National Basketball Association

NBA MVP Watch: Joel Embiid inches ahead of LeBron James

March 8

The stars were out in full force for the All-Star Game on Sunday, setting a perfect tone for the second half of the NBA season.

A number of MVP hopefuls took the floor during Sunday's showcase, with the dunks and long-range swishes flying left and right in a 170-150 win for Team LeBron.

Now, all eyes turn toward the second half of the season, in which MVP cases will continue to be made. A new but extremely familiar face made his way into the top five candidates in this week's edition of the MVP Watch.

Plus, we've got a new front-runner in the proceedings!

Here are the top five MVP favorites, according to FOX Bet's insights, along with a breakdown of each candidate's stats as of Monday morning, recent play and what's on the horizon.

1.  Joel Embiid ​​​​​​ +200

Per-game stats: Points: 30.2 (second) | Assists: 3.3 (T-93rd) | Rebounds: 11.6 (tied-sixth)

How it's going: Embiid pulled to the top of the list following a dominant 40-point performance against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. Along with his 40 points, Embiid hauled in 19 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal in the 131-123 overtime win for the Philadelphia 76ers. Unfortunately, he was unable to participate in the All-Star Game because of contract tracing related to COVID-19.

What's up next: That remains to be seen, due to the NBA's health and safety protocols. The second half of Philadelphia's schedule starts with matchups against the Chicago Bulls on Thursday and the Washington Wizards on Friday. It's assumed Embiid will be kept in contact tracing and quarantine for at least seven days, making it likely that the earliest he could return would be against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

What people are saying: "Right now, Embiid is the most dominant player in the NBA." ⁠— Brandon Marshall, "First Things First"

2. LeBron James +225

Per-game stats: Points: 25.8 (15th) | Assists: 7.8 (tied-ninth) | Rebounds: 8.0 (26th)

How it's going: James sat out Wednesday's 123-120 loss to the Sacramento Kings, taking his first breather for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. He had started all 36 games for L.A. and used the All-Star break as an opportunity to freshen up. 

What's up next: The Lakers have a solid break following the All-Star Game, with only one game on this week's schedule. On Friday, the Lakers will welcome the Indiana Pacers before gearing up for a busy week starting March 15. All eyes will be glued to the injury report to see if, and when, Anthony Davis can return to run alongside James.

What people are saying: "Here's the bottom line to my point of view: I can't even rank LeBron in the top five of MVP." ⁠— Skip Bayless, "Undisputed"

3. Nikola Jokic +400

Per-game stats: Points: 27.1 (10th) | Assists: 8.6 (tied-sixth) | Rebounds: 11.0 (12th)

How it's going: Jokic and the Denver Nuggets rolled into the midseason break on a four-game winning streak, with the superstar center averaging 28.8 points, 10.3 assists and 11.8 rebounds across the span. To make it more impressive, all four of those wins came on the road. 

What's up next: The road show for Denver continues with a date against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. The Nuggets then return home to host the Dallas Mavericks the very next day. In two previous matchups against the Mavs this season, Jokic is averaging 29.0 points, 4.0 assists and 10.5 boards. Denver is 1-1 in those contests.

What people are saying: "The thing that I love about him, Skip? I know what I'm going to get every night." ⁠— Shannon Sharpe, "Undisputed"

4. Luka Doncic +1100

Per-game stats: Points: 28.6 (eighth) | Assists: 9.0 (fourth) | Rebounds: 8.4 (T-20th)

How it's going: Doncic sat for the Mavericks' win against the Oklahoma City Thunder prior to the All-Star Game after missing just one game of the team's first 33 of the season. In his lone appearance during the week, Doncic put up 33 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds against the Orlando Magic

What's up next: The Mavs hit the ground running with an in-state bout against the Spurs on Wednesday, followed by a trip to play the Thunder on Thursday. After that, Doncic & Co. visit the Nuggets and fellow MVP hopeful Jokic on Saturday.

What people are saying: "He's gotten better every single year ... and to me, that's the true measure of a superstar." ⁠— Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, via "The Herd"

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo +1600

Per-game stats: Points: 29.0 (fifth) | Assists: 5.9 (T-28th) | Rebounds: 11.7 (fifth)

How it's going: Here come Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks. After a bit of a slow start for the back-to-back MVP, "the Greek Freak" averaged 30.7 points, 6.1 assists and 12.3 rebounds in the month of February, going 10-5 in the process. The Bucks opened March with an ugly loss to the Nuggets but eked out a win against Memphis before the break. 

What's up next: The Bucks welcome the New York Knicks to Milwaukee on Thursday before traveling to face the Washington Wizards back-to-back to end this week and start the next.

What people are saying: "Giannis has won two MVPs. Put some respect on his name!" ⁠— Bill Reiter, CBS Sports Radio

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