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Around the Globe: Kia MVP race remains narrow near season's end

Global stars continue to strengthen their MVP cases as the regular season draws to a close.

Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic remain in the top two spots on the Kia MVP Ladder approaching the final week of the regular season.

The league’s biggest international stars have been at the forefront of Kia MVP debates for much of the season. 

With a little over a week left in the regular season, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic are tidying up their resumes with hopes of claiming the NBA’s most prestigious individual award. 

The Milwaukee Bucks have looked like arguably the most formidable team in the Eastern Conference for a while now. For that reason, along with his routinely noteworthy stats, Antetokounmpo undoubtedly deserves to be included in the conversation. 

But it feels like the conversation has shifted to two main contenders: Embiid and Jokic. 

When you analyze both of their cases, picking between the two feels similar to picking between an apple and an orange — it comes down to preference. Both stars are extremely valuable to their squads, boast gaudy numbers, and are the unquestioned best players on title-contending teams. 

So, on the surface, Jokic’s and Embiid’s resumes look very similar, but let’s dive a little deeper into each one:

Even after winning back-to-back MVP trophies, Jokic has avoided complacency and is turning in one of the most brilliant all-around campaigns in league history. 

Embiid has seemingly used his motivation to capture the award that has repeatedly slipped from his grasp in recent years to become this season’s most dominant offensive force. 

The race is too narrow to make a confident prediction on who will take home the trophy. The one thing that’s for certain is MVP voters will be splitting hairs when they make their decision, but ultimately, Embiid and Jokic would both be deserving winners. 

Apple or orange? Can you go wrong with either one? 

*All stats through March 30

This edition’s standout

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Cameroon)

Stats since March 10: 32.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 4.6 apg

Joel Embiid's dominance inside could be difference for 76ers during playoffs

Embiid and Jokic would have had their final regular-season faceoff on Monday, but injury management due to right calf tightness caused Embiid to miss the much-anticipated matchup. Philadelphia finished up a tough back-to-back at Golden State and Phoenix just two days prior, so Embiid’s scratch was more precaution than anything. The Sixers star bounced back strong in Wednesday’s win over the Mavericks to help Philly snap a three-game losing streak.

Other notables 

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Serbia)

Stats since March 10: 29.2 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 9.6 apg

Full Focus: Nikola Jokic vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Jokic took advantage of Embiid’s absence on Monday by posting his 26th triple-double of the season to help secure what was Denver’s fourth straight win at the time. Jokic missed Thursday’s game against New Orleans due to a sore right calf of his own, and the Nuggets couldn’t continue their win streak in their superstar’s absence. But ‘The Joker’ has Denver playing better overall after a rough patch during the first half of March. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Greece)

Stats since March 10: 30.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 6.4 apg

Giannis Antetokounmpo sets bar for effort, culture for Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks clearly lacked juice in their 41-point loss to the Celtics on Thursday. Giannis went for 38 points on 14-for-18 shooting in Milwaukee’s Wednesday win in Indiana but struggled with his efficiency the next night against Boston, shooting 11-for-27 overall and 0-for-5 from beyond the arc. The win means the Celtics now own the tiebreaker between the two teams, so the Bucks will need to keep their foot on the gas during the final week of the regular season to lock up the East’s top seed. 

Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Lithuania)

Stats since March 10: 19.7 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 8.1 apg

#NBACourtOptix: Domantas Sabonis is the Kings' offensive anchor

Light the beam, Sacramento. The Kings finally ended their 16-season playoff drought on Wednesday with their 40-point win in Portland. Sabonis notched his league-leading 62nd double-double to help Sacramento secure the blowout victory and its first postseason berth since 2006. The 26 year old has been a steadying presence for the Kings all season long, and that will need to remain the case in the playoffs if Sacramento hopes to make a deep run. 

A few more: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder; Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors.

Rookie spotlight  

Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers (Canada)

Stats since March 10: 15.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 52.4 FG%

Bennedict Mathurin pours in 29 points vs. Bucks

Mathurin’s 29 points in Wednesday’s matchup against Milwaukee was his highest point total since Nov. 9. He also shot an efficient 52% from the field and pulled down a season-high nine rebounds. In Indiana’s previous game against Dallas, Mathurin scored a team-high 26 in 38 minutes. So, it’s safe to say the sixth overall pick has broken out of his mini slump — he scored fewer than five points in consecutive outings prior to the Dallas game.

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