Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic will replace injured Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid in the 2017 Taco Bell® Skills Challenge on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. ET. In addition, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Alex Abrines will replace Embiid on the World Team in the 2017 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 17 at 9 p.m. ET.
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Both events are part of NBA All-Star festivities at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. Embiid is currently sidelined with a left knee injury.
In his second season, Jokic is averaging 16.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 48 games (34 starts). He ranks sixth in the NBA in field goal percentage at 59.0. The 21-year-old Serbian has recorded two triple-doubles in February, including a 17-point, 21-rebound, 12-assist performance in Denver’s 132-110 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 13. In addition, he scored a career-high 40 points in a 131-123 win over the New York Knicks on Feb. 10.
Jokic will also compete in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. He will now be joined on the World Team by Abrines, a rookie guard from Spain. Abrines, 23, is averaging 5.4 points in 13.9 minutes in 45 games, and he ranks fourth among first-year players in three-point field goals made (53) and three-point field goal percentage (37.3).
While football is the main event inside the building, the Superdome does have a history with the NBA. It is not a rich one, but it is memorable nonetheless. The Superdome was once the home of the New Orleans Jazz for the franchise’s final four years before it relocated to Utah before the 1979-80 season, and had the envious honor of showing off “Pistol” Pete Maravich in his prime and China jerseys.
The Jazz split their initial season between the Municipal Auditorium and the Loyola Fieldhouse jersey because the Dome wasn’t yet complete. Basketball was a bit problematic at the Fieldhouse because the floor was elevated so high that league officials surrounded it with netting so the players wouldn’t fall off and into the stands.
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The Jazz struggled on the court in New Orleans but enjoyed some record crowds thanks to the enormity of the Dome and also cheap tickets; some upper deck seats could be had for $3 (binoculars not included). However, the Jazz also played on the road for a month each season because of Mardi Gras, similar to what the San Antonio Spurs do now when the rodeo comes to town. And an especially-punitive amusement tax on Superdome tickets (11 percent) helped quicken the Jazz’s exit, because the tax cut sharply into the owners’ profit margin.
“A lot of players do play with minor tears,” Colangelo said. “Once again, the injury is thought to be mostly about the bone bruise and that’s what he’s being treated for. If he can show he is healthy and able to play with cheap jerseys, there is no reason he shouldn’t play. This is not thought to be a severe injury.”
Embiid hasn’t played since Jan. 27, when he had 32 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a nationally televised 123-118 home loss to James Harden and Houston. Embiid is averaging 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in 31 games this season. Counting Saturday, he will have missed 12 of the last 13 games.
After sitting out his first two seasons with a foot injury due to wholesale China jerseys, Embiid injured his knee on Jan. 20 in a 93-92 home victory over Portland.
Embiid wasn’t selected as a reserve to the Eastern Conference’s All-Star team, but he is scheduled to compete in the Rising Stars game and the Skills Challenge during the league’s All-Star festivities. Colangelo said it is “very unlikely” that Embiid would participate in those.
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Philadelphia has two games remaining after Saturday before the break, but it’s doubtful Embiid will play in either, Monday at Charlotte and Wednesday at Boston.
“It’s more than likely we’ll hold him back until the end of the All-Star break,” Colangelo said.
The 76ers entered Saturday 13-18 with Embiid in the lineup and 6-16 without his NBA jerseys.
While Colangelo acknowledged the organization’s disappointment, Brown chose to be closer to the vest.
When pressed about it not being a good look for Embiid to dance on stage when he can’t play on the court, Brown acknowledged that was part of the discussion.
“The conversations I had with Joel after I saw the video included a lot, some of which you mentioned,” Brown said. “By and large, I’d probably prefer it was a private conversation.”
Asked if he was disappointed by Embiid’s actions, Brown said: “I’m not going to go there anymore. I’ve spoken with Joel privately and I’ll leave it at that.”