The NBA MVP conversation has morphed into an extremely heated debate this year in some circles, with Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo each vying for their third (and for Jokic, his third in a row), while Joel Embiid has plenty of support to earn his first.
As such, every matchup between two of the three bigs leading the MVP conversation becomes magnified, with Monday night’s showdown between Embiid and Jokic in Denver as highly anticipated a cross-conference matchup as we’ve had this season. Unfortunately, the shine has been removed from the potential Embiid-Jokic showdown due to a lingering calf injury Embiid is dealing with that, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne, will keep him out.
ESPN Reporting with @Ramonashelburne: The showdown of MVP frontrunners is off tonight: Sixers are ruling out Joel Embiid (calf) vs. Nikola Jokic and Nuggets. Embiid attempted to work out this morning, but team is taking a precautionary approach given density of recent schedule.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 27, 2023
Embiid’s calf issue first popped up last week in a blowout win over the Bulls, as he sat the entire second half after feeling some discomfort. He then played in the Sixers’ back-to-back against the Warriors and Suns on Friday and Saturday, a pair of losses where he combined for 74 points across the two games. Two days later, the Sixers are shutting him down for a night, but just so happen to be picking the game everyone wants to see.
It’s understandable from a team standpoint given their upcoming schedule features some big matchups in the East, as they have the Raptors, Bucks, Celtics, Heat, Hawks, and Nets all coming up to closeout the season. While they’ve clinched a playoff berth, there’s still a little work to do to lock down the 3-seed over the Cavaliers and those East showdowns may be bigger from a team standpoint in terms of building confidence going into the playoffs.
Even understanding that, it’s a major disappointment for overall fans of the game who want to see two titans of the league go head-to-head. Embiid and Jokic almost always deliver great performances when they go up against each other and it’d be refreshing for at least one night to have the MVP conversation shift fully to the outcome of a game and what happened on the floor. Instead, this potential MVP showdown is another casualty of a contender trying to navigate an 82-game season in order to be at its best come playoff time.