NBA MVP Watch: Nikola Jokic starting to run away from field
There's less than a month until the 2021 NBA regular season ends and the new play-in round begins.
With so much uncertainty and multiple injuries impacting a swath of the league's best players, one star has remained a consistent force in the Western Conference: Nikola Jokic.
His career year is being made all the more special when taking into account that he has started all 56 of the Denver Nuggets' games. That consistent presence seems to have him running away with the NBA MVP award, as his odds continue to get more expensive.
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 -250
Per-game stats: Points: 26.1 (12th) | Assists: 8.8 (fourth) | Rebounds: 11.0 (10th)
How it's going: Jokic and the Nuggets hit a bit of a rough patch, with back-to-back losses against the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors early last week, but bounced back in a big way with routs of the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets. Jokic picked up another triple-double in Wednesday's 17-point win against Miami, then poured in 29 points and collected 16 rebounds to demolish the Rockets 128-99 on Friday. Unfortunately, Jokic's running mate, Jamal Murray, is done for the season after tearing his ACL.
What's up next: Denver hosts the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday before heading out for a two-game road trip against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday and Warriors on Friday. They'll wrap up the week's action with a home game against the Rockets on Saturday.
What people are saying: "All Jokic needs to do is keep Denver afloat for the rest of the regular season to become the first center to win the NBA MVP since 2000, when Shaquille O’Neal took home the honor." — Michael C. Wright, NBA.com
2. Joel Embiid +200
Per-game stats: Points: 30.0 (third) | Rebounds: 11.1 (ninth)
How it's going: Riding a four-game win streak, Joel Embiid has the Philadelphia 76ers humming since his return from injury. Wednesday's marquee matchup against the Brooklyn Nets was a bit of a letdown with the absences on Brooklyn's side, but the Sixers didn't get caught napping in a hard-fought 123-117 win. They followed that with a win against the LA Clippers on Friday, with Embiid pouring in 36 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
What's up next: The 76ers host the red-hot Stephen Curry and the Warriors on Monday. Then the Phoenix Suns come to town on Wednesday. The grueling slate of games for the Sixers wraps up over the weekend, with a pair of away games against the Milwaukee Bucks.
What people are saying: "They're getting full of themselves, in a good way. I'm OK with what they're talking about because they're arriving right on schedule." — Skip Bayless, "Undisputed"
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo +1400
Per-game stats: Points: 28.4 (sixth) | Assists: 6.1 (T-20th) | Rebounds: 11.2 (eighth)
How it's going: Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to the lineup for the Milwaukee Bucks after a six-game absence due to injury and has slowly been rounding into form. He has yet to play more than 30 minutes in a game since returning, putting up 15 points in a win against the Atlanta Hawks and 28 in a loss against the Grizzlies.
What's up next: Monday brings a blockbuster against the Suns, then the Bucks will host the Sixers for two games Thursday and Saturday. On Sunday, Milwaukee starts a four-game road trip with a trek to take on the Hawks.
What people are saying: "And there’s going to be some times I’m going to want to play, and I’m not going to be allowed to play. But at the end of the day, I know they want what was best for me, and I’m mature about that, so I’ve got to listen." — Antetokounmpo on returning from injury, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
T-4. James Harden +2500
Per-game stats: Points: 25.2 (19th) | Assists: 10.9 (first) | Rebounds: 8.0 (T-29th)
How it's going: James Harden is still nursing an injured hamstring with the Brooklyn Nets but is progressing well, according to GM Sean Marks. The Nets seem content to coast into the playoffs with as healthy a roster as possible and let the seeding chips fall where they may. Concerningly, Kevin Durant picked up another injury — this one a left thigh contusion — in a narrow loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday.
What's up next: A road trip for the banged-up Nets continues into the week, with trips to take on the New Orleans Pelicans and Toronto Raptors. Then Brooklyn returns home to host the Celtics and Suns on Friday and Sunday, respectively, to close out the week.
What people are saying: "But he's progressed well, he's made his markers up to this point, and we'll just continue to progress him along, and hopefully it's not too much longer. But at this point, I can't put a timetable on it, whether it's two days, five days and so forth." — Sean Marks on Harden's progress
T-4. LeBron James +2500
Per-game stats: Points: 25.4 (T-17th) | Assists: 7.9 (eighth) | Rebounds: 7.9 (T-31st)
How it's going: Despite LeBron James and Anthony Davis both being on the shelf because of injury, the Los Angeles Lakers managed to stun the Utah Jazz for an overtime win Saturday. The good news is that Davis seems close to a return, having been cleared for full on-court activity. The hope for Laker Nation is that James won't be far behind.
What's up next: The Lakers can look to really make a statement with a rematch against the Jazz as the first order of business this week. After Monday's game against the Jazz, the Lakers will play a pair of games against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday and Saturday.
What people are saying: "I am not at all nervous about the play-in. The idea that a LeBron James team will lose back-to-back elimination games against a 9, 10 or 11 seed is incomprehensible." — Nick Wright, "First Things First"
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