Before the 2021 NBA All-Star break, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid was on top of his game. By missing only six games, Embiid's availability allowed him to meet the criteria of being on every MVP watchlist out there.

In addition to being healthy and available frequently, Embiid was also dominating the competition as he averaged 30 points per game, 11 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks while shooting a career-high of 52-percent from the field and 41-percent from three in his first 30 games of the season. 

When All-Star weekend approached, Embiid headlined the NBA's MVP ladder, beating out the other contenders such as Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James and Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic.

Unfortunately, Embiid's healthy streak ended and affected his progress. In Philly's first game back from the All-Star break, Embiid was ruled out as he was in the NBA's health and safety protocol due to contact tracing.

Although he was cleared for action the following game against the Washington Wizards, the big man injured his knee in the second half, which ended his night early. Fortunately, Embiid's MRI results revealed no structural damage, but a bruised knee still kept him off the court for ten games.

At that point, it seemed Embiid's chances of winning MVP were shot. However, NBA.com's Michael C. Wright offered a glimpse of hope for the four-time All-Star this week. In the latest Kia MVP Ladder rankings, which Embiid topped last month, Wright moved the Sixers' big man up four spots before Friday night's outing against New Orleans.

"There’s no doubt Philadelphia welcomed back Embiid with open arms, but as colleague Shaun Powell pointed out here: The Sixers had already proven adept at winning games without the star big man.

Embiid certainly hasn’t missed a beat since his return, averaging 29.5 points in his two games back. Embiid knocked down an incredible 16 free throws in a win Tuesday against Boston, which as a team took a total of just 18 attempts from the foul line. Embiid claims he’s still trying to win the Kia Defensive Player of the Year, and that makes the man a terror on both ends of the floor."

Ranked just behind Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic, Embiid is still in the MVP conversation as of right now. While his Friday night performance against the Pelicans won't help him much, and his 18 missed games will surely have voters hesitant to consider him, Embiid still has a slight chance to earn one of the NBA's highest honors as a player.

Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_ & Instagram: @JGrassoNBA.