March 27, 2023
Joel Embiid has been ruled out for Monday night's game against the Denver Nuggets, taking a potential MVP showdown off of the calendar in the final weeks of the regular season. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne were the first to report the news on Monday.
Philadelphia's franchise center has been battling tightness in his right calf, which first became a noteworthy problem during the Sixers' win over the Bulls in Chicago last Wednesday. With the Sixers up big at halftime, Philadelphia kept Embiid in the locker room for the entire second half, only formally noting a health concern in the closing minutes of the Bulls game.
Embiid would go on to play in back-to-back losses to the Warriors and Suns this past weekend, looking visibly fatigued in the loss to Phoenix after scoring 46 points against Golden State. Following the Suns loss, Embiid told reporters in Phoenix that he was anticipating the need for a rest day in the near future.
"I'm going to need one pretty soon," Embiid said Saturday, per the Inquirer. "It's two things. Like I said, it's all about [being healthy] for the playoffs. You know, like tonight, I was very sloppy. Usually when I'm sluggish and sloppy that means I'm tired. I've been playing a lot of minutes, I've been playing every single game."
The immediate question that comes to mind is why Embiid would sit this game after playing the second half of a back-to-back in Phoenix, including a fairly puzzling choice to insert him back into the game with the Sixers down 15+ and clearly out of the running down the stretch of the Suns game. While Embiid suiting up for the Sixers theoretically gave them a better chance to win without James Harden (and against another team in a back-to-back situation), it was easy to see even from afar that he had burned up a lot of his fuel reserves.
From a neutral perspective — and for people who simply like to argue — Embiid getting an off day on this night specifically is a bummer, as Embiid vs. Nikola Jokić is one of the few great center battles we have in the league, to say nothing of what we lose in terms of MVP debates and stakes. Whether this actually impacts how people view the MVP race is up for debate and discussion over the coming days. There are certain to be many carnival barkers who label this as Embiid "ducking" Jokić in a spot where the Nuggets center might have been in position to outplay him, though we'll have to wait and see where more serious people (more importantly, actual MVP voters) land on the impact of missing a single game.
As someone who simply wanted to watch these two do battle on Monday night, hopeful of watching the chess pieces move around them after an interesting first meeting this year, it's just bad timing. Harden's potential return to the lineup will give the Sixers at least some juice heading into the game, but it will be hard to replicate the personal stakes that were on the line before this news broke.
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