National Basketball Association

NBA MVP Watch: LeBron James reclaims the lead with Embiid out

March 15

As the second half of the NBA season gets rolling, the MVP race remains hot.

An unfortunate injury pushed last week's favorite, Joel Embiid, down to third, while a four-time winner in LeBron James resumed his reign at the top.

But don't count out the idea of another superstar making a push, as the second half of the season could have plenty of twists and turns.

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. LeBron James +160
Per-game stats: Points: 25.6 (14th) | Assists: 7.8 (T-11th) | Rebounds: 7.9 (T-27th)

How it's going: After a 170-150 victory for Team LeBron in the All-Star Game, James carried some winning momentum into the second half of the regular season. Although he took a bit of a back seat with just 18 points in a 105-100 win for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Indianapolis Pacers, he led all starters with 10 assists and a plus/minus of plus-11.

What's up next: The schedule picks up for the Lakers this week, with a road trip to the Golden State Warriors to start things off Monday. Then the Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks visit Staples Center before LeBron & Co. close out the week with an away game against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.

What people are saying: "If [LeBron] didn't think the Lakers had enough, he would say it. ... He's not saying it because he knows this is the best team in the NBA." ⁠— Nick Wright, "First Things First"

2. Nikola Jokic +250
Per-game stats: Points: 27.1 (10th) | Assists: 8.6 (sixth) | Rebounds: 11.1 (11th)

How it's going: The Denver Nuggets came out of the All-Star break with a narrow win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, then fell flat the following day with a 13-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Had it not been for Jokic's defensive effort ⁠— along with his usual offensive output ⁠— at the end of the Grizzlies game, Denver likely would've been on the losing end of both contests. 

What's up next: The Pacers visit Denver on Monday, followed by the Hornets on Wednesday, Chicago Bulls on Friday and New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. While most teams would likely welcome that kind of stretch at home, the Nuggets actually have a better winning percentage on the road (61.9%) than they do at the Ball Arena (52.9%). This week could go a long way toward shifting that trend.

What people are saying: "I don't like what I'm seeing from Denver. You've gotta win." ⁠— Stephen A. Smith, "First Take"

3. Joel Embiid ​​​​​​+550
Per-game stats: Points: 29.9 (second) | Assists: 3.3 (T-95th) | Rebounds: 11.5 (eighth)

How it's going: Embiid left Friday's win against the Washington Wizards with a knee injury, and Philadelphia 76ers fans held their breath awaiting news of the severity. Fortunately, the MRI reportedly showed no structural damage, and the big man will be evaluated in the coming weeks, rather than months. Nevertheless, the prospect of an extended spell on the sideline dropped Embiid's MVP odds significantly, from +200 a week ago to +550.

What's up next: The Sixers will host the New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings prior to visiting the Knicks to end the week. How they'll fare without Embiid remains to be seen, but in the eight games he has missed so far this season, Philly has put up a 3-5 record.

What people are saying: "If [Embiid] comes back in two weeks and plays the rest of the season ... he will still have missed more than 20% of the games. No player has won the MVP award missing anything close to that since writers began voting in 1981." ⁠— Chris Broussard, "First Things First"

4. Luka Doncic +1500
Per-game stats: Points: 28.2 (seventh) | Assists: 9.1 (fourth) | Rebounds: 8.4 (T-22nd)

How it's going: The Mavs won both games Doncic played in last week, beating the San Antonio Spurs and Nuggets by a combined 24 points. A loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder was sandwiched between those wins, however, and Doncic did not play in the game due to an ailing ankle. 

What's up next: Dallas gets a double-dip against both the LA Clippers and the Portland Trail Blazers this week, with LA visiting the Mavericks for a two-game set to start the week. Then, the Mavericks head to the Pacific Northwest to play the Blazers on Friday and Sunday.

What people are saying: "Don't allow him to be able to be a post-up threat, be able to shoot 3s, be able to get to the basket and get in the middle of your defense and then be able to facilitate as well. If he's able to do all those things, you're pretty much at the will of what he wants to do out there on the court." ⁠— Quentin Richardson, NBA TV

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo +1600
Per-game stats: Points: 29.0 (fifth) | Assists: 6.1 (25th) | Rebounds: 11.6 (tied-sixth)

How it's going: The Bucks entered the All-Star break hot and kept that heat going, winning a pair against the Knicks and Wizards last week. They've now won eight of their past nine games, with Antetokounmpo averaging 32.0 points, 6.8 assists and 12.1 rebounds in that stretch. Furthermore, "the Greek Freak" has posted back-to-back triple-doubles. That's not a bad way to start the second half of the season.

What's up next: The Wizards get a second helping of Giannis & Co. on Monday before the Bucks move on to face the Sixers in Philadelphia. The Bucks then head back to Milwaukee to finish the week with a battle against the Spurs on Saturday to begin a five-game homestand.

What people are saying: "Is it impossible? The fact that he's won the last two and then fizzled in the playoffs will work against him. But winning three straight is not impossible." ⁠— Chris Broussard, "First Things First"

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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