The MVP race has largely turned into a two-person sprint between Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. These final eight regular-season contests will decide the winner. But another guy — Phoenix Suns All-Star Devin Booker — certainly deserves some consideration for the league’s highest honor.
Phoenix (61-14) owns the best record in the NBA. And Booker is the best player on the team. Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers talked about how good Booker has been this season prior to a 114-104 loss to the Suns on Sunday night. Booker played like a man possessed in that one, scoring 22 points in the first quarter en route to 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting.
“What I like about Book the most is just his inner toughness,” Rivers told reporters. “Reminds me of a lot of guys, he looks for a chip to be pissed off at … I think he’s the greatest player in the world.”
Rivers was laughing as those words came out. Obviously, the savvy coach was trying to avoid giving Booker any incentive to torch him. It didn’t matter. The three-time All-Star did it anyway and proved once again why he should be in the MVP discussion.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Rivers said of Booker’s MVP candidacy. “Again, he’s the best player in the world, right? When you factor in record and what he’s done — forget record, I think that takes away to me, I don’t like that because it kind of takes away what he’s done even though the record is important as well — then he clearly is. Anyone who says he’s not is just absolutely insane.”
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Joel Embiid Climbs KIA MVP Ladder
Joel Embiid has climbed up to the top rung on the KIA MVP Ladder. He swapped places with reigning MVP Nikola Jokic who owned the No. 1 slot last week. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, and Luka Doncic round out the top five. Devin Booker checked in at No. 7.
NBA Media’s Michael C. Wright pointed out that the Sixers are “26-8 this season when Embiid scores 30 points or more.” Embiid scored 37 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in Sunday’s loss. He notched 27 points and 10 boards on Friday in a win over the Clippers, and he finished with 30 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday’s victory over the Lakers. Embiid is averaging 29.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists in 61 games. He’s on pace to set a new career-high for games played.
“The knock on me was last year that I wasn’t healthy enough,” Embiid told The Athletic’s Sam Amick. “So to come back, take another step (with his play), and then also stay on the floor, that was a big goal for me. When you look at this year, sure it looks like I missed, what, 12 games or whatever. But nine of them were due to COVID and all that stuff. So I’m really happy, and I’m excited for myself.”
Sixers Lament ‘Wasted Possessions’ vs. Suns
Losing to Phoenix isn’t something to be ashamed of. However, it was the way the Sixers lost that was sticking in Rivers’ craw on Sunday night. His team held a 15-point lead in the second quarter before sleep-walking through the third quarter. They turned the ball over 12 times and watched the Suns convert them into 26 points. The Sixers had some really sluggish possession down the stretch, too.
“You can’t have wasted possessions,” Rivers said. “We had 17 wasted possessions tonight. Against any good team, you’re not going to win that game.”