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Around the Globe: Jokic strengthening early MVP case

The reigning Kia MVP is on pace for a historic season and has the Nuggets sitting at the top of the West.

Nikola Jokic has recorded three triple-doubles in his last five games.

Nikola Jokic has a chance to accomplish something only three players in NBA history have done — win three consecutive MVP awards. 

Bill Russell (1960-63), Wilt Chamberlain (1965-68) and Larry Bird (1983-86). That’s the exclusive list the reigning back-to-back MVP has a chance to join if he can pull off the three-peat. 

Jokic has his work cut out for him, though. 

Along with battling voter fatigue, he will have to contend with a fresh crop of eye-catchy narratives that form throughout the season and there are already a few strong ones he’s up against: 

  • Jayson Tatum leading the hot-out-of-the-gate Boston Celtics’ redemption tour following their Finals defeat to the Golden State Warriors. 
  • Ja Morant’s quest to push the Memphis Grizzlies over the hump and establish them as the best in the West.
  • Zion Williamson catapulting the upstart New Orleans Pelicans into contention.

But Jokic’s play so far indicates he’s up for the challenge. He’s nearly averaging a triple-double for the season and has the Nuggets playing as well as any team in the league — winners of five of their last six and currently tied with Memphis for first place in the West. 

With two MVP awards already on his resume, Jokic could very well have his eyes set on a different trophy that’s handed out in June. But he has a realistic chance at putting himself in rarified air by doing something the previous eight back-to-back MVP winners couldn’t, so no one would knock him for going for it.

*All stats through Thursday, Dec. 22 

This Edition’s standout

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Serbia)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 30.4 ppg, 15.4 rpg, 10.6 apg

Inside the NBA: Shaq gives Nikola Jokic his props

Jokic only attempted 12 shots in Tuesday’s statement win over the Grizzlies, but his fingerprints were all over the game. He sank half of his shots from the field and racked up his second straight triple-double and sixth overall — tied with Luka Doncic for the most this season. Jokic’s previous triple-double against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday put him in elite company as he became just the third player in NBA history to chart 40+ points, 25+ rebounds and 10+ assists in a game, joining Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.

Other notables 

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Cameroon)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 34.3 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 4.0 apg

Confidence Scale: Joel Embiid to repeat as scoring leader?

Embiid did a solid job keeping Philly afloat while his co-star James Harden was sidelined with a foot tendon strain for 14 games. The league’s leading scorer led his squad to an 8-6 record during that stretch and they’ve been clicking on all cylinders since Harden returned to the lineup. The 76ers have won six straight and are still awaiting the return of dynamic guard Tyrese Maxey, who has been nursing a foot injury of his own. 

Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Lithuania)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 20.7 ppg, 16.7 rpg, 6.9 apg

How Domantas Sabonis and Mike Brown have changed Kings' culture

Sabonis has been an absolute force in the paint all season. In Wednesday’s win over the Lakers, he pulled down 20+ rebounds for the third time in four games and posted his 22nd double-double on the season — a league-high. He’s also proving to arguably be Sacramento’s best playmaker. Sabonis leads his team in assists and is averaging more helpers than a number of notable guards including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Brunson and Dejounte Murray. 

Bojan Bogdanovic, Detroit Pistons (Croatia)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 22.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.1 apg 

Bojan Bogdanovic scores season-high 38 points vs. Lakers

Wins have been hard to come by for the Pistons but Bogdanovic is fitting in nicely in Detroit. The 11-year vet is averaging a career-high in scoring (21.1 ppg) and is on pace to post his best shooting splits to date as he shifts to the leading role with centerpiece Cade Cunningham ruled out for the season due to a shin injury. The sharpshooter will likely be a hot commodity on the trade market, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Pistons decide to flip Bogdanovic for assets or include him in their long-term plans. 

A few more: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder.

Rookie spotlight  

Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers (Canada)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 15.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 41.9 fg%

Bennedict Mathurin talks Kia Rookie of Year chase

This section might as well be named after Mathurin at this point. The November Rookie of the Month has established himself as one of this season’s premiere newcomers alongside Orlando Magic standout Paolo Banchero, who will likely be Mathurin’s fiercest competitor for the Kia Rookie of the Year award. Banchero (21.8 ppg) leads all rookies in scoring but Mathurin (17.9 ppg) isn’t too far behind despite coming off the bench all season.

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