Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Jazz's turnaround coincides with Donovan Mitchell's arrival to MVP conversation

Taking stock of the Top 5 contenders in the Kia MVP Award chase

Donovan Mitchell didn’t get a chance to show out on Christmas because the Utah Jazz didn’t get one of the coveted spots on the league’s showcase day.

So he had to handle his business the day after the holiday. And did he ever.

Mitchell went off in a 121-115 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 28 of his 35 points after halftime, and reminding the world once again what he’s capable of on the big stage.

The Jazz have won six of seven games to climb back into the mix in the Western Conference playoff chase. They’re now 8-1 this season when Mitchell scores 30 or more points. And he’s crossed that threshold four times during Utah’s current seven-game run.

It’s no coincidence that Mitchell’s rise is coinciding with his team’s turnaround. That combination and exquisite timing is why Mitchell is clawing his way into the mix on the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder as the Jazz continue to make a power move in the standings.

Mitchell is averaging career highs in scoring (25.1) and field goal percentage (45%) as the offensive catalyst for a team that requires every member of the team to play a very specific role on the defensive end of the floor with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, as their anchor.

So it’s not surprising to hear Mitchell was serious about the importance of the entire group when discussing what the Jazz are doing right in recent weeks.

“The biggest thing is the resiliency, finding a way,” he told reporters after the Jazz held off the Trail Blazers’ late rally Thursday night courtesy of some clutch shot-making and two huge defensive plays by Gobert. “The mindset we’ve had these past 6, 7 games is who we need to be. You can say what you want about my scoring or Joe but … it came down to Rudy making two good plays.”

For the Jazz to keep climbing and Mitchell to firmly entrench himself in this season’s MVP conversation, it’s going to come down to that and much more.

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The Top 5 this week in the 2019-20 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

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1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week: No. 1

Season stats: 30.5 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.2 blocks

Even the reigning Kia MVP is entitled to a tough night here and there. Giannis had his at the worst time, in a loss to the Sixers in Philadelphia on Christmas. He never could get comfortable with Al Horford and Joel Embiid doing as good a job defending him as anyone has all season. The guess is he won’t miss 19 shots agains the Hawks tonight in Atlanta (7:30 ET, League Pass).

2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week: No. 3

Season stats: 29.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 1.2 steals

You couldn’t tell Doncic had missed the Mavericks’ past four games with a sprained ankle watching him work over the Spurs Thursday night. He got right back into his bag in his first game back, finishing with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists as the Mavericks ran over the Spurs. They went 2-2 in Doncic’s absence, proving they could survive without their leader.

3. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Last week: No. 4

Season stats: 38.1 points 7.5 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals

Harden’s been so good this season that the Warriors get credit for slowing him down on a night that saw him score 24 points on 50% shooting from the floor, 60% from deep, to go with 11 assists, six rebounds and three steals. It’s easy to forget just how unbelievable Harden plays on a regular basis, mostly because his “off nights” are so far and few between.

4. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 5

Season stats: 27.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.7 blocks, 1.4 steals

Davis embraced the big stage in the Christmas showdown with the LA Clippers and showed why some people think he is the most dynamic two-way player in the league. But he didn’t get nearly enough touches down the stretch of a tight game to finish what he started. If LeBron James misses time with a groin injury, you won’t see that again anytime soon.

5. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 2

Season stats: 25.7 points, 10.6 assists, 7.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals

Lakers fans are right to be nervous when they hear LeBron talk about aggravating a groin injury after taking a knee from Patrick Beverley in the loss to the Clippers on Christmas. This is the same time last season when a groin injury shook up his season, the Lakers sunk in his absence and never recovered. Expect extreme caution about his availability moving forward.

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Got thoughts on the Kia MVP chase? Hit me up via e-mail or send me a tweet and I’ll get back to you!

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The Next Five:

6. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

7. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

8. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics

9. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

10. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

And five more: Paul George, LA Clippers; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder; Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers; Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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