With the trade deadline drama in the rearview mirror, the newness of the James Harden era starting to fade and truly meaningful basketball games still over a month away, much of the attention, both locally and nationally, will shift to the MVP race.
Joel Embiid has been the frontrunner for most of the season, almost single-handedly carrying the Sixers to the top of the Eastern Conference, despite his co-star noping the F out of the franchise. But Jokic and the Nuggets have been surging over the last two months, with Jokic averaging 26/14/9, while shooting 59% from the field, over Denver's last 23 games, with the Nuggets going 18-5 over that stretch to pull to 39-26 on the season, just two games off the Sixers' 40-24 record in the loss column.
Jokic made his case in an emphatic way on Sunday, dropping a 46-point triple double against the Pelicans. His on-off – +22 in 43 minutes of play, with the Nuggets losing by 14 in the 10 minutes he sat – was downright Embiidian in how they cratered in his absence. On the season, the Nuggets have a +9.6 net rating with Jokic on the floor, -7.5 with him on the bench.
"Nah," Embiid said last night when asked whether he's been paying attention to what Jokic is doing, before abruptly changing course a few moments later. "I saw what he was able to do last night -- I was watching the game, actually. Like, I'm always watching. I'm watching every game."
"He's an amazing player. He's a master," Embiid went on to say of Jokic. "What he's able to do on a basketball floor, it's crazy. From big man to big man, I'm happy that when you look at who's dominating the league, and really who the best players are, you got, really, all big men."
Embiid responded on the basketball court in his own, similarly unique, way on Monday night, taking over the game in the third quarter on both ends of the floor in a way that no other player in the league can. Embiid tallied 24/9 in the second half alone, an offense unto himself in a game where Tyrese Maxey (just 4 points on 2-8 shooting in the first 3 quarters of play), Tobias Harris (8 points on 4-10 for the game) and James Harden (16 on 5-15) didn't have their typical scoring outputs.