The Five: Everything to know for Week 23

The Five: Everything to know for Week 23

Can Joel Embiid (30+ points in 9 straight games) keep the 76ers surging and win his 1st Kia MVP award? 

Every Monday we will tell you what you need to know heading into a new week of NBA action.

1. Heat check: Joel Embiid

It’s been three weeks since a team was able to hold Joel Embiid under 30 points. He has scored at least 30 points in each of Philadelphia’s last nine games with the Sixers winning the last eight to enter Week 23 with the longest active win streak in the NBA.

Embiid’s recent run of dominance has propelled the Sixers to second in the Eastern Conference (just two losses back of Milwaukee). Embiid also moved to the top of the Kia MVP Ladder, ending a 2 1/2-month run by reigning two-time Kia MVP Nikola Jokic.

 

Embiid’s scoring tear also has him in some elite company, not only in Sixers lore as he now holds the longest 30-point game win streak in franchise history, but on the precipice of joining this list of 20 players with a double-digit streak of 30-point games.

  • Wilt Chamberlain (11 times)
  • Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan (three times each)
  • Tiny Archibald, Kobe Bryant and Jerry West two times each)
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Walt Bellamy, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, World B. Free, George Gervin, James Harden, LeBron James, Karl Malone, Moses Malone, Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O’Neal and Oscar Robertson (one time each)

That elite group of scorers includes five active players in Curry, Durant, Harden, LeBron and DeRozan. Can Embiid become the sixth active player to join that list? Take a look at the Sixers’ upcoming schedule and the three teams that will try to accomplish the rare feat of slowing Embiid down on offense.

Monday vs. Chicago (7:30 ET, League Pass); Wednesday at Chicago (8 ET, League Pass):

  • This Season: 1 game ( 29, 114-109 win): 25 PTS, 9-15 FG, 1-2 3P, 6-9 FT, 7 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 32 MIN
  • Career: 29.1 ppg in 12 games, seventh highest average vs. any opponent

Friday at Golden State (10 ET, NBA TV): 

  • This Season: 1 game ( 16, 118-106 win): 34 PTS, 11-23 FG, 2-3 3P, 10-12 FT, 13 REB, 4 AST, 4 STL, 2 BLK, 36 MIN
  • Career: 24.4 ppg in seven games, fourth lowest average vs. any opponent

Saturday at Phoenix (10 ET, League Pass):

  • This Season: 1 game ( 7, 100-88 win): 33 PTS, 8-21 FG, 1-4 3P, 16-16 FT, 10 REB, 5 AST, 1 BLK, 37 MIN
  • Career: 31.7 ppg in 11 games, second highest average vs. any opponent

During this nine-game streak of 30+ point games, Embiid has averaged 36.1 ppg, helping him increase his lead in the scoring title race to a half point over Dallas’ Luka Doncic; Embiid enters Week 23 at 33.5 ppg, while Doncic remains at 33.0 as he has missed Dallas’ last four games.

Embiid and Doncic are on pace to become just the 12th and 13th players in NBA history to average at least 33 points for an entire season. They would join: Wilt Chamberlain (seven such seasons); Michael Jordan (three); Elgin Baylor and James Harden (two each); Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tiny Archibald, Rick Barry, Kobe Bryant, George Gervin, Allen Iverson and Bob McAdoo (one each).

Should Embiid maintain his current level of scoring efficiency, he would finish with the fewest field goal attempts (20.4 per game) and highest true shooting percentage (.654) of any player that has ever averaged at least 33 points in a season. By comparison, Doncic would rank second in fewest field goal attempts (22.3) with nearly two more per game and fourth in true shooting percentage (.613) behind Embiid and the two seasons from Harden.


2. Heat check: Sacramento Kings

De’Aaron Fox earns his badge as the most clutch player in the league, sinking the go-ahead game-winner to beat the Bulls.

No team has a better record since the All-Star break than the Sacramento Kings, who have lit the beam 11 times in just 13 games since the break. This run not only has the Kings on the verge of snapping the NBA’s longest playoff drought ever, they guaranteed their first winning season since 2006 on Thursday.

The Kings entered the break with the league’s highest scoring offense (119.5 point per game) while ranking third in field goal percentage (49.4%) and ninth in 3-point percentage (36.5%). Post All-Star, the Kings are averaging nearly nine more points per game (league-high 128.1 ppg) while ranking first in field goal percentage (51.8%) and second in 3-point percentage (41.2%).

De’Aaron Fox added another entry to his Clutch Player of the Year resume with his third game-winning shot of the season – a 3-pointer with under a second remaining to beat the Bulls on Wednesday in Chicago. The Kings have the longest active road win streak in the league (seven straight wins) and will look to extend it on Monday in Utah as they look to sweep a four-game road trip.

Domantas Sabonis posted his league-leading fourth 20-point, 20-rebound game of the season on Thursday in Brooklyn. Sabonis maintains his lead in rebounds per game (12.5) and double-doubles (57), and has passed Doncic for second place in triple-doubles (11). The Kings enter the week in second place in the Western Conference via a tiebreaker over the Grizzlies, as Sacramento and Memphis both trail Denver by three games in the loss column.

Both the Kings and Grizzlies will be busy over the final three weeks of the season as they are two of five teams that enter Week 23 with a league-high 12 games remaining on the schedule. This week Sacramento has two back-to-backs: Monday at Utah followed by Tuesday vs. Boston at home; and Friday vs. Phoenix followed by Saturday vs. Utah. The Kings are 7-5 in the second night of a back-to-back so far this season.


3. Kia MVP contender showdown

Kia MVP contenders Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo (left) and Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic are set to face off Saturday in Denver.

When it comes to the Kia MVP race, a strong case can be made for any of the top three contenders: Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. All three have been individually outstanding and have used their greatness to lead their teams to three of the top four records in the NBA entering Week 23: Milwaukee (51-20), Philadelphia (48-22) and Denver (48-24).

See how these Kia MVP candidates fare when facing each other can be important when it comes time to make a final decision and cast a ballot. Voters will remember that Embiid dropped 47 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks in Philadelphia’s 126-119 win over Jokic (24 points, eight rebounds, nine assists) and Denver on Jan. 28. And what will happen when these two meet again next Monday in Denver?

On Saturday, Jokic and Antetokounmpo face off for the first time this season when the Nuggets host the Bucks (9 ET, NBA TV). Jokic missed the first matchup (on Jan. 25) in Milwaukee as Giannis finished with 33 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three steals in the Bucks’ 107-99 victory.

Denver got a much-needed win in Brooklyn (behind another Jokic triple-double) as the Nuggets entered the matchup having lost five of their previous six games.

Denver’s recent struggles combined with strong play from both Philadelphia (eight wins in a row, 9-1 in last 10 games) and Milwaukee (22-3 over its past 25 games) has made this Kia MVP race a much tighter contest and made these head-to-head meetings that much more important. Jokic is 8-4 in head-to-head meetings against Antetokounmpo in his career.


4. National TV spotlight: Five must-see matchups

In addition to the Kia MVP showdown game between the Bucks and Nuggets on Saturday, here are five more must-see matchups this week.

Tuesday: Boston at Sacramento, 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV

This matchup features the No. 2 team in the West (with their top-ranked offense at 118.7 points per 100 possessions) hosting the No. 3 team in the East (with their No. 4 ranked defense at 111.2 points allowed per 100 possessions). While the Kings are a league-best 11-2 since the All-Star break, the Celtics are just 7-6 as they have been passed in the East by both Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Boston enters this matchup having won three straight over Sacramento, all in blowout fashion: plus-53 on Jan. 25, 2022; plus-29 on March 18, 2022 and plus-18 on Nov. 25 in their first matchup of this season.

Wednesday: Golden State at Dallas, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Entering Week 23, Dallas (36-35) and Golden State (36-36) rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in the Western Conference. That puts them on opposite sides of the playoff/play-in line that separates the top six guaranteed playoff berths and the play-in tournament for the Nos. 7-10 seeds for the final two spots. This is the final stop on a five-game road trip for the Warriors, which they have begun at 0-3 to drop their road record to 7-29 on the season.

Wednesday: Phoenix at Los Angeles Lakers, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Lakers are battling to secure a spot in the playoff/play-in picture on a nightly basis. They enter Week 23 holding the final spot in the play-in tournament. They are simultaneously one loss away from dropping out of the play-in and a three-game win streak from challenging for a guaranteed playoff berth. The Suns are currently in fourth in the West, but their grip on that seed (and home-court advantage in the first round) is getting looser that they lead the LA Clippers by just a half-game.

Friday: Philadelphia at Golden State, 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV

Something has to give in this matchup between this season’s top road team (Philadelphia at 22-12) visiting a top-three home team (Golden State at 29-7). This is the second stop of a four-game Western Conference swing for the Sixers as they face Golden State, Phoenix and Denver in a six-day span. The Sixers won the first meeting with the Warriors back on Dec. 16 in Philly in a game that saw a shorthanded Warriors’ roster without Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. Can the Sixers maintain their current run against a more whole Warriors squad (that is still without Wiggins).

Sunday: Memphis at Atlanta, 6 p.m. ET, NBA TV

The Grizzlies have already ruled out Ja Morant for Monday’s game against Dallas in the first game he is eligible to play in following his eight-game suspension.


5. League Pass games to watch: Five more to check out

Monday: Chicago at Philadelphia, 7 p.m. ET, League Pass

As discussed above, Embiid and the Sixers are on fire entering Week 23 and open the week by hosting Chicago. Can Philadelphia push its win streak to nine in a row, and have Embiid push his streak of 30+ point games to 10 in a row?  Can the Bulls, who are clinging to the final spot in the East play-in, find a way to slow down Embiid and get a much needed-win as they look to secure their spot in the field?

Tuesday: Oklahoma City at LA Clippers

This is the first of a two-game set between the Thunder and Clippers that will close out their season series. The Thunder, who lead the season series with the Clippers 2-0, will not only go for the season sweep, but also look to climb out of the play-in and into one of the six guaranteed playoff berths. The Thunder are 5-1 since Shai Gilgeous-Alexander returned to the lineup for OKC.

Wednesday and Friday: Houston at Memphis, 8 p.m. ET, League Pass

The Grizzlies have officially announced that Ja Morant will not play in Monday’s game against Dallas as he continues to ramp up his conditioning following his two-week absence. If Memphis hopes to bring Morant back in front of the home crowd, it will need to come either Wednesday or Friday against the Rockets before the Grizzlies head to Atlanta to face the Hawks on Sunday.

Friday: Oklahoma City at Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass

Entering Week 23, the Western Conference has seven teams with between 35 and 37 losses all battling to make the playoffs – whether that means needing to win the play-in tournament, or by reaching the top six and getting an automatic birth to the postseason. The Thunder (8th at 35-36) and the Lakers (10th at 35-37) are both in the middle of the West play-in drama that is set to unfold over the closing weeks of the season.

Saturday: Brooklyn at Miami, 8 p.m. ET, League Pass

A similar situation to Dallas/Golden State from earlier as the Nets currently hold the sixth and final guaranteed playoff berth in the East, while the Heat are just two games back in the loss column. This is the third and final meeting of the regular season between these teams with Miami already owning the head-to-head tiebreaker by leading the season series 2-0.

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