Finally, we can relax a tick and take a deep breath coming off a wild Thursday around the Association that featured a flurry of trade deadline deals, including former Kia NBA MVP James Harden and All-Star guard Ben Simmons swapping teams, not to mention LeBron James and Kevin Durant headlining the 2022 All-Star Draft.
The nightcap of a frenetic evening featured another Kia Race to the MVP Ladder matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks facing Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns for the first time since the 2021 NBA Finals.
“Obviously, it’s not the height of Finals, but [you’ve] got two competitive teams,” Paul said after Phoenix’s morning shootaround. “I guarantee ain’t nobody going out there trying to lose tonight.”
Inevitably, though, somebody had to.
Paul made sure it wasn’t Phoenix by dropping a season-high-tying 19 dimes to go with 17 points in snapping Milwaukee’s four-game winning streak with a 131-107 thumping. In the process, the Suns limited Antetokounmpo to fewer than 20 points for the first time since December. Phoenix scorched Milwaukee for a season-high 68 points in the paint, which coincidentally registered as the most paint points allowed this season by the Bucks.
Paul became the fourth guard in NBA history to reach 500 career double-doubles and dished more assists than an opponent this season for the 11th time.
“It’s a blessing,” said Paul after leading the Suns to their 15th victory in their last 16 outings. “I’m grateful that I still get a chance to play, and not just play. But I feel like I play at a high level every night.”
The win over the defending champion Bucks served as proof.
Paul maintains fourth in this week’s edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder (although he’s trending towards the top three), while reigning MVP Nikola Jokic regains his standing at No. 1 in a competition that’s still too close call with Joel Embiid lurking close behind at second.
You can already see the race picking up steam heading into the upcoming NBA All-Star weekend.
Dallas superstar Luka Doncic put up a career-high 51 points Thursday in a win over the LA Clippers to tie Dirk Nowitzki’s franchise record for the most points scored in regulation. Teammate Boban Marjanovic can tell you all about it.
Over his last 10 games, Doncic is averaging 31.6 points, 10.3 assists, and 9.2 rebounds, while Ja Morant over the same span is averaging 32.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.4 assists in leading Memphis to an 8-2 record. The young superstars are tied at sixth in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder and are steadily creeping up on Stephen Curry for that fifth spot.
And now, the Top 5 this week in the 2021-22 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Season stats: 25.8 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 7.9 apg
A model for consistency, Jokic put together his fourth straight game with 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds — and seventh in his last eight outings — in a 132-115 win Tuesday against the New York Knicks. In that game, Denver reeled off 83 points in the first half, which is the most in the first half by any team in the NBA so far this season. The sixth-place Nuggets are 7-3 in their last 10 games, and it appears Jokic is finally starting to get some solid bench help. Let’s also remember that Jokic has produced a triple-double in seven of his last 13 games, too.
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Season stats: 29.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 4.3 apg
Surely, right now you’re still thinking of Embiid’s troll game on Twitter. But he actually played a game Tuesday as Philadelphia fell at home to Phoenix, led by fellow MVP candidates Paul and Booker. Embiid is averaging 32.0 points and 12.3 rebounds over his last four games and got his 25th double-double of 2021-22 against the Suns. That extended his streak of scoring 25 points or more to 21 games, the second-longest such run in franchise history. Embiid has racked up at least 25 points and 10 rebounds in five straight games, nabbing his 250th career steal against the Suns.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week’s ranking: No. 3
Season stats: 29.0 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 6.0 apg
The man shot out the lights Tuesday in a win over the Lakers, hitting 17 of 20 for 44 points with 14 rebounds, eight assists and two blocks, including this one on Anthony Davis. In the first three outings of the four-game road trip that Milwaukee concluded Thursday in Phoenix, Antetokounmpo averaged 33.7 points on 68.1% shooting and 66.7% from deep. Antetokounmpo had scored 25-plus points in 20 straight games before tallying 18 on 5-of-14 shooting vs. the Suns. Milwaukee is now 22-6 this season when the big three of Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton play together.
4. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
Last week’s ranking: No. 4
Season stats: 15.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 10.6 apg
Paul tallied his team-best 29th double-double of the season and 11th in the last 13 games in the win over Milwaukee. Over those 13 games, Paul is averaging 18.9 points on 52.9% from the field, 12.8 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals. Paul currently leads the league in assists per game (10.6) and ranks third in steals per game (1.9). In addition to all the dimes Paul dropped against Milwaukee, he also showcased sick handles right here in dropping Jrue Holiday, one of the NBA’s best defenders.
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Last week’s ranking: No. 5
Season stats: 25.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 6.4 apg
Curry pulled the Maverick “Top Gun” move here, hitting the breaks with the ball fake to watch Alec Burks fly right by before draining one of his five 3-pointers Thursday night in a 116-114 loss to the New York Knicks. It’s too bad that Curry’s nasty moves like this “Smitty” and this deep 3 failed to net Golden State a win. The Warriors have now dropped two in a row but remain at No. 2 in the West standings. Curry scored 35 to go with 10 assists against the Knicks, marking the first time since Jan. 31 he led the team in scoring.
The Next Five:
T-6. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (Last week: No. 7)
T-6. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (Last week: No. 9)
8. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week: No. 8)
9. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (Last week: No. 6)
10. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat (Last week: unranked)
And five more (listed alphabetically): Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers; LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers; Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz; Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves.
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