Kia Race To The MVP Ladder
Kia MVP Ladder: Giannis Antetokounmpo stands tall in crucial victory
Big wins by the Bucks over the past week help keep Giannis Antetokounmpo at the top in our weekly review of Kia MVP contenders.
The whistle blew, play stopped, and Giannis Antetokounmpo strolled off victorious with more than half a quarter left to play.
In what we all expected to be a hotly contested Kia MVP Ladder matchup on Thursday between Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry, Milwaukee thumped Golden State 118-99 in a wire-to-wire beatdown more lopsided than the final score would indicate. Antetokounmpo simply ran roughshod through the Warriors, churning out 30 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in producing his 28th career triple-double (and third of the season) to tie Michael Jordan for 18th all-time.
The performance keeps Antetokounmpo at the top of this week’s edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, while the slumping Curry falls out of the top five.
“We’ve got to keep getting better. We’ve got to keep building good habits. We’ve got to keep going out there and having fun,” Antetokounmpo told TNT in his postgame interview. “Obviously, we know that we’re the defending champs. Everybody’s gonna come play hard against us. But at the end of the day, it’s about us.”
In focusing solely on self, Milwaukee forced 11 first half turnovers on the way to zipping out to a 77-38 halftime lead on the strength of Antetokounmpo’s 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting. Golden State’s 39-point halftime deficit was the most it had trailed at intermission since the 1962-63 season, when it relocated to California.
The Bucks outscored the Warriors 14-2 in points off turnovers in the first half. Over the opening halves of Golden State’s last two outings, opponents have now outscored the Warriors 34-2 in points off turnovers.
Curry, meanwhile, entered the game averaging 26.8 points, but has produced fewer than 15 points in three of his last five games.
Andrew Wiggins led Golden State in scoring (16 points) Thursday with Curry chipping in 12 points.
“To be honest, I’m not that concerned,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I thought we just got our butts kicked. We’re just in a rough patch in our season. It happens to every team every year pretty much with very few exceptions. We’re in a little bit of a rut. We played a team that was ready and played a great, great first half. So, we’re a little out of sorts, and we’ve just got to get back on track and we will.”
The assist that gives Giannis the triple double!! pic.twitter.com/Kt54GNwcUP
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 14, 2022
Golden State built a 12-4 road record to start the season, but it has since lost four straight on the road and four of five away from home. After scoring fewer than 100 points just twice in the 33 games played through Christmas, the Warriors haven’t hit the century mark in five of their last eight games.
“We just got off to a terrible start where everything went wrong on both ends of the floor,” Curry said. “The way that they guarded us, we created some pretty good looks, just didn’t make any early. They took that momentum and played a little hungrier than we did tonight. They started the game and pretty much won it in the first 18 minutes.”
It’s important to note Golden State played Thursday without defensive stalwart Draymond Green. But Jrue Holliday sat out of his fourth straight game for Milwaukee, which snapped a two-game losing streak.
And now, the Top 5 this week in the 2021-22 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Season stats: 28.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 6.1 apg
Antetokounmpo came out in attack mode against Golden State. Just 13 seconds into the game, Antetokounmpo drew a foul driving to the basket. “You get to a position that you’ve seen pretty much everything,” Antetokounmpo said. “Now you’ve just got to let your instincts take over, try to be in the moment as much as possible, and hope that you make the right play. But my mindset always is try to be aggressive, try to get downhill.” Antetokounmpo certainly did that, and he ended up shooting 12 free throws on the night. Defensively, Antetokounmpo finished with three blocked shots as Milwaukee turned 15 Warriors turnovers into 19 points.
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s ranking: No. 3
Season stats: 25.5 ppg, 14.0 rpg, 7.0 apg
Nuggets coach Michael Malone wasn’t wrong about Jokic on Tuesday after Denver’s loss to the Clippers in saying, “I think he is one of the more disrespected reigning MVPs that I can think of in terms of attention. If you open up the dictionary, look up the word consistency, there’s going to be a picture of Nikola there.” Perhaps so. The fact Jokic continues to produce without Jamal Murry, Michael Porter Jr. and P.J. Dozier is even more impressive as Denver is two games over .500. Jokic’s current numbers are close to his MVP season, when he averaged 26.4 points on 56.6% shooting to go with 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists. Jokic was still dropping dimes in Thursday’s win over Portland.
3. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Season stats: 29.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 5.9 apg
The Nets are 2-2 since the last Kia Race to the MVP Ladder dropped, but Durant has maintained his incredible production, racking up at least 27 points in four consecutive games before sitting out Thursday for some much-needed rest for the team’s loss to Oklahoma City (Brooklyn was playing its fourth game in five nights). Durant is No. 2 in the NBA (behind Toronto’s Fred VanVleet) in minutes per game (37.2) and he’s tied with LeBron James for the longest active streak of games with 25 points or more (12). Durant poured in 17 of his 27 points in Wednesday’s win over the Bulls in the third quarter. Strong.
4. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week’s ranking: No. 4
Season stats: 27.1 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 4.3 apg
He’s scored 30 points or more in eight consecutive games, which ranks as the most by a 76er since Allen Iverson in the 1999-2000 season. Interestingly, Embiid has scored exactly 31 points in five consecutive games. The team’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday snapped a seven-game winning streak as Philadelphia fell for the first time since Dec. 23. When the latest NBA All-Star fan voting returns came in Thursday, Embiid was sitting at third among the frontcourt players of the Eastern Conference. Inside the NBA’s Charles Barkley believes there’s “nobody in the world playing better basketball” right now than Embiid.
5. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
Last week’s ranking: No. 6
Season stats: 26.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.7 apg
DeRozan and the Bulls caught a buzzsaw Wednesday when the Brooklyn Nets came to town, and Chicago is now 2-2 since the last edition of Kia Race to the MVP Ladder. DeRozan produced 19 points on 9 of 16 from the floor against the Nets, and the Bulls are just 3-4 this season when he finishes with fewer 20 points. Since running off a nine-game winning streak, the Bulls have lost two of their last three. But Chicago faces a struggling Curry and the Golden State Warriors playing the second leg of a back-to-back on Friday at the United Center (7:30 ET, ESPN).
The Next Five
6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (Last week: No. 5)
7. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (Last week: No. 10)
8. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns (Last week: No. 8)
9. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (Last week: No. 7)
10. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (Last week: No. 9)
And five more (listed alphabetically): Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks; James Harden, Brooklyn Nets; Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls; Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors.
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