Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Kevin Durant, Zion Williamson climb in race

Piling up points and delivering wins for their respective teams, Kevin Durant and Zion Williamson enter the MVP conversation.

Kevin Durant enters the Top 5 of the 2022-23 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder for the first time this season.

Anthony Davis inched small steps forward only to suffer setbacks in a bid to gain relevancy in the race for the 2022-23 Kia MVP Award.

Look no further than Los Angeles’ last two losses (both in overtime), which included a pair of monster showings shattered by missed opportunities at the free-throw line that might’ve won both games for the Lakers in regulation. Davis walked to the line Tuesday with 28 ticks remaining in regulation with the Lakers up by two points.

Yet despite hitting 11 of 15 from the line on a night he sizzled for a team-high 37 points, Davis fizzled out on two freebies in the moment of truth.

Final result: Boston 122, Los Angeles 118 in OT.

“I hold myself to a standard from the line. It’s unacceptable for me,” Davis said. “To me, the rest [of the game] doesn’t matter. Had a chance to ice the game and missed both.”

Just four nights prior in a 133-122 loss to the Sixers in OT, Davis nearly stole away the game in regulation, only to be foiled by an errant attempt from the free-throw line. With 5.5 seconds left, Davis poked away the ball from Joel Embiid on an inbounds pass and was sent to the free-throw line on a foul by Tobias Harris.

Davis drained his first free throw to deadlock the score at 120 with 3.7 seconds remaining in OT, before missing the second.

“Boston’s a great team. Philly’s a great team. Two great teams in the East. [We] had a chance as a team,” he said. “But me personally, [I] had a chance to kind of seal both games. I missed one in Philly, missed both tonight. They both resulted in losses. So, I know it’s more to it in a game where you can point things out. For me, you go back to the free throws.”

Had he made those freebies, Davis might be higher on this list, but instead, he falls a slot to No. 10 in this week’s edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder. Meanwhile, Jokic climbs up another rung to No. 3. Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant makes his debut in the top five, after leading his team on a four-game winning streak, while Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic drops to No. 6.

And now, the Top 5 in the 2022-23 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

1. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 30.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 4.1 apg

Just when you thought Tatum might be losing steam in this race, the 24-year-old helped Boston snap a two-game skid by pumping in 44 points Tuesday (as well as nine rebounds and six assists) in an OT win against the Lakers. Counting the postseason, the Celtics are 16-2 whenever Tatum scores 40 points or more and are 4-0 this season when he accomplishes that feat. Los Angeles led by 13 points with nearly four minutes remaining on Tuesday, but Boston went on a 17-4 run that Tatum finished off with the game-tying turnaround fadeaway jumper over LeBron James that sent the game into OT. Clutch.

Why Jayson Tatum 'checks all the boxes' while playing for league-leading Celtics.

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 30.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 5.3 apg

Antetokounmpo’s recent 30-point scoring streak ended at eight games and he’s struggled lately overall, hitting a combined 21-for-56 from the floor over Milwaukee’s last three games. The Bucks (20-8) have lost two of their last three, but they remain near the top of the Eastern Conference. So, while it’s clear the two-time MVP forward is losing a little momentum, you can’t discount his overall consistency this season. A lopsided 142-101 loss at Memphis on Thursday marked just the third time this season Antetokounmpo finished with fewer than 20 points and the fourth time he less than 40% overall.

Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up 30 points in big win over Warriors.

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 24.6 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 9.0 apg

Denver is on its win streak and No. 3 in the West thanks to Jokic dropping at least 31 points in each of his last three games. That run includes a triple-double in a win against Utah, followed by a 43-point double-double (with five steals) in Wednesday’s victory against Washington. After the win vs. the Wizards, Malone presented the reigning back-to-back MVP with the inaugural Michael Jordan Trophy. When discussing Jokic, it’s easy to cite voter fatigue. But you can’t deny the significance of a center averaging nearly a triple-double coming off back-to-back MVPs. That’s just elite.

Nikola Jokic scores a season-high 43 points along with 14 rebounds and eight assists in a win over the Wizards.

4. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 27.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 7.9 apg

Whew. While it’s one thing to win seven games in a row, the world witnessed total domination Thursday night at FedExForum in what could safely be classified as a signature win for Morant and the Grizzlies. When the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter, the scoreboard read: 117-71. That’s right, the home team led by 46 points after three quarters. Morant would finish with a 25-point triple-double (his third triple-double over the last seven games) in just 26 minutes of action. It’s worth mentioning that Memphis rolled up 142 points on 55% from the floor with 88 points in the paint against a Milwaukee squad that entered the contest ranked No. 3 in opponent points in the paint (46.2).

Ja Morant posts a triple-double in 26 minutes as Memphis rolls, 142-101.

5. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Season stats: 30 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.5 apg

Welcome back into the MVP conversation. Sure, the numbers aren’t as gaudy as what we’ve seen so far from Luka Doncic. But winning weighs heavily in these MVP debates, and that’s precisely what Durant and the Nets have done in running off eight victories over their last 10 games to move into fourth in the Eastern Conference. Over that span, Durant has averaged 32.4 points on 60.5% from the field with 7.1 rebounds per game, 5.9 assists and 1.3 blocks. He’s also connected on 93.5% from the free-throw line over the last 10 games, and his latest 30-piece pushed Brooklyn to its fourth-straight win.

The Next Five:

T-6. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (Last week’s ranking: No. 3)
T-6. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans (Last week’s ranking: No. 10)
8. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
9. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
10. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (Last week’s ranking: No. 9)

And five more (listed alphabetically): Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics; Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers; Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers; Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings.

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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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