76ers news: Joel Embiid’s MVP push falters after night off in Denver

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers, who surpassed Boston in the East standings for a brief moment a week prior, have now lost four of their last five games. The 3-seed feels like destiny and the Sixers appear content to prioritize rest over seeding — smart, considering the team’s recent history with postseason injuries.

That said, resting players can be a controversial strategy. Especially when it involves sitting your MVP candidate against his primary competition for the award. The Sixers decided to let Embiid rest his lingering calf injury on Monday night, letting the role players scrap and claw their way to a respectable loss in Denver.

Rather than getting the most hyped individual showdown of the season, NBA fans were treated to a relative snoozefest and an onslaught of disingenuous, hot-takey discourse. Embiid is ducking that smoke, claimed ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins. We have to craft some sort of narrative, because god forbid a player simply rest his injured leg instead of playing a third game in four nights on the road.

Is 76ers’ Joel Embiid still the frontrunner to win MVP?

Letting one game determine your opinion on the MVP — especially when the player literally did not play in the game — is beyond ridiculous. There’s a credible case to be made that Embiid has missed too many games relative to Jokic (14 to 8) when splitting hairs in such a tight MVP race. But to act like Embiid’s decision was born out of image preservation is simply disingenuous considering the All-Star’s track record of showing up for big games. He quite literally gave Jokic 47, 18, and 5 when the teams played two months ago.

What instigated this particularly harsh storm of discourse, however, was an interview Embiid did with Shams Charania of The Athletic. Naturally, it dropped the morning of his supposed matchup with Jokic and the Nuggets. In the interview, Embiid laid out his thoughts on past miscarriages of justice in the MVP race and why he believes he deserves the award (even if he doesn’t care about it anymore, allegedly).

It’s good for players to want validation and his competitive nature has long been part of the appeal with Embiid. He sincerely believes in his talent and he wants to prove doubters wrong. That said, blatantly criticizing Jokic’s defense and going on about how your really don’t care about the award tends to give the exact opposite impression. To have that article drop the morning of the game, followed by Embiid not playing in the game, was the perfect maelstrom to unleash the take machine and potentially tank his MVP chances.

Embiid has been the leader in the clubhouse for MVP for a couple weeks now. After Monday’s debacle, the odds are hitting a plateau and it’s not difficult to feel the momentum shifting back in Jokic’s direction. Jokic is a deserving candidate, but his victory being charged by an Embiid rest day would be the worst outcome possible and it would only add fuel to the fire of the “Jokic robbed Embiid! The media hates Embiid!” narrative.

More 76ers news

  • After the Nuggets’ win on Monday, Nikola Jokic took the high road and praised Embiid’s immense talent. We as a collective are probably (read: definitely) overblowing Embiid’s comments, but the optics were plainly very bad. There is a section of the voter block likely partial to Jokic’s brand of quiet dominance. He doesn’t campaign for the award and he doesn’t really seem to care about individual numbers the way Embiid might on occasion.

"“I think he’s a great player. I think he’s gonna be remembered as one of the most dominant players in the league. The guy’s a beast, and he’s so talented… He can affect [the game] many ways on the floor. He can post up, he can face up, he can shoot 3s. He can defend really well. He can, in some situations, guard one through five. So he’s a really, really good player.”"

  • Joel Embiid and James Harden are both listed as questionable for the Sixers’ Wednesday night showdown with Dallas. This feels like a logical return to action for both players with Philly desperate to get a few more wins under its belt before the playoffs.
  • Brooklyn’s Ben Simmons is going to miss the rest of the season with a nerve impingement in his back. We talked about the depressing trajectory of Ben’s career on the most recent podcast episode.
  • Sixers owner Josh Harris is spearheading a group in the running to purchase the Washington Commanders. Philly fans rather famously do not like the Washington Commanders, so that could be interesting.

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