【N.J】 With fantastic season for Sixers, NBA MVP award is Joel Embiid’s to lose – – – New Jersey News

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PHILADELPHIA — Once a pleasant, after-season acknowledgment of excellence, healthy in nature and widely accepted in the spirit of it all, the NBA’s MVP award has become like too much else in modern sports. It has become an obsession. That would be the word.

Not dissimilar to the Heisman Watch, which begins before a single college football play has been run, or NCAA bracketology yakety-yack that starts in the first half of the first college basketball game of a season, the pro basketball MVP arguing never ends. So it has been this season, when the relentless discussion of who would win the newly rechristened Michael Jordan Trophy began while Nikola Jokic was still stuffing the last hunk of junk into the back of his SUV.

Juiced by the exponential rise in betting options but also an ugly result of too much time and not enough topics on the cable-TV debate-a-thons, the 2022-2023 MVP campaign has not just kept wonks engaged but, lately, enraged. No wonder Doc Rivers has had enough.

“I don’t know what’s going on lately,” the Sixers’ coach said the other night. “It just seems like in order to to validate one, you have to push down the other guy. But no, you don’t. They’re all great.”

That’s a healthy attitude, but so is a commitment to offensive rebounding. Neither has enough value anymore in pro basketball. So if they know what’s good for them, coaches with MVP candidates will be forced to rest them some occasionally, but not too often. They will order the occasional nights off, but be certain not to do so while the marquee networks have their cameras humming. They will be forced to balance the needs of a team with the egos of the stars – and then be forced to deny that they are doing any such thing.

It’s to the point when George Karl – who knew he was still a thing? — took a recent poke at the MVP readiness of Joel Embiid, it was not dismissed as social-media rubbish but spread throughout the land as if it were uttered by someone important, like, say, Drake.

“We need to stop this stuff,” Rivers said, “that’s going on now.”

Fortunately for Rivers and others with a remaining morsel of NBA sanity, it is about to stop. The Sixers will play another 11 regular season games, and at that point the voting will commence. Sometime during the postseason, the results will be revealed and the masses will race for comment. And since Embiid settled for place money in the last two races, there will be one angle either way. Either he will finally have won an award that he so desperately craves or he will be forced again to unload a concession speech.

Barring any major injury or team collapse, Embiid won’t have to worry about that this time. He will be the MVP, or so say the oddsmakers, who don’t make odds simply as a hobby. The Sixers’ center has surged past Jokic and is the only candidate on the board offered at less than even money. He is leading the NBA in scoring again, and that is always a sturdy tiebreaker.

While no big man has ever been a better passer than Jokic, Embiid’s improvement as a facilitator has been a major reason for the Sixers’ excellent season. His load management has been kept to a point of reason. By his standards, his injuries have healed quickly. Best of all for his chances, he is peaking during the heat of the race, having scored at least 30 points in each of his last 10 games.

Skill for skill, Jokic is the better player, though not by much. But Embiid is having the better season. And if the wise guys are correct, the Sixers’ center will have won one of the last three MVP awards to Jokic’s two. Sounds about right. It’s possible third-party candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo will cause a split in the Eastern Conference balloting, boosting Jokic’s chances. But Luka Doncic is expected to receive some support, too, muddying the results from the West.

That makes the Jordan Trophy Embiid’s to lose. Since training camp, he has tried to suppress the MVP obsession. It was a healthy decision that boosted his chances. Recently, he has shrugged that he cannot control the voting, only the on-court results, and that his focus is on winning a championship.

He has also said he wanted to be respected, which in any other era would not have been an issue. But that’s not the way MVP races work anymore. The candidates must be vandalized by critics.

“Can we stop trying to put people down?” Rivers wondered. “All of them are great.”

They are. But Joel Embiid soon will be voted as the greatest, at least for five minutes. Then the race will begin again.

Contact Jack McCaffery at jmccaffery@delcotimes.com

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