Discarded at first, the Europa Conference League captures the imagination

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton are among injured stars expected to be sidelined as the second round of the NBA playoffs begins on Sunday.

All four seeds from the Eastern and Western Conferences qualified in the first round, but few managed to escape unscathed.

Embiid, the NBA’s leading scorer from Cameroon, suffered a fractured right orbital bone and concussion in the 76ers’ pivotal victory in Toronto and is out indefinitely.

The 7-foot star was already nursing a thumb injury when he was hit in the face by fellow Raptors Pascal Siakam’s left elbow.

“I think he broke my face,” Embiid said. “But everything is fine in the playoffs.”

Embiid 26.2 points and 11.3 rebounds against Toronto. He had 30.6 points and 11.7 rebounds in the regular season and is a finalist for the NBA Most Valuable Player award.

Middleton, a 30-year-old striker, is expected to miss most if not all of the second round with a left knee ligament sprain.

Defending champion Milwaukee, prompted by Greek star Giannis Antetokounmpo, will open a best-of-seven series against Boston on Sunday in the East while Golden State travels to Memphis for its opener in the West on Sunday.

The other two conference semifinals begin Monday with Philadelphia at Miami and Dallas at Phoenix.

East seed Miami had four stars who did not practice on Friday, including forward Jimmy Butler with a knee injury and Kyle Lowry with a hamstring problem.

Butler has averaged 21.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game for the Heat this season while guard Lowry, who won an NBA title with Toronto in 2019, had 13.4 points , 7.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Memphis was without New Zealand big man Steven Adams, in COVIS-19 protocols, for a decisive series win over Minnesota.

Golden State’s Andre Iguodala was scheduled for reevaluation next week for aggravated neck pain during the Warriors’ first-round series against Denver.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown had a strained hamstring but was scheduled to play in Sunday’s opener against the visiting Bucks.

The Celtics are in the second round for the fifth time in six years and are rested after scoring the only first-round sweep by knocking out Brooklyn.

They finished the regular season 26-6 and NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart anchors the NBA’s best defensive unit, a group that will try to make life difficult for Antetokounmpo.

That includes Jayson Tatum, who averaged nearly 30 points per game in the first round.

The 76ers, who lost to Atlanta in the second round last year, would need star guard James Harden, forward Tobias Harris and point guard Tyrese Maxey to step up if Embiid misses a major time against the Heat.

Miami big man Bam Adebayo could play a pivotal role in the series if he can dominate in Embiid’s absence.

Memphis boasts the NBA’s Most Improved Player Ja Morant and the impressive Desmond Bane leading a young and talented Grizzlies unit.

But they face a Golden State team that has quickly reshuffled and has star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, inside defensive strength Draymond Green and third-year guard Jordan Poole.

Curry recovered from a left foot injury that left him off the bench much of the first round and his backcourt battles against Morant could be the highlights of the series.

Poole took advantage of his starting role in Curry’s recovery to deliver a punch as a reserve.

“I don’t really have any expectations,” Poole said. “I didn’t know what to expect because it was my first time here. But I certainly learned a lot.

Green is the main frontline player after the Warriors’ NBA title runs and coach Steve Kerr trusts him to handle any position on the court.

“Draymond has the green light to do whatever he wants,” Kerr said.

Phoenix and Dallas are healthy now that Devin Booker of the Suns and Luka Doncic of the Mavericks are back.

Doncic was plagued with a left calf strain but recovered to help fire Dallas over Utah while Booker missed three games with a right hamstring strain as Phoenix ousted New Orleans.

Suns goaltender Chris Paul had 14 shots in a 33-point effort in Phoenix’s final triumph.

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