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Kia MVP Ladder: Nikola Jokic keeps bolstering his case

Denver's do-it-all big man refuses to let up in our latest look at the Top 5 Kia MVP contenders.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Nikola Jokic is averaging 31.3 ppg, 11.7 rpg and 6.0 apg so far in May.

Nikola Jokic continues to strengthen his tight grip on the top spot in the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.

In a matchup against the New York Knicks and fellow Kia MVP candidate Julius Randle on Wednesday, Jokic wasted no time establishing dominance. Racking up a career-high 24 points in the opening quarter, Jokic connected on a scorching 8-for-9 showing from the floor and 8-for-10 from the free-throw line as Denver built an early 24-point lead en route to a 113-97 win.

Jokic’s sizzling first quarter represented the most points he’s scored in any quarter in his career, and the most points in one frame for a Denver player since Emmanuel Mudiay poured in 24 points in a quarter back in 2016.

“When you have as many guys out as we do, we need Nikola to be aggressive,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “So, for him to get 32 [points] and 12 [rebounds] with six assists, two more steals and two more blocks in only 29 minutes is a very efficient night.”

Let’s not forget Denver continues to play without two starters and its sixth man, which apparently gives Jokic all the more reason to ramp up the production. With Jokic leading the way, the Nuggets remain in the thick of the chase with the LA Clippers for No. 3 in the Western Conference.

Nikola Jokic had his way with the Knicks in a blowout win on Wednesday.

“When he’s going like that, we get to just chill,” Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. said. “Honestly, we just throw it to him, and we just chill; let him go to work. No big man in the NBA can guard him one-on-one. So, we just let him go to work. We love when he’s being aggressive like that. When he’s scoring at will, we love that.”

Jokic maintains his NBA lead this season in double-doubles with 56 in 66 outings, and the veteran big man threw down four dunks in the first quarter of Wednesday’s victory over the Knicks.

“It was just a great example and reinforcement of why Nikola Jokic is the MVP,” Malone said. “For us to be doing what we’re doing, you have to have a great player, and we have that. We have lots of really good players around him, but Nikola set the tone tonight.”

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


1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 26.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 8.4 apg, 1.4 spg

Nikola Jokic tallied 32 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a loss to the Lakers.

It appears the award is all but locked up for Jokic, who continues to elevate Denver’s supporting cast night after night. Jokic has produced 13 games this season with 30 points or more and 10-plus rebounds, which registers as a single-season franchise record. He’s led the Nuggets in scoring, rebounds and assists in 22 games this season. Antetokounmpo did that in 21 games during his 2018-19 Kia MVP season, while Russell Westbrook strung together 40 such games when he won the award for the 2016-17 season. “He’s the MVP,” new Nuggets addition Austin Rivers said. Perhaps so.


2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 29.1 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.4 bpg

Joel Embiid posted 34 points and 12 rebounds against the Rockets.

Embiid wrecked the Houston Rockets on Wednesday for 34 points and 12 rebounds in just 25 minutes as the Sixers rolled to their sixth consecutive victory. The game marked Embiid’s 15th 30-point, 10-rebound game this season, which ranks second in 2020-21 only to Giannis Antetokounmpo (who has 16 such games). Embiid has averaged a double-double through three games in May. The way Embiid and Jokic keep performing in this big-man duel for Kia MVP is catching the attention of Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, who believes it’s time for the award to shift back to the players dominating the paint.


3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 28.4 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 5.9 apg

For the second time in three days, Kevin Durant (32 points) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (36 points) went head to head in Milwaukee.

What a week for Antetokounmpo. He outscored Kevin Durant 49-42 on Sunday in a win over Brooklyn, only to follow that two days later with 36 points and 12 rebounds in another victory over the Nets. The win put Milwaukee within striking distance of the Nets in the Eastern Conference standings, but keep in mind the Bucks own the tiebreaker between the teams. Antetokounmpo then helped the Bucks capture their fourth-straight win Wednesday on the back end of a back-to-back. Check out this touching interview with the great Bucks broadcaster Jim Paschke to get a little more insight into Antetokounmpo’s personal side.


4. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

Last week’s ranking: No.4

Season stats: 16.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 8.8 apg, 1.4 spg

Chris Paul has 23 points and 16 assists in an OT win against the Cavs.

Celebrated his 36th birthday on Thursday — check out LeBron James’ birthday note to Paul on Instagram — a day after struggling through a 3-for-11 shooting night in a 135-103 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Prior to that setback, the Suns had won five in a row in large part due to Paul’s leadership and clutch play in tight games. Going into Friday’s game against the Knicks, the Suns appear to have a firm grasp on the No. 2 spot in the West as they sit three games ahead of the Nuggets in the standings.


5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 28.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 8.9 apg, 1.0 spg

Luka Doncic finishes with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a win against Brooklyn.

The Mavs reeled off their fifth win in six outings as Doncic shrugged off a rough night shooting (7 of 22 from the field) to lead his team with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a 113-109 triumph over the Brooklyn Nets (overcoming a 45-point night from Kyrie Irving). “It was one of the worst games I’ve played, but we got a win,” Doncic said. Doncic averages career highs in assists (8.9), 3-point percentage (35.7%) and field goal percentage (48.4%), but he needs to keep performing down the stretch of the regular season to prevent the Lakers and Trail Blazers from overtaking his squad in the standings.

Got thoughts on the Kia MVP chase? Hit me up via e-mail or send me a tweet!


The Next Five:

6. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

7. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

8. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

9. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

10. Julius Randle, New York Knicks

And five more: Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers; Russell Westbrook, Washington Wizards; LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz; Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets.

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

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