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Sixers fan watch guide: MVP and scoring title race, crucial standings slate, vaccine updates

Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo all play basketball tonight. Matisse Thybulle, Ja Morant, LeBron James, and Jayson Tatum do not. Storylines galore.

Philadelphia 76ers v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s a huge night in the NBA with big implications for finalizing regular season award cases, and also some playoff, Play-In seeding stuff to keep our eyes on. Let’s look around the NBA for some Sixers-centric storylines, shall we?

We’ll begin with the one that has the most fans talking.

Matisse Thybulle’s vaccination status

Philadelphia 76ers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Our Sean Kennedy wrote about the big story that Sixers top wing defender Matisse Thybulle is ineligible to play in Toronto on Thursday, and since Matisse isn’t injured that poses a big problem for the Sixers.

It implies he’s either not fully vaccinated (one of two mRNA vaccines) or not at all vaccinated. If he received a J&J vaxx (you only need one jab with that one) tomorrow he could play in Canada 14 days later, per our northern neighbor’s rules.

The Sixers may (or may not) face the Raptors in round one, but these are the scenarios on everyone’s mind now.

Doc Rivers, per The Inky’s Gina Mizell, has already said we’ll know more in two weeks. But we don’t need to wait in order to read tea leaves.

If the playoffs began today, the Sixers would host the Raptors in the 4-5 bracket.

The Raptors were already one of the scarier first round matchups. Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet present all kinds of problems. They have few glaring weaknesses to attack and tend to win the coaching chess match too.

Thybulle’s absence may have a trickle down effect on the rest of the rotation. Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice writes:

“Weirdly enough, this brings Philadelphia’s management of the bench and the backup center position into further focus. Doc Rivers’ preference for DeAndre Jordan has been a hotly-debated topic in the Sixers universe recently, namely because of Philadelphia’s younger options at the position, Paul Reed and Charles Bassey. At present, the Sixers roster four separate players (Jordan, Reed, Bassey, and Paul Millsap) who are best deployed as backup centers to Joel Embiid. By allocating resources at that spot — and not using half of them to boot — the Sixers have pulled off the trifecta of spending a lot of resources on one marginal position, getting negative results from that position, and have prevented themselves from using the other roster spots to improve depth at other positions. Given that the team knew of this Thybulle possibility, the backup center fiasco is nothing short of a disaster.”

Right now the Sixers are slight favorites but it’s a huge game for plenty of reasons.

And that takes us to our next thing to watch.

Sixers backup center minutes is officially a tinderbox

Philadelphia 76ers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

If the Sixers lose a close game tonight and one of DeAndre Jordan or Paul Millsap play poorly while the Sixers get thrashed while Joel Embiid sits, we will need to sound the alarms.

Questions like can Daryl Morey really not see what’s happening or is he powerless to stop it? Why doesn’t he intervene to at least try one of the young guys? Why doesn’t he cut one of the worst bigs and tip Doc’s hand? Does Morey not feel it’s his place to insist upon certain rotations? Does Doc have as much power in the organization as Daryl? Can Embiid or Harden help their coaching staff here?

And on and on and on we’ll go.

MVP and scoring title watch

Philadelphia 76ers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Joel Embiid has struggled at times vs. the Toronto Raptors. He can exorcise a few demons and continue to stake his claim as the world’s best player tonight. A win would be key for the team’s standings. If the Sixers can steal at least the third seed that would be a few rungs higher than Denver’s (currently a 6) seed.

If Denver finished as the 6th seed and the Sixers finish as a top three seed, that wouldn’t be bad for persuading undecided MVP voters.

Nikola Jokic will play host to the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies tonight. He’s been on a tear so that’s likely to continue. Ja Morant is out and the Nuggets are favored, but hopefully, Jaren Jackson Jr. can slow down Joker a bit and help the Grizz get a win.

The Milwaukee Bucks will host the shorthanded Boston Celtics. Without Al Horford and Jayson Tatum, Giannis should continue to build his own case for MVP. If the Bucks win they’d be on a fast track for the East’s second seed. That could certainly bolster his claim or even simply pull a few voters off of Joel:

But a Bucks win is probably preferable right now anyway. More to come on that, see if you agree.

Scoring title watch

Los Angeles Lakers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron James, the closest to Joel Embiid in the scoring title race is OUT tonight. Joel is averaging 30.4 points per game, to James’ 30.3. If King’s ankle improves he could come back and try to chase history. He has a chance to become the oldest player ever to win a scoring title. But there are whispers he may just bow out now that the Lakers are officially gone fishing:

So you’ll be rooting for Joel run up his own score, while outscoring Giannis and outplaying Jokic Thursday.

Standings watch

We touched upon a couple of these items already but...

Some of the biggest news of the day outside Philly is this:

If the Bucks win later that will increase the chances that the Sixers can move up to one of the top three seeds. The Boston Celtics may have even bigger problems than the Sixers Matisse Thybulle issue if they had to face Toronto in round one.

Toronto may enjoy the best home court advantage in NBA history these playoffs. And it wouldn’t be bad for the Sixers if that was somebody else’s problem.

With this potential disaster scenario on the table for the Celtics, it’s especially eye opening they’d rest Tatum during this big game. Maybe that knee is worse than we thought?

If the Sixers can slide up a spot and position themselves to face the Chicago Bulls in round one, that would be vastly preferable.

Plenty to keep our eyes on during tonight’s slate. As our Sean Kennedy wrote earlier:

“As you can see, the Bucks and Celtics play each other next, a game happening tonight on TNT. That head-to-head matchup means that a 3-0 finish for the Sixers would mean no worse than the third seed in the East. The Sixers should definitely be shooting for at least the three spot, as, presumably, the Toronto Raptors will finish ahead of the Chicago Bulls in terms of the fifth and sixth seeds.

The Bulls represent a much better matchup for Philadelphia.”

Go give his full preview a read it’s got even more context. You’re going to need to channel surf, with a cell phone and a computer tonight to keep tabs. Grab some coffee and popcorn. I’m rooting for a Sixers win with Embiid scoring 40, a Bucks win with Giannis scoring 15, and a Grizzlies win with Jokic scoring 9.