The showdown between MVP front-runners fizzled Monday when Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid was ruled out against the Nuggets and star Nikola Jokic.
Embiid has a sore right calf. He was at the team’s shootaround Monday morning but a trainer wrapped a large ice pack on his right leg and the 76ers decided to hold him out at Denver, their third game in four nights.
Embiid sat out the second half against Chicago last week because of calf tightness but played in back-to-back games on the 76ers’ Western trip over the weekend, scoring 46 points in a 120-112 loss at Golden State Friday night and 28 points in a 125-105 loss at Phoenix 24 hours later.
Embiid, who has finished second to Jokic in Most Valuable Player voting each of the last two seasons, has made a late push to dethrone Jokic, although this marks the 14th game he’s missed this season.
Embiid leads the NBA with a 33.3-point scoring average to go along with an 10.2 rebounding average. The 76ers (49-25) trail Milwaukee and Boston in the Eastern Conference.
Jokic is nearly averaging a triple-double with 24.9 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.9 assists per game. The Nuggets (50-24) sit atop the Western Conference, three games ahead of surging Memphis entering Monday night’s action.
Several sportsbooks responded to Embiid’s dominant post-All-Star Game stretch by bumping him ahead of Jokic as the slight MVP favorite.
Several stars have missed games at Ball Arena this season, although Giannis Antetokounmpo, another MVP contender, played in Milwaukee’s 129-106 loss at Denver on Saturday, matching Jokic’s 31 points.
James Harden, the league leader in assists (10.8) also participated in the 76ers’ shootaround and is expected to return from a sore Achilles against the Nuggets. He was officially listed as questionable, same as Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. (heel).