Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid makes MVP case leading 76ers past Bucks

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) Joel Embiid makes MVP case leading 76ers past Antetokounmpo, Bucks

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps conducted a straw poll of potential MVP voters and found Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic in a near dead heat at the top, with Giannis Antetokounmpo a step back in third but within striking distance, then a big drop off to everyone else. It’s a three-man race for MVP with two months to go in the season.

Thursday night, Joel Embiid made his case: 42 points, 14 rebounds and five assists leading the 76ers to a 123-120 win.

While the MVP is a cumulative, season-long award the winner needs a couple of statement games to stick in voters’ minds, this was one for Embiid, who outdueled Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. But down the stretch, it was Embiid hitting the one-legged, Dirk-like fadeaway, and it was Embiid playing good defense on Antetokounmpo at points.

One quick note, don’t pretend this is a potential playoff series preview because both of these teams will look very different come May. The 76ers are still waiting on James Harden‘s debut after the trade (Feb. 25 is the target date). The Bucks were without Brook Lopez, George Hill, Pat Connaughton, Grayson Allen and DeAndre' Bembry.

It still was a quality win for the 76ers. On a night some teams mailed it in like it was the last day of school before spring break, the 76ers and Bucks were focused.

Embiid got some help from Tyrese Maxey, who sparked a second quarter 76ers run to get back in it after falling behind early. Maxey had 16 first-half points, and was getting pointers from Harden.

There is still a long way to go in a very tight MVP race. Jokic will still have his say. But if Embiid becomes the first 76er MVP since Allen Iverson, we can all look back on this as one of his signature games.

2) Miami catches break, outlasts Charlotte for dramatic 2OT win

Kyle Lowry was brilliant in the clutch in this game, scoring 12 of his 25 points on the night in the overtimes.

Lowry and the Heat also caught a break because he was credited with a 3-pointer in the first overtime when his foot was on the line and it should have been a two.

Missing a call in real time happens, the referees are human. Why this wasn’t reviewed is beyond me. Between Secaucus and the refs in the building, nobody thought to take another look at this? It was a short window, but in OT they need to be sure. Crew chief Sean Wright said this after the game:

“The crew has to have doubt in order to stop the play. Unfortunately, we did not have doubt at this time, which is the reason we didn’t stop the play.”

Beyond the call, this was about as entertaining a game as it gets. Duncan Robinson had 21 as part of a very balanced Heat attack. Miles Bridges had 29 for Charlotte, Montrezl Harrell had 24 off the bench.

3) Watch Luka Doncic drop 49 in Mavs win

Luka Doncic isn’t going to win the MVP award this year, he was too slow out of the gate — admitting he needs to do better with his conditioning — and has never been able to catch up with Embiid/Antetokounmpo/Jokic.

But he will end up on a lot of ballots because he has played brilliantly after that start. The latest example, dropping 49 points with 15 rebounds and eight assists on the Magic.

Dallas has climbed as Doncic found his way, and at 35-24 the Mavs sit fifth in the West heading into the break.

Highlight of the Night: Maybe put your money on Luke Kennard in the 3-point contest

The Clippers’ Luke Kennard warmed up for the 3-point contest by draining 8-of-9 3s as the Clippers routed the Rockets on Thursday night.

Yesterday’s scores:

Miami 111, Charlotte 107 (2OT)
Washington 117, Brooklyn 103
Dallas 125, New Orleans 118
Philadelphia 123, Milwaukee 120
LA Clippers 142, Houston 111