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The highest 5 this week within the 2018-19 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
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1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
James Harden lit up the Warmth for 58 factors and 10 assists on Thursday.
Final week: No. 2
Season stats: 36.6 factors, 7.7 assists, 6.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals
Anytime you be part of Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant as the one gamers to do one thing (six 50-point video games in the identical season), it warrants particular consideration. His feat Thursday additionally put the reigning Kia MVP alongside Tiny Archibald and Russell Westbrook as the one gamers with three 50-point, 10-assist video games in a single season. Backside line? Harden isn’t conceding something on this Kia MVP chase, along with his ending kick serving as proof. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni is piecing collectively rotations each night time, offering room to fabricate load-management time for his celebrity. And Harden, after all, isn’t having it anyway. He made it clear final season that there could be no let up on his half and his newest effort is proof of that. In contrast to final season, the Rockets don’t have the added motivation of chasing the league’s greatest document (and the home-court benefit all through the playoffs) as motivation. However Harden doesn’t seem to want something added to his historic quest.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo fueled the Bucks to an NBA-best 10-1 mark in February.
Final week: No. 1
Season stats: 27 factors, 12.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.Four blocks
Has the grind of this season lastly caught up with “The Greek Freak?” Maybe. He sat out Monday’s win in Chicago with a sore proper knee. And he performed solely 24 minutes in Wednesday’s wild time beyond regulation win in Sacramento on a Mike Budenholzer-mandated and enforced minutes restriction. It’s shrewd planning by the Bucks’ coach, who understands the form of load-management routine works for his star (having seen it achieved for Tim Duncan throughout his days as a San Antonio Spurs assistant coach). Budenholzer is saving Antetokounmpo from his bold, 24-year-old self to make sure positive he’ll have the vitality and well being wanted for a deep playoff run. That mentioned, anybody in Los Angeles anticipating Antetokounmpo to coast tonight towards LeBron James and the Lakers (10:30 ET, ESPN) is dreaming. That is the right stage on which to assist punctuate a season-long Kia MVP marketing campaign. Granted, Antetokounmpo has already piled up loads of highlights and assertion moments. However highlight tonight at Staples Heart, given the circumstances for the Lakers, shall be even brighter than regular.
Three. Paul George, Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder
Paul George placed on a present in an exhilarating double-overtime win final Friday.
Final week: No. Three
Season stats: 28.6 factors, eight.1 rebounds, Four.Three assists, 2.Three steals
One more casualty of the wear-and-tear of the NBA season, George sat out with a sore proper shoulder Thursday night time in OKC’s residence loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s the Thunder’s third straight loss and third in 4 video games for the reason that All-Star break. George’s absence was evident towards the Sixers, who additionally performed with out their anchor and MVP candidate, Joel Embiid. The Thunder’s margin for error with out George was on full show, and it ought to be famous for the postseason. The chase for playoff positioning, nevertheless, is a way more urgent concern for the Thunder. They’ll want George again and rolling if they will maintain off the Portland Path Blazers for the No. Three spot within the West. Like different superstars league-wide, George should steadiness his want for bodily breaks along with his crew’s must have (one in every of) its most dynamic gamers on the ground for the season’s closing weeks.
Four. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
In a win vs. OKC, Nikola Jokic took care of every thing for Denver.
Final week: No. eight
Season stats: 20.6 factors, 10.eight rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.Four steals
An announcement effort by the Utah Jazz Thursday night time interrupted the Nuggets’ three-game, post-All-Star weekend chase for the highest spot within the West. It additionally served as a reminder of simply how tenuous a place Jokic and the Nuggets are in as they attempt to flip their script from playoff observer final season to West elite this season. Jokic did battle Rudy Gobert to a digital standstill of elite massive males (ending with 16 factors, 13 rebounds and 7 assists to Gobert’s 16 factors, eight rebounds and 4 blocks). However the Nuggets’ playoff hopes this season will relaxation largely on Jokic turning in additional efforts just like the one he had in Tuesday’s win towards Oklahoma Metropolis (a close to triple-double with 36 factors, 10 assists and 9 rebounds). Jokic has made it clear that being within the MVP territory is a spot he’s not practically as comfy in as others on this listing. But when the Nuggets are going to complete what they’ve began, they’ll want the large fella to embrace his Kia MVP-ness.
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry had 33 factors on Thursday, however the Warriors misplaced to the Magic.
Final week: No. Four
Season stats: 28.Four factors, 5.Three assists, 5.Three rebounds, 1.2 steals
It’s all the time a bit shocking to see the best shooter in NBA historical past wrestle by way of an uncharacteristic hunch. That’s precisely the place he and the Warriors are at on their present highway journey. Even when Curry finishes along with his regular output – as he did in Thursday’s 103-96 loss to the Orlando Magic — it’s exhausting to miss his Three-point capturing woes. He had 33 factors, sure, however was 5-for 17 on Three-pointers and went Four-for-14 on Three-pointers in consecutive video games towards Charlotte and Miami (which Golden State break up) earlier than that. These are first-world issues, after all. The Warriors have elite shooters/scorers in Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. However when one in every of them is out (as Durant was Thursday night time) or having an off night time, Curry’s significance to the Warriors is magnified. That the Warriors can keep their standing atop the West by way of all of the twists and turns of a fifth straight championship-or-nothing marketing campaign is a testomony to the Warriors’ expertise. It additionally speaks to the usual Curry and Co. have established. Briefly, we’re all simply nit-picking the place Steph is worried.
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The Subsequent 5
6. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
7. Damian Lillard, Portland Path Blazers
eight. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
9. Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
10. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
And 5 extra: Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz; D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder; Karl-Anthony Cities, Minnesota Timberwolves
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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You possibly can e-mail him right here, discover his archive right here and observe him on Twitter.
The views on this web page don’t essentially mirror the views of the NBA, its golf equipment or Turner Broadcasting.