Sweat trickled off Joel Embiid’s bushy beard after finishing what he called “a bad night” Thursday in Philadelphia’s 105-87 drubbing of the Los Angeles Lakers.
With Lakers star LeBron James sitting due to a sore left knee for what we all expected to be yet another Kia MVP Ladder matchup, Embiid scored fewer than 30 points for just the second time in his last 16 outings to lead the Sixers to their third straight victory.
Never mind the fact he posted a near triple-double in the process (26 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists).
Interrupting Charles Barkley in the postgame on-court interview on TNT’s “Inside the NBA”, Embiid blurted: “I’m pissed off I had a bad night tonight. It wasn’t a good night.”
Bad for Embiid certainly qualifies as great for most of his NBA peers.
Perhaps that’s how the Philly big man continues to move up in our Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.
Embiid climbs to No. 2 in this latest edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, while Denver superstar Nikola Jokic clings to the top spot and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo falls to No. 3.
“To be the MVP, you’ve got to win games,” Embiid said. “So, that’s my main focus. We’ve got to continue to do what we’ve been doing. We’ve been playing great as of late. Obviously, we started the year pretty well, and COVID hit us. I missed a couple of games because of COVID, and we lost a couple of them. But now, we’re starting to get back in a rhythm and get some guys back. So, it’s great.
“To be the MVP, my focus is on winning, and obviously, I’m asked to be our best defensive player, offensive player, and playmaker. And I love it. So, that’s what we’ve been doing as a team.”
As an individual, though, Embiid continues to carry fifth-place Philadelphia through an ultra-competitive conference, where the sixth-place Milwaukee Bucks are just two games behind the East-leading Miami Heat in the standings. Embiid grinded through his 20th consecutive game Thursday after missing 11 contests earlier in the season. The Sixers own a record of 26-11 so far when he plays, and they’re an Eastern Conference-best 13-3 since Christmas. Philadelphia is 3-8 this season without Embiid in the fold.
So, while Embiid’s recent streak of four straight games with at least 35 points and 10 boards came to a close Thursday, keep in mind that he and Lakers star Anthony Davis are two of just four players since the 1976-77 to even accomplish that feat.
Embiid also moved past Moses Malone for No. 16 on Philadelphia’s career scoring list, while becoming the first Sixers player to be named a starter for the NBA All-Star Game for five consecutive seasons since Hall of Famer Allen Iverson (1999-2000 to 2005-06).
And now, the Top 5 this week in the 2021-22 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Season stats: 26.1 ppg, 13.8 rpg, 7.6 apg
The reigning MVP has put together four triple-doubles over his last seven outings, and notched a 26-point double-double Wednesday to lead Denver’s third-straight victory. The night before in Detroit, Jokic scored 28 points to go with 21 rebounds and nine assists in 34 minutes. That performance marked Jokic’s fourth 20-20 game of the season. For context, the rest of the NBA this season (eight players) has combined for eight such showings. In the first quarter against the Pistons, Jokic notched his 3,000th assist to become the only Nugget to produce 5,000 rebounds and 3,000 assists.
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week’s ranking: No. 3
Season stats: 28.9 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 4.3 apg
We continue to discuss all the different ways Embiid can beat you, and this dime to Matisse Thybulle against the Lakers is just the latest example. Apparently, he’s a nice guy, too. Embiid and New Orleans two-way rookie guard Jose Alvarado were whistled Tuesday for a double technical foul after a confrontation, with the latter informing reporters Thursday that the Sixers big man promised to pay his fine. “I just felt like [that was] the least I can do because I made him pick up a tech, and he doesn’t make as much as other guys in the league,” Embiid explained after Thursday’s win against the Lakers.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Season stats: 28.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 6.0 apg
Luckily for hoops fans, Antetokounmpo plays basketball quite a bit better than he tells jokes. A two-time MVP, Antetokounmpo reached another milestone Thursday when he was named to his sixth NBA All-Star Game. Named a starter in the game, Antetokounmpo is now tied with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the franchise record in All-Star selections (1969-70 to 1974-75), while passing Hall of Fame guard Sidney Moncrief, who went to five consecutive All-Star games (1982-86). In case you forgot, Antetokounmpo is the reigning All-Star Game MVP, too. Antetokounmpo and Jokic are the only players in the NBA currently averaging at least 25-plus points, 10-plus rebounds, and five-plus assists.
4. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
Last week’s ranking: No. 5
Season stats: 14.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 10.1 apg
We don’t think of Paul as a scorer, but the 36-year-old proved Wednesday that he can still light up opponents, dropping 21 points in a win against the Utah Jazz as Phoenix rolled to its seventh straight victory. The performance marked Paul’s 436th career game with 20 points or more with five-plus assists, which ranks as the 12th most such games in league annals. If Paul duplicates that feat, he’ll tie Magic Johnson for 437 games with that stat line. In each of Paul’s last two games, he’s racked up 15 points in the fourth quarter, and leads the NBA in total plus-minus (+71) in clutch time this season.
5. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
Last week’s ranking: No. 7
Season stats: 26.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.8 apg
It was nice to see teammate Zach LaVine announce on Chicago’s flight to San Antonio for Friday’s matchup that DeRozan was headed to his fifth NBA All-Star Game and his first since the 2017-18 season. DeRozan is an All-Star starter for the fifth time in his career. “It’s always an honor, especially when you get voted in by the fans,” DeRozan said. “Just being a player that the fans want to see is definitely an honor. I would never, ever take that for granted. From being an All-Star year in and year out, to kind of [going] idle for a little a couple of years, we don’t get younger in this league. So, for me just to overcome everything, and coming into a new situation, and everything that’s been going on team-wise, it just makes it special.”
The Next Five:
6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (Last week: No. 6)
7. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (Last week: No. 4)
8. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (Last week: No. 8)
9. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week: unranked)
10. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (Last week: No. 10)
And five more (listed alphabetically): Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat; Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks; Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers; Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz; Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks.
Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.