Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, never one to hide his feelings, has made things easy for the notorious London tabloids this week.
Asked about facing the Boston Celtics on Thursday in London’s O2 Arena, he told one such publication, The Sun, that he is “really excited to play NBA in London and cannot wait to kick their (butts).”
He also told The Sun that he enjoys it when the fans are fully immersed in game action, saying it “makes (him) sleepy” and adversely affects his play when they are not.
“But when the fans are cheering, and I’m talking (junk), it’s fun,” he told The Sun. “I hope Celtics fans boo me because that makes me raise my game and want to kick other people’s (butts).”
Before departing for the game on Monday, Embiid told stateside reporters he had been in London last summer and “fell in love with the city.”
“Just walking around, it was beautiful,” he told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Beautiful women … so I had a great time. I’m just excited to be going there. Obviously want to get a win, and if I get a chance to catch a soccer game, I’m going to do that, too.”
Thursday marks the eighth time the NBA has staged a game in the United Kingdom.
Both teams are playing well. The Eastern Conference-leading Celtics (33-10) have won six consecutive games, and Philadelphia (19-19) has won four straight and five of six.
Boston has also beaten the Sixers twice this season, 102-92 on Oct. 20 and 108-97 on Nov. 30.
Embiid, Philadelphia’s leading scorer and rebounder, managed 11 points in the first meeting, shooting just 4 of 16 from the floor while missing all six of his 3-point attempts against a defense that has since emerged as the best in the league.
He was held out of the second game, part of the team’s continuing precautions after he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee last January.
The Boston Globe reported that Celtics trainers encouraged the players to avoid sleeping during the five-hour flight to London earlier this week so that their body clocks would not be affected too greatly.
“I wish I would have slept,” veteran center Al Horford told The Globe. “It’s difficult. I see everything behind it, and it’s a lot of great information. But I think if I would’ve slept a half an hour or an hour, it would’ve been beneficial. It’s been a hard couple of days, but I’m hanging in there.”
Horford missed last Saturday’s victory over Brooklyn with a knee injury, but is expected to play Thursday. Amir Johnson, the Sixers’ backup center, missed Wednesday’s practice because of illness, according to Philly.com, and his status is not yet clear.
Philadelphia guard Markelle Fultz, the top pick in last year’s draft, has begun playing five-on-five after missing all but four games this season with a shoulder injury. He has not yet taken part in a full practice, according to Philly.com, and will not play Thursday. The team has yet to announce when he might return.