NBA Game of the Week: Embiid and Sixers face Doncic duel after Nuggets no-show
After Joel Embiid's calf injury robbed the NBA of a matchup between him and MVP rival Nikola Jokic on Monday, his Philadelphia 76ers turn their attention to another superstar opponent in Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
Embiid was accused by some of "ducking" the Denver Nuggets' two-time MVP Jokic, who inspired Denver to a 116-111 victory over the Sixers with his 29th triple-double of the season.
The Sixers were also without James Harden because of a sore left Achilles.
Whether Embiid and Harden will be back in the fold for the visit of the Mavs remains to be seen, but what is beyond doubt is that the Sixers will be facing a man on a mission in Doncic.
Doncic is aiming to drag the Mavericks into the playoffs and, having seen his 16th technical foul and a one-game suspension rescinded prior to Monday's game with the Indiana Pacers, the Slovenian subsequently starred with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists to end Dallas' four-game losing streak.
He has averaged 31.1 points per game in March, a month he began by putting up 42 in a home win over the Sixers.
Despite his best efforts, the Mavs are still on the outside looking in as they seek a place in the Western Conference play-in tournament. With a 37-39 record, they are the 11th seed, but are just games behind the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are in position to enter the playoffs as the sixth seed.
The Mavs have six games with which to claw their way in to either the play-in or the playoffs outright. Ending the month how they began it against the current third seed in the East would be a big step towards securing a spot in the postseason.
Philadelphia 76ers - Joel Embiid
With Embiid on the court, the Sixers average 118.2 points per 100 possessions compared to 111.5 without. Defensively, they concede 108 points per 100 possessions with Embiid and 112.3 without. That's a point differential of plus 10.2 when they have their MVP contender compared to minus 0.8 when he is absent.
In other words, he is worth 11 points per 100 possessions. It's obvious to say the Sixers need Embiid out there, but the numbers illustrate just how important he is.
Dallas Mavericks - Luka Doncic
Were the Mavs in a better position in the standings, Doncic might have his own compelling case for MVP. He is averaging a combined 49.7 points, assists and rebounds per game, the most in the NBA.
KEY BATTLE - Can Mavs limit Sixers' three-point prowess?
A strength for Dallas this season has been defending the three-ball. They have allowed opponents to shoot just 35 per cent from beyond the arc, with only six teams faring better than the Mavs in that regard. The Sixers, meanwhile, boast the second-best three-point shooting percentage in the NBA at 38.6.
In that area of the game, it's a true strength-on-strength matchup that figures to go a long way to deciding if the Mavs can complete a season sweep.
HEAD TO HEAD
The Mavericks prevailed 133-126 in March in Dallas, but have not won in Philadelphia since December 2019.