MINNEAPOLIS — Is Joel Embiid the victim of a double standard?
The 76ers center is the NBA’s leader in free-throw attempts at 10.87 per game. He draws so many fouls that second- and third-teamers are often summoned to play against his towering presence. Opposing defenders often get frustrated that he generates a lot of his free throws on what they deem as questionable rip-throughs.
But one can argue that Embiid has earned the right to get those calls. The three-time All-Star is not just a face of the NBA. This season, he has a chance to become the first center to win the league’s MVP award since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.
But was he the victim of the double standard in Wednesday’s 107-106 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at the Wells Fargo Center? The big man was pushed in the center of the chest on a dunk attempt by Lakers forward and four-time MVP LeBron James with 5 minutes, 44 seconds left in the third quarter.
Embiid, who is dealing with back tightness, landed flat on his back and stayed there for a couple of minutes. James was given a Flagrant Foul 1, a call that Embiid thought was too lenient. He’s listed as questionable for Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center.
“You look at it, that’s a very dangerous play,” said Embiid, who was later called for a Flagrant Foul 1 on Anthony Davis. “I guarantee you that if that was me, I would probably been ejected from the game, which has happened in the past with me getting flagrant fouls really for nothing.
“So when you compare that to the one that I got, which I thought I really didn’t hit him. ... If you compare those two, those are tough plays and I just thought that should have been a Flagrant 2.”
The Brooklyn Nets felt the same way about Embiid during the teams’ 2019 first-round playoff series.
Embiid was assessed a Flagrant Foul 1 for elbowing Jarett Allen in the head during Game 2.
In Game 4, Embiid knocked Allen to the court on a layup attempt. Allen fell down after Embiid forcefully swiped at the ball. That action led to an on-court scuffle.
Jared Dudley took exception and bumped into Embiid from behind. Jimmy Butler shoved Dudley in the back underneath the basket. As players rushed to the confrontation, Ben Simmons was knocked into Dudley, sending both players into the front-row seats on the baseline.
Butler and Dudley received double technical fouls and were ejected. Embiid received his second Flagrant Foul 1 of the series against Allen.
A lot of the Nets’ frustration came from Embiid and Simmons laughing when Embiid addressed the Game 2 incident during the postgame press conference. But Embiid apologized for laughing and said he didn’t mean any disrespect. He said the laughter wasn’t directed at Allen. One can argue that Embiid’s sheer size and strength makes his contact with opponents appear more forceful than intended.
So Embiid has been on both sides of the Flagrant Foul 1.
He said he didn’t have any ill intent against Allen two years ago, just like Doc Rivers is sure that James isn’t a dirty player. And based on the coach’s comment, he doesn’t think James’ hard foul warranted a Flagrant Foul 2.
“It was just a physical play and they had to call the flagrant I guess, all of the flagrant [fouls] tonight,” Rivers said. “You know .. you can get a flagrant easy these days.”
Terrance Ferguson (personal reasons) will miss Friday’s game, while Vincent Poirier (post health and safety protocols reconditioning) is probable. … The starting times for the Sixers games with Portland on Feb. 4 and Brooklyn on Feb. 6 are now 8 p.m. Their game at Phoenix Feb. 13 is now 3 p.m.