Repel or not, the most relevant charge we can pin on Joel Embiid right now is his rise to the top of the Kia race to the MVP ladder.
The Philly Big Man controversially crowned promotion just before Wednesday celebrates his 29th birthday.
Embiid blew the whistle for his sixth foul with 4:12 left after rolling over Evan Mobley while dumping a 19ft jumper, Embiid pleaded referee Derek Richardson as the crowd of 19,432 erupted at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and a disqualification expected.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers immediately signaled a retest.
Result: No call.
That reversal kept the Sixers’ big man grounded to finish a 36-point, 18-rebound feat as Philadelphia extended the NBA’s current longest winning streak to six games by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-109. The matchup represented the final clash between the Sixers and Cavaliers, which determined the tiebreaker for two teams currently sitting third and fourth in the East.
Embiid hits two-way dominance almost every night, shooting 60% overall and 50% on 3-pointers during that winning streak to lead a team with 8.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.5 blocks per game anchor that is since the All 8-3 -Star break.
“I thought it was a good decision,” Embiid said of Wednesday’s replay. “Just before the hit you could see that it was already starting to flop. I watch basketball every day and I was pretty sure they would call it something else.”
Of course, Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff disagreed.
“It’s clear as day, that’s an indictment,” he said.
What is undisputed (from this vantage point), however, is where Embiid currently faces off against the rest of Kia’s MVP hopes, while the Sixers prepare for a Friday matchup in Charlotte (7 ET, NBA league pass).
So we’re rearranging the top of the leaderboard to reflect Embiid’s recent rift, not to mention the Denver Nuggets’ recent struggles, led by reigning back-to-back MVP winner Nikola Jokic. The international greats occupy the top spots in the latest Kia Race to the MVP ladder and the betting action has shifted in that direction too, with Action Network, FanDuel and DraftKings recently making Embiid the betting favorite to win the award.
But as quickly as action has changed Embiid’s direction, we all know this race is possible and probable will Take another turn as you come down the track as teams compete for post-season positioning.
Lurking at No. 3 in the rankings, Giannis Antetokounmpo had played in just three of Milwaukee’s last six games, scoring 25 points in a 139-123 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Thursday. Antetokounmpo has averaged 35.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg over that span for a Bucks roster that is finally making a comeback after a string of injuries earlier in the season.
“We are a really good team. But nothing is guaranteed in life,” said Antetokounmpo. “Hopefully we can go out and compete with everyone we have on this team. Before we even get there, we have to compete with health. That’s the #1 opponent we have right now. When we are healthy we have the opportunity to go out and compete and try to get what we deserve.”
Jayson Tatum, meanwhile, checks in at No. 4 despite shooting 12-for-38 in his last two games while playing 2-for-18 with 3-pointers in that span.
Luka Doncic is close to dropping out of the top 5. He missed his third straight game on Wednesday with a left thigh strain as Dallas defeated San Antonio (137-128) in overtime to suffer a three-game sled.
And now the top 5 in the Kia race 2022-23 to the MVP ladder:
1.Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Ranking of the last week: No. 2
Season Stats: 33.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.1 apg
Seven straight 30-point performances put the NBA’s top scorer at #1 on this week’s MVP ladder. Embiid produced another gem Wednesday against Cleveland’s No. 2 defense with 36 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks, marking the third straight outing the three-block bigman has amassed at least 30 points. The 29-year-old became the first player since Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal to pull off the feat, and he took every opportunity to smash all 10 of his free-throw attempts. Reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Embiid leads a Sixers roster that’s 20-12 on the road with nine more games on the schedule away.
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Ranking of the last week: number 1
Season Stats: 24.8 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 9.9 apg
Jokic helped the Nuggets on a season-high four-game losing streak on Thursday with a 30-point performance in the club’s 119-100 win over the Detroit Pistons. The win secured Denver’s Northwest Division as Jokic finished just one assist away from his 28th triple-double of the season. “I told our team it was a good win,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “Get a playoff spot, won your division, that’s great. Let this be the start of something special. We’ve lost four in a row, the lowest for us this season.” However, it’s clear the tough times haven’t stopped Jokic from harboring higher expectations. Check out the Denver tall man’s recent remarks in his ‘Timeout With Taylor Rooks’ interview.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Ranking of the last week: #3
Season Stats: 31.4 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 5.5 apg
Milwaukee became the first team to have 50 wins and secured first place in the league in the postseason on Tuesday, behind a 36-point and 11-rebound performance from Antetokounmpo, who finished the night before in a 133-124 win against Sacramento had accumulated 46 points. When Khris Middleton has 31 points and nine assists, like he did against the Kings, you know you’re cooking with hot fat. As Antetokounmpo pointed out, it’s imperative that the Bucks stay healthy during the stretch run. In Thursday’s loss to Indiana, Antetokounmpo played in his 711th career game with the Bucks, tying Junior Bridgeman (1974-84) for the most in franchise history.
4.Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Ranking of the last week: number 4
Season Stats: 30.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.7 apg
Along with Embiid and Antetokounmpo, Tatum is one of three players in the NBA with an average of 30 points or more and nine rebounds. He is also the trio’s second-most victorious competitor this season as the Celtics have 48 wins (just behind Antetokounmpo’s 50). If the 25-year-old continues to contribute at this pace, he will become the first player in team annals to achieve those averages in a single season. Those stats would dwarf the previous record held by Celtics legend Larry Bird in the 1987-88 season (29.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg). Halfway through a six-game road trip Friday, the Celtics face Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers (10 ET, NBA league pass) before heading to Utah and Sacramento to complete the trip. If Boston finds a way to reclaim first place in the east, we could see Tatum move up into the top five.
5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Ranking of the last week: #5
Season Stats: 33.0ppg, 8.6rpg, 8.0apg
Doncic tried to work his way through a left thigh strain that has hampered him for several games. But the pain from the injury continued to worsen, causing the superstar point guard to miss his third straight game in San Antonio on Wednesday. The good news is that an MRI on Doncic’s left thigh reportedly showed no damage. But the Mavericks are eighth in the West after losing six of their last 10 in a couple of tough matchups on the road. First they visit the Lakers on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV), followed by a clash Monday in Memphis. Doncic isn’t expected to miss much time, but it’s important to note that co-star Kyrie Irving (Foot) has also been sidelined in three straight games for a club to avoid a place in the Play-In tournament .
The next five:
6. Domantas Sabonis, Kings of Sacramento (Last week’s ranking: #8)
7. Julius Randle, New York Knicks (Last week’s ranking: #7)
8th. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (Last week’s ranking: #10)
9. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week’s ranking: #9)
10 Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
And five more (listed alphabetically): Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns; De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings; Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz; Yes Morant, Memphis Grizzlies.
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Michael C. Wright is senior writer for NBA.com. You can email him Herefind his archive Here and keep following him Twitter.
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