Joel Embiid is about to make a lot of history. And a half-dozen first round or play-in game matchups are set to be decided.
The final day of the NBA season has no shortage of storylines.
A new scoring champion will be crowned and, barring something crazy, Embiid — who hails from Cameroon — will become the first international player to win that title. The Philadelphia big man also be the first center to win the scoring crown since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000.
Embiid scored 41 points Saturday in Philadelphia’s 133-120 win over Indiana. He’s now averaging 30.6 points for the season, which is just ahead of LeBron James’ 30.3-point-per-game clip for the Los Angeles Lakers and Kevin Durant’s 30.1 average for the Brooklyn Nets.
But neither James nor Durant will play enough games to qualify for the statistical title; in an 82-game season, 58 games played is the minimum. That means the scoring race comes down to Embiid and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, the star from Greece — also bidding to be the first international NBA scoring champion — who would need a miracle finish to grab the crown.
If Embiid plays in Sunday’s 76ers’ regular-season finale against Detroit and didn’t score — which is unlikely — Antetokoumpo would still need 47 points in the Bucks’ finale at Cleveland to take the lead. If Embiid doesn’t play at all Sunday, Antetokounmpo would need 77 points to tie Embiid for the crown.
Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.9 points entering the season’s final day.
Miami is the No. 1 seed. Toronto is the No. 5 seed. Chicago is the No. 6 seed. Everything else remains unclear.
Philadelphia’s win over Indiana on Saturday means that the 76ers will be either No. 3 or No. 4. Boston or Milwaukee will be No. 2; the Bucks lock up that spot with a win at Cleveland on Sunday. Boston can get to No. 2 by winning at Memphis and the Cavaliers beating the Bucks.
EAST PLAY-IN RACE
All that is certain is Atlanta cannot finish 7th and Brooklyn cannot finish 10th. The Nets can be No. 7, No. 8 or No. 9 — and the Hawks can be No. 8, No. 9 or No. 10. Cleveland and Charlotte will be in there too, in some order.
There are four Sunday games that will tell the tale, all 3:30 p.m. Eastern starts: Indiana at Brooklyn, Milwaukee at Cleveland, Washington at Charlotte and Atlanta at Houston.
The Nets would be No. 7 with a win, and might get there with a loss as well. Cleveland would be no worse than No. 8 with a win. The Cavaliers and Hornets could each be 7th, 8th, 9th or 10th.
Phoenix is the No. 1 seed, Memphis is the No. 2 seed. Dallas and Golden State will be No. 3 and No. 4 — in some order. And Denver and Utah will be No. 5 and No. 6 — again, in some order.
Golden State would be locked into No. 3 with wins Saturday at San Antonio and Sunday at New Orleans.
Utah will be the No. 5 seed with a win over Portland on Sunday, or if the Los Angeles Lakers beat Denver in the regular-season finale for those teams.
WEST PLAY-IN RACE
The only matchup and site that is locked in so far is: The Los Angeles Clippers will play at Minnesota on Tuesday night, with the winner getting the No. 7 seed and a first-round series with the Grizzlies.
The other West play-in game will have New Orleans facing San Antonio in the 9 vs. 10 matchup on Wednesday night. It’ll be at New Orleans, unless the Spurs go 2-0 on Saturday and Sunday while the Pelicans go 0-2 on the final weekend of the regular season.
RACE TO 82
Only five players are in position to play on Sunday and officially appear in all 82 regular-season games with their team this season: Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges, Detroit’s Saddiq Bey, Washington’s Deni Avdija, Dallas’ Dwight Powell and (if he plays Saturday night) Golden State’s Kevon Looney.
It’ll be the fewest number of players in NBA history to have appeared in every game for a full regular season.
There were 11 players who appeared in all 72 games last season, which was shortened by the pandemic. There were 14 every-game players in 2019-20, where teams played differing numbers of games, again because of the pandemic and then with not every team advancing to the restart bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
THREES WERE DOWN
For the first time in a decade, the NBA won’t set a 3-pointers made record — at least not in terms of average.
Teams are making 12.4 3’s per game this season, down slightly from the 12.7 per game last season. The 2020-21 season was the ninth straight in which the 3’s-per-game average had increased to a new record.
The record for 3’s taken per game will be broken again, for the 11th consecutive season. And total 3’s made in a season is another record, with the league going over the 30,000 mark for the first time on Friday night.
All that said, the 3-point craze is still officially happening. The league will take somewhere between 86,000 and 87,000 3’s this season by the close of business on Sunday. That’s almost double what was taken 11 years ago.
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