It is considered one of the marquee matchups in the NBA, so much so that TNT decided last week to televise Tuesday’s 8 p.m. game between the 76ers (17-7) and Denver Nuggets (14-7) at the Wells Fargo Center.
The matchup within the matchup, of course, is at center, with the Sixers’ Joel Embiid going up against Denver’s Nikola Jokic.
Because the two play in different conferences, their teams meet only twice a year. The body of work between them is still growing.
What is interesting is that neither is performing to the level of last season, when Jokic, 24, was named the first-team All-NBA center and Embiid, 25, was on the second team. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been effective, though.
Here are the key statistics for both players from last season and so far this season.
2018-19: 27.5 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 33.7 mpg, .484 fg, .300 3-pt, 3.7 apg, 3.5 topg, 3.3 pfpg
2019-20: 21.9 ppg., 12.5 rpg., 1.4 bpg. 30.4 mpg, .459 fg, .313 3-pt, 2.9 apg, 3.4 topg, 3.5 pfpg
Embiid is playing more than three fewer minutes per game, so that could be a factor in the decreased statistics. But he also is averaging 3.5 personal fouls, whereas he averaged 3.3 in more minutes last year.
2018-19: 20.1 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 31.3 mpg, .511 fg, .307 3-pt, 7.3 apg, 3.1 topg, 2.9 pfpg
2019-20: 16.1 ppg, 10.1 rbg, 0.6 bpg, 31.0 mpg, .465 fg, .229 3-pt, 6.1 apg, 2.6 topg, 3.2 pfpg
Jokic’s performance difference between the seasons is more pronounced because he is playing almost the same number of minutes. But his shooting is way down.
So far in their careers, they have met four times. Here are their stats against each other, courtesy of basketball-reference.com.
3-1, 29.4 mpg, .356 fg, .200 3-pt, 19.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.5 bpg, 2.5 apg, 5.3 topg, 5.0 pfpg
1-3, 31.5 mpg, .479 fg, .250 3-pt, 23 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 6.0 apg, 2.3 topg, 3.8 pfpg
This year’s first meeting between the teams, on Nov. 8, ended with controversy. The host Nuggets won, 100-97. With the Sixers trailing by 98-97, Embiid was called for a charge with 0.9 seconds left. The NBA Officiating Last 2 Minute Report later stated that a foul should have been called on Jokic instead of on Embiid.
Of course, it wouldn’t have come down to that if the Sixers hadn’t been outscored, 35-13, in the fourth quarter.
In that game, Embiid had 19 points (6-for-17), 15 rebounds, and 8 turnovers. Jokic had 26 points (10-for-22), 10 rebounds, and one turnover.
Embiid is coming off a less-than-stellar performance in Sunday’s 110-104 home win over Toronto. Facing defensive nemesis Marc Gasol, Embiid scored 10 points (3-for-7) with 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 7 turnovers in 30 minutes, 29 seconds.
“I thought his energy and his presence ... was good,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “In the end, they pressed, and he had some rough decisions.”
Some of those decisions resulted in three turnovers in a 51-second span.
Despite the miscues, Brown said Embiid was a big reason the Sixers won.
“It won’t jump out to you on the stat sheet, but it’s Joel Embiid and his length,” Brown said. “You can feel his presence really affected their rim work.”
Jokic appears to be coming out of a slump in his last two games, although the Nuggets lost both, Friday in Boston and Sunday in Brooklyn. He has scored 54 points in his last two games.
During his previous five games, he averaged just 8.4 points, shot .383 from the field and was 0-for-7 from three-point range.