Start ringing the bells in Philadelphia.
After a shaky start, the Sixers have completely flipped the switch and are starting to look like the contenders they were pegged to be coming into the 2022-23 season.
They’ve lost just five games in the last 60 days, during which they’ve strung together two separate streaks of six wins or more and boast the league’s best record since the turn of the new year.
For most of the season, the Celtics and Nets were the talk of the East amongst many fans and pundits, and rightfully so. Boston got off to the fastest start of any team in the league and still holds the overall best record. Brooklyn was rolling prior to Kevin Durant’s MCL injury and had rattled off a league-best 12 straight wins at one point.
All the while, the Sixers were quietly operating in the shadows – rattling off wins of their own while getting healthier and more acclimated on the court to where they now look like a well-oiled machine.
This current Philly squad is a far cry from the team that was hovering around .500 for the first quarter of the season. Getting James Harden and Tyrese Maxey back in the fold after early-season injuries has certainly helped efforts, but Embiid’s red-hot play is the biggest catalyst for the turnaround.
The proof is in the numbers: The star center is averaging just over 33 points in his last 10 games and has scored 30 or more in 13 of his last 15 outings. His league-best 33.5 points per game average also has him on pace to comfortably eclipse his 30.6 ppg mark from last season.
Embiid has already shot up the Kia MVP Ladder, and if his gaudy outputs continue to translate to wins, he’ll have as strong of a case as anyone to take home the award when it’s all said and done.
*All stats through Thurs., Feb. 2
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Cameroon)
Stats over last 2 weeks: 32.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 4.0 apg
Embiid got the better of Nikola Jokic in Saturday’s battle of MVP favorites. He sank 18 of his 31 shot attempts for 47 points and pulled down a season-high 18 rebounds to secure what was Philly’s sixth straight win at the time. The Orlando Magic rallied from a 21-point deficit on Monday to end the streak but the Sixers redeemed themselves two days later by taking the backend of the home-and-home set, in which Embiid racked up his 24th double-double of the season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Greece)
Stats over last 2 weeks: 40.2 ppg, 14.7 rpg, 4.0 apg
Antetokounmpo has tallied a whopping 138 points over his last three outings, including a 54-point explosion in Thursday’s comeback win over the LA Clippers and a 50-point effort just four days prior against the New Orleans Pelicans. The former two-time MVP owns three of the twenty 50-point games posted this season, and his strong play has the Bucks hitting their stride just before the All-Star break – currently riding a six-game winning streak.
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Serbia)
Stats over last 2 weeks: 24.3 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 12.5 apg
Jokic held his own in Saturday’s showdown against Embiid, despite the loss. The reigning back-to-back MVP went for an efficient 24 points with eight boards and nine assists. He followed that up by posting back-to-back triple-doubles against the Pelicans and Golden State Warriors. Of all the mind-boggling stats involving Jokic, this one might be the most impressive: Denver is 17-0 this season when he records a triple-double.
Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Lithuania)
Stats over last 2 weeks: 18.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 7.0 apg
The Kings have quickly gone from a feel-good story to a legitimate playoff threat. While many of their Western Conference foes jockey for position night in and night out in the tight standings, Sacramento comfortably sits in the No. 3 spot. Sabonis deserves a large portion of the credit for the franchise’s drastic turnaround. The 26-year-old is posting career highs in field goal shooting (61.5%) and assists (7.1), and leads the league in double-doubles (39) – his most recent coming in Wednesday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs, in which he dropped a season-best 34 points.
A few more: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder; Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz.
Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers (Canada)
Stats over last 2 weeks: 21.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 45.5 fg%
Mathurin was one of 11 first-year players selected to compete in the 2023 Jordan Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend in Utah along with his teammate, Andrew Nembhard. Both Pacers rookies are deserving of the selection due to their instant impact on an Indiana team with Playoff aspirations. Mathurin in particular has tallied the most points off the bench this season (848) and has scored 20 or more in five of his last six outings.
Alperen Sengun dishes a behind-the-back DIME 👀
Watch: https://t.co/1pomQZN8Pi pic.twitter.com/fIE5YybCHU
— NBA (@NBA) February 2, 2023
Jokic handle for the and-one 🤯
🃏: 11 PTS, 8 REB, 6 AST on TNT pic.twitter.com/DsrB2wDwGp
— NBA (@NBA) February 1, 2023
DENNIS SCHRODER AT THE HALFTIME BUZZER 🤯 pic.twitter.com/7xtGmRu1Jr
— NBA (@NBA) February 1, 2023