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Kia MVP Ladder: Top 5 holds steady with key matchups ahead

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Nuggets star Nikola Jokic put on a masterful performance in a showdown with the Celtics.

Setting the stage this week, Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James and their combined six Kia NBA Most Valuable Player awards will lead their squads into Friday’s star-studded showdown between the Bucks and Lakers in Los Angeles (10 ET, ESPN).

The matchup features a pair of teams desperate for wins for different reasons.

In Los Angeles’ case, it’s all about survival. A 130-120 loss to Sacramento on Wednesday pushed the Lakers to 10th in the Western Conference and gifted the Kings the season-series win and an edge in tiebreak scenarios.

Milwaukee, meanwhile, ranks second in the East, a half-game ahead of Cleveland and 7 1/2 games behind the Boston Celtics. The Bucks need to establish more chemistry on the floor in big games like this with the new regime featuring new schemes from coach Doc Rivers, who is 9-8 since his January hiring.

Complicating that endeavor, however, is the absence of three-time All-Star Khris Middleton, who still hasn’t played since suffering a left ankle sprain on Feb. 6 in a loss at Phoenix.

He’ll need to ramp up conditioning for a return to the floor.

One stat to know: 27.7 — That’s Antetokounmpo’s career scoring average against the Lakers, his highest against any opponent. He’s also shooting 61.3% against the Lakers, which ranks as his highest field goal percentage against any opponent in his career.

What they’re saying: “The calvary ain’t coming. We’ve got 18 [games] left. We’ve just got to buckle down and try to do a better job. We watch it on film: the way we need to play. We’ve got to be able to sustain that.” — Lakers coach Darvin Ham after Wednesday’s 130-120 loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Keep track of how our MVP rankings continue to evolve throughout the season.


1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 26 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 9.2 apg

His case: Dropped a 32-point triple-double against the Celtics Thursday to move within a game of the Western Conference lead, and punctuated the performance with a spinning dime.

Jokic notched his 51st double-double on Tuesday in an overtime loss to Phoenix. Even still, the Nuggets are 7-1 since the All-Star break.


2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 31.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 6.5 apg

His case: The Thunder star picked up his career-high 46th game with 30 points or more this season in Wednesday’s win at Portland to cap a four-game road trip. He’s now only one game short of the OKC franchise record for 30-point games, reached twice by Kevin Durant (2009-10 and ’13-14).

The Thunder host Miami on Friday (8 ET, NBA League Pass) with the Heat poised to play the second night of a back-to-back set.


3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 30.7 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 6.3 apg

His case: Antetokounmpo returned to the lineup Wednesday after sitting out Monday due to left Achilles tendinitis. But even the two-time MVP couldn’t help the Bucks in a 125-90 loss to Golden State.

The 29-year-old scored 23 points with seven rebounds and six assists. Still, the Warriors manhandled the bigger Bucks in the paint, outrebounding them 50-36 while outscoring them 54-36 in that area. Additionally, rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis flat-out gave Antetokounpo fits.


4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 26.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 4.8 apg

His case: The NBA’s longest winning streak ended Tuesday at Cleveland in a game in which Tatum scored two points in the fourth quarter. The trio of Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis combined for 64 points in the first three quarters before totaling seven in a final frame they entered leading by 16.

The Celtics followed with a loss Thursday at Denver in a potential NBA Finals preview. They’ve dropped two straight for the first time since early November.


5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 34.6 ppg, 9 rpg, 9.8 apg

His case: He started the week winning Kia NBA Western Conference Player of the Month for the fourth time in his career. Doncic is just two Player of the Month awards away from catching Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki’s career total (six).

Still, individual brilliance hasn’t translated into team success for the eighth-place Mavs. The 25-year-old joined Russell Westbrook as the only players in NBA history to log five-straight 30-plus point triple-doubles as he reached that mark in a Thursday win vs. Miami.


The Next Five:

6. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Last week: No. 6)7. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers (Last week: No. 9)8. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (Last week: No. 8)9. Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns (Last week: No. 10)10. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week: No. 7)

And five more (listed alphabetically): Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat; Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves; Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves; LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

* * *

Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.

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