LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid loves the spotlight. But that doesn’t mean the Sixers' big man is unfazed by the magnitude of the stage on which he is competing.
“I was actually extremely nervous,” Embiid said after the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. "I don’t know why. My heart was beating so fast. I have no idea why. But I thought it was fun.”
Embiid was one of eight players to test their versatility in dribbling, passing and shooting drills. Embiid defeated Al Horford in the first round and lost in the second to Lauri Markkanen. Spencer Dinwiddie took home the trophy.
Embiid pulled off a comeback victory Horford. He trailed after the dribbling and passing drills but beat out the Celtics' veteran at the three-point line to advance.
“That was wild,” Embiid said. “I lost the ball, I didn’t make the first pass and then I just threw the other two balls. That’s a good way to do it instead of wasting time. Then I was way behind and I came back and I ended up making that three and won.”
Horford was stifled when he thought his first three-point shot attempt was going in … and it didn’t. That miss opened the opportunity for Embiid to claim the round.
“The shot, which I was making before, I felt good, and then I think the pressure got to me a little bit,” Horford said. “I just wasn’t expecting that (to miss). I thought I was good. So then by that time, Joel caught up to me.”
Markkanen, the Bulls' rookie, got the best of Embiid in the next round. Embiid tried to rush through the passing drill to catch up to Markkanen, who ended up crossing in front of him at halfcourt for the clinching trey.
“After he made the layup he was a little bit in front of me,” Markkanen said. “But we couldn’t switch sides, so I had to get to the other side someway. So I tried to sprint and get in front of him and distract him a little bit. I think that worked.”
Embiid said with a big smile, "I kind of thought Lauri kind of cheated a little bit. He went in front of me, but it’s all good. It's all fun."
Even if Embiid didn’t win this contest, it wasn’t a total loss. The 7-foot-2 center has long claimed he wants to be a guard one day, and he showed off those backcourt skills.
“I think I can still be a point guard in my future,” Embiid said.
All-Star Weekend does not end for Embiid with the Skills Challenge. After competing in the Rising Stars game Friday and this contest on Saturday, Embiid has been making sure to preserve his energy for the All-Star Game Sunday. He will start for Team Stephen.