One stumble, one defective step and all of it goes up in smoke.
That’s the concern Milwaukee Bucks followers reside via lately with accidents plaguing the roster of the NBA’s finest staff on a seemingly nightly foundation.
And that features Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ Kia MVP candidate and frontrunner (for a lot of), who suffered a scare Thursday night time when he bumped into Garrett Temple late in a thumping of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Antetokounmpo tweaked his proper ankle, the identical one which he sprained towards Philadelphia and price him two video games final week, and didn’t end the sport. He labored the Clippers for 34 factors and 9 rebounds earlier than exiting, however the greater challenge stays for the Bucks and the Greek Freak.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had a giant sport Thursday night time earlier than injuring his ankle.
In a skin-tight chase for the Kia MVP, will the Bucks have to decide on between protecting Antetokounmpo wholesome for the postseason over permitting him to run via the tape in his neck-and-neck race with reigning Kia MVP James Harden?
Antetokounmpo’s ambition is to maintain each duties, as he made clear after the win over the Clippers, though the final word choice might and doubtless needs to be made by Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer and the staff’s medical workers.
“I believe the teaching workers, Bud and the medical workers have executed a fantastic job understanding when to drag me away from a sport,” Antetokounmpo advised reporters. “I belief them. It does not matter if I’m going via ache or I do not really feel good. I’m all the time ready to play the sport. There are going to be some days I’m going to play with ache. There’s going to be a whole lot of days I am cussed and saying I need to go play, however Coach Bud is like, ‘No, you aren’t going to play.’”
If there was any doubt as to Antetokounmpo’s focus this season, put it to relaxation. He’s locked in on the Bucks’ playoff potential and their procurement of the No. 1 general seed and residential court docket benefit that accompanies it all through all the postseason.
However he’s human. He additionally is aware of how tantalizingly shut he’s to crossing considered one of his particular person objectives off of his record.
“I’m not going to say it doesn’t imply something to me,” Antetokounmpo advised The Athletic just lately. “It’s considered one of my objectives as a participant to at some point be the MVP of this league, however I’m not going to enter the discussions. ‘Giannis mentioned this. James mentioned that. Paul George mentioned no matter. (Nikola) Jokic mentioned this.’ I’m not going to go in a back-and-forth dialogue. I don’t need to say something.”
He doesn’t should. The remainder of us will maintain that for him, finding out the main points of every marketing campaign.
The truth is the Bucks are strong within the standings. They’ve constructed some separation there that ought to maintain up over the ultimate two weeks of the season.
However in that different race, the one which Antetokounmpo might need to win in a photograph end, there isn’t any cushion … and subsequently, no room for a late-season stumble.
Not even from the frontrunner.
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The highest 5 this week within the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
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1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis completed with 19 factors — and the win — in a showdown with Harden and the Rockets.
Final week: No. 2
Season stats: 27.four factors, 12.5 rebounds, 6.zero assists, 1.four steals, 1.three blocks
The Bucks have a pleasant break earlier than Sunday’s sport towards an improved Atlanta staff, a break that can present a few days for Antetokounmpo to let his tender proper ankle relaxation a bit. They’ll take a four-game win streak with them to Atlanta, having secured high quality wins over Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers of their two most up-to-date outings. Antetokounmpo had a chance to go head-to-head with reigning Kia MVP James Harden within the win over the Rockets, however neither of the frontrunners for the highest spot this season made a mark vital sufficient to sway any potential swing voters. Their base constituencies would argue that the circumstances have already been made. Giannis has continued to grind his method to the end, bumps and bruises be darned, because the unquestioned finest participant on one of the best staff within the league from wire to wire. It’s a metric that has labored like a allure in years previous the place MVP voting is worried. Harden rode that practice to his first Kia MVP final season. The Greek Freak might be placing the ending touches on his personal model of the identical grasp plan.
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Harden led the cost in a thumping of the Nuggets.
Final week: No. 1
Season stats: 36.2 factors, 7.5 assists, 6.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals
With the added emphasis that’s all the time positioned on scoring, and rightfully so, Harden’s marketing campaign for a second straight Kia MVP seems to be rock strong. Harden might end this season having scored six extra factors than he did a 12 months in the past, when he led the league with a 30.four common. Harden’s scoring barrage this season has been nothing in need of spectacular. The spikes, the 50- and even 60-point video games, are one factor. Nevertheless it’s the sensible consistency that separates Harden from the pack of scoring stars that populate the league lately. He’s scored 20 or extra factors in 51 straight video games, the third longest single-season 20-point streak for the reason that 1983-84 season. The truth that he’s delivered the Rockets from the underside of the Western Convention standings to high 4 territory via adversity that might have sacked most groups in the identical place, is probably essentially the most spectacular factor he’s executed. The Rockets don’t sniff the highest 4 with out Harden going nuclear on a constant foundation with Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and different key rotation gamers lacking vital time with damage.
three. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Curry flirted with a triple-double in a win over the Grizzlies.
Final week: No. three
Season stats: 27.eight factors, 5.four assists, 5.three rebounds, 1.three steals
Years from now, when the story of the Warriors’ present run is embedded within the historical past books as probably one of the best dynasty the league has seen for the reason that Invoice Russell-led Celtics of the 1960s, there might be a good higher appreciation for what Curry has executed because the spine of what the Warriors have completed. It’s simple to gloss over it within the midst of the run, particularly when Klay Thompson and most just lately Kevin Durant (close to good taking pictures sport in Wednesday’s win over Memphis) assist gasoline the Warriors’ spectacular parade on a nightly foundation. Dare we are saying that Curry’s contributions have been taken for grated, by some, throughout this period of dominance? He wouldn’t be the primary Kia MVP working lately to fall sufferer to his personal depraved normal (see James, LeBron; Westbrook, Russell; Durant Kevin and Harden, James). However he is perhaps essentially the most shocking, given the best way he performs and the best way his rise to stardom has served the gateway for a championship period for a complete franchise. It’s one thing to chew on, Curry’s potential to play in addition to he has two seasons faraway from the second of his back-to-back Kia MVPs.
four. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Embiid obtained off to a quick begin Thursday night time and did not look again.
Final week: No. four
Season stats: 27.5 factors, 13.7 rebounds, three.5 assists, 1.9 blocks
Embiid is within the temper lately, wanting to ship messages to anybody prepared to hear, that he’ll be handing out constant punishment within the postseason. He dropped that not-so-subtle message on the Brooklyn Nets Thursday night time with a monster 39-point, 16-rebound and six-assist showcase towards a staff the Sixers might see within the first spherical in a few weeks. Embiid’s 16-point first quarter set the tone for the night time, and mainly each night time he’s been on the ground since his post-All-Star break hiatus for load administration. Embiid’s mix of superior measurement, talent and overflowing confidence makes him essentially the most harmful particular person pressure heading into the postseason, supplied he avoids the damage points that inevitably comes with the Embiid celebrity equipment at this stage of his profession. For all that he’s executed to this point, we nonetheless don’t know if Embiid can increase his sport to that galactic degree within the playoffs that interprets right into a deep run into Might, and maybe June. Nobody is disputing that the uncooked supplies are in place. The Sixers have a beginning 5 constructed for the massive stage. The one lingering query is whether or not or not Embiid is ready to function the vitality supply for this group as soon as the brightest lights come on?
5. Paul George, Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder
George has embraced — and succeeded — throughout a season filled with challenges.
Final week: No. 5
Season stats: 28.2 factors eight.1 rebounds, four.12 assists, 2.2 steals
The Thunder’s late-season swoon has overshadowed what’s been a stellar, MVP-caliber season for George. His postseason accolades might embody a spot on not solely the Kia MVP record but additionally Defensive Participant of the Yr point out and, loopy because it sounds, some Most Improved ballots. George has had that type of season. However the forces that may change issues immediately are crashing into one another on the worst time for George and the Thunder. Not solely are they struggling proper now, his sore proper shoulder, the one which has been nagging him for weeks, might maintain him out of some essential video games down the stretch of this season, together with tonight’s showdown towards Denver (eight ET, NBA League Move). And the Thunder want George at his finest heading into the postseason for backside line causes greater than they do to legitimize his standing for something that can transpire throughout awards season. Any relaxation Billy Donovan can discover for George or Russell Westbrook at this stage of the season with out the Thunder falling aside is a bonus. And with the understanding within the playoff standings proper, there are not any breaks available.
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The Subsequent 5
6. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
7. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
eight. Damian Lillard, Portland Path Blazers
9. Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
10. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
And 5 extra: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz; D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets; Karl-Anthony Cities; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder
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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You may 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.