April 04, 2019
The Philadelphia 76ers have looked pedestrian without big man Joel Embiid in the lineup, dropping winnable games to inferior teams like the Hawks, Magic and Mavericks over the last couple of weeks.
While it's undoubtedly wise to get Embiid the rest he needs for the postseason, his time off the court doesn't exactly reinforce the boast he made after the Sixers' cathartic win over the Celtics last month. Embiid may well be the most "unstoppable" player in the NBA — as long as he's playing in basketball games.
Coming off a miserable loss to the Hawks on Wednesday night, the Sixers return home Thursday night for another matchup with the league-best Milwaukee Bucks.
The last time these two teams played in March, Bucks star Giannis Antetokuonmpo put up 52 points and 16 rebounds to Embiid's impressive 40 points and 15 boards. It was a nail biter, but the Sixers' 130-125 win helped dispel criticism that they're not a real Eastern Conference threat.
Antetokuonmpo paid Embiid the honor of selecting him to his All-Star squad, so there's clearly no shortage of respect between the two players. Yet when Antetokuonmpo was asked about Embiid's "unstoppable" claim, he had an interesting response.
I asked Giannis what he thought about Joel Embiid calling himself the most unstoppable player in the NBA on March 20. Here's what Giannis had to say: pic.twitter.com/gFuMz54WVW— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) April 3, 2019
Embiid's persona is reminiscent of Muhammad Ali. There are those who would say he's an arrogant buffoon. Embiid would probably find that insult genuinely funny, and that's what makes his trash talk palatable. He can laugh at himself. He's also, underneath the smile, a competitive freak. He means what he's saying even if he knows the perception will be otherwise.
The expectation is that Embiid will return for Thursday night's rematch with Antetokuonmpo and a potent Bucks team looking for revenge. His comments are all well and good, but it's times like these that Embiid is going to have to show he can back it up with consistency in big games.