A tale of two centers: Jokic is trying to stay on top and Embiid is trying to stay on the court

NEW YORK (AP) — Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid are the NBA's main men in the middle, the two centers combining for the last three MVP awards in the regular season with perhaps another coming soon.

It's in the postseason where their paths are so different.

Jokic cemented his place among the game's greats by leading the Denver Nuggets to last year's NBA title, and he appears intent on staying on top.

Embiid is just trying to stay on the court.

He rarely has been healthy enough to mount a real run at a championship and he's already at less than full strength just a game into this postseason.

Jokic will try to lead the Nuggets to a 2-0 lead over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, while the Philadelphia 76ers hope Embiid can help them tie up their series against the New York Knicks.

The Cleveland Cavaliers host the Orlando Magic in the other game Monday after winning the series opener.

Jokic had 32 points and 12 rebounds Saturday in Denver's 114-103 victory. He has scored 20 or more points in 20 consecutive playoff games.

“We see it all the time, man,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Nikola is a great player and the bigger the stage, the brighter the lights, he just continues to shine.”

Embiid seemed on his way to a dominant night against the Knicks before appearing to reinjure his surgically repaired left knee after throwing the ball off the backboard to himself and slamming it down late in the first half. Last season's MVP and scoring champion returned and finished with 29 points but appeared limited, going 2 for 11 after halftime and missing all five shots in the fourth quarter.

He has missed at least one game in each of the last three postseasons. But he returned after sitting out two months following Feb. 6 surgery to help the 76ers reach the playoffs, and his teammates weren't surprised he kept playing in pain in Game 1.

“He’s always a fighter, he’s always going to try to go out there and give his all for his team,” All-Star Tyrese Maxey said. “So if he’s able to go, if he thinks he can go, then he for sure will be out there.”

Donovan Mitchell had his own knee problems in the second half of the season, but he looked sharp with 30 points as Cleveland beat Orlando 97-83 on Saturday in a strong response after getting manhandled by the Knicks last year.

“That’s how the series is going to be,” said Mitchell, who was so anxious for Game 1 that he only got a few hours' sleep. “How do you respond? That’s been my message all year. We’re going to get beat up. We’re going to turn the ball over. We’re going to have bad possessions.

“We’re not going to make shots. Stuff like that’s going to happen. That was a great response.”


Cleveland leads 1-0. Game 2, 7 p.m. EDT, NBA TV/fubo

— NEED TO KNOW: The Cavs passed the first test. Bigger ones are coming. Lifted by a raucous crowd, Cleveland stood its ground when Orlando got feisty. Magic forward Franz Wagner’s rough play underneath led to some jawing, shoving and a pair of technical fouls. Expect the Magic to stay physical.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Orlando’s Paolo Banchero. The All-Star forward scored 24 points in his playoff debut, but it took him a while to get going. Banchero was way too careless with the ball, committing nine of Orlando’s 12 turnovers. The Cavs did a nice job running an extra defender at Banchero, forcing him into uncomfortable situations.

— INJURY WATCH: A week of rest seemed to do wonders for Mitchell, who was darting around with his usual burst and lift. It will be interesting to see how he looks with just one recovery day.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Magic guard Jalen Suggs. He’s got to try and contain Mitchell and provide something on offense following a 4-of-16 shooting performance that included 1 of 7 on 3s. At least he made a shot; Orlando’s other guards, Garry Harris, Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony, were a combined 0 for 17.


New York leads 1-0. Game 2, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The 76ers forced All-Star Jalen Brunson into 8-for-26 shooting in Game 1 but other Knicks players made them pay. Deuce McBride made five 3-pointers, Josh Hart four and Bojan Bogdanovic three.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: The rebound battle. The Knicks go after offensive boards as hard as anybody, and they grabbed 23 in Game 1 en route to a 55-33 advantage overall and a 26-8 edge in second-chance points.

— INJURY WATCH: Embiid is again listed as questionable for Game 2. The Sixers cleared him to start in Game 1 after he went through his pregame workout and that may be the same plan Monday. Maxey was added to the injury report Monday morning, also listed as questionable with an illness after scoring 33 points in Game 1.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Tobias Harris and Kelly Oubre Jr. Embiid needs help on the boards if he's limited, and the starting forwards' combined 12 rebounds were one fewer than Hart had himself.


Nuggets lead 1-0. Game 2, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The Nuggets got off to a slow start to begin defense of the franchise’s first NBA championship, but they dominated the Lakers most of the night in their playoff opener, outscoring them by 10 points both on second chances and in the paint. They also outscored LA 21-14 on fast breaks. Although LeBron James (27) and Anthony Davis (32) combined for 59 points, James had a quiet second half and he committed seven of the Lakers’ 12 turnovers while the Nuggets had only four, including just one by their starters.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell, who missed 14 of 20 shots but seemed unbothered by that 30% shooting clip, saying he was thrilled to get that many shots off and figures a bigger percentage of them will fall in Game 2.

— INJURY WATCH: Lakers coach Darvin Ham said Sunday it's unclear when Christian Wood (knee) and Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) will be available to bolster a bench that saw just one player (Taurean Prince) score in Game 1. Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray, who missed seven games down the stretch with a balky knee, logged 39 minutes without any trouble in Game 1.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Los Angeles, which hasn’t beaten the Nuggets in almost 500 days. The Lakers have lost nine in a row to the Nuggets even though they’ve gotten to the line more than Denver did in all nine games, taking 204 free throw attempts during that streak to the Nuggets’ 130. On Saturday night, the Lakers were 17 of 19 from the stripe and Denver was just 5 of 6. Asked what he'd do to rectify the disparity, Malone cracked: “Why should we? We keep winning.” Seriously, though, Malone said it's not like his team just settles for jump shots. “But we went into this series knowing that they had a plus-500 differential this year.”


AP Sports Writers Pat Graham and Arnie Stapleton in Denver, and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.