Kia MVP Ladder: Nikola Jokic rising as Top 5 gets shake-up

Nikola Jokic made up for lost time by delivering a win for Denver against Indiana.

The whistle stopped the action cold 58 seconds into the second half, and as the ball went through the hoop and off his right shoulder, Nikola Jokic put both hands on his hips and sighed.

Foul no. 5 just added more agony to a 13-point deficit on the road that would soon grow to 18.

But there’s a reason Jokic owns the two-time Kia MVP title.

“I know that [he’s done] a really good job his whole career, playing with four, five fouls,” Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Thank God he was able to do it again tonight.”

Jokic scored 24 points — including 11 in the decisive fourth quarter — in just 21 minutes to help Denver rally from an 18-point deficit on Wednesday as the Nuggets beat Indiana, 122-119, for their fourth straight win in the middle of four games. -Game road trip starting Friday at Boston’s TD Garden (7 ET, NBA TV) against a Celtics team led by a pair of MVP candidates in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Nikola Jokic helped Denver rally from a big deficit to earn a win at Indiana.

After picking up his fifth foul early in the third quarter, Jokic didn’t return to the contest until the final 9:08 with his team now down five. Denver got back into the game behind the third quarter shooting of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bones Hyland, who combined to shoot 66.7% from distance. The 27-year-old Jokic quickly scored seven points in a span of one minute and 30 seconds.

“I knew I couldn’t wait any longer [to put Jokic back into the game] because then he’s been sitting in real time, like 45 minutes,” Malone explained. “It’s hard to say to a guy who’s been sitting for 45 minutes, ‘Okay, now go in and win the game for us.’ “

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While you can’t give Jokic sole credit for Wednesday night’s comeback, his performance in the face of adverse road conditions is what MVP candidacies are made of — voter fatigue be damned. Although Jokic’s goal figures (21.2 p.

The Celtics enter Friday’s game leading by one explosive party in Tatum and Brown, who have combined for 11 total 30-point outings in the first 11 games. Boston has won three contests by 15 points or more while shooting 50% or better in five of them.

Tatum makes a slight difference among this week’s five Kia Race Balls to the MVP ladder by jumping four spots to No. 3, while Jokic moves up to seventh from ninth. Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo maintains his grip on the No. 1, and Phoenix superstar guard Devin Booker falls to sixth.

And now, the top 5 in the 2022-23 Kia race for the MVP ladder:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 31.8 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 5.3 apg

He sat out two of Milwaukee’s last three games, and the last time Antetokounmpo played, the Bucks suffered their first loss of the season on Monday in Atlanta. In that game, the former two-time MVP committed five turnovers and finished with a minus-22. (He and Jrue Holiday have already been ruled out for Friday’s game in San Antonio.) The 27-year-old continues to struggle with left knee soreness, but it appears Milwaukee is holding Antetokounmpo out as a precaution. The clash against the Spurs wraps up the Bucks’ current three-game road trip, and they don’t play again until Monday, giving Antetokounmpo plenty of time to recover.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 25 points as the Bucks lose their first game of the season.

2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

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Season stats: 33.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 7.9 apg

You knew it would end eventually. Orlando held the superstar guard to fewer than 30 points Wednesday for the first time all season, and he finished with 24 points in a 94-87 loss to end a streak of nine straight games of 30 or more. a lot. The next night, in a 113-105 loss at Washington, Doncic scored a season-low 22 points on 8-of-21 shooting to go with five turnovers. Dallas had won four in a row before these last two losses, but the Mavericks play their next five at home. So you can expect Doncic to get back on track quickly.

After his 32 points, Luka Doncic helps the Mavericks pass the Raptors.

3. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Season stats: 31.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 4.1 apg

Tatum scored a total of 70 points in his last two games, sparking the Grizzlies en route to 39 points on Monday before dropping 16 of his 31 points in the third quarter of Wednesday’s win over the Detroit Pistons. Tatum now has six 30-point games this season, including three outings in which he drilled five or more three-pointers. Tatum’s four-spot jump in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP ladder represents a much-needed correction in the standings. After all, he became the first player in Celtics history to post 100-plus points in the first three games of a season… and he hasn’t slowed down.

Jayson Tatum scored 31 points against the Pistons in a win.

4. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

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Season stats: 31.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.8 apg

He scored 30 points or more in five of his last six games, but then winning eight in a row from October 22 to November 6, the Cavaliers have lost twice straight to the LA Clippers and Sacramento Kings. Mitchell’s drop in the rankings isn’t an indictment of him as much as it’s a credit to the work Tatum is doing. After all, Mitchell is the only player in the league with multiple games in which he’s knocked down eight or more 3-pointers, and he’s averaging career highs in several statistical categories.

Donovan Mitchell scores 33 points in big road win over Lakers.

5. Here’s Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 28.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 6.9 apg

Has led Memphis to four of its last five games heading into Friday’s home battle against the Timberwolves, and he’s coming off two straight Exit with 30 points. Opponents have become so concerned about Morant’s ability to allow uncontested 3-pointers that the superstar point guard is happily finishing them off. He’s not a high-volume shooter from deep, but that improvement in his game has become almost as lethal as his floater in the paint. “Now, guys have to account for me shooting the ball and pulling up the middle,” Morant said Wednesday night. “It just opened up more levels of my game.”

Ja Morant and Jayson Tatum played an unforgettable duel this season.

Next five:

6. Devin Booker (Last week’s ranking: No. 5)
7. Nikola Jokic (Last week’s ranking: No. 9)
8. Kevin Durant (Last week’s ranking: unranked)
9. Damian Lillard (Last week’s ranking: No. 6)
10. Stephen Curry (Last week’s ranking: unranked)

And five more (in alphabetical order): Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics; Paul George, LA Clippers; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder; Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors; Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for You can send e-mail to him herefind his archive here and follow him I tweet.

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