Nikola Jokic dryly doused us with jokes ahead of Thursday’s showdown against LeBron James, only to catch a serious reminder of why the Los Angeles Lakers star remains atop this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.
“Guys, he’s the best player in the league,” Jokic said of James on Wednesday. “He’s a guy who [has been] doing this for a long time and affects the game in every possible way.”
James provided plenty of evidence in the Lakers’ 113-93 win over the Nuggets by reeling off his second triple-double (27 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) of the season — not to mention the 96th of his NBA career — while also sliding past Wilt Chamberlain for third place all-time in career field goals made (12,691), as Los Angeles captured its 11th victory in 14 games.LeBron James carved up the Nuggets on Thursday night.
“Anytime I’m in the category of some of the greats that have ever played this game is just very humbling,” James said in his TNT postgame interview. “To hear me linked with the great Wilt Chamberlain is an unbelievable feat.”
“For me to go out here and do the things I do every single night is a testament to the man above, and also my loved ones, who have given me the support every single night to go out and do what I love to do,” James said. “So, I just try to give back to the game. The game has given me so much over this 18-year career so far, and I hope I just continue to give back to it.”
We do, too.
But let’s remember we’re nearly just a third of the way into the season, which means there’s still plenty of time for players to move up and down the MVP Ladder.
On a more somber note, as you all know, just 11 days ago we lost dear friend Sekou Smith, our MVP here at NBA.com. In continuing this feature that Sekou made special for so many of us all over the world, we can only hope to constantly honor him, his family, and his boundless love for the game.
We miss you dearly, boss.
The Top 5 this week in the 2020-21 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Season stats: 25.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7.5 apgShaq, Kenny and Charles pay homage to LeBron James’ greatness.
At 36 in Year 18, the King continues to show no signs of slowing down, as he’s now notched at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in all 23 games to start the season. That breaks his own league record set in 2011-12 for the most such games to start a season. We can debate whether James deserved more than the four Kia MVPs already in his trophy case (he did), but if he keeps this up, it’s going to be tough to deny this man MVP No. 5.
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Season stats: 29.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 1.2 spgJoel Embiid was named Kia’s East Player of the Month for January.
With Ben Simmons out due to left calf tightness against the shorthanded Blazers on Thursday, Embiid dropped 31 points in the first half, including 25 of his team’s 29 points in the second quarter on 8-of-11 shooting, on the way to a 37-point night. Before the setback against Portland, the 76ers were 11-0 when Embiid scored 25 or more. But they’re winless (0-3) without Simmons on the floor. Embiid has racked up 34 or more in six of his last seven outings. As a result, Philadelphia had won seven of eight before running into Portland.
3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Season stats: 26.8 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 8.6 apg, 1.7 spgNikola Jokic is the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week.
Rough night against the Lakers, as Jokic shot 6 of 16. But the big man has produced a double-double in all 21 games, which is the longest such streak to start a season since Bill Walton put on a double-double clinic for 34 straight games to start the 1976-77 season for Portland. Jokic is just the fourth player in NBA history to put up 500-plus points and register 200-plus rebounds to go with 150 or more assists through his first 20 games of a season, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
4. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
Season stats: 30.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 5.2 apgKevin Durant scored 28 to power the Nets past the Clippers.
You know who he is. The man is on a mission, averaging 32.3 ppg over Brooklyn’s last 10 games as it prepares to host the Toronto Raptors tonight at the Barclays Center (7:30 ET, ESPN). So, it’s no surprise Durant came out No. 1 in early returns from NBA All-Star voting. The Nets own a record of 4-1 whenever Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving play in the same game, and you can bet the trio’s chemistry will continue to build into something nightmarish for opponents once the postseason hits.
5. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers
Season stats: 26.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.9 spgKawhi Leonard came up with 33 points in a loss to the Nets.
Durant called Leonard a “savant” and “Hall of Fame player,” on Tuesday after the Nets edged the Clippers. But it seems we don’t hear much mention of the Clippers star in the MVP conversation. That should stop. He’s the winningest player in the regular season in league history (408-135) going into tonight’s game against the Boston Celtics (10 ET, ESPN). He’s scored 31 or more in four of his last seven games, knocking down 50% or better from the field in five consecutive outings. There’s a reason some call him “Mr. Leonard.”
Got thoughts on the Kia MVP chase? Hit me up via e-mail or send me a tweet!
The Next Five:
6. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
7. Paul George, LA Clippers
8. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
T-9. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors & Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
10. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
And five more: Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz; Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers; Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets; Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics.
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