Joel Embiid will have plenty of reasons for extra motivation when the Philadelphia 76ers host the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.
After all, Embiid will be going up against Denver’s Nikola Jokic, who has edged him out for the league’s Most Valuable Player award in each of the plast two seasons.
In addition, Embiid surprisingly was not selected as a starter for the upcoming All-Star Game.
In the meantime, all he does is pile up eye-popping statistics for the Sixers, who have six straight victories.
In a 137-133 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, Embiid hit all 13 free throws and had 26 points and 10 rebounds. It was his 18th game this season of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds.
Tyrese Maxey led the way with 27 points and James Harden, who was named as an All-Star reserve along with Embiid, added 23.
“When (Harden) and (Embiid) are on the court, they’re so dominant in their two-man game that whoever’s on the court, doesn’t matter who it is, has to be ready to shoot the ball,” Maxey said. “Teams are trying to take their two-man game away and then when they’re off the court, I just try to go out there and be as aggressive as I can and help us get into offense and get shots for the guys or for myself.”
As the All-Star break approaches, the Sixers will look to continue surging. They swept a five-game road trip and then kept their positive momentum in a hard-fought battle against the Nets. Expect the crowd to be revved up again.
“You know that’s what they bring every single night,” Embiid said of the fans. “That’s the reason why you love playing in Philly because they show up and are passionate.”
The Nuggets, who lead the Western Conference, will look to rebound after a 107-99 setback to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.
To be fair, the Nuggets played without Jokic – who was named an All-Star starter — and Jamal Murray. Jokic warmed up before the game but ultimately was held out to rest a sore hamstring. Murray (knee maintenance) also sat out as a precaution.
Both players are likely to play against the Sixers.
“They’re setting that game up for Nikola Jokic vs. Joel Embiid so those players will likely be available,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said.
Jokic will be competing in the All-Star Game for the fifth consecutive season. He leads the league this season with 15 triple-doubles.
Aaron Gordon paced the Nuggets with 26 points and 14 rebounds and Bones Hyland added 15 points. They also played without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (right wrist) and Michael Porter Jr. (personal reasons).
“We didn’t get the outcome that we wanted, but I saw a lot of great things from our group tonight that will help us moving forward,” Malone said.
The Nuggets’ depth has been a key to their success all season and it paid dividends even in a loss to the Bucks.
Ish Smith came off the bench and gave them a lift with 10 points and three assists.
“That’s how it goes,” said Smith, a former member of the Sixers. “You never know in the playoffs when you might have to count on somebody.”