Joel Embiid repeatedly has said that he believes he was snubbed when he didn’t win the Most Valuable Player award each of the past two seasons when Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets did.
Then just this week, Embiid said he was surprised that he wasn’t named as a starter in the upcoming NBA All-Star Game despite leading the league in scoring.
Embiid used these situations as motivation in a stirring 47-point, 18-rebound performance in a 126-119 win over the Nuggets on Saturday.
He’ll have another chance to build his case for redemption when the Sixers look for their eighth consecutive victory as they host the Orlando Magic on Monday.
“I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try win the whole thing,” Embiid said. “I guess that’s the only way I’m probably going to get that respect. I think that we’ve got a pretty good chance.”
Since starting the season 12-12, the Sixers have gone 20-4 to surge into second place in the Eastern Conference.
The Sixers’ success is largely connected to Embiid, who produced his 33rd career game with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Since the 1976-77 season, Embiid has the second-most 40-10 performances, trailing only Shaquille O’Neal with 43.
Embiid also sparked a second-half comeback after the Sixers looked a bit flat and trailed 73-58 at the half.
“To come back and be able to win that game, it gives us a lot of confidence,” Embiid said. “If we can clean up a lot of areas defensively, I think we could be even better. It’s good to see. We’ve got a chance to win. We’ve got to keep winning. The key is to stay healthy.”
James Harden also was impressive with 17 points, 13 assists and no turnovers.
The Magic will look to avoid a third straight loss when they battle the Sixers.
Orlando fell 128-109 to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday, though it whittled a 25-point deficit down to six with 5:08 remaining.
Moritz Wagner paced the Magic with 27 points, but the poor start was too much to overcome.
“Obviously, the energy level wasn’t where we wanted to start the game,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said. “I really think sometimes it falls down to taking the easy route, in some ways. When it’s hard, you just want to catch and shoot. But we weren’t making shots and that takes its toll on the defense. But we have to be a defensive team first, whether the shots are falling or not.”
Cole Anthony added 21 points, six rebounds and six assists and provided a spark down the stretch.
But the Magic’s furious comeback landed short.
“This is not an excuse but we were just flat,” Wagner said. “And part of that was we put our head down too quickly. We kind of let go of our focus.”
Orlando’s Markelle Fultz will return to Philadelphia to play the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Fultz struggled with criticism from poor shooting and a shoulder injury with the Sixers.
In 29 games (all starts) this season, Fultz is averaging 12.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists.