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5 Can't-Miss Matchups: James Harden vs. LeBron James

Kia MVP contenders square off to mark this week's top matchups

Several of the top contenders in the 2019-20 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder go head to head Thursday night (10:30 ET) in the second part of a TNT doubleheader, when James Harden and the struggling Houston Rockets face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center.

This matchup represents one of several potential previews for the postseason.

Kristaps Porzingis and the Dallas Mavericks host Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday on ESPN (8 ET), while reigning Kia MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo takes on Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics on Thursday in the first game of a TNT doubleheader (8 ET). We should also see star point guards Ja Morant and Damian Lillard go at it Thursday night (10 ET, League Pass).

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1. James Harden vs. LeBron James

Thursday, March 12 (10:30 ET, TNT)

Last regular season meeting: Feb. 6, 2020.

It is a difficult start to the week for the Rockets, who on Sunday dropped their fourth game in seven days to a team below .500 (Orlando). Still, we could see this matchup in the playoffs. LeBron James is 4-1 against James Harden in the postseason, where the latter’s numbers drop dramatically (12.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists) when he’s matched with the former. The Lakers enter the week having passed major tests against title contenders in Milwaukee and the LA Clippers, and this game represents an equal task. Harden and James appear to be moving in opposite directions as of late regarding performance.

Head-to-head stats below are via Basketball Reference.

James Harden 10 11 24.1 6.1 6.6
LeBron James 11 10 27.1 6.9 7.4

2. Jayson Tatum vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Thursday, March 12 (8 ET, TNT)

Last regular season meeting: Jan. 16, 2020.

The banged-up Celtics need a spark against the equally reeling Bucks, who dropped two outings over the weekend without the services of Giannis Antetokounmpo. He recently suffered a minor joint capsule sprain in his left knee Friday against the Lakers. The injury kept Antetokounmpo out Monday against the Denver Nuggets, which gives him a couple days to rest before the Celtics come to town. Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have come out on top in three of the last four meetings against Tatum and the Celtics. We could end up seeing this matchup in the postseason as well, where Antetokounmpo holds a 7-5 advantage over Tatum.

Head-to-head stats below are via Basketball Reference.

Jayson Tatum 4 5 16.4 5.7 2.1
Giannis Antetokounmpo 5 4 31.2 11.8 5.0

3. Ja Morant vs. Damian Lillard

Thursday, March 12 (10 ET, League Pass)

Last regular season meeting: Feb. 12, 2020.

Damian Lillard comes into this one with fresh legs after missing six games with a right groin strain, and he’ll need them facing rookie superstar Ja Morant. The first time these players clashed, Morant and the Grizzlies came out winners despite him shooting 9 of 23 from the floor and 0 of 5 on 3-pointers. Lillard committed four turnovers in that game, despite matching Morant’s production statistically. Morant bested fellow rookie star Trae Young in two matchups last week, so Morant should be plenty prepared for this one.

Head-to-head stats below are via Basketball Reference.

Ja Morant 1 0 20.0 5.0 9.0
Damian Lillard 0 1 20.0 5.0 10.0

4. Patrick Beverley vs. Stephen Curry

Tuesday, March 10 (10:30 ET, TNT)

Last regular season meeting: Oct. 24, 2019.

Patrick Beverley once said “Steph’s like a brother,” and with that, naturally, comes a rivalry. Beverley’s offensive production in this series is limited, but he managed to tally five steals the last time these players squared off. Curry and Golden State own a lopsided advantage in this series, but the Warriors will see their current seven-year playoff streak come to an end this spring. Curry made his long-awaited return on Thursday after missing 58 games with a broken left hand, but the Warriors held him out of Saturday’s game against Philadelphia due to flu-like symptoms. Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr said Curry is questionable to play in this one.

Head-to-head stats below are via Basketball Reference.

Patrick Beverley 7 13 7.6 3.4 2.6
Stephen Curry 13 7 25.8 4.7 6.9

5. Nikola Jokic vs. Kristaps Porzingis

Wednesday, Mar. 11 (8 ET, ESPN)

Last regular season meeting: Jan. 8, 2020.

Before failing to reach double-figures in scoring for the first time since early December on Saturday in a loss to Cleveland, Jokic had averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds over the previous 12 games. Porzingis is also coming off a rough outing (nine points and eight rebounds) after averaging 32.7 points, 12 rebounds and 4.7 blocks in the three games prior to Sunday’s loss to Indiana. Jokic has won three of the last five games in this series, and he logged a triple-double in the last meeting despite Porzingis coming away with the win after shooting 4 of 14 from the floor and 1 of 8 from deep.

Head-to-head stats below are via Basketball Reference.

Nikola Jokic 5 2 19.9 8.3 5.0
Kristaps Porzingis 2 5 19.3 8.3 2.1

Underrated matchup: Zion Williamson vs. Bojan Bogdanovic

Friday, March 13 (9 ET, NBA League Pass)

Last regular season meeting: Haven’t met yet.

It’s hard to match Williamson up with Bogdanovic solely in this one because you know the Jazz will need to utilize two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert to help neutralize the electrifying Pelicans rookie. This outing represents the first meeting between these players. The Pelicans have posted at least 28 assists in 11 consecutive games with Williamson serving as the recipient for several of them. New Orleans is 11-7 over their last 20 games going into Wednesday’s game against the Kings, and the Pelicans are now within striking distance of the eighth seed.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for You can e-mail him here , find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

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