Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic both make big moves up

Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic take flight as astounding performances continue to abound in the Kia MVP chase.

Luka Doncic is the only NBA player to post 60 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a game.

The calendar flips to 2023 in two days, yet the logjam atop the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder remains stacked.

What better way to start the New Year?

“The history of the game is written by the players, and it was written again tonight,” Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said Tuesday night after witnessing superstar guard Luka Doncic wow the world with arguably the best individual performance we’ve seen so far this season.

See, these players aren’t dropping those history-writing pens anytime soon. Fireworks await in 2023. Especially when considering that since Christmas, we’ve already seen 10 different 40-point games. So, it’s important to point out that regardless of where your favorite hooper sits now — whether high or low — on this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, it’s still relatively early in the game, meaning everybody’s still got a fighting chance to be clutching that Michael Jordan Trophy once everything’s said and done.

Doncic serves as testament to that sentiment. We all know the numbers from Dallas’ 126-121 comeback victory Tuesday over the New York Knicks. The Slovenian sensation cranked out a stat line never before seen in the NBA (60 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists).

Luka Doncic erupts for a historic triple-double (60 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists) as the Mavs rall to beat the Knicks in overtime.

But ignore the gaudy numbers and marinate solely on what unfolded during the last 33.9 seconds of regulation and overtime to see how Doncic stormed back into the top five of this week’s edition of Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.

Down nine points with 33.9 ticks left in regulation, the Mavericks embarked on a 10-3 run and trailed by three when Doncic walked to the free-throw line with 4.2 seconds remaining. The point guard hit the first free throw to cut the deficit to two, then intentionally missed the next. Miraculously, Doncic came down with the loose ball off his miss during a mad scramble, and quickly flipped it back up while falling to the floor for the game-tying bucket with one second left in regulation.

Doncic carried the Mavericks home from there, pouring in seven of the team’s 11 points in the extra period.

In addition to breaking Dirk Nowitzki’s franchise mark for points in a game, Doncic tied James Harden’s record (set on Jan. 30, 2018) for the highest-scoring triple-double in NBA history while setting a new career high for rebounds in tallying his seventh triple-double of the season.

Ben Taylor from Thinking Basketball breaks down how Luka Doncic picked apart the Knicks' defense.

Before Doncic’s historic and heroic night, NBA teams owned a record of 0-13,884 over the last 20 seasons when trailing by at least nine points with 35 seconds or fewer remaining.

“This kid doesn’t quit,” Kidd said.

Neither does anybody else on this list, which is now led by reigning two-time Kia MVP Nikola Jokic, who has quietly carried the Denver Nuggets to a tie with New Orleans for first in the Western Conference. Doncic checks in at No. 3 in the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, while Boston’s Jayson Tatum inches up a slot to second.

Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo round out the top five.

But let’s keep it 100: at this point, you could make a solid MVP case for every player ranked in the top five, perhaps even lower.

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

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 25.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 9.4 apg

“The Joker” notched his fourth 40-point game, and second in his last three outings as Denver’s five-game winning streak ended Wednesday night in Sacramento in the second game of a back-to-back set. Playing without Jamal Murray, Bruce Brown, Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green, the Nuggets ran off a 19-point lead that evaporated down the stretch, resulting in the team suffering its first loss of the season when it shot better than 57% from the floor. In 31 starts, Jokic has led Denver to 21 of its 22 wins, logging 24 double-doubles and seven triple-doubles to keep the Nuggets in a tie with the New Orleans Pelicans for first place in the West after Thursday’s slate of games.

Nikola Jokic celebrates Christmas with a win over Phoenix and another huge stat line: 41 points, 15 assists and 15 rebounds.

2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 31.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 4.0 apg

Boston went 4-3 in its recent seven-game homestand, which included four straight victories capped by Tatum and Jaylen Brown each scoring 29 points in Thursday’s win against the LA Clippers. Tatum’s career-best streak of six games with 30 points or more came to an end on Thursday, but the 24-year old did manage to pass Antoine Walker for the second-most made 3-pointers in Boston franchise history (940). Tatum’s last six games have been a sight to behold, playing a major role in the Celtics maintaining their stranglehold atop the Eastern Conference standings. Boston tips off a four-game road trip starting Sunday at Denver.

3. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: T-7

Season stats: 33.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 8.9 apg

Doncic dropped 50 and 60 points, respectively, in two of his previous three showings before putting up his league-leading eighth triple-double (35 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists) in Thursday’s 129-114 win over the Houston Rockets, which gave Dallas its fifth-straight win. Over that span, Doncic is averaging 40.4 points per game (on 58% shooting) with 11.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game. For a good portion of the season, the Mavericks hovered around .500, thus diminishing Doncic’s otherworldly numbers somewhat. But the team is now 20-16 and No. 5 in the Western Conference largely on the strength of Doncic’s consistent dominance. The major concern is whether Doncic can keep up the production.

Luka Doncic follows his historic 60-point triple-double with a 35-point triple double in 34 minutes.

4. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 29.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 5.4 apg

Durant should be creeping up into the top three soon. He helped the NBA’s hottest team to its 10th straight win on Wednesday, which registers as the longest winning streak in the league at any point this season. That last win came because of Durant and Kyrie Irving combining for 54 points in a triumph over the Atlanta Hawks. Durant reeled off a 26-point double-double, pulling down a season-high 16 rebounds (his highest total since December of 2016). Did we mention Durant also contributed a pair of blocks? Yes, No. 7 is tied for seventh in the NBA in total blocks (52). So, it’s safe to say he’s getting it done on both ends of the floor as the leader for a team that has won 14 of its last 15 contests.

Kevin Durant finished with 26 points in leading Brooklyn to its 10th straight win.

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 31.7 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 5.2 apg

Antetokounmpo produced his second career 40-20-5 performance on Wednesday, tying a season-high in points (45) while recording a season-high in rebounds (22). The performance marked the 28-year old’s sixth 40-point outing of the season. But Milwaukee appears to be headed the wrong direction, having lost four in a row, including Wednesday’s 119-113 defeat to the struggling Chicago Bulls. It’s worth noting Antetokounmpo played that game — which the Bucks led by as many as 15 points in the fourth quarter — without Jrue Holiday (non-Covid illness) and Khris Middleton (left knee soreness). Having dropped 42 points or more in three of his last five outings, Antetokounmpo likely won’t stay at No. 5 for long — provided Milwaukee returns to its winning ways.

Giannis Antetokounmpo matches a season high with 45 points and set one with 20 rebounds in an overtime loss to Chicago.

The Next Five:

6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week’s ranking: T-7)
7. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans (Last week’s ranking: No. 6)
8. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (Last week’s ranking: No. 5)
9. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
10. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week’s ranking: No. 9)

And five more (listed alphabetically): Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder; Julius Randle, New York Knicks; 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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