Fling one ladder to the floor only to rise a couple rungs toward the top of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.
That’s the feat Giannis Antetokounmpo pulled off in rebounding from what he called “the ladder incident” in the aftermath of a Nov. 18 loss at Philadelphia. Since that night at Wells Fargo Center, the Milwaukee Bucks’ star has scored at least 30 points in a career-high eight consecutive games in leading the team to a 6-2 record, as it prepped for Friday’s road clash against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
Giannis and the Bucks won that clash at American Airlines Center, which featured the NBA’s top two scorers, Doncic (32.9 points per game) and Antetokounmpo (32.1 ppg), leading a pair of clubs on three-game winning streaks.
“Since the ladder incident, I realized I’ve just got to be more locked in,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’ve got to focus on my work, focus on my craft, focus on my body, focus on how I can get healthy, how I can still improve my game. Nothing is [taken] for granted in this game.
“I think when I get in that mindset, I enjoy the game more, and I’m able to create more opportunities for myself to be successful and help my team be successful. I think it’s contagious. I felt like after that Philly game, I had to bring good energy, the fun energy back to the team [and] lead by example. That’s what I’ve done. That’s what I’m gonna continue to do.”
He certainly brought the juice to Dallas on Friday, putting up 28 points and 10 rebounds in Milwaukee’s thrilling one-point win. The game fell in line with previous climactic meetings between the two teams. Six of the previous seven meetings between these squads were decided by single digits, with Milwaukee besting the Mavs in two of the last three.
Dallas coach Jason Kidd considered the game against Antetokounmpo and the Bucks just another measuring stick for a Mavericks team finally starting to hit its stride after a series of tweaks to the lineups and rotations. Dallas suffered through its longest losing streak of the season last month, dropping four in a row over the span of a week (Nov. 20-27) before winning four of its next five with Doncic reeling off at least 30 points in four of those outings.
The 23-year-old notched his league-leading sixth triple-double (the Mavs are 5-1 in those games this season) with 22 points during Tuesday’s win in Denver. Additionally, he’s scored 20 points or more in a career-high 32 straight games dating back to last March.
“It’s a marathon,” Kidd explained. “People have to understand you don’t win an award for the first 20 [games]. You get to learn about your team. You get to learn about each other. We’re gonna be judged publicly every night. That just comes with the territory. But internally, we truly believe that we’re going in the right direction. It’s making a couple of open shots here, getting a couple of rebounds there. Right now, you’re starting to see this team come together and believe. There’s a lot of good things that we can learn from. But the week gets harder. We’ll get some rest and get ready for Milwaukee.”
Antetokounmpo moves to No. 2 in this week’s edition of Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, while Doncic falls back a spot to No. 3.
Boston Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum maintains his standing at the top.
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: 30.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 4.1 apg
Expect the rematch of the 2022 NBA Finals on Saturday at Golden State (8:30 ET, ABC) to look different than what we saw back in May because the Tatum we’re seeing now isn’t the same guy that ran out of gas down the stretch last season. He’s on a mission and provided more evidence of that Wednesday in leading Boston to its second largest margin of victory (27 points) of the season in a 125-98 trouncing of the Suns and fellow MVP candidate Devin Booker. The Celtics are now 14-4 this season when Tatum and Jaylen Brown each score 20 points or more. Boston is also 10-2 this season against teams that are .500 or better.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week’s ranking: No. 4
Season stats: 32.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 5.6 apg
Currently tied for the second-longest 30-point scoring streak (eight games) in Milwaukee franchise history, Antetokounmpo trails Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s mark of 16-straight games with 30 points or more (set during the 1971-72 season). “If I’m able to have another one, I would love to have another one. But I hope we win the game [at Dallas],” Antetokounmpo said. “If I have another one and lose the game it doesn’t really matter. We are 18-6, second-best record in the league. We have to keep on going. We have to keep on building. We have a very good team. We have great characters, people that love to play the game of basketball the right way, people that love to win.”
3. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week’s ranking: Tied at No. 2
Season stats: 32.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 8.7 apg
Doncic owns the Mavs’ franchise-record for triple-doubles (52), but what’s wild is the 23-year-old missed out on potential triple-doubles by either one rebound or one assist on 19 occasions throughout his short career. We’re just a quarter of the way into the season, but there’s no shortage of highlights featuring Doncic, who is continuing to improve as a facilitator. The point guard showcased as much in reading the defense and finding Dorian Finney-Smith for the game-winning bucket Tuesday against the Nuggets. By the way, Doncic needs only one more 35-point game to tie Oscar Robertson (55) for the fifth-most 35-point games by a player 23 or younger in NBA history.
4. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s ranking: Tied at No. 2
Season stats: 23.5 ppg, 10 rpg, 8.9 apg
On the verge of falling out of the top five, Jokic helped Denver maintain fourth place in the West while halting a three-game skid (the Nuggets’ longest of the season) with 33 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists on 56% from the field in a 121-120 win Thursday in Portland. That came after the Trail Blazers almost triumphed thanks to a strong night from Damian Lillard (40 points, 12 assists). Jokic’s double-double was his 16th of the season, and he produced his 21st career outing with 30 points or more to go with 10 or more rebounds and nine or more assists.
5. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
Last week’s ranking: No. 8
Season stats: 28.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 7.6 apg
Now within a half game of first in the West, Memphis lost four of the first five games that shooting guard Desmond Bane missed due to a right big toe injury. That stretch left some to wonder whether Morant could get it done without his backcourt running mate. Well, after that bump in the road, the Grizzlies have captured victories in six of their last seven with Morant posting his sixth career triple-double in Wednesday’s win against Oklahoma City. Morant is now the Grizzlies’ franchise leader in triple-doubles, and as expected, he credited his teammates for this latest milestone.
The Next Five:
6. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: No. 5)
T-7. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week’s ranking: No. 9)
T-7. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (Last week’s ranking: No. 7)
9. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
10. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
And five more (listed alphabetically): Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics; Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
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