Why Karl-Anthony Towns unsettles Joel Embiid

The battle to be the best center in the NBA


Maybe it was inevitable that Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns would fight. In some ways, they have been at it for years. In December 2017, Embiid was coming off an injury, and the middling Sixers were on the road against the 16-12 Timberwolves. Embiid hit some key late free throws and buckets and the Sixers won in overtime.

Then the real games began. Embiid crowed about it on Instagram in a way that made the whole league pay attention. Towns responded, and essentially it has been simmering ever since. Embiid talks openly of competing for “real estate” in his opponents’ heads. Earlier in the day an NBA player told me that Embiid tells people that he is in Towns’ head in particular. Embiid has said on social media that he thinks the Wolves center is afraid of him. 

On Wednesday night in Philadelphia, two other factors amped things up. First, both the 76ers and Timberwolves were undefeated. Second, Towns had been playing like an MVP and then some—if only in three games. A…

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