National Basketball Association

NBA MVP Watch: LeBron James' injury opens door for Nikola Jokic

March 22

Another week, another injury adding a major twist in the NBA's MVP race.

An injury to LeBron James has forced the Los Angeles Lakers superstar to the sideline indefinitely, pushing him down the pecking order in the latest MVP odds.

A week ago, James reclaimed the lead in the eyes of the oddsmakers following Joel Embiid's injury. Now, a race that was already tight is getting packed even closer, with a new big man leading the hunt.

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

1. Nikola Jokic -105

Per-game stats: Points: 27.1 (ninth) | Assists: 8.6 (sixth) | Rebounds: 11.2 (ninth)

How it's going: The Denver Nuggets had a three-game winning streak snapped by the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. However, the Nuggets have looked quite solid overall lately, with an 8-2 record in their past 10 contests. Jokic has posted 27.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 9.3 assists in that stretch and finds himself leading the MVP race as the second half of the season hits its stride.

What's up next: The Nuggets embark on a three-game road trip, starting with a visit to the Orlando Magic on Tuesday. Following that, Denver will take on the Toronto Raptors and Pelicans before returning home to host the Atlanta Hawks.

What people are saying: "He's just one of those guys that's so dominant that you can give him the ball every single time, [and] he's going to make the right play." ⁠— Nuggets teammate Jamal Murray

2. LeBron James +500

Per-game stats: Points: 25.4 (13th) | Assists: 7.9 (eighth) | Rebounds: 7.9 (23rd)

How it's going: James suffered a high ankle sprain and will be out indefinitely, which is a huge blow for the Los Angeles Lakers as they look to keep pace in the hunt for seeding in the Western Conference. It also dinged James' MVP hopes, which were priced at +160 a week ago and fell to +500. 

What's up next: The banged-up Lakers, who are still without Anthony Davis, have a road game against the Pelicans on Tuesday before starting a four-game homestand. That slate opens with the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday and the Magic on Sunday to cap this week's matchups, before the Lakers resume the home stretch next week.

What people are saying: "Since this is a high ankle sprain, the recovery can take much longer. ... This can be anywhere from three to eight weeks, with an average of 5.5 weeks out of play." ⁠— FOX Sports' injury and performance analyst Dr. Matt Provencher

3. Joel Embiid +600

Per-game stats: Points: 29.9 (third) | Rebounds: 11.5 (tied-sixth)

How it's going: The lesser-heralded Sixers have done an admirable job picking up the slack in Embiid's absence. The team is 4-1 since the big man went down March 12, including putting up double-digit victories against the Sacramento Kings on two occasions. Tobias Harris, in particular, has made it a point to use the doubters as fuel with Embiid on the mend.

What's up next: In the midst of a six-game road trip, the Sixers are hoping to keep cooking despite Embiid's absence. This week features the 76ers heading west to take on the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, followed by the Lakers on Thursday and the LA Clippers on Saturday. 

What people are saying: "I would not be surprised if he's really pushing that two-week timetable and might even be able to come back earlier." ⁠— Shams Charania, Stadium

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo +750

Per-game stats: Points: 29.0 (tied-fourth) | Assists: 6.4 (18th) | Rebounds: 11.7 (fifth)

How it's going: The Milwaukee Bucks have lost just once in more than a month, putting together an 11-1 record since Feb. 19. In that 12-game stretch, Antetokounmpo is averaging an astounding 31.4 points, 12.3 rebounds and 7.6 assists. His 15 assists against the San Antonio Spurs matched a career high for the defending back-to-back MVP.

What's up next: The red-hot Bucks welcome the Indiana Pacers to start this week's scheduled matchups, followed by a double dip against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday and Friday. Antetokounmpo & Co. will close out the week with a home date against the New York Knicks.

What people are saying: "His dominance and the way he's played the last few years is amazing. To get a chance to play with him and be alongside him, I'm super excited." ⁠— new Bucks teammate P.J. Tucker

5. James Harden +900

Per-game stats: Points: 25.3 (T-14th) | Assists: 11.1 (first) | Rebounds: 8.0 (T-22nd)

How it's going: The Nets posted a 3-1 record last week, highlighted by Harden's back-to-back triple-doubles to begin the week. He registered 21 points, 15 assists and 15 rebounds in a 117-112 win over New York on Monday and followed it with a 40-point, 15-assist, 10-rebound outburst in a 124-115 win at Indiana on Wednesday without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant. It was Harden's 16th 40-point triple-double in his career.

What's up next: A three-game road trip is in the cards for the Nets this week, as Brooklyn takes on the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday and Utah Jazz on Wednesday. On Friday, the Nets will do battle with the Detroit Pistons.

What people are saying: "James Harden has become the Steph Curry of Brooklyn. He's the heart and soul." ⁠— Colin Cowherd, "The Herd"

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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