National Basketball Association

NBA MVP Watch: James Harden climbs to second behind Nikola Jokic

April 5

Injuries are plaguing a number of NBA stars, and the MVP odds are shifting while many of the favorites hold the role of spectator.

One ironman, though, is still chugging along in Nikola Jokic. He hasn't missed a game for the Denver Nuggets, and he has a firm grasp on the NBA MVP award. 

James Harden is climbing up the boards despite some recent inactivity, but will he catch the Nuggets' big man?

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

1. Nikola Jokic +125

Per-game stats: Points: 26.3 (11th) | Assists: 8.6 (tied-sixth) | Rebounds: 11.0 (T-10th)

How it's going: The Nuggets continued rolling through the week, rallying on Easter against the Orlando Magic to win their fifth consecutive contest. Jokic had 12 assists in the second half, finishing the game with 16 total, along with 17 points and nine rebounds. The star center hasn't been held below double digits in scoring all season and has played in all 49 games for the Nuggets so far.

What's up next: The Nuggets hope to stay hot as the Detroit Pistons come to town on Tuesday. Then a double-dip against the San Antonio Spurs awaits Wednesday and Friday before they wrap up the week with a game against the Boston Celtics on Sunday.

What people are saying: "His clutch numbers are some of the best in the NBA every season. ... To have a center who's, like, a floor general, orchestrating, is definitely an advantage and a benefit that we have." ⁠— Nuggets head coach Michael Malone

2. James Harden +500

Per-game stats: Points: 25.9 (12th) | Assists: 11.1 (first) | Rebounds: 8.2 (26th)

How it's going: Hamstring tightness has kept Harden out of the Brooklyn Nets' lineup the past two games, but the star's MVP odds have actually improved during the absence. Prior to blowing out the Houston Rockets on March 31, Harden rattled off a triple-double with 38 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves. That tied his single-season high for triple-doubles, with 12, a number Harden looks like a shoo-in to snap before the season ends.

What's up next: Harden didn't travel with the team in Sunday's loss to the Chicago Bulls, but head coach Steve Nash indicated that was largely precautionary. Will Harden make his return Monday against the New York Knicks? If more rest is required, perhaps Harden will come back for Wednesday's clash against the New Orleans Pelicans or Saturday's date with the Los Angeles Lakers.

What people are saying: "I think it’s just caution. If this was a playoff game, I’m pretty sure he’d be here with us." ⁠— Steve Nash via the New York Post

3. Joel Embiid +600

Per-game stats: Points: 29.8 (second) | Rebounds: 11.3 (tied-eighth)

How it's going: Following a lengthy injury absence due to a bone bruise, Joel Embiid is easing back into the mix with the Philadelphia 76ers. He played his first game in more than 20 days in Saturday's win against the Timberwolves, going toe-to-toe with Karl-Anthony Towns. Embiid put up 24 points and eight rebounds in the 122-113 win, then sat out a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday.

What's up next: The Sixers are back in action Tuesday at the Boston Celtics. Then they visit the Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday and Saturday, respectively. It's unlikely Embiid will factor into both games of that back-to-back, but we'll see in which of the two games head coach Doc Rivers chooses to run Embiid.

What people are saying: "No question he's still in the mix to win that award. The question is, these last 25, 24 games, whatever it is for Philadelphia, can you hold on to the No. 1 spot?" ⁠— Dennis Scott, NBA TV

4. LeBron James +650

Per-game stats: Points: 25.4 (16th) | Assists: 7.9 (eighth) | Rebounds: 7.9 (T-32nd)

How it's going: LeBron James is still on the mend with an ankle injury, and his MVP odds have taken a hit as a result. The Lakers are 3-5 since James went down, and his timetable for return is unclear, according to head coach Frank Vogel. One thing's for sure, though: James is itching to get back on the court.

What's up next: A seven-game road trip for the Lakers continues this week into next, with the Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat and Nets on tap through Sunday.

What people are saying: "When you have LeBron James, he doesn't care what seed you are. You can go anywhere and win. ... The Lakers could win three of the next nine games, and they'd still be OK because you know LeBron James is going to come back for the stretch run." ⁠— Stephen A. Smith, Sirius XM NBA Radio

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo +1000

Per-game stats: Points: 28.8 (sixth) | Assists: 6.2 (T-19th) | Rebounds: 11.4 (seventh)

How it's going: Knee soreness kept Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the Milwaukee Bucks' lineup for Saturday's win against the Sacramento Kings, but indications are it isn't too serious. The evening prior, Antetokounmpo blew up against the Portland Trail Blazers for 47 points on 18-for-21 shooting. As far as other good news, Jrue Holiday signed an extension with the Bucks, keeping the core of Giannis, Holiday and Khris Middleton together for the foreseeable future.

What's up next: The Bucks take on the floundering Golden State Warriors on Tuesday and the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday. A quick stop at home takes place Friday against the Charlotte  Hornets before they hit the road again to wrap up the week in Orlando.

What people are saying: "Just understanding big picture, wanting [Giannis] to feel as healthy and whole and everything as we go forward ... I think him not playing is the wise move." ⁠— Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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