Joel Embiid is about to make a lot of history. And half a dozen first-round or play-in matchups will be decided.
The last day of the NBA season has no shortage of stories.
A new goalscoring champion will be crowned and, barring any madness, Embiid, who hails from Cameroon, will become the first international player to win that title. The Philadelphia big man will also be the first center to win the scoring crown since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000.
Embiid had 41 points Saturday in Philadelphia’s 133-120 victory over Indiana. He is now averaging 30.6 points for the season, which is just ahead of LeBron James’s 30.3 points per game average 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 Milwaukee’s Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the star from Greece, also aiming to be the NBA’s first international scoring champion, who would need a miraculous finish to clinch the crown.
If Embiid plays in Sunday’s 76ers regular-season finale against Detroit and doesn’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 on Sunday, Antetokounmpo would need 77 points to tie Embiid for the crown.
Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.9 points going into the final day of the season.
Miami is the No. 1 seed. Toronto is the No. 5 seed. Chicago is the No. 6 seed. Everything else remains unclear.
Philadelphia’s victory over Indiana on Saturday means the 76ers will be No. 3 or No. 4. Boston or Milwaukee will be No. 2; the Bucks secure that spot with a win at Cleveland on Sunday. Boston can get to No. 2 by beating Memphis and the Cavaliers beating the Bucks.
EASTERN PLAY-IN RACE
All that’s certain is that Atlanta can’t finish 7th and Brooklyn can’t 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 there, too, in some order.
There are four Sunday games that will tell the story, all starting at 3:30 pm ET: Indiana at Brooklyn, Milwaukee at Cleveland, Washington at Charlotte and Atlanta at Houston.
The Nets would be No. 7 with a win, and they could get there with a loss, too. 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 Nos. 3 and 4, in some order. And Denver and Utah will be No. 5 and No. 6, again, in some order.
Golden State would be locked in at No. 3 with wins Saturday at San Antonio and Sunday at New Orleans.
Utah will be the No. 5 seed with a victory over Portland on Sunday, or if the Los Angeles Lakers beat Denver in the regular-season finale for those teams.
WESTERN PLAY-IN RACE
The only matchup and site that’s locked in so far is: The Los Angeles Clippers play Minnesota on Tuesday night, with the winner getting the No. 7 seed and a first-round series with the Grizzlies.
The West’s other play-in game will have New Orleans facing San Antonio in a 9-on-10 matchup on Wednesday night. It will be in New Orleans, unless the Spurs are 2-0 on Saturday and Sunday while the Pelicans are 0-2 in the final weekend of the regular season.
RACE TO 82
Only five players are fit 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’s Dwight Powell and (if he plays Saturday night) Kevon Looney of Golden State.
It will be the fewest players in NBA history to have appeared in all games during an entire regular season.
There were 11 players who appeared in all 72 games last season, which was shortened by the pandemic. There were 14 players in all games in 2019-20, where teams played different numbers of games, again due to the pandemic and then not all teams advancing to the restart bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
THREE WERE DOWN
For the first time in a decade, the NBA won’t set a record for 3-pointers, at least not in terms of average.
Teams are shooting 12.4 3-pointers per game this season, down slightly from 12.7 per game last season. The 2020-21 season was the ninth in a row that the 3 per game average rose to a new high.
The record of 3 taken per game will be broken again, for the 11th consecutive season. And the total of 3 made in a season is another record, with the league surpassing 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 between 86,000 and 87,000 3-pointers this season by the close of business on Sunday. That’s almost double what was taken 11 years ago.
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