Joel Embiid Fires a Direct Shot at Nikola Jokic Ahead of MVP Showdown

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Joel Embiid guards Nikola Jokic.

The NBA MVP race is coming down to the wire yet again, and you’ll never guess which two players are jockeying for position at the top of the odds board down the stretch. Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, who finished No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in MVP voting in each of the last two seasons, are in a heated battle for the award for the third straight year.

Embiid is currently a small favorite to win his first MVP trophy, but a lot can change in the final two weeks of the regular season when voters are at their most impressionable. With a minuscule gap between the two superstar centers, Monday night’s game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Denver Nuggets may very well decide the MVP race in 2023.

Embiid knows that better than anyone, so he fired a timely shot at his Serbian rival ahead of their final matchup of the season.

Monday night’s Sixers-Nuggets matchup could decide the MVP race

If you asked the 100 NBA MVP voters to make their award selections today, you might get 50 votes for Joel Embiid and 50 for Nikola Jokic. It’s that close of a race with just two weeks remaining in the regular season.

The Embiid voters will point to his league-leading 33.3 points per game and his elite defense around the rim. The Jokic voters will say he’s 0.1 assists per game away from averaging a triple-double, and he leads the league in nearly every advanced metric imaginable. Jokic’s Nuggets are also the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, whereas Embiid’s Sixers are third in the East behind the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics.

The MVP race is still too close to call, and the betting odds reflect that. Embiid is currently a small favorite to win the award at -145. Jokic is right behind him at +195, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only other player with a fighting chance at +500 (FanDuel).

It’s a coin flip right now, which is why Monday night’s Sixers-Nuggets matchup is pivotal for both contenders. Voters know they need to take the entire regular season into account, but a primetime battle between the two top contenders in late March will naturally stick in their minds the most.

Joel Embiid fires a direct shot at Nikola Jokic

Joel Embiid guards Nikola Jokic.
Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers guards Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets | Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Ahead of the final Sixers-Nuggets game of the season, Embiid spoke to Shams Charania of The Athletic about his two straight runner-up MVP finishes, how the voting criteria have changed, and his chances of winning the award this year.

Embiid claimed he’s given up on petitioning for the MVP, but he also threw in a direct shot at Jokic before Monday night’s crucial matchup.

“You can talk about analytics all you want,” Embiid said. “When you got some guys in the league, the eye test tells you that they’re not good defensively, but analytics tell you they’re the best defenders. That’s when analytics don’t make sense at all.”

Embiid didn’t name names, but it’s pretty clear whom he’s talking about here.

“People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked,” he continued. “And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the ass**** anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me.”

Get your popcorn ready for Monday night, folks.