The Sixers had a brutal road trip in front of them, but after a decisive, and (let’s be honest) noncompetitive win over the Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards led Minnesota Timberwolves, the 76ers finished off the journey 4-1.
They knocked off Giannis Antetokounmpono over the weekend, then handled two more wins since to improve to 43-22, powered, of course, by their perennial MVP finalist, Joel “The Process” Embiid.
They’re just 1.5 games behind Boston for the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and four games behind the Bucks for first.
On Tuesday night, Embiid had 39 points, seven boards, three blocks, and one steal. He drained all four of his triples, and all nine of this free throws. He’s unreal.
After the game, TNT’s Chris B. Haynes caught up with the native of Yaoundé, Cameroon, and asked him a few questions.
playing Gobert “doesn’t necessarily motivate me…. It doesn’t matter who I’m playing…No disrespect to any of them but MVPs, DPOYs, that doesn’t mean anything to me I’m still gonna be the best player on the floor.”— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 8, 2023
Haynes asked Embiid about the groove the six-time All-Star has been in lately:
“I’m trying to do whatever it takes to win games,” Embiid said. “Obviously, last night we had basically a track meet with Indiana, with how fast they play. And tonight, without James [Harden we] just wanted to be as aggressive as possible. To make sure we got the win and we played really good defense, and offensively we moved the ball and we made a lot of shots.”
The Sixers beat Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner and the Indiana Pacers Monday, 147-143. In that one Joel had 42 points, and James Harden had 14 points, 20 assists, and 9 boards. With his prolific, and dominant road trip, Joel has pulled himself even in the points per game category with Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic. Both international studs score 33.3 ppg.
If Embiid winds up with more points per game than Luka by the regular season finale, he’ll become the first center to lead the league in scoring in back-to-back years since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar accomplished the feat between 1970-1972.
(Extreme Marc Zumoff voice): And oh by the way, one James Harden is on pace to lead the NBA in assists per game. Not a bad duo, huh partner?
How motivating is it to go up against a guy like Rudy Gobert, who has won Defensive Player of the Year three times, Haynes asked next.
“It doesn’t necessarily motivate me,” Embiid said. “But it’s the same thing with every big in the league. It does’t matter who I’m playing, I just feel like I’m gonna do my thing regardless. I’m gonna dominate. No disrespect to any of them. But MVPs, Defensive Player of the Year, that doesn’t mean anything to me I’m still gonna be the best player on the floor.”
And finally, Haynes checked Joel’s temperature on the “heated debate” about who the favorite for 2023 MVP is? Who does Joel feel is the favorite, objectively?
“Ummm, I don’t know, that’s not for me to answer. I feel like, y’know, obviously [I’ve] been in the running the last few years. Has been whatever, and this year I’ve taken a different approach, just trying to focus on the right things: y’know win games, dominate, which I’ve been doing and whatever happens happens. Obviously, who wouldn’t love to win one [MVP], that’s the best award anyone can get. But like I said, I’m just focused on making sure, first of all staying healthy, winning games, and dominating. But I’m excited about the playoffs, that’s when I feel like, I feel good. I feel good about myself and my team. So I just want to make sure that all of us, we get there healthy, and we do what we gotta do.”
“I’m excited about the playoffs. That’s when, y’know I feel like, y’know, I feel good. I feel good about myself and my team.”— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 8, 2023
Joel Embiid almost had a little gleam in his eyes when he said he feels good about the playoffs to @ChrisBHaynes after the win. pic.twitter.com/ICabKJDTVV
The Sixers still have games at Cleveland, Golden State, Phoenix, Denver, and Milwaukee. At home, they’ll host Boston, Dallas, Toronto, and Miami. Embiid has an outside but real chance at MVP here. But he may have to continue running roughshod through the league’s best. But these days, with Harden and Tyrese Maxey playing as well as they have been, and occupying some of the defenses attention, it’s hard to doubt him. If Embiid wins MVP, it will be because he just kept on crushing, while trusting his teammates to keep knocking down shots.