Joel Embiid was listed as questionable for Monday night’s game, still dealing with back tightness.
With the league’s MVP favorite in the building and a national TV audience to shine for, there was little chance Embiid was going to miss this one.
Thanks in large part to the All-Star center, the Sixers rolled against James Harden and the Rockets, 121-93, at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations). Embiid’s stat line was again impressive — 32 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks in 26 minutes — but hardly shows the impact he had.
Veterans Nene and Kenneth Faired looked helpless against the league’s best big man. Then again, with the way Embiid was rolling, it’s hard to imagine anyone could’ve stopped him. While Harden may be running away with the MVP award, Embiid made a statement Monday.
He did his best to downplay the notion that Harden’s presence added any extra motivation.
“I do whatever my team needs me to do and that’s score the ball, be the best defensive player in the league, “Embiid said. “It’s good, everybody’s winning. If MVP comes with it, great. But right now we’re looking to win a lot of games and we’re doing that.”
Embiid has won the city of Philadelphia over with his game, but also his larger-than-life personality. His feuds with Andre Drummond and Russell Westbrook have reached legendary status. His Twitter and Instagram accounts have always been must-follows.
But you’ve seen less of it this season. As Embiid has matured and the goals of the team have gotten bigger, Embiid’s focus seems to have grown. Not as much trolling and what could’ve been viewed as silly arrogance has turned more into honest confidence.
And with all the injuries and minutes restrictions Embiid has dealt with, playing through some muscle soreness in his back isn’t hard.
I've been with him now for five years and the growth that he has shown through two naviculars, gaining weight, unsure if he's going to play,” Brett Brown said. “We sent him to the Middle East to find ways to help him recover and for him to come back and be rewarded with a contract, to be in MVP conversations — I appreciate him gutting something out, that is true, but it's the overall growth and the leadership especially that interests me the most.
While Harden is seen as the hands-down favorite for MVP, Embiid doesn’t even really seem to be in the conversation. Guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and Stephen Curry seem to get all the attention.
Embiid is doing his best not to focus on that and while he has grown up before our eyes, he’s still having as much fun as ever.
The trash talking and trolling has quieted some, but we still get the occasional nugget.
“It was fun. We beat them by 30, so it was pretty fun for us, I don’t think it was fun for them,” Embiid said. “But [Harden’s] a great player. Have a lot of respect for him. The way they play, you just gotta key in on him and have guys like Corey [Brewer] that are really getting to him. … He’s fun.
“I love playing against guys that you guys might say are better than me, just to prove to you guys that they’re not, but it’s fun to me.”
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