Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid is on the verge of winning his first league MVP award. He could’ve basically locked it up with a dominant showing Monday night against two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokić. Unfortunately, the 76ers announced Monday afternoon that Embiid will miss the game due to a calf injury. Even with that disappointing news, this mini rivalry between the NBA’s two premier centers has been heating up over the past year and change, but nearly all the smoke seems to come out of Philly. Embiid fired more shots at Joker while speaking with Shams Charania of The Athletic.
“I’m not a two-time MVP. I’ve never made 1st-Team All NBA, I’ve never won anything, so why is there pressure on me to do something when there are guys that have won a bunch of MVPs and haven’t done anything either?”
The Sixers and Nuggets faceoff in Denver Monday night for the second and final time this season, as this was supposed to be a showcase for the leaders in the MVP race. After campaigning for the award for two years, a strong showing on Jokić’s home turf likely would have clinched it for Embiid. The 76ers took the first meeting earlier this season in Philly, led by Joel “the Troll,” dropping 47 points on Jokić and the Nuggets, along with 18 boards.
The rematch we’re being denied
Embiid took it to Jokić in that first meeting, as the Joker scored only 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds while dishing nine assists. It was a typical Jokić game, but Embiid went all out to show the basketball world, especially MVP voters, he’s the best big man in the game. Had the Philly big man been able to follow that first meeting up by running roughshod over Jokić in Denver, we’d be unofficially crowning a new MVP Monday night. But the Sixers took matters out of Embiid’s hands and decided to sit him so he’s as healthy as possible for the upcoming postseason run. It makes sense, although it’s disappointing from a fan’s point of view.
Although the ultimate determining factor in this “rivalry” would be these two ALL-NBA players in a seven-game series. Both teams would need to make it to the NBA Finals, which isn’t happening anytime soon. There’d need to be several bad breaks to befall other squads, clearing a path for Denver and Philly. One could make it, but the odds of both doing so are too long. So, for now, we’ll have to settle for watching these behemoths match up twice each season and base arguments around those head-to-head battles and overall stats.
Joel talks about how the pressure shouldn’t be on him in this equation with Jokić. He may have a point to some extent since considerable pressure seems to have been placed on Embiid the past few years because the Sixers haven’t come close to winning a title. The closest the Nuggets have come was making the Western Conference Finals in 2020 during the Orlando bubble playoffs, and that was before he won an MVP. So, in that regard, the former scoring champ has a valid point.
Unfortunately for Embiid, the pressure will stay on his shoulders, especially with the MVP award hanging in the balance. Tonight was supposed to be the return bout in which Jokić attempted to get his win back and gain ground in the MVP hunt. Jokić trails the Philly favorite in this race for the association’s top honor. All Denver needs to do now is beat Philadelphia, and Joker should be able to close the gap in the minds of many voters.