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Joel Embiid outduels Nikola Jokić in battle of MVPs, dominates 4th quarter to lead 76ers past Nuggets

In a battle of the two players to claim the past three league MVPs, Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers came out on top Tuesday.

Embiid outdueled Nikola Jokić and led the 76ers to a 126-121 win over the NBA champion Denver Nuggets. Jokić was outstanding, but the night belonged to Embiid, who finished the game with 41 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.

Both players reentered the game with 7:30 remaining and Denver leading 111-110. With the game tied at 113-113, Embiid went on a personal 10-0 run that gave Philadelphia a 123-113 advantage and put the game out of Denver's reach. He scored from inside, out and at the line during the run, with a 3-pointer over Jokić increasing Philadelphia's lead to 121-113 with 4:53 remaining.

The Nuggets cut the deficit to 125-121 in the final 30 seconds with three Michael Porter Jr. free throws after Embiid fouled him on a 3-point attempt. But Denver wouldn't score again as Philadelphia held on for the win.

Jokić tallied 25 points, 19 rebounds and three assists, but it wasn't enough for the Nuggets as they tipped off the first game of a five-game East Coast road swing. Their first game back when they return to Denver? A rematch against the 76ers on Jan. 27.

The game Tuesday was a showcase of the game's two best centers and arguably its two best players, who have combined to win the past three MVPs. Jokić won the honor in consecutive seasons in 2021 and 2022. Embiid secured his first MVP trophy in 2023 ahead of Jokić, who finished in second place. Jokić countered with his first NBA championship and a Finals MVP trophy.

Joel Embiid and the 76ers won this round against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Joel Embiid and the 76ers won this round against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Will Embiid or Jokić win another MVP this season?

Both players are making a strong case for MVP contention again. Embiid's big night is the latest in a dominant 13-game stretch that has seen him average 38.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists and two blocks while shooting 58% from the field, 42% from 3-point distance and 89% from the line. For the season, he's averaging 34.9 points, 11.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists and two blocks — numbers that are all improvements over his MVP campaign on a team that has started the season 26-13.

After the game, he told TNT that he told Jokić that he's the best player in the game.

"I just told him he's the best player in the league," Embiid told TNT's Allie LaForce. "Like I told you earlier, he won a championship. That's the best team in the league. He's the Finals MVP.

"I was just telling him, 'Keep going, see you in two weeks. Keep doing your thing. That's why you're the best player in the league.'"

The case for Jokić remains strong. He continues to transcend the game as an elite playmaker and scorer in the post. He entered Tuesday averaging 25.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.3 assists while shooting 58.2% from the field and 35.2% from 3-point distance for a now 28-14 Nuggets team.

The debate will surely continue to rage throughout the season, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Dončić and Giannis Antetokounmpo among those looking to break the center's hold on the MVP award. In the meantime, let's hope we get a healthy rematch between the two on Jan. 27 in Denver.