The Brooklyn Nets might be stuck battling for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, but they have plenty of opinions on the team staring down at them in the standings. Nets head coach Steve Nash said there is only one man deserving of the NBA MVP trophy — and it’s not Joel Embiid.
Nash wasn’t picking a fight with Embiid or the Philadelphia 76ers, he just thinks another player earned it more during those 19 games Embiid was out with a knee injury. Denver Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic has been dominant all year, especially when star guard Jamal Murray went down indefinitely. Denver has gone 10-4 without Murray in the lineup.
“Clearly, I think Jokic is the MVP this year,” Nash told reporters on Saturday. “He’s kind of gone wire to wire at this high level and makes his teammates better and makes everything go. They lose Jamal Murray, and they haven’t really skipped a beat. That shows how good he is.”
Never mind that the Sixers have been stacking dubs in the East. Philadelphia is two wins shy of clinching the No. 1 seed behind their rejuvenated and unstoppable center. Embiid has averaged 28 points and 9.5 rebounds per game since coming back while getting to the free-throw line at a record clip.
Shouldn’t the MVP award go to the best player on the best team? Sixers head coach Doc Rivers thinks so. He added that Embiid’s success lifts up the entire locker room.
“I think any individual award, no one does anything by themselves, right? So I think it would be a feel-good thing for the entire locker room,” Rivers told reporters. “You know, obviously for Joel, because it is a hell of an accomplishment.”
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Embiid Questionable Versus Indiana
The Sixers might not have their MVP candidate on the court tomorrow night when they travel to Indiana. Embiid was ruled questionable with an undisclosed illness (not COVID-19). Dwight Howard and Mike Scott would pick up the extra minutes in his absence. Meanwhile, Matisse Thybulle (hand) and Furkan Korkmaz (ankle) were officially ruled out against the Pacers.
For Rivers, it’s a good chance to empty the bench and see what some of the younger guys can do. He might need to lean on them in the playoffs.
“Here’s the bottom line: everybody has to be playing their best right now, at least once the playoffs start,” Rivers said. “And if you aren’t, you go home. That’s what makes the playoffs so great. The playoffs are about growth and mental toughness.”
Hitting That 70% Qualifier for Statistics
Another thing to consider in the MVP race is whether Embiid plays enough games to qualify for certain league-leading statistics. NBA rules state that a player must see action in at least 70% of his team’s games for his statistics to qualify. Embiid is right on the cusp, at 72% of the Sixers’ 68 regular-season games.
He ranks third in points per game (29.2) and 10th in rebounding (10.7) while leading everyone in free-throw attempts per game (11.0). The 7-footer would need to participate in two of the remaining four games to stay in the conversation. Or maybe he would prefer to rest up for the playoffs.
“That’s not what I’m focused on,” Embiid said of winning MVP back on April 15. “I’m focused on winning every single game and getting to the playoffs healthy to try to win what matters the most. That’s the NBA championship.”