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Around the Globe: International stars lead tight Kia MVP race

Sixers star Joel Embiid is one of several international stars making strong cases for the award as the season winds down.

Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Denver’s Nikola Jokic are two of the frontrunners to take home Kia MVP honors this season.

The Kia MVP race looks like it’s going down to the wire. 

There still isn’t a clear frontrunner with less than 20 regular-season games remaining. International superstars  Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid each present strong claims. 

Jokic is currently averaging a triple-double and could become just the third player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season, joining Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook. Another narrative in the Joker’s favor is that he could become the first player in league history to win three consecutive MVP awards. 

Antetokounmpo’s numbers this season are on par with his stats from his 2019 and 2020 Kia MVP campaigns, and his 31.2 points per game average is a career best. The Greek Freak has also helped the red-hot Bucks obtain the league’s best overall record. 

Embiid (33.3 ppg) has a chance to win the scoring crown for the second straight season and has Philadelphia looking like a legitimate title threat. He also has the edge in head-to-head matchups with the aforementioned candidates – Embiid is 3-1 this season against Jokic and Antetokounmpo. 

It’s safe to say it’s a pretty even race so far and it’s hard to imagine that changing the rest of the way. Jokic, Embiid and Antetokounmpo each have their teams humming, and with the Playoffs around the corner, don’t expect any of them to ease off the gas. 

*All stats through Mar. 9

This Edition’s standout

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Cameroon)

Stats since Feb. 24: 35.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 4.2 apg

Nightly Notable: Joel Embiid | March 7

Embiid has performed well in high-profile games all season long and the latest instance occurred Saturday in Milwaukee. Embiid put up 31 points, six rebounds and 10 assists in Philly’s come-from-behind win, ending the Bucks’ 16-game winning streak. With the help of his running mate James Harden, Embiid helped the Sixers rally from an 18-point third-quarter deficit and capped off the comeback with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 41.4 seconds left.

Other notables 

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Greece)

Stats since Feb. 24: 25.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 6.2 apg

This or That: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic or the field for Kia MVP?

Antetokounmpo held his own in Milwaukee’s loss to Philly. The two-time MVP scored 34 points, snagged 13 boards and converted 16 of his 18 free throw attempts. The Bucks bounced back a day later with a 117-111 road win over the Wizards and followed that up with a home win against Brooklyn on Thursday – a game Antetokounmpo was a late scratch for due to a sore right hand. We’ll have to wait and see if Antetokounmpo returns for Milwaukee’s upcoming three-game road trip, which includes a matchup against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. 

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Serbia)

Stats since Feb. 24: 20.3 ppg, 14.0 rpg, 8.3 apg

NBA on TNT: Kia MVP candidate Nikola Jokic has Nuggets rolling

A rarity happened in Denver on Wednesday when the Chicago Bulls handed the Nuggets their first home loss of more than three points this season. The Nuggets still boast the league’s best home record, as it was just their fifth defeat at Ball Arena. Jokic just nearly missed a triple-double in the loss, which means Denver is still undefeated this season (25-0) when he records a triple-double. 

Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Lithuania)

Stats since Feb. 24: 21.0 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 8.3 apg

Top plays from Domantas Sabonis & De'Aaron Fox duo this season

Don’t look now but the Kings have pulled even with Memphis for second place in the West. Sacramento is 7-1 since the All-Star break, most recently topping the Knicks 122-117 at Golden 1 Center. Sabonis continues to play a leading role in arguably this season’s best story. The All-Star forward has racked up a triple-double in back-to-back outings and has tallied a double-double in 11 straight games. 

A few more: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder; Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz.

Rookie spotlight  

Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs (France)

Stats since Feb. 24: 17.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.0 apg

Sochan posts 22 points & 13 rebounds vs. Pacers

Wins have been hard to come by in San Antonio this season, but Sochan has proven to be a valuable addition and key building block. The 19-year-old has logged starter’s minutes all season and his production has steadily increased. Sochan has scored in double figures in eight of his last 10 games and ranks in the top 10 among rookies in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

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