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Sixers’ Joel Embiid looks to build MVP case vs. Pacers

Apr 2, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) dribbles the ball against the Charlotte Hornets during the third quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid is strengthening his case for the NBA’s MVP award while helping the Philadelphia 76ers improve their playoff positioning.

Embiid will look to send the 76ers (48-30) to their third straight victory on Tuesday night when they visit the reeling Indiana Pacers (25-54) in Indianapolis.

The five-time All-Star collected 44 points, 17 rebounds and season-high-tying five blocks in Philadelphia’s 112-108 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.

It was Embiid’s 11th game this season with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds, the most in the NBA since Russell Westbrook had 12 during his MVP-winning campaign in 2016-17.

“If it happens, great,” Embiid said of winning his first MVP award. “If it doesn’t, I don’t know what I have to do. I’ll feel like they hate me. I feel like the standard for guys in Philly or for me is different than everyone else.”

Sunday’s performance helped clinch a fifth straight playoff berth for the Sixers, who reside 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Miami Heat with four games remaining.

“He was dominant,” coach Doc Rivers said of Embiid, who was questionable to play Sunday due to lingering ankle soreness. “And you know where he was dominant was defensively. Five blocked shots, and they were big ones. … The defensive part of Joel needs to be talked about more. He was dominant on the defensive end.”

Let’s consider the numbers: Embiid ranks second in the NBA in points per game (30.2) and is tied for fifth in rebounds (11.6).

Whether Embiid should receive the honor over reigning MVP Nikola Jokic (26.8 points, 13.7 rebounds, 8.0 assists per game) of the Denver Nuggets — or two-time winner Giannis Antetokounmpo (30.1, 11.6, 5.8) of the Milwaukee Bucks — is a debate for another day.

For now, the 76ers need to concern themselves with the Pacers, who they’ll play twice in the next three games. Indiana won the lone encounter between the clubs on Nov. 13, although Embiid sat out the 118-113 decision due to a positive COVID-19 test.

While the Pacers won that game, they are noticeably limping down the stretch and will enter Tuesday’s game mired in a season-high-tying seven-game losing skid.

Tyrese Haliburton collected 19 points, a career-high-tying 17 assists and a season-best nine rebounds in Indiana’s 121-117 setback to the Detroit Pistons on Sunday. What’s more is the 22-year-old had no turnovers.

“I just pride myself on taking care of the ball, pride myself on getting guys involved,” Haliburton said. “I think that’s probably my best asset as a point guard, just the unselfishness that I play the game with. … (My teammates) make me look better than I really am. They have to make the shot. I just have to get it to them.”

Haliburton has averaged 22.3 points over his last four games after chipping in just 8.8 over his previous six.

Oshae Brissett scored 13 of his 20 points in the third quarter on Sunday. He also had 10 rebounds and five assists.

–Field Level Media