As teams continue to jostle for playoff position in the final weeks of the NBA regular season, there's a giant, 7-foot cloud hanging over the entire Eastern Conference: Will 76ers superstar Joel Embiid return and, if so, when?

Nick Nurse did not share a return-to-play timeline at practice on Thursday, but told reporters that Embiid would be on the road with the Sixers when they visit Cleveland on Friday and Toronto on Sunday.

"He is going on the trip to work out, yes." Nurse said, via KYW Newsradio's Dave Uram.

Embiid was on the court at practice, but he's not yet playing 5-on-5 or taking contact. He has missed 28 games after suffering a meniscus injury on Jan. 30 at Golden State that required surgery on Feb. 6.

"Joel was in practice -- I mean, [he didn't] really practice, but he was in today, doing work," Nurse said. "He was doing it against other players. Just kind of skill work, with kind of some live bodies."

The day after a heartbreaking (and controversial) loss against the Clippers, Nurse said that he'd love to have Embiid -- and De'Anthony Melton and Robert Covington, who are also sidelined -- back in the lineup, but, in the meantime, he is ready to go "into battle with the guys here, to continue to polish and improve this group."

"I still don't, like, have a timeline," Nurse said. "I'd love to give you one. I mean, I would love to not have to continue this [back and forth about Embiid's status] -- and that means he's back playing, right? -- but, again, I think that it's coming. But I also understand that, like, I see some growth here. I think this is helping us."

Prior to the 108-107 loss in Los Angeles. Nurse said there is a "very good likelihood" that Embiid will return before the postseason. This was music to the ears of the 76ers and their fans, but Nurse did not offer a concrete timeline then, either.

"I think there's a very good likelihood that he will return before the play-in/playoff," Nurse told reporters, via NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Embiid has been "out there working," Nurse said. "He's doing lots of skill work and things like that, and just trying to continue to advance, all that stuff."

Asked if Embiid has sccrimmaged with the Sixers' low-minute players yet, Nurse implied he has not. "He's on the court," he said. "So, we'll let you know when he gets to those stages."

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday that there is optimism in the organization that Embiid could play multiple regular-season games before the postseason begins on April 16.

"I'm told it is not a question of if, but when," Wojnarowski said. "The belief is, with nine regular-season games left ... that Joel Embiid can be back for a handful of those before the playoffs."

Embiid hasn't played since the end of January due to surgery on his left knee. At the time of his injury, Embiid appeared to be on his way to a second straight MVP award, averaging 35 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high six assists per game on 53/37/88 shooting splits. He scored 14 points in the last game he played, which snapped a streak of 22 consecutive 30-point games, a feat only surpassed by James Harden and Wilt Chamberlain. Embiid poured in a career-high 70 points against the Spurs on Jan. 22.

A month ago, Embiid said that he planned on returning this season.

"That's the plan," Embiid told reporters, "Obviously, everything has to go right as far as getting healthy and being as close as I'm supposed to be. But yeah, that's the plan."

Embiid's potential return essentially blows up the entire Eastern Conference hierarchy. The 76ers were flirting with the No. 2 seed at the time of his injury and are now in the No. 8 spot, having gone 13-26 without their franchise player on the season. If Embiid rejoins the lineup and approaches his pre-injury form, the Sixers could be one of the most imposing lower seeds in NBA history.

Philadelphia's front office has been operating as if Embiid would be back, adding guards Buddy Hield, Kyle Lowry and Cameron Payne to the roster in February. Given the emergence of All-Star Tyrese Maxey and how well the Sixers' pieces seemed to fit for about three months, Embiid's return could make them a legitimate threat to come out of the East. To do so, however, they might have to survive the play-in and get past the Celtics, who have already clinched the top seed, or the Milwaukee Bucks, who are currently second, in Round 1. At 39-34, Philadelphia is a game behind the seventh-place Heat and sixth-place Pacers in the loss column. It would surely love to overtake both teams and avoid the play-in entirely, but time is running out.

After visiting Cleveland and Toronto, the Sixers will host the Thunder next Tuesday before a three-game road trip against Miami, Memphis and San Antonio and a three-game homestand against Detroit, Orlando and Brooklyn to close the season.