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The Battle For The NBA's MVP May All Come Down To What Happens Tonight In Denver

Jesse D. Garrabrant. Getty Images.

One look at the NBA schedule told you how important this current stretch was going to be for the MVP race. Embiid/Jokic/Giannis all play each other between this past weekend and next Sunday. With things so close between all three guys, the head to head matchups become even more important. Not just because teams like PHI/MIL need the wins since they are both in the middle of a seeding race, but this late in the season it's not a stretch to suggest these games will be on the minds of voters. In a "what have you done for me lately" type of award, that stuff matters.

On Saturday, Jokic threw up a 31/6/11 and got the best of Giannis and the Bucks. That same night, Embiid got outplayed by Bismack Biyombo and the Sixers were blown out. The focus then shifted to tonight's DEN/PHI matchup which you could argue is for all the marbles.

If you remember, when Jokic and the Nuggets had their 4 game skid, that was the thing that was supposed to tilt the race to Embiid. He was on an absolute tear, the Sixers were beating up on bad teams and made a huge push to the 2 seed. I don't think it's crazy to suggest he had passed Jokic, that's how awesome Embiid has been.

Well, entering tonight, the Sixers have lost 3 of 4. If they lose tonight, that makes 4 of 5. A skid not too different from what the Nuggets had. The Sixers now trail BOS by 2.5 games (really 3.5 with the tie breaker), and that could get even larger by the end of the night. Given they're remaining schedule

it's pretty common to suggest that this was an MVP defining stretch for Embiid. The cupcake games are mostly over, and if he balls out and wins during this stretch it'd be hard to argue against him winning the award.

That's what makes tonight so interesting. Remember, Sixers fans couldn't stop talking about the first matchup as the reason why Embiid was the MVP. He was dominant in that win. Well the same then has to be true tonight right? Not just because a loss would mean a 4 in 5 skid, but it would also mean 4 straight wins for the Nuggets. 

To make matters even jucier, Embiid had a 1 on 1 with Shams that came out today where he tried to make it seem like he doesn't actually care about the MVP!

You were favored at different points last season to win MVP, and it didn’t happen. Do you feel your MVP pursuit — and potential victory — is more organic this season?

It is coming naturally. Even against the Bulls (on March 22), I could have easily stat-padded if I wanted to, but I don’t care.

I could have easily come back in and got a triple-double and make sure that I keep going after the scoring title. Or keep the 30-point streaks going or whatever. But I don’t care. I think mentally I’ve gotten to a different level where it’s all about winning.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

The whole interview is really kind of crazy when you read the whole thing. For a guy that doens't care about the MVP, he seems to be thinking a lot about Nikola Jokic. Even in questions that weren't even about Jokic, Embiid couldn't stop talking about Jokic

Do you go into this postseason with a title-or-bust mentality?

Not necessarily. I don’t care about the pressure that everybody puts on me. All I care about is the pressure that I put on myself to win. People have been talking about who has the most pressure to win. People want to mention me. I’m not at the top of that list. I’m not a two-time MVP, I’ve never made first team All-NBA, I’ve never won anything. So why is there pressure on me to do something when there are guys that have won two MVPs, a bunch of MVPs and haven’t done anything either?

I feel it’s hard to win in this league. You got two great teams in Milwaukee and Boston in my conference. So we have to play them at some point. Those are two really good teams, and it’s going to be a fight to beat them. But I think we match up extremely well with each team, and for us to win, we have to be almost perfect. Everybody has to show up. I got to do my job. James has got to do his job. Tyrese (Maxey) has to show up. Tobias (Harris). The role players, the bench, we all have to come in and do our jobs. For us to win, we have to be perfect, and it’s going to take everybody.

I’m so excited. Hopefully no freak injuries happen like the last couple years where I get unlucky, but I feel like this is, as far as myself and how I can take my guys, I have a pretty good chance.

On what planet does Joel Embiid think people are going to believe that he "doesn't care" about the MVP? There's only 1 player who you can say that about, and it's Nikola Jokic. He legitimately doesn't care. Embiid? Joel Embiid VERY much cares about the MVP, and that's OK! 

To then also dodge the playoff question with "why should I have pressure when Jokic hasn't even won yet?" is also a pretty embarrassing look. If Embiid thinks he's the better player, and he's for sure had better teams, how can he say there's no pressure to win the title this year? As someone who has never gotten out of the 2nd round? Instead, he talks about Jokic. I find that…weird.

Deep down, I think Embiid knows what we all know. Tonight is going to go a LONG way in deciding how this race shakes up. I imagine we're going to see that approach from him right away. If he had 47/18/5 in the first meeting, we may see him go for 60 tonight. Whoever comes up with a statement performance and the statement win is going to have the leg up. That's how this works. If that's Embiid and the Sixers and then PHI finishes strong, the MVP will be his. If that's Jokic and the Nuggets, having already blown out the Bucks and then beating the Sixers while averaging a triple double on a 1 seed, the MVP is most likely his. Giannis is technically still alive, but he might have more of an uphill battle over these final weeks, especially if he also loses to Embiid on Sunday.

The good news? There's no Tony Brothers or Scott Foster tonight in Denver. It looks like the NBA is actually going to let both sides duke it out and let the best man/team win. My guess is this is going to be the most watched game of the year, and something tells me both MVP candidates are going to put on a show. Win this game, and the MVP may as well be yours to lose.