Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Relentless James Harden keeps on rising

Brooklyn's star guard has found his way into the Top 5 in our latest look at the Kia MVP chase.

James Harden is leading the NBA in assists per game this season (11.1).

Introspection kicked in for James Harden in the aftermath of dropping a 38-point triple-double Monday to lead the Brooklyn Nets past the Minnesota Timberwolves.

But instead of basking in the glory of Brooklyn’s fourth win in five outings, Harden kept talking about improvement.

“You [can] never be complacent. I can’t be complacent,” he said. “I’ve never been like that, and I won’t start now. I think I can always be better. I think when you’re trying to accomplish something, first, you’ve got to look in the mirror, look at yourself, see what things you can do better and ways you can contribute in a better way for the betterment of the team.”

He’s done that for sure, while simultaneously kicking open the door for entry into the top five of this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.

Since Harden debuted with the Nets on Jan. 16, the team owns a record of 26-7 in games he’s played.

The Brooklyn Nets' James Harden is the Kia NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month.

“I can’t control everything that’s going on around me,” said Harden, who leads the league in assists (11.1 per game). “But one thing I know I can control is myself. So, I’ve got to do a better job of my decision making, getting guys in their positions, and just getting a shot up. If we get a shot up, then that’s good enough. Then, we can get our defense set. And I will be better.”

The Kia Race to the MVP Ladder remains wide open, in part due to injuries to stars LeBron James and Joel Embiid. But players such as Harden and Nikola Jokic continue to shine with competition heating up for the stretch run of the season. So, it’s no surprise Jokic and Harden earned Kia NBA Player of the Month in their respective conferences for the month of March.

Jokic retains the top spot in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, while Dallas Mavericks star guard Luka Doncic finally cracks the top five after averaging 29.4 points per game throughout March and hitting 43.3% from 3-point range in nearly 35 minutes per game. Gutsy Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard moves up a spot to No. 2, while Embiid and James finally fall out of the top five.

And now, the Top 5 this week in the 2020-21 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 26.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 8.5 apg, 1.6 spg

The Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic is the Kia NBA Western Conference Player of the Month.

A triple-double machine, Jokic is one of the main reasons Denver is 9-3 since the All-Star break. The big man might even be on the way to finishing the season in the elusive 50-40-90 club. Denver completed its first season sweep of Philadelphia since 2015-16 on Tuesday by dominating the 76ers inside with Jokic. The Nuggets won the rebounding battle against the Embiid-less 76ers 51-34 and outscored them in the paint 44-32. Then on Thursday, Jokic found ways to connect with new addition Aaron Gordon for buckets en route to a 101-94 win against the Clippers.

2. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 29.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 7.8 apg

The NBA’s second-leading scorer, Lillard continues to fight through various nagging injuries to lead a surging Portland squad that sits at sixth in the Western Conference. The Blazers enter tonight’s showdown against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks (10 ET, NBA TV) riding a four-game win streak with Lillard averaging 25.7 ppg in the three outings he played during the streak. Lillard scorched the Detroit Pistons from deep on Wednesday, hitting 5 of 7 to finish with 33 points. What is scarier is Lillard believes the Trail Blazers, which have battled through a slew of injuries this season, are finally whole again and “trending upwards.”

3. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets

Last week’s ranking: No. 6

Season stats: 25.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 11.1 apg

James Harden is putting up MVP numbers for the Brooklyn Nets. Does he belong in the MVP conversation?

Harden missed just his third game since joining the Nets on Thursday — due to tightness in his right hamstring — after initially suffering the injury the night before in Brooklyn’s comeback win against the Houston Rockets. Nets coach Steve Nash expressed optimism that Harden’s injury won’t keep him out for a significant amount of time. Brooklyn was 7-6 before acquiring Harden, but have since gone 26-7 in games he’s played while finishing 1-2 in games he’s missed. Harden’s stellar play has been key in Brooklyn climbing atop the Eastern Conference standings for the first time since April of 2003.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 28.3 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.3 bpg

Antetokounmpo finished with a career-worst-tying minus-31 in 34 minutes Monday in a loss to the Clippers. He then followed that up Wednesday with nine turnovers against the Lakers (which also tied a career-high). Still, Antetokounmpo posted a double-double (25 points, 10 rebounds) to help Milwaukee snap a three-game skid. Even better, he finished March shooting 3-pointers with 10% better accuracy (39.4%) than the previous two months. Milwaukee goes into tonight’s matchup against Lillard in Portland with a record of 12-10 on the road (3-5 road record against West teams).

5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Season stats: 28.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 8.9 apg

Game Recap: Mavericks 113, Celtics 108

Doncic missed a back-to-back set on March 26 and 27 and, coincidentally, Dallas lost both games after winning two in a row. He returned on March 29 and led the Mavericks to consecutive wins as they quietly creep up the West standings. Despite starting the season struggling with accuracy from deep (9.5% on 3-pointers in December), Doncic was hot in March, averaging 43.3% from long range, 52.7% overall and 29.4 ppg. “It’s repetition, but it’s also a lot of confidence,” Doncic said Wednesday after racking up 36 points in Dallas’ win against the Boston Celtics. You can see that confidence just oozing right here.

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The Next Five:

6. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

7. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

8. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

9. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

10. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

And five more: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors; Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz; Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans; Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz.

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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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