Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Joel Embiid boosts his case for No. 1 in win vs. Jazz

Joel Embiid remains atop our list, but Damian Lillard, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic are rising fast.

Joel Embiid tightened his grip on No. 1 in the Kia MVP chase this week.

Call it perfect timing for Joel Embiid, who continues to live up to his top billing for this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder going into NBA All-Star break.

“I want to dominate,” he said.

That’s precisely what Embiid did in dropping a 40-piece with 19 rebounds Wednesday in cooking former two-time Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz to keep the 76ers atop the Eastern Conference standings at 24-12.

“Those are the matchups that you want to go out there and just dominate and prove to everybody that as a team, we have a great team, and, individually, you should be up there when it comes to those rankings and stuff.”

Full Focus: Embiid, 76ers take down Jazz in OT

Joel Embiid had his way against Rudy Gobert and the Jazz on Wednesday night.

Well, Embiid definitely ranks “up there” going into All-Star break, while Nikola Jokic moves to No. 2, LeBron James dips down to third, Damian Lillard rises to fourth, and Luka Doncic finally cracks the top five.

Jokic helped the Nuggets run off four straight victories since publication of last week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, averaging a triple-double (28.8 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 10.2 apg) over that span. Doncic, meanwhile, averaged nearly a triple-double (30 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 8.0 apg) over his last two games to lead Dallas to nine wins in its last 11 outings.

As for James, the 36-year-old played a pivotal role in guiding the Lakers back on track after a four-game skid. Yet, after snagging two straight wins, Los Angeles has since fallen in two consecutive contests, with the four-time Kia MVP sitting in Wednesday’s loss to Sacramento due to a sore ankle.

James Harden ticks up a couple of slots, too.

The 2018 MVP racked up his eighth triple-double Wednesday during a reunion in Houston to pace Brooklyn in capturing victory No. 10 in the Nets’ last 11 contests.

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

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 30.2 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.4 bpg, 1.2 spg

Embiid, Sixers show might in overtime win over Utah

NBA TV's Channing Frye and Brendan Haywood react to the overtime win by the 76ers over the Jazz.

Embiid’s got the right idea here. “I keep going back to the same thing: you can’t be in those conversations without winning,” he said. “Right now, we’re winning, we’re first in the East, we beat the best team in the league.” Embiid worked the Jazz inside Wednesday to the beat of the 76ers outscoring them 64-44 in the paint in a game they trailed by as many as 13 points. Embiid put up 40 or more in two of his last three games. Philadelphia owns a record of 6-1 this season when Embiid scores 38 or more.

2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

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

Full Focus: Jokic's 50th Triple-Double

Nikola Jokic scores 37 points, grabs 10 rebounds, and has 11 assists as he records his 50th career triple-double in a win against the Bucks.

In helping the Nuggets win their third straight on Tuesday, Jokic produced his 50th career triple-double and ninth of the season as they outscored the Milwaukee Bucks 56-32 in the paint. Jokic narrowly missed notching two 30-point triple-doubles in a back-to-back set against Chicago and Milwaukee, missing the triple-double vs. the Bulls by one assist. Additionally, he was just two assists short of three straight triple-doubles in a win against the Indiana Pacers, falling two assists shy of one in that game. Jokic and Wilt Chamberlain are the only centers in NBA history to tally 50 or more triple-doubles over a career.

3. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 25.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 7.8 apg, 1.1 spg

LeBron scores 38 vs. Suns

LeBron James did all he could to try and help the Lakers take down the Suns.

He put together his eighth game this season with 30-plus points, five-plus rebounds and four-plus assists Tuesday in a loss to the red-hot Phoenix Suns, before sitting out of Wednesday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings due to a sore ankle. It marked the first game James has missed all season. The All-Star break comes at just the right time for James, who has been forced to carry the Lakers in the absence of Anthony Davis. Davis hasn’t played since Valentine’s Day due to a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis, but appears to be on the verge of returning.

4. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 29.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 8.0 apg, 1.0 spg

Nightly Notable: Damian Lillard vs. Sacramento

Damian Lillard drops 44 points to go along with seven assists as the Blazers get the win against the Kings.

Kent Bazemore didn’t have a chance here, but that’s the case with most defenders facing Lillard. He put up 22 points Wednesday in Portland’s 108-106 win over Golden State, and then lit up Sacramento for 44 the next night in a 123-119 win.  He’s averaged 31 ppg and 7.5 apg in his last four games in helping Portland go 3-1 during that stretch. We still need to see more. Portland is 6-8 against teams that are .500 or better and 15-6 against teams below .500.

5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Season stats: 28.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 9.0 apg, 1.0 spg

Doncic dominates vs. Magic

Luka Doncic scored 33 points and just missed a triple-double in a win against Orlando.

Lower back tightness forced Doncic to miss his second game of the season Wednesday as Dallas defeated Oklahoma City, but the respite might have been much needed given the way he’s carried the Mavericks all season. If you’re tuning in for Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game, don’t worry about Doncic sitting out. Coach Rick Carlisle said Wednesday’s absence shouldn’t affect the All-Star starter’s availability. Carlisle expects Doncic to participate. Doncic is also scheduled to compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge alongside Chris Paul, Julius Randle, Domantas Sabonis, Robert Covington and Nikola Vučević.

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The Next Five

6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

7. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

8. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets

9. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

10. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

And five more: Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets; Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Paul George, LA Clippers; Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls; Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets.

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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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