It’s been a little bit of an odd season for Joel Embiid thus far.
On the one hand he’s more dominant than ever. In Nick Nurse’s new-look offense, Embiid is averaging a league-leading 34.9 points a game along with 11.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.1 steals. The reigning MVP somehow looks even better, and the Sixers are 22-6 when Embiid is in the lineup.
On the other hand, he’s already missed a lot of time because of injury and illness. The NBA now requires players to play at least 65 games in a season in order to qualify for awards — like MVP — and All-NBA teams. Embiid has already missed 10 games, meaning he can only miss seven more games if he has any designs on winning back-to-back MVPs. The Sixers are just 3-7 when he sits.
Most recently, Embiid missed three games with swelling in his left knee. After a dominant 41-point performance in a decisive win over the Rockets Monday, Embiid admitted that the swelling had been present for a while.
He, along with the team’s medical staff, made the decision to sit out until the swelling subsided.
“It’s been swelling for a while,” Embiid said postgame. “This is also the perfect time, because the goal is to be ready for May and June. Just wanted to be sure that we knew what was happening first, and also making sure that we look at the long run and get ready for what’s to come.”
We all know the postseason injury history for Embiid. He’s never gotten through a real postseason run healthy (unless you want to count the Sixers getting swept out of the bubble by Boston).
What’s more, Embiid said he isn’t concerned about the 65-game minimum. He’s won an MVP — he’s got his eyes on something bigger.
“I’ve always said that if I had a chance to get a second one, I’d do it, but I’m not going to force myself or push for it,” Embiid said. “My game is always going to speak for itself. … Winning, that’s the main thing. We’ve got to keep winning. Obviously, if you put up the stats to be in the conversation, that’s great, too. So yeah, that’s great.
“But at the end of the day, if something were to happen and I can’t meet the requirement for games played for that, so be it. But one thing I’m not going to do is push for it to try to make that requirement. If I’m healthy enough and these guys are letting me play, then I’ll play. If they’re telling me I’ve got to chill, then I’ll chill.”
Embiid did not elaborate on when the knee swelling actually began, but he didn’t look like himself throughout a blowout loss to the Knicks on Jan. 5. Before that, he rolled his ankle in a win over Toronto on Dec. 22. He would finish the game, but miss the next four while dealing with an ankle sprain. Prior to that, he missed three games because of an illness that affected almost the entire team at one point or another.
Still, there’s this weird narrative that he’s “ducking” tough matchups or choosing to only play tough games at home.
(People are strange, as a poet once said.)
This argument falls on its face pretty quickly.
All of the games Embiid missed he either suffered obvious injuries or was dealing with an illness along with half the Sixers’ roster. The Sixers have beaten the Celtics, Thunder (on the road) and Timberwolves (a game in which Embiid dropped 50), among others. It’s a pretty silly insinuation that Embiid is picking and choosing which games to miss ahead of time.
But if anyone can sniff out a potential troll job, its’ Troel.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Embiid said. “That’s funny, because every single time that I play, I think I dominate and we win. I put up the numbers necessary to win. That’s why you can’t read too much into it.
“One of the main things I see is that, as soon you use the name ‘Joel Embiid,’ that’s going to get you a lot of likes — and that’s going to get you a lot of money. As long as my name has a chance to get somebody some money, then I’m for it. Keep trolling. I like it, I love it.”
Contrary to popular belief, Embiid will not be ducking Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Nuggets on Tuesday. As of this writing he is not listed on the injury report, even though the Sixers played Monday. Given that the win over Houston was a matinee, the Sixers’ medical staff isn’t looking at it as a typical back-to-back.
It was a little funny to see that Jokic was actually listed as questionable Monday night — along with Denver’s entire starting five. That likely had more to do with the Nuggets’ traveling misfortune than anything as all those players are now listed as probable.
So, we should all get to see the matchup that will delight a national audience and fuel Twitter trolls.
Embiid is excited to go up against one of the few players in the world that rival him, but he’s even more eager to see how his team matches up against the defending champs.
“Best team in the league. They just won a championship, so they deserve to hold that title,” Embiid said. “Best player in the league; I’ve always said, (he’s) amazing to watch and even more fun to play against. …
“The only thing is I don’t want people to get caught up in the (personal) matchup. This is Denver and Philadelphia trying to get the win.”
It would be cool if others didn’t lose sight of that while enjoying arguably the two best players on the planet go head-to-head.