Joel Embiid is a basketball junkie, someone who sits at his 76ers locker stall after a game and fires up NBA League Pass on his cellphone before leaving the Wells Fargo Center. So he was quite aware when Nikola Jokic dropped 30 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to seal the Denver Nuggets’ March 6 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

“I was watching the game, actually,” Embiid said the following night. “Like I’m always watching. I’m watching every game. But he’s a monster.”

For the second consecutive season, Embiid and Jokic are at the top of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player race. Yet while number crunching and visceral debate heats up from outsiders during the regular season’s final month — including when they are scheduled to face each other in front of a national-television audience Monday night in Philly — both players view each other through a lens of mutual respect rather than rivalry.

“He’s a great player,” Jokic said of Embiid. “Great. Like, for real, great, great player. He can do everything on the floor. [He is someone] who is controlling the game, who is in conversation for MVP and the best player in the league. He’s so dominant. He’s skilled, but he’s so big and strong that he uses that. He’s really tough [to cover] for every single team in the NBA.”

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Added Embiid on Jokic: “What he’s able to do on the basketball floor, it’s crazy. So from big man to big man, I’m happy. When you look at who’s dominating the league and really who the best players are, it’s really all big men.”

Jokic said Saturday night that he and Embiid do not have a close enough personal relationship to text regularly, but assured Embiid is “always good to me.” And Monday would be a somewhat rare on-court matchup between two elite centers in the heart of their primes.

That they play in opposite conferences means their teams meet only twice during the regular season. But injuries and COVID-19 health and safety protocols have kept Embiid out of the past three potential matchups, including the Sixers’ 103-89 win in Denver in November.

Both players come into Monday’s game boasting staggering stat lines. Embiid is averaging 29.8 points on 48.4/35.6/82 shooting splits, 11.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. Jokic, meanwhile, is averaging 26.1 points on 57.3/34.9/80.6 shooting splits,13.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 0.8 blocks and 1.3 steals per game.

Though they are both big men with skills once only reserved for perimeter players, they take slightly different routes to achieve those gaudy numbers.

Jokic is a triple-double threat every game because of his passing wizardry. At a moment’s notice Jokic can flip the ball over his shoulder, across the court or through an unfathomable window with ease. Embiid is a more dominant defender and scorer — he moved back into first in the NBA in that category (29.8 points per game) with Sunday’s 35-point effort in a 116-114 overtime victory over the Magic — by using footwork, handles and off-the-dribble moves that are eye-popping for a player who jokes he is “freaking 500 pounds.”

“I hope that, in the future, that’s the next evolution,” Embiid said of big-man skill. " … When you start talking about dribbling and really pulling up, that’s not really [Jokic’s] game. But he’s a monster offensively, just always making the right reads and obviously playmaking and making tough plays all the time.

“But when you talk about the way I play, that’s really guard-like. That’s where, like I said, I’m unpredictable when I can mix it up and can take it to the post and I can also go on the outside and ballhandling and crossovers and all that stuff.”

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This season, Embiid has improved his playmaking with a career-best assist average, while Jokic is no longer the defensive liability he once was. And both players are anchoring teams that have dealt with significant adversity this season.

The Sixers navigated the months-long Ben Simmons saga before finally trading him (and Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round draft picks) to the Brooklyn Nets for perennial All-Star James Harden and Paul Millsap. The Nuggets, meanwhile, have played virtually the entire season without the injured Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., their second- and third-best players. The Sixers (41-25) and Nuggets (40-28) had similar records entering Monday, though the Sixers sat in second place in the Eastern Conference standings while Denver was sixth in the West.

Embiid is also clearly emphasizing durability and availability, after missing 10 games with a knee injury late last season may have tilted the award in Jokic’s favor. Embiid has sat out just one of the Sixers’ last 38 games for planned rest, and has played through an early-season knee injury and, more recently, a hand issue.

He also recently expressed an urgency to get back his dominance from a two-month stretch when he scored at least 30 points in 25 of 35 games, reached at least 40 points eight times, matched his career high with 50 points in a January home win over the Magic and recorded two 30-point triple-doubles. He is coming off a 9-of-28 performance Sunday at Orlando — though a 15-of-17 mark from the free-throw line helped him generate 35 points to go with 16 rebounds and seven assists — and is shooting 37.9% (33-of-87) from the floor in his last four games.

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Meanwhile, Jokic’s recent surge — he has averaged 33 points on 62.9% shooting, 13.4 rebounds and 9.4 assists in his past five games — may have pushed him ahead in the race, at least temporarily.

Embiid and Jokic are not the only contenders for the award with about 15 games remaining for each team. In many seasons, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo’s numbers would make him a clear-cut favorite to win his third MVP in four years. The Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant and the Chicago Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan have done wonders to elevate their teams.

Yet Monday could be the night this season’s top two MVP vote-getters go head-to-head.

“I respect his game a lot,” Jokic said of Embiid. “It’s always fun to play against the best.”