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Will load management impact NBA scoring race?

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The most famous scoring race in NBA history was probably the1978 edition, when George Gervin edged out David Thompson by sevenhundredths of a point.

Thompson scored 73 points in his team’s final game of theregular season, only for Gervin to answer with 63 later that day.It was an example of how two talented players — with a tight marginseparating them — can push each other to some impressiveheights.

Will we see anything similar this coming week from Joel Embiidand Luka Doncic?

Embiid is the current leader at 32.97 points per game. Doncic isat 32.75. The regular season ends April 9 — 45 years to the dayafter Thompson and Gervin produced their fantastic finish to the1977-78 season. Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers are scheduled toplay at Brooklyn at 1 p.m. That game should end around the timeDoncic and the Mavericks tip off against San Antonio.

So it’s easy to imagine Embiid putting up a huge number andleaving Doncic to try and answer with his own scoring binge. Andthat would be fitting, given that this season has already had two71-point games from Donovan Mitchell and Damian Lillard.

(Lillard is a close third in the scoring race at 32.17 ppg, buthe’s had a calf injury and hasn’t played since March 22 for theout-of-contention Portland Trail Blazers. He has appeared in 58games — the exact number needed to qualify for the scoringtitle.)

Doncic scored 60 points in a Dec. 27 game against the New YorkKnicks, and Embiid had 59 on Nov. 13 against Utah. There’s notelling how high they might go if there’s enough motivation tochase the scoring championship.

Of course, that’s the big question: How big a priority is it?Especially for Embiid, who won last year.

The 76ers have four games remaining. They’re currently third inthe Eastern Conference, three games behind Boston and 2 1/2 aheadof Cleveland. If Philadelphia’s postseason seeding becomes certain,would Embiid — who is also an MVP candidate — sit out to rest upfor the playoffs?

Doncic may not have that choice. The Mavericks are a game out ofthe last play-in spot in the West, and they need him in the lineupas they try to salvage their rapidly deteriorating season. Ofcourse, that means winning games is the priority, so Dallas may notbe in a position to feed Doncic the ball in an effort to get himthe scoring crown.

Gervin finished the 1977-78 season at 27.22 ppg, with Thompsonat 27.15. That is, according to Sportradar, the closest race since1969-70, when the NBA started using points per game to determinethe scoring champion instead of total points.

Here are the other four closest races since then — and how theyended:

1993-94: David Robinson 29.79, Shaquille O’Neal 29.35.

Robinson and O’Neal gave the NBA a Thompson vs. Gervin redux in’94. Well, half of one. Robinson poured it on in San Antonio’sfinale, scoring 71 points against the Los Angeles Clippers. Thatperformance broke the team record for single-game scoring — set byGervin in his 63-point game 16 years earlier. It left O’Nealneeding 68 points for the title, but he managed only 32. BrianHill, Shaq’s coach in Orlando, called the Spurs-Clippers game a“farce.”

1997-98: Michael Jordan 28.74, Shaquille O’Neal 28.32.

Another near-miss for Shaq, although he played only 60 gamesthat season while Jordan played all 82. Jordan scored 44 points inhis final regular-season game for Chicago. O’Neal needed 59 thefollowing day and scored 33. It was the 10th and last scoring titlefor Jordan.

2009-10: Kevin Durant 30.15, LeBron James 29.71.

This was a close race, but it wasn’t overly suspenseful becauseJames was rested at the end of the season and didn’t play in any ofCleveland’s last four games. Durant scored 31 points in OklahomaCity’s finale, but even if he’d gone scoreless, he’d have won.

2011-12: Kevin Durant 28.03, Kobe Bryant 27.86.

Durant won his third straight title after scoring 32 points inthe regular-season finale. Bryant could have passed him with a38-point effort the following night, but he sat out the Lakers’game at Sacramento as the team prepared for the playoffs. Jamesfinished at 27.15, making this the last time the top three scorerswere within a point of each other — a scenario that could berepeated this year.

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