Sixers' Joel Embiid in the spotlight even more than usual ahead of Nikola Jokic matchup

Embiid in the spotlight even more than usual ahead of Jokic matchup originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Joker has come to town.

Still, even with the two-time MVP in Philadelphia, the spotlight on Joel Embiid seems a bit brighter than usual.

First, it’s notable that Embiid and Nikola Jokic indeed matching up Saturday at Wells Fargo Center (3 p.m./ABC) is not set in stone. Embiid was listed as questionable with left foot soreness and Jokic was probable with left hamstring tightness. Jokic sat out Denver’s defeat Wednesday to the Bucks, which dropped the top-seeded Nuggets to 34-15. The Sixers’ 31-16 mark is second in the Eastern Conference.

After the Sixers built their winning streak to six games Wednesday by beating the Nets, Embiid indicated that he did not expect his foot issue to swiftly resolve.

“I think everybody’s hurt,” he said. “I’ve just got to fight through it, but I’m good. Just got to keep pushing and try to keep doing it. It’s not easy, but got to keep doing it.”

On a positive note for the Sixers, Embiid was the only player on the team’s injury report. Meanwhile, Denver’s report also included Jamal Murray (left hip sprain — questionable), Bruce Brown (left knee inflammation — questionable), Michael Porter Jr. (personal reasons — questionable), and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (right wrist sprain — probable).

If the two ultimately play, Embiid vs. Jokic has a strong chance to overshadow everything else in Saturday’s matchup. There’s been plenty of attention on Embiid in the lead-up to the game, too. On Thursday, he missed out on an All-Star starter spot despite being the East’s top scorer. And on Friday, the NBA announced that Embiid has been fined $25,000 for his professional wrestling-style celebration against Brooklyn, which the league deemed an “obscene gesture.”

Jokic told reporters Embiid “deserves” to be an All-Star starter, per The Denver Post’s Mike Singer. His view is also the consensus among Embiid’s teammates.

“That’s crazy. I guess that’s how the voting goes, but we all know Joel is Joel,” Tyrese Maxey said Friday. “He’ll go out there and maybe he’ll use it as motivation to keep killing it. I don’t think he needs much motivation for that. But he’s balling right now, so kudos to him.”

Embiid on Wednesday praised Jokic, who’s averaged 25.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 9.9 assists, while insisting the afternoon won’t only be about the two big men.

“Obviously Jokic is a great player, deserving of those last two MVPs,” Embiid said. “Anytime you play great players, especially at your position, it is great. It’s a great matchup, but just like tonight, the goal is to win the game. It’s Sixers against Nuggets, it’s not Joel against Jokic. … Obviously they have not just him.

“They have a lot of great players on that team and they’re playing very well, whether it’s shooting threes; Aaron Gordon has been fantastic; (Caldwell-Pope); Jamal Murray I think is back to where he was. He’s the reason why they got to the conference finals two years ago and I think he’s back to where he used to be. So it’s going to be a good matchup. Just try to do whatever it takes to win.”

When Embiid and Jokic faced off last March, Bones Hyland and the Nuggets’ superior bench decided the game. 

So yes, there’s a lot that matters Saturday besides the two superstar centers. But in the event that both play, there’s no question everyone will be focused on them — and for good reason.

“It’s going to be a sight to see, because they both are so talented with the basketball,” Georges Niang said. “They can score pretty much at all three levels, and they can handle the basketball. And they draw double teams — and both can pass. So they kind of are the only centers, I think, in the league that can do all those things.

“It’s a treat. We’re definitely going to see a show tomorrow with how talented those two are and their unique skill sets, especially from the center position.”