76ers

James Harden may be MVP favorite, but Joel Embiid makes statement

James Harden may be MVP favorite, but Joel Embiid makes statement

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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Sixers Talk podcast: Is Ben Simmons an All-Star? A reunion with Robert Covington?

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Is Ben Simmons an All-Star? A reunion with Robert Covington?

On the latest Sixers Talk podcast presented by Wilmington University, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Ben Simmons' recent play since Joel Embiid went out with an injury, how alarming the Al Horford situation is becoming, and a possible reunion with Robert Covington.

• No, Simmons hasn't scored late in games, but he's been attacking the rim and causing opponents to make plenty of business decisions.

• How worried should we be about Horford's up-and-down season?

• Would a RoCo reunion make sense? What would you give up?

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Sixers Injury Update: Al Horford is questionable vs. Nets with left hand sprain

Sixers Injury Update: Al Horford is questionable vs. Nets with left hand sprain

The Sixers might be without their best two center options for Monday afternoon’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.

Al Horford is questionable with a left hand sprain. He sustained the injury with 6:31 left in the third quarter Saturday night vs. the Knicks after being fouled by Reggie Bullock.

"Yeah, I just took a fall there, landed on the hand,” Horford told reporters. “We’ll see where we’re at tomorrow. It’s pretty sore right now, but I’m just glad I was able to stay in the game and give the team whatever I could. … It’s definitely uncomfortable. In this game you always play through injuries and things like that. I just wanted to make sure that I did what I could. We’ll see where I’m at tomorrow, and hopefully good to go for Monday.”

Horford scored a season-low four points vs. the Knicks on 2 for 9 shooting. In the six games since Joel Embiid has been out because of a torn ligament in the ring finger of his left hand, the Sixers have gone 4-2 with Horford as their starting center.

According to multiple reports, Norvel Pelle will be listed as available but his status could change. The team is in a precarious situation with Pelle, who has one NBA day remaining on his two-way contract. The Sixers have opted against converting Pelle to an NBA deal for the time being to prioritize flexibility ahead of the Feb. 6 trade deadline, which has left them in this spot. The 26-year-old rookie has played 13 NBA games and averaged 2.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

On Friday vs. the Bulls, the Sixers decided not to use up one of Pelle’s NBA days, and Kyle O’Quinn played nearly 16 minutes, his first action of 2020.

It looks like Ben Simmons playing some at center could be a possibility. Brett Brown used Simmons as a small-ball five in the first half on Jan. 9 vs. Boston and after the game said, “I suspect you’ll see it again.”

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