NBA MVP Watch: Stephen Curry leaps up to third, but Nikola Jokic still cruising
As the NBA regular season comes down the home stretch, the MVP race is shaping up to be a battle for placement points behind a favored first-timer.
The steady Nikola Jokic is pulling even further away from the field en route to his first MVP award, as the Nuggets' big man helped strengthen Denver's grasp on the fourth seed, despite the absence of Jamal Murray.
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 -500
Per-game stats: Points: 26.2 (12th) | Assists: 8.7 (tied-sixth) | Rebounds: 10.9 (T-11th)
How it's going: After falling victim to Curry and the Warriors on Friday, Jokic and the Nuggets rolled the Houston Rockets the following day. The loss to Golden State snapped a four-game winning streak for the Nuggets, who look like a safe bet to hold on to No. 4 in the West, at 39-21.
What's up next: The Nuggets host three squads this week, with the Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans and Toronto Raptors coming to Denver. In two games against Memphis this season, Jokic is averaging 37.5 points per game. That's his second-best output against a team behind the 41.0 he averages against the Utah Jazz. To close out the week, the Nuggets begin a trip to Los Angeles to take on the LA Clippers on Saturday.
What people are saying: "He is the best passing big man since Bill Walton. He gets so many players on this team open looks and good looks. Because you often have to double him, he's the classic value-additive. He makes players better." — Colin Cowherd, "The Herd"
2. Joel Embiid +200
Per-game stats: Points: 30.0 (third) | Rebounds: 11.1 (ninth)
How it's going: Losers of four straight games, Joel Embiid's Philadelphia 76ers are struggling mightily. Granted, they lost to the Warriors in a 49-point outburst from Curry, the West's second-seeded Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks on two occasions, so it's not as though they can feel too put out. Embiid didn't play in the second contest against the Bucks, which Philly lost by 38 points.
What's up next: Embiid's shoulder injury doesn't seem to be too serious, as the Sixers' head coach said his star big man likely would've been able to play had it been a playoff game. Philadelphia opens this week's slate of games with the Oklahoma City Thunder coming to town, followed by two games at home against the Atlanta Hawks. On Sunday, the 76ers will head to Texas to take on the San Antonio Spurs.
What people are saying: "[The MVP race is] very, very close. But you asked me my opinion. I'm going to go with Joel Embiid this year." — Shaquille O'Neal, NBA on TNT
3. Stephen Curry +1400
Per-game stats: Points: 31.3 (first) | Assists: 5.8 (30th) | Rebounds: 5.6 (T-90th)
How it's going: Curry vaulted himself to third with a blistering run of games to start the month of April. In the 13 games the two-time MVP has played this month, he's averaging 38.1 points while shooting 52.9% from the field and 47.2% from beyond the arc. The Warriors are 8-5 in those 13 games, moving above .500 at 31-30 and firmly into the playoff picture.
What's up next: Tuesday's clash against the Dallas Mavericks is a big one, with just two games separating the Warriors at No. 10 and the Mavs at No. 6. The sixth seed represents the last automatic entry into the playoff field, as seeds seven through 10 will go to the play-in tournament to determine the seventh and eighth seeds. Curry & Co. wrap up the week's games with a trip to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday and Rockets on Saturday.
What people are saying: "He was in the conversation, but to have a real MVP case, he would've had to stay on this historic run, and the Warriors would have to move to the 5-seed." — Shannon Sharpe, "Undisputed"
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo +2500
Per-game stats: Points: 28.5 (tied-fourth) | Assists: 6.0 (T-24th) | Rebounds: 11.4 (tied-sixth)
How it's going: Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks earned a pair of important wins against the Sixers to shake up the Eastern Conference race, but they ended their week with a letdown against the Hawks. Since coming back from a two-week injury layoff, Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists in his past six games.
What's up next: Milwaukee's four-game road trip opened with a loss to Atlanta on Sunday. The team's first chance to bounce back comes with a Tuesday matchup against the Charlotte Hornets, winners of back-to-back games. After that, the Bucks visit the Rockets and Chicago Bulls before heading home to host the Brooklyn Nets in a pivotal Sunday matchup.
What people are saying: "He has to continue to get better from the line if they're going to put the ball in his hands late." — Antoine Walker, "First Things First"
5. James Harden +5000
Per-game stats: Points: 25.2 (T-18th) | Assists: 10.9 (tied-first) | Rebounds: 8.0 (T-28th)
How it's going: James Harden is still out for the Nets after suffering a setback with his hamstring strain in the past week. When providing an update Tuesday, head coach Steve Nash said his star guard was "back to square one." In the meantime, Kevin Durant did return for the Nets and helped Brooklyn earn a big win against the Suns on Sunday.
What's up next: The Nets will aim to keep hold of the top seed in the East, starting with games against the Raptors on Tuesday and Indiana Pacers on Thursday. Friday brings a quick stop to host the Portland Trail Blazers before the team heads back on the road for a big matchup against the Bucks to close out the week Sunday.
What people are saying: "I can’t guarantee that you will win a title with James Harden, but I can guarantee you, Brooklyn Nets, you won’t win a title without him." — Emmanuel Acho, "Speak For Yourself"
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