Embiid had been listed as questionable for the game during the day, but coach Doc Rivers said he was unaware of any issues with his superstar big man during the coach's pregame media session, telling reporters he expected Embiid to play.
But a short time before tip-off, Embiid was ruled out with back tightness. It's been an ongoing source of discomfort for him dating back for a month -- and especially since he took a hard fall against the Los Angeles Lakers in Philadelphia on Jan. 27 when he was fouled by LeBron James.
Rivers said after the game he wasn't worried about Embiid.
"He was just a late scratch. Obviously I thought there was no issue with Joel. I thought he would play, and they came to me and told me his back was still stiff," he said. "So I don't think this is a long term issue or anything like that. It was just a game missed."
Rivers chose to replace Embiid in the starting lineup with Mike Scott, picking him instead of backup Dwight Howard. That decision made Ben Simmons the nominal center in a very small lineup against a Jazz team featuring the league's best defensive center in Rudy Gobert.
Simmons responded with the best game of his career, scoring 42 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 12 assists. But it wasn't enough to fend off that Jazz's 3-point shooting as the Sixers suffered their third-straight loss.
Philadelphia falls to 1-5 when Embiid doesn't play this season, with the lone win coming in Indiana on Jan.31 and requiring a wild, fourth-quarter comeback to get the Sixers the win.
Embiid, who has played himself into the MVP conversation, is averaging 29.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game to go along with career-high percentages of 54.3 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 85.1 percent from the free throw line this season.