Push or not, the most relevant charge we can now attach to Joel Embiid is his rise to the top of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.
The Philadelphia big man controversially capped the rise on Wednesday, just before turns 29.
Whistled for what would have been his sixth foul with 4:12 to go after shoving Evan Mobley while draining a 19ft jumper, Embiid pleaded his case to referee Derek Richardson as the crowd of 19,432 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse broke anticipating a disqualification.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers immediately flagged a replay.
Result: no call.
That knockdown kept the Sixers big man on the floor to complete a 36-point, 18-rebound masterpiece, as Philadelphia extended the NBA’s longest winning streak to six games by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, 118-109. The game represented the final meeting between the Sixers and the Cavaliers, which determined the tiebreaker for a pair of teams currently third and fourth in the East, respectively.
Flexing two-way dominance most nights, Embiid is shooting 60% overall and 50% on 3-pointers during this winning streak to go with 8.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in anchoring a team that is 8-3 since the All-Star break.
“I thought it was a good call,” Embiid said of Wednesday’s replay. “Right before the kick you could see he was already starting to flop. I watch basketball every day and I was pretty confident they would call it something else.
Naturally, Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff disagreed.
“It’s clear as day, it’s an accusation,” he said.
What’s undisputed (from this perspective), however, is where Embiid currently compares to the rest of the Kia MVP hopefuls with the Sixers gearing up for a Friday game in Charlotte (7 ET, NBA League Pass).
So we’re redistributing the top of the order to reflect Embiid’s latest tear, not to mention the Denver Nuggets’ recent struggles led by back-to-back MVP winner Nikola Jokic. The international giants hold the top spots in the latest Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, and the betting action has changed that way too, with Action Network, FanDuel and DraftKings recently making Embiid the betting favorite to win. the price.
But as quickly as the action changed the direction of Embiid, we all know this run can and probably will be make another bend in stride with teams battling for playoff positioning.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is hiding in third place in the standings and has played in just three of Milwaukee’s last six games, producing 25 points Thursday in a 139-123 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Antetokounmpo has averaged 35.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg over that stretch for a Bucks team that is finally appearing whole again after dealing with a slew of injuries earlier in the season.
“We are a very good team. But nothing is guaranteed in life,” Antetokounmpo said. “Hopefully with everyone we have on this team, we’re able to go out there and compete. Before we even get to that, we have to compete with health. He’s the number one 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, is checking in at No. 4, despite shooting 12 for 38 in his last two games while going 2 for 18 on 3-pointers in that span.
Luka Doncic is about to break out of the top five. He missed his third straight game Wednesday with a strained left thigh as Dallas beat San Antonio, 137-128, in overtime to snap a three-game skid.
And now, the top 5 of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder 2022-23:
1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Season statistics: 33.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.1 apg
Seven straight 30-point performances push the NBA’s leading scorer to No. 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 big man has racked up at least 30 points with three blocks. The 29-year-old became the first player since Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal to accomplish the feat, and he used every opportunity to knock down all 10 of his free throw attempts. The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Embiid leads a Sixers team that is 20-12 on the road with nine more away games on the schedule.
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Season statistics: 24.8 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 9.9 apg
Jokic helped the Nuggets snap 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 lifted Denver to the Northwest Division as Jokic finished just one assist shy of his 28th triple-double of the season. “I told our team it was a good win,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Getting a playoff berth, winning your division, that’s great. Let this be the start of something special. We’ve lost four in a row, the lowest of the lowest for us this season. It’s clear, however, that tough times don’t stop Jokic from having higher expectations. Check out the Denver giant’s recent remarks in his “Timeout With Taylor Rooks” interview.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week’s ranking: #3
Season statistics: 31.4 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 5.5 apg
Milwaukee was named the first team to win 50 games, clinching the league’s first playoff spot on Tuesday behind a 36-point, 11-rebound performance from Antetokounmpo, who racked up 46 points the night before in a win 133-124 against Sacramento. When Khris Middleton scores 31 points and nine assists like he did against the Kings, you know you’re cooking with hot grease. As Antetokounmpo mentioned earlier, it’s imperative that the Bucks stay healthy throughout the stretch run. In Thursday’s loss to Indiana, Antetokounmpo played his 711th career game with the Bucks, tying Junior Bridgeman (1974-84) for the most in franchise history.
4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Last week’s ranking: Number 4
Season statistics: 30.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.7 apg
Tatum joins Embiid and Antetokounmpo as one of three NBA players to average 30 or more points with nine rebounds. He is also the trio’s second-winningest contender this season as the Celtics have 48 wins (behind only Antetokounmpo’s 50). If the 25-year-old continues to contribute at that rate, he will become the first player in team history to post those averages in a single season. Those stats would eclipse the previous record set by Celtics legend Larry Bird in the 1987-88 season (29.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg). Midway through a six-game road trip, the Celtics take on Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday (10 ET, NBA League Pass) before heading to Utah and Sacramento to close out the trip. If Boston finds a way to reclaim the No. 1 spot in the East, we could see Tatum move up into the top five.
5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week’s ranking: #5
Season statistics: 33.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 8.0 apg
Doncic tried to fight his way through a sprained left thigh which hampered him for several games. But the pain from the injury gradually worsened, which led to the superstar point guard missing his third straight game on Wednesday at San Antonio. The good news is that an MRI on Doncic’s left thigh would have revealed no damage. But the Mavericks are eighth in the West, having lost six of their last 10 games in a few tough road matchups. First, they visit the Lakers on Friday (10:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV), followed by a Monday clash in Memphis. Doncic shouldn’t miss much time, but it’s important to note that co-star Kyrie Irving (foot) has also missed three straight games for a club trying to avoid a Play-In tournament spot.
The following five:
6. Domantas Sabonis, Kings of Sacramento (Last week’s ranking: #8)
7. Julius Randle, New York Knicks (Last week’s ranking: #7)
8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (Last week’s ranking: #10)
9. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week’s ranking: #9)
ten. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: unranked)
And five more (listed alphabetically): Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns; De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings; Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz; Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies.
* * *
Michael C. Wright is Senior Writer for NBA.com. You can email him herefind his archives here and follow him on Twitter.
The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.