Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Is it too late for Damian Lillard to surge into chase?

Taking stock of the Top 5 contenders in the Kia MVP Award chase

Time, it would appear, is not on Damian Lillard’s side.

Or is it?

The Portland Trail Blazers’ All-Star point guard and Western Conference Player of the Week is playing at a galactic level these days as he tries to help his team close the gap in the Western Conference playoff chase.

He collected his first triple-double in Wednesday’s win over Houston and has spent the better part of the past month reminding the world why he’s one of the game’s elite players.

Over his past 10 games, Lillard is averaging a jaw-dropping 36.3 points on 49.8% shooting (and 45.3% on 3-pointers) as well as 8.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds for a team with no time to spare as the West playoff chase cranks up.

Lillard’s relatively late push in the MVP race comes as it remains static at the top in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder. Does that make it too late for Lillard (or anyone else) to shake things up?

Time, of course, will tell.

If Lillard can sustain his torrid pace and the Blazers close the gap on the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs, anything — as Kevin Garnett famously once said — is possible.

A primetime showdown Friday night against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 ET, ESPN) provides the perfect platform for a statement win.

In his past four games, Lillard is averaging 48.5 ppg, 9.8 apg, 8.0 rpg while shooting 53.2% overall, 55.9% on 3-pointers and 91.8% on free throws. If triple-double-type numbers are what’s needed to keep pace, Lillard is more than willing to oblige for his team’s sake.

Its about time. It took eight years,” a reportedly smiling Lillard told reporters after nabbing that first triple-double. “I think theres been plenty of times where I could have just kind of hunted it — Ive been two rebounds or one assist away, but its just something about I never wanted to go out there and just chase it. Im just happy that it came in a win, and that it was a performance where it was needed.”

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The Top 5 this week in the 2019-20 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

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1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week: No. 1

Season stats: 30.0 Points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.0 block

With his supporting cast, led by All-Star forward Khris Middleton crushing it for a career-high 51 points, Antetokounmpo rested his sore shoulder as the Bucks won their ninth straight game. It was a shrewd bit of time management by the Bucks to give him the breather, especially with seven games (starting with tonight’s visit from Denver) on the schedule before All-Star weekend. Even the relentless “Greek Freak” needs a break every now and then.

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 2

Season stats: 25.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 10.7 assists, 1.3 steals

LeBron’s leadership skills will be tested mightily as the Lakers continue to process the loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the seven others lost in Sunday’s helicopter crash. He’s already made clear that Kobe’s legacy now becomes his responsibility. LeBron and the Lakers finally get back on the court Friday night in what is sure to be an emotional game against Lillard and the surging Blazers.

3. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

Last week: No. 3

Season stats: 27.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.0 steals

Leonard was a late scratch for the Clippers’ game against Sacramento Thursday night after his back locked up on him during warmups. It’s not yet clear how significant an issue it will be for the reigning Finals MVP, and given his injury management protocol, it won’t shock anyone if the Clippers are extremely cautious with Leonard in the lead up to All-Star weekend.

4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week: No. 4

Season stats: 28.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.0 steals

Yet another member of the top five dealing with an injury issue, Doncic sprained his right ankle in practice and will miss Friday night’s game in Houston (7:30 ET, ESPN). It’s the same right ankle he sprained last month, which caused him to miss four games. This is a critical stretch for the Mavericks, who are locked in a tussle with the Rockets and Thunder for fifth in the West playoff chase.

5. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

Last week: No. 5

Season stats: 20.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.8 steals

Butler and the Heat couldn’t keep pace with Boston Thursday night, dropping just their third game of the season at home. In Miami, though, Butler and his freshly minted All-Star teammate, Bam Adebayo, have helped the Heat soar at home (where they are 24-3). Oddly enough, Butler’s numbers are slightly better away from home.

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Got thoughts on the Kia MVP chase? Hit me up via e-mail or send me a tweet and I’ll get back to you!

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The Next Five:

6. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

7. James Harden, Houston Rockets

8. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

9. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

10. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

And five more: Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder; Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers; Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors; Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics, Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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