how bad it was hurting, I just knew that it was something worse than we saw after.

“I was just crying and asking myself, ‘Why me? Why does it always happen to me? When everything seems to be going well with the team and myself, something always has to happen.'”

It turned out, however, to be not quite as bad as Embiid feared. Rather than being out for the season, he instead wound up missing 10 games over the past three weeks. In his absence, Philadelphia went 7-3, and with Saturday’s win, the Sixers moved back into a tie with the Brooklyn Nets for the best record in the Eastern Conference with six weeks to go.

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Embiid, though, was clearly still trying to knock some of the rust off of his game. While his final line was impressive — those 24 points came with eight rebounds, two assists and three blocks, as well as finishing the game a plus-20 in 28 minutes — he had four turnovers and shot 6-for-14 from the field, including missing all four of his 3-point attempts.

Afterward, Embiid said he needs to get back in rhythm offensively, and blamed part of his issues on the brace he’s wearing on his left knee.

“Defensively, it’s easy. I’ve got to just be myself. Block shots and protect the paint, not let anything get in there. But offensively, I’m going to kind of blame the brace I was wearing. It just felt like I just didn’t have the rhythm all game. It felt like I had an itch on my shot, every single shot. It wasn’t smooth. I had no rhythm. I hate the brace and that was part of it.

“I just have to get used to it, play with it and hope it keeps getting better. But offensively, I had way too many turnovers.”

He also said he knew what Minnesota’s strategy would be Saturday night because Timberwolves coach Chris Finch worked under Raptors coach Nick Nurse for half the season until being hired to run the Timberwolves in February.

“They would double and triple every time I had it on the block,” Embiid said. “It’s fitting because the coach, he comes from Toronto, so I knew going into the game that was going to happen.

“I’ve just got to get in sync with my teammates … but it’s going to come with time.”

Embiid is in the midst of a career season, and now, he will have a chance to force himself back into the MVP race. He won’t play in Sunday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies and said his conditioning is lagging behind after having to spend so much time on the sideline.

“It was tough,” Embiid said. “Yesterday was really the first time I kind of went full court since I got hurt. So it’s going to take a while to get back to myself, but my body feels great. Obviously, game shape is different than how your body feels, but the main thing is my body feels great, and I just got to keep putting up these games and these practices and I’ll be back to where I was before I got hurt.”