Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Phenom Joel Embiid showing stuff of future MVP candidate

Week 5: Sixers' superstar center states case after demolishing Lakers on road

Be afraid if Joel Embiid professes his love for your favorite NBA city and your team’s home arena.

Be very afraid.

“I love L.A. I love Staples Center. I wanted to come out here and put on a show, so I did,” Embiid told reporters Wednesday after rampaging through the Los Angeles Lakers for a career-high 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks.

That performance piggy-backed on the back of a 32-point, 16-rebound demolition of the LA Clippers Monday, completing Embiid’s takeover of the city and reminding us all that “The Process” is in full effect this season.

And if this is what he does to a city he loves, there’s no telling what the Philadelphia 76ers big man will do if he despises your city and arena … shoutout to Hassan Whiteside. Because no one seems to enjoy the spotlight more than Embiid (just check his social media).

His monster night against the Lakers continues a season-long rise for the Sixers, who are firmly entrenched in the never-too-early-to-talk-about Eastern Conference playoff chase, and cements his case for inclusion on this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder. Embiid is averaging 23.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.9 blocks and doing it all in just 29 minutes per game.

* Kia MVP Ladder (Nov. 10): Irving hears familiar refrain

The nimble behemoth has barged his way into the conversation with one eye-opening effort after another, minutes restriction be darned, but none more historically significant than the show he put on against the Lakers.

Embiid recorded the highest scoring total by a Sixers player in 11 years as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson was the last to do it in 2006. Embiid also recorded the first 40-point, seven-assist, seven-block game since Hall of Famer and Sixers icon Julius Erving did it in 1982.

Since the NBA started recording blocked shots, Embiid and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the only players to finish a game with at least 40, 15, seven and seven, and Abdul-Jabbar did it in four overtimes. Embiid needed just 34 minutes.

Sixers coach Brett Brown praised Embiid’s growing confidence and the growth in his game and even suggested that at least internally, they saw big things coming.

“We thought it was gonna be coming at Thanksgiving,” he said after the win over the Lakers. “Thanksgiving just happened a little bit quicker.”

All of it happening a bit quicker than some expected. Embiid, only 23, has played just 43 career NBA games, Saturday night’s visit by the Golden State Warriors will make 44.

See spotlight, insert Joel Embiid.

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The top five in the Week 5 edition of the 2017-18 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 30.7 points, 10.3 assists, 4.9 rebounds

Harden welcomed Chris Paul back to the lineup after 15 games away with a smashing effort — 33 first-half points and 48 total in a smashing of the Phoenix Suns Thursday night. Yes, you read that right: he dropped 33 in the first half against the Suns as the Rockets piled up 90 points before the break. Harden and the Rockets moved into first place in the Western Conference standings with the win and the Golden State Warriors’ loss in Boston. Most important, however, is the return of Paul to the mix. His return should ease some of the burden Harden has carried this season, not that he seems at all bothered by it. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni remembers how spent his star point guard was at the end of last season trying to do it all every night. He came into this season with a plan to share the workload between his star point guards. Now he’ll finally get to see that experiment in action.

2. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 20.6 points, 5.2 assists, 3.1 rebounds

His MVP case: Twice the Boston Celtics rallied from 17 points down to vanquish the Golden State Warriors Thursday night, with Irving scoring 11 of the Celtics’ final 15 points in the game. Boston’s win streak is now at 14 games and Irving is working with and without his protective mask, which means there’s no doubt he has the Celtics firmly entrenched as the favorite in the Eastern Conference. He didn’t come close having one of his best shooting nights against the Warriors (4-for-16 overall and 1-for-5 on 3-pointers), but he rose to the magnitude of the moment against the reigning champs. Just as impressive was his leadership, as he helped second-year forward Jaylen Brown manage on a night when he had to play after the death of his best friend.

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 25.7 points, 6.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds

His MVP case: Curry won’t want anything to do with the footage of his foul-plagued performance Thursday night in Boston. It was easily his worst performance of this season (3-for-14 shooting, 2-for-9 from deep, finishing with nine points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals). The Warriors saw their seven-game win streak snapped by a Celtics team that ran its own win streak to 14 games. Curry missed Monday’s win over Orlando with a thigh contusion but the Celtics had more to do with his struggles. They played an assortment of defenders on him and certainly took advantage of his foul troubles, that caused him to sit for critical stretches of the third quarter. You can bet Curry will be hunting a get back effort against the Sixers Saturday night in Philadelphia.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 30.6 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists

Antetokounmpo is finding out quickly why it will be beneficial to his game to have a point guard like Eric Bledsoe around to share the leadership burden. They haven’t lost since Bledsoe arrived, running off four straight wins heading into Saturday’s game against the Mavericks in Dallas, and Antetokounmpo has been able to exercise all of his muscles during this stretch. He had four of the Bucks’ 16 blocks in Wednesday’s Central Division showdown win over Detroit, adding that to his 21 points, six rebounds and three steals. As great as he’s been as a scorer early on this season, Bledsoe’s presence, particularly late in games, will allow Antetokounmpo to impact games in a myriad ways going forward. If nothing else, Antetokounmpo won’t always have to play the role of facilitator and best defender during crunch time.

5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Last week’s ranking: No. 6

Season stats: 28.3 points, 8.7 assists, 7.3 rebounds

The Cavaliers have won three straight games and four of their last five with LeBron dragging his crew along as they continue to deal with their chemistry and defensive issues. His 23 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and late-game dagger in Monday’s road win over the New York Knicks was just the latest reminder that — no matter how bleak things look for his team — there’s always a chance to turn things around when James is around. He had to perform similar heroics (31 points, eight assists, six rebounds) in Wednesday’s win in Charlotte, another game the could have easily gone the other way without his effort. We’ll see how the Cavaliers handle a little success this season tonight, when the LA Clippers show up at Quicken Loans Arena (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass). But Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t have to worry about LeBron, who is grinding away to the tune of 38-plus minutes a night, being ready.

The next five:

6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

7. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

8. DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans

9. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

10. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

And five more …:

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors; Tobias Harris, Detroit Pistons; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; John Wall, Washington Wizards, Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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Next up?

An Inside Look at Eric Bledsoe from a Western Conference scout:

“Honestly, I haven’t always been the biggest fan of his game. Not there was anything about it that I didn’t like, he just didn’t really strike me as dynamic a player as his profile suggested he should be over the years. Even back when he was with the Clippers, I felt like there was plenty of talent to work with there, but his game never seemed to fully develop. But I have to admit, he’s a perfect fit at this time for Milwaukee and I cannot say enough about [Bucks coach Jason] Kidd and what he can do for Bledsoe’s game and really just his understanding of the position and how he can unlock things for all those young guys on that roster.”

“First and foremost, you out a ballhawking defender in front of all that length and defensively, it could be scary. You saw what they did to Detroit (Wednesday night). That rim protection with all that length, they can sit back and cut off all angles to the basket with the ball pressure Bledsoe provides. The real test, though, is going to be how he plays in some of those marquee matchup against the other elite point guards. We know he can put up numbers on a bad team. He did that with no problem in Phoenix. And I realize that’s not an ideal situation for a guy at this stage of his career, so I’m not passing judgment on how he exited that situation. But what’s he going to do with the spotlight on him in some of those bigger matchups, in the playoffs? That’s the lingering question for me. Will he raise his game and the games of his teammates with his play?”

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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