Joel Embiid Scores 70 to Boost Odds of Being Back-to-Back MVP

But there could be a fly in the ointment for the Philly big man

Joel Embiid is showered with water after scoring a team-record 70 points.
Joel Embiid is showered with water after scoring a team-record 70 points.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty

On January 22, 2006, Los Angeles legend Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in the Lakers’ 122-104 win over the Raptors — the second-highest total in NBA history behind only Wilt Chamberlain’s storied 100-point game for the Philadelphia Warriors in 1962 during his 50.4 points-per-game season. Bryant finished that season averaging a career-best 35.4 ppg, the ninth-best mark in NBA history, but lost out on Most Valuable Player honors to Steve Nash, who was given the award for the second consecutive season after leading the Phoenix Suns to a league-best 54-28 record.

Eighteen years to the day after Bryant’s 81-point gem, Karl-Anthony Towns had a career-high 62 points for Minnesota. Towns setting the franchise-record for points for the Wolves wasn’t enough as Minnesota lost to Charlotte, nor was it enough to make the versatile big man the NBA’s high scorer for the evening. That honor went to another center, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers.

A big Bryant fan, Embiid dropped a career-high 70 points as the Sixers rolled to a 133-123 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night in Philadelphia. To get his franchise-record 70, Embiid went 24-of-41 from the field and made 21-of-23 free throws. The reigning MVP also set a career high with 18 rebounds in the win.

The 70-point outing also vaulted Embiid in the odds to win MVP; he is now the favorite at most books ahead of Nikola Jokic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. However, as sports betting site The Lines points out, Embiid may not be eligible to win his second straight MVP trophy or any other postseason award because he may not have played enough games by season’s end.

Put in place in October in an effort to curb load management, a new NBA policy states that players will be ineligible for major individual awards including Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA honors and MVP if they fail to play in at least 65 games.

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“I just wanna play as many games as possible,” Embiid said earlier this month. “It’s unfortunate that I missed the last four games, but you can’t control it. At the beginning of the season…my goal was to try to play 82 games.”

He’s falling well short of that goal and has already missed 10 of Philadelphia’s 41 games. If Embiid keeps up that pace, he’s going to play in fewer than 65 games and therefore be ineligible to win MVP in back-to-back seasons.

“Embiid is in the worst shape of any serious contender to meet the 65-game threshold,” per The Lines. Notably, despite comments in the past that indicate a desire to chase MVPs, Embiid said he feels otherwise this season. Perhaps recent playoff flameouts have changed his view.

Of Philly’s remaining games, Embiid can miss seven more and still get to 65 games played. One thing in his favor is that the 76ers only have five back-to-backs left on their schedule.

“That’s really the mindset; try to go out and dominate,” Embiid said after Monday’s win. “I’m really pushing myself and challenging myself every single night. What else can I do? What else can I add to my game? Can I try something new to see if it works or if it doesn’t. I’m really challenging myself.”

If the 29-year-old wants to MVP again, he may have to challenge himself to play more over the second half of the season.

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