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Around the NBA: Nets set to clinch playoff matchup vs Sixers, scoring title race, MVP narratives, tank season

Storylines you should keep an eye on this evening

Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers visit the Atlanta Hawks this evening, on the second night of a back-to-back. Joel Embiid, we learned per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer will not even travel as the team begins hunkering down for the playoffs.

JoJo, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, P.J. Tucker, De’Anthony Melton and Tobias Harris have all been ruled OUT. So we’ll get an extended look at the bench players.

Here’s what else to root for around the league, besides some Jaden Springer buckets.

Scoring title on the line

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Embiid has the rare chance to become the first center since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to win back-to-back scoring titles. Kareem did that like over 50 years ago so that would be a historic accomplishment for Embiid.

To play both ends of the floor as hard as Joel does, at this historically uptempo, perimeter-oriented NBA, while protecting the rim for a top-eight overall defense... holy smokes.

And if he can secure that top points per game average, it certainly wouldn’t hurt his MVP candidacy.

Joel has retaken the top spot on the KIA MVP ladder.

So here’s what it comes down to.

Joel has scored 2,183 total points in his 66 games, good for 33.0757 points. The reason I’m going deep into the thousandths column here is because we’re on very close points watch tonight.

Luka Dončić is active tonight for the Dallas Mavericks game vs. the Chicago Bulls. Dončić has scored 2,125 points in 65 games. That puts him at 32.692 points per game now.

So if Embiid is done suiting up for the season, here’s what Luka would need to do in order to best him for the scoring title....

Doncic would need to drop 59 points if he only plays one of the team’s final two games.

But update! Luka is only going to play in the first quarter. So that should just about put an end to this one.

Kyrie Irving is out, along with several other key members of the Mavs’ core.

Can Luka drop 59 points in a quarter? If so, you tip your cap to him.

Brooklyn can clinch the 6 seed, matchup vs. the Sixers in round one

Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Get ready for a few weeks of reminders that the 76ers drafted Mikal Bridges then traded him during their “we don’t need a real GM” collaborative days.

Originally, the Orlando Magic basically scratched their whole team from the ballgame late last night.

Then they apparently started unscratching key players. I wonder if Adam Silver called them and said “hey, don’t be too blatant in your tankings!” Or maybe Joe Tsai, owner of the Nets called and said “hey, list a few dudes questionable so we can sell a few more tickets before you rule everyone out please!” Or maybe the Magic are gonna play their studs, we’ll see.

But I’ll be rooting for the Nets to take care of business because I’d certainly rather see the Sixers host Mikal Bridges and the Nets than Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and the ruthless Heat. They always make life hell on the Sixers, as Butler has won nearly twice as many games as he’s lost vs. his former squad since departing for South Beach.

If the Nets win later: that books the Sixers round one match.

If the Nets lose: then Brooklyn would still lock up the six seed if Miami loses to Washington this evening.

After playing and winning last night, Butler, Bam and Tyler Herro have already been ruled out for Friday.

But the Wizards don’t seem hellbent on winning either. Check out Washington’s injury report:

So keep your eye on that one. Washington would much rather lose and improve some tight lottery odds. Not a ton of separation at the bottom, per

If somehow the Nets lose, and the Heat win this evening, it makes Sunday’s Sixers-Nets game quite a bit more interesting. Would the Sixers play to win, and increase their chances of hosting Miami?

Or would they continue to rest the heck out of their guys, simultaneously increasing their chances of losing?

Is Joel cognizant of the total games played thing for MVP considerations?

He wouldn’t even have to fly on a plane to suit up for that one at Barclays.

The Dallas Mavericks draft pick

Memphis Grizzlies v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

Another reason this Mavs-Bulls game is worth keeping an eye on....

The Mavericks owe their 2023 first-round pick to the New York Knicks from the Kristaps Porzingis trade years ago. But the Mavs protected it 1-10. So as ESPN’s Tim MacMahon says in the clip above, the Mavs are executing a “transparent tank job” and no longer believe they can make playoff noise, but believe they can control whether or not they finish with the 10-best lottery odds.

If you’re a little bit worried that the New York Knicks might make a splash trade for a star this summer, this would be one less lottery pick (likely in the 11-13 range) Knicks President Leon Rose would have on draft day. (Chances are it won’t be this high again next season.)

Knicks fans would hate that and so they’re rooting hard for Dallas to win out.

There’s also the non-zero chance that if the Mavericks keep their pick, they could move up in the draft and land a budding star like Victor Wembanyama. So they should do all they can to lose. Luka playing in just the first quarter makes you wonder if he has some total games incentive in his contract. And makes you look ahead to an NBA future where guys need to hit certain game-minimums to remain eligible for All-NBA awards.

I sprained my ankle but I need to log 20 minutes to remain eligible for an award!

You get the sense Luka wouldn’t suit up at all if it wasn’t “I feel Slovenia” night in Dallas.

If somehow the Mavericks bench players win this game, somewhere Mark Cuban will be pulling his hair out like the owner in “Major League” (or more recently early seasons of “Ted Lasso”) rooting against their own squad.

Bucks host Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Part of Giannis’ chances at his third MVP is the Milwaukee Bucks win total and that surrounding narrative. Giannis, Jrue Holiday, and Brook Lopez are all ruled out, resting this evening.

So Joel can maintain his “availability” argument over Giannis.

But The Greek Freak can build upon his “team record” argument even if he’s not playing.

For example, there could be some MVP voters who’d be potentially swayed by the Bucks having won 60 total games. A loss tonight vs. a motivated Grizzlies group would cost them the chance to hit that pretty number.

You and I might whine that the Bucks have an amazing record and defensive rating when Giannis sits out so that shouldn’t benefit him here.

But would each and every MVP voter bother to fact-check details like that? “Best player on a 60 win team” has a nice ring to it, right?

Memphis is likely to finish as a second seed out West, but they can still technically lose that and drop down to the three.

So I’ll be keeping my eye on all that. Go Bulls. Go Grizzlies. Stop Luka... with... Andre Drummond and Ayo Dosunmu.

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