This year’s MVP discourse feels like it gets weirder and uglier with each passing day.
Nikola Jokic has won the last two awards with Joel Embiid finishing as runner-up. They’re neck and neck here as the regular season winds down. This past Monday was supposed to give us an opportunity to see the best two big men in the sport go head-to-head.
Alas, Embiid’s balky right calf, which has been bothering him for over a week, ended all of that fun. With news that Embiid would miss the potential MVP showdown, people lost their minds.
When asked if he felt like missing that game would hurt his MVP chances, Embiid was unmoved.
“I don’t care,” Embiid said postgame Wednesday.” Like I said, it’s all about the playoffs.”
In typical Embiid fashion, he said he didn’t care ... but then still felt the need to defend himself.
“I mean, if one game was gonna hurt anybody’s chances, I guess everybody should be out of it. We all have bad games. Guys miss matchups. It’s not the first time.”
Embiid returned to the lineup Wednesday in the Sixers’ 116-108 win over the Mavericks in the team’s return to the Wells Fargo Center. They’d just concluded a tough four-game road trip by losing three straight games out West.
The schedule makers were not kind to the Sixers for the month of March, with the team playing a stretch of 12 out of 15 games on the road. It seems like the brutal late-season slate might be catching up to the Sixers a bit here with both James Harden and Embiid banged up.
Embiid hadn’t missed a game since a road win in Miami back on March 1. Despite missing the entire second half of the Sixers’ blowout win in Chicago last Wednesday, he planned to play in all three games against Golden State, Phoenix and Denver. After a dominant 46-point performance against the Warriors Friday, Embiid did not look like himself the next night in a loss to the Suns.
Embiid tried to give it a go during Monday shootaround, but the decision was made to hold him out. It’s a decision that could cost him his first MVP — though it probably shouldn’t.
“I think Joel’s body of work speaks for itself,” Doc Rivers said pregame. “We did the right thing there. So I don’t think that’s fair. You’re not judged from one game that I know of. You’re judged for the entire season of work and your team’s record, and how you perform. And he’s been dominant all year.”
Of course Embiid’s interview with The Athletic’s Shams Charania, where it appeared he took veiled shots at Jokic, didn’t help matters.
It felt like unfortunate timing. Embiid can be brash, but he has really backed it up most of the time. Despite the quotes, Embiid insists there’s no bad blood between he and Jokic.
“He’s a great player, amazing player,” Embiid said. “Back-to-back MVP. He’s one of the best players in the league and I’m a huge fan. So not playing against him was a huge bummer, but there’s a bigger goal in sight, and that’s to make sure we’re healthy for the playoffs.”
What’s funny is there was a time where Embiid was accused of skipping out on lesser games so he would be healthy and available for national games and bigger matchups. To hear talking heads and see Twitter pundits insinuate Embiid was “ducking” the matchup is laughable.
In Embiid’s last matchup with Jokic back in late January, he dropped 47 points and 18 rebounds in a win. In his last matchup against Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has the third-best odds to win MVP, Embiid had 31 and 10 assists while getting multiple key stops on the Greek Freak down the stretch.
Injuries happen. Unfortunately, Embiid knows that as well as anyone. That’s why he only has one goal in mind.
“I got nothing to prove,” Embiid said. “The last matchup [against Jokic] we won and I had whatever I had. To go out and say that I’m scared after what I did last time, it’s kind of stupid ... I don’t care if I win it or not. ... I’m just focused on trying to win a championship and whatever happens happens.”