Rushed or not, the most relevant accusation we can attribute to Joel Embiid right now is his rise to the top of Kia’s race to the MVP rankings.
The big man from Philly completed a controversial climb on Wednesday, just before is celebrating his 29th birthday.
When whistled for what would have been his sixth foul with 4:12 remaining after charging Evan Mobley while draining a 19-foot jumper, Embiid made his case to referee Derek Richardson as the crowd of 19,432 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse erupted in anticipation of a disqualification.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers immediately signaled a replay review.
Result: no call.
That turnaround kept the Sixers big man on the floor to finish a 36-point, 18-rebound masterpiece as Philadelphia extended what is now the NBA’s longest winning streak to six games by defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers, 118-109. The game represented the final meeting between the Sixers and the Cavaliers, which determined a tie for a pair of teams that currently occupy third and fourth place in the East.
Shifting two-way dominance almost nightly, Embiid is shooting 60% overall and 50% on 3-pointers during this winning streak to go along with 8.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in anchoring a team that is 8-3 since All – Star vacation.
“I thought it was a good choice,” Embiid said of Wednesday’s review. “Right before the impact, you could see that he had already started to fall. I watch basketball every day and I was pretty confident they were going to call it something else.”
Of course, Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff disagreed.
“It’s clear as day, that’s the accusation,” he said.
But what’s not in dispute (from this vantage point) is where Embiid currently stacks up against the rest of Kia’s MVP hopes with the Sixers preparing for Friday’s matchup in Charlotte (7 ET, NBA Pass).
So we’re changing the top of the order to reflect Embiid’s latest tear, not to mention the recent struggles of the Denver Nuggets led by reigning back-to-back MVP winner Nikola Jokic. International bigs are taking the top spots in the latest Kia Race to MVP rankings, and the betting action has shifted in that direction as well, with Action Network, FanDuel and DraftKings all recently making Embiid the favorite to win the award.
But as soon as the action changed Embiid’s direction, we all know this race can and probably is want take another turn with teams fighting for a postseason berth.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is lurking at No. 3 and has played in just three of Milwaukee’s last six games, scoring 25 points in Thursday’s 139-123 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Antetokounmpo averaged 35.7 points and 10.7 rebounds a game in that span for a Bucks team that appears to finally be whole again after dealing with a series of injuries earlier in the season.
“We are a really good team. But nothing is guaranteed in life,” Antetokounmpo said. “Hopefully, with everyone we have on this team, we can go there and compete. Before we even get there, we have to compete with health. That’s the number 1 opponent we have right now. If we’re healthy, we can have a chance to go out there and compete and try to get what we deserve.”
Jayson Tatum, meanwhile, checks in at No. 4, despite shooting 12-for-38 over the last two games, while going 2-for-18 on 3-pointers in that span.
Luka Dončić found himself on the verge of dropping out of the top five. He missed his third straight game Wednesday with a left hamstring strain as Dallas beat San Antonio, 137-128, in overtime to snap a three-game sweep.
And now, the top 5 in the Kia Race to MVP 2022-23 rankings:
1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week’s standings: number 2
Season statistics: 33.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.1 apg
Seven straight 30-point performances pushed the NBA’s leading scorer to the top spot in this week’s MVP rankings. Embiid dropped another gem on Wednesday against Cleveland’s No. 2 defense with 36 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks, marking the third straight outing the big man has had at least 30 points and three blocks. The 29-year-old became the first player since Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal to do so, and he took advantage of every opportunity to knock down all 10 of his free throws. The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Embiid leads a Sixers team that is 20-12 on the road with nine road games remaining.
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s standings: number 1
Season statistics: 24.8 points per game, 11.9 rebounds per game, 9.9 points per game
Jokic helped the Nuggets snap a season-high four-game losing streak with a 30-point performance in the club’s 119-100 win over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday. The win clinched the Northwest Division for Denver as Jokic finished just one assist away from recording his 28th triple-double of the season. “I told our team this was a good win,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Winning a playoff spot, winning your division, that’s great. Let this be the start of something special. We have lost four in a row, which is the least for us this season.” It is clear, however, that difficult times do not prevent Jokić from having higher expectations. Check out the Denver great’s recent statements in his “Timeout With Taylor Rooks” interview.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week’s standings: number 3
Season statistics: 31.4 points per game, 11.9 rebounds per game, 5.5 points per game
Milwaukee became the first team to win 50 games, moving into first place in the postseason on Tuesday after Antetokounmpo had 36 points and 11 rebounds, after he had 46 points the night before in a 133-124 win against Sacramento. When Khris Middleton puts up 31 points and nine assists like he did against the Kings, you know you’re cooking in hot oil. As Antetokounmpo mentioned earlier, it is imperative that the Bucks stay healthy throughout the run. In Thursday’s loss to Indiana, Antetokounmpo played in his 711th career game for the Bucks, tying Junior Bridgeman (1974-84) for the most in franchise history.
4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Last week’s standings: number 4
Season statistics: 30.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.7 apg
Tatum joins Embiid and Antetokounmpo as one of three players in the NBA to average 30 points or more with nine rebounds. He is also the second winningest competitor of the trio this season as the Celtics have 48 wins (trailing only Antetokounmpo’s 50). If the 25-year-old continues to contribute at this rate, he will become the first player in team history to record those averages in a single season. That stat would surpass the previous record set by Celtics legend Larry Bird during the 1987-88 season. (29.9 points, 9.3 rebounds per game). Halfway through a six-game road trip, the Celtics take on Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday (10 ET, NBA Pass) before heading to Utah and Sacramento to finish the trip. If Boston finds a way to reclaim the No. 1 seed in the East, we could see Tatum move up into the top five.
5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week’s standings: number 5
Season statistics: 33.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 8.0 apg
Dončić tried to overcome the left thigh strain that had been bothering him for several games. But the pain from the injury gradually worsened, causing the superstar to miss his third straight game Wednesday in San Antonio. The good news is that an MRI of Dončić’s left thigh reportedly revealed no damage. But the Mavericks are eighth in the West, losing six of their last 10 in some tough road games. First, they visit the Lakers on Friday (10:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV), followed by Monday’s showdown in Memphis. Doncic is not expected to miss any significant time, but it is important to note that his counterpart Kyrie Irving (foot) is also out for three consecutive games for the club that is fighting to avoid making the Play-In tournament.
The following five:
6. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Last week’s ranking: No. 8)
7. Julius Randle, New York Knicks (Last week’s ranking: No. 7)
8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (Last week’s ranking: No. 10)
9. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week’s ranking: No. 9)
10. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
And five more (listed in alphabetical order): Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns; De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings; Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz; Me Morant, Memphis Grizzlies.
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can send him an email herefind his archive here and follow him further Twitter.
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