Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Nikola Jokic takes over as new No. 1

Several players are rising fast in our latest look at the leaders in the Kia MVP chase.

Nikola Jokic’s consistency and availability have helped him soar in the latest Kia MVP Ladder.

Availability factors heavily into showcasing ability.

That’s why you’ll see Joel Embiid fall precipitously this week in the first post All-Star edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.

Having already missed 10 of Philadelphia’s first 41 games, Embiid could sit out an extended period due to a bone bruise in his left knee that was initially expected to keep him out two to three weeks. As colleague Steve Aschburner noted in his most recent Defensive Player Ladder, 1978 MVP Bill Walton is the only player to have ever won that award playing in fewer than 80% of his team’s games.

Nightly Notable: As usual, Jokic stuffs stat sheet

Nikola Jokic scores 28 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists in the close win over Memphis.

If Embiid’s injury forces him to sit another seven games, he would finish at 55 games — provided he doesn’t miss any more after — in a 72-game season, to put him at 76.4%.

“He was happy it wasn’t as bad as a lot of people thought it was, probably including himself,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said on Sunday. “Now that he knows all it takes is rehab, he has a game plan, we have a game plan, and now we’re moving forward with it.”

Other MVP candidates are trudging ahead, too.

Nikola Jokic moves into the No. 1 spot, while Damian Lillard continues to rise up the board along with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finally cracks the top five.

Former Kia MVP James Harden is coming for one of the top spots as well, after cooking Indiana on Wednesday for his 100th 40-point game. Harden tallied 10 rebounds and 15 assists in that game, too, to join Vince Carter as the only other Nets player to ever put together a 40-point triple-double. Harden is just the fourth player in league history to roll up 100 40-point games, and he joins elite company in Wilt Chamberlain (173), Michael Jordan (122) and Kobe Bryant (100).

Harden pulled off the feat in 868 games played, which ranks as third in NBA history. Meanwhile, the performance against the Pacers marked Harden’s 11th triple-double this season and his 16th career 40-point triple-double; good for No. 2 in NBA history behind only Oscar Robertson (22).

So, keep an eye out for Harden, who is generating some serious momentum in helping Brooklyn to victory in 14 of its last 15 games.

And now, the Top 5 this week in the 2020-21 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 27.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 8.6 apg, 1.6 spg

Nikola Jokic racks up triple-double

Nikola Jokic posts 12 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds to power Denver past Charlotte.

He racked up his 10th triple-double to help Denver captured its seventh win in eight outings, playing just 28 minutes and three quarters while scoring 12 points on seven shots. The performance marked a record-setting night around the NBA, as six players around the league put up triple-doubles. Jokic dished 10 of Denver’s season-high 37 assists on the night, and also posted his 228th career double-double to move past Dikembe Mutombo for the franchise record. Jokic leads the league this season in double-doubles with 36 in 40 contests.

2. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Last ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 30.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 7.8 apg

Blazers rally behind Lillard's season-high 50 points

Portland rode Damian Lillard's clutch play and 50-point game to rally from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit vs. New Orleans.

Maybe people will finally realize that “Dame Time” is a real thing. The man dropped a season-high 50 points Wednesday to help Portland rally from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit vs. New Orleans. The most eye-popping part of Lillard’s night was the fact he scored 50 points on a ridiculous 20 shots, which ranks No. 3 for the fewest field-goal attempts during a 50-point night in the shot-clock era (1954-55), according to Elias Sports Bureau. Lillard scored 36 points Thursday in another win against the Pelicans and poured in 15 of the team’s first 20 points.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last ranking: No. 7

Season stats: 29.1 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 6.2 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.3 bpg

Giannis powers Bucks in OT thriller

Giannis Antekounmpo sparks the comback to erase a 19-point deficit in a win vs. Philadelphia.

Similar to Stephen Curry, Antetokounmpo plays with a level of joy that’s just fun to watch. We saw that Wednesday, as Milwaukee won its fifth-straight game after trailing by 14 at intermission. The reigning two-time Kia MVP, Antetokounmpo scored just four points in the first half, before erupting for 19 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Apparently, Antetokounmpo worked up an appetite for some of the Philadelphia local fare on the heels of the Bucks sweeping their latest three-game road trip. Antetokounmpo has put up 31 points or more in seven of his last 10 games, including three triple-doubles over that span.

4. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Last ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 25.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 8.0 apg, 1.1 spg

LeBron James scored 37 points to power the Lakers past the Hornets.

James started off the week logging back-to-back triple-doubles, becoming the oldest player (36) in NBA history to accomplish that feat. James pushed his total to five triple-doubles on the season, and helped Los Angeles to a four-game winning streak out of the All-Star break after Thursday’s 116-105 triumph against the Charlotte Hornets. James now ranks No. 20 all-time in games played (1,305). Too often, we get caught up in the offensive numbers. He’s getting it done on defense, too. Still, the Lakers are 7-7 since Anthony Davis’s Valentine’s Day injury.

5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Last ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 29.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.4 bpg

Without a Kia MVP candidate to lean on, the 76ers' other stars and supporting cast may discover their own strength.

It’s been a week since Embiid suffered a tough break on a nasty dunk in a win over the Washington Wizards, and it’s estimated the All-Star big man could be out for the next two to three weeks due to a bone bruise in his left knee. Embiid is also a front-runner to win the 2021 Kia Defensive Player of the Year Award, but colleague Steve Aschburner makes a salient point here in pondering how the expected absence could negatively affect his candidacy for both awards.

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The Next Five

6. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets

7. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

8. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

9. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

10. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

And five more: Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets; Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls; Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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