Why the NBA MVP race just got closer than ever

Exactly one month ago, Sportzshala released the second of three derailed polls tracking the NBA MVP race for the 2022-2023 season, and it had a very clear result: Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was the top favorite for a third consecutive award. .

Las Vegas told a different story Thursday: Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid joined Jokic as the second MVP favorite after finishing second in each of the past two seasons.

What’s happened?

Specifically, Denver lost four games in a row: home losses to the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets, and road losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors, whom they allowed to score 49 points in the first quarter on Tuesday. In the evening.

Jokic continues to dominate on an individual basis and continues to gain momentum to become the first center in NBA history to average a triple-double (24.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, 10.0 assists) in a season.

But Denver is 5-5 with the No. 24 defense after the All-Star break, which coach Michael Malone says can ultimately be attributed to inertia rather than capturing the first seed in the Western Conference.

“Right now we’re just in chill mode and you can’t be in chill mode with 13 games ahead of the season,” Malone told reporters after Tuesday’s loss in Toronto. “We must try to find a way to get our swagger back.”

While Denver is in quiet mode, both the 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks, led by two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, have been anything but.

The 76ers, which has the tightest schedule since the NBA All-Star Game, according to the Sportzshala Basketball Power Index, have won seven of the last eight games since the calendar moved to March.

Embiid, who won the Eastern Conference MVP in December and January, is on track to win the award again. This month, he is averaging 36.6 points on 60% shooting, 8.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.1 blocks. That included 36 points and 18 rebounds in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, after which Embiid told Sportzshala’s Cassidy Hubbart that he’s thrilled with the way he and the 76ers are playing.

“I’m just trying to win,” Embiid said. “Just trying to get as many wins as possible. Just trying to get the group together and do our job like tonight. Loss 12 – we had to fight the whole season – we are back, and you can see it well. So, my teammates, they make my job easier. They have a lot of confidence in me, them and the coaches, but we do it as a team.”

For their part, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks overtook the Boston Celtics at the top of the East to become the best in the NBA thanks to their NBA forward’s truly dominant play. Since January 1, Antetokounmpo has averaged 30.9 points, 12 rebounds and 5.9 assists.

And while Antetokounmpo may be third among bookies in Las Vegas, he was second in the February MVP poll and remains in the three-player race for the league’s top individual honor in the regular season.

“We’re doing well,” Antetokounmpo said after Tuesday’s win over the Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee’s 21st win in its last 23 games. “We’re in a good place.”

It’s the same with the MVP race as it prepares for an exciting sprint to the finish line during the final three and a half weeks of the regular season. To make things even more interesting, Denver is hosting three days of MVP contenders next weekend. Milwaukee arrives on March 25, with Jokic and Embiid going head-to-head in a nationally televised match on March 27. Philadelphia will visit Milwaukee on April 2 in the final game of the regular season between the Bucks and the Sixers.)

Back in January, Embiid dominated the individual game against Jokic, scoring 47 points in a win over Philadelphia. Last season, the Sixers hosted the Nuggets and Bucks in March and lost both games, which some in the City of Brotherly Love point to as the reason Embiid was unable to pick up the award from Jokic.

Embiid will have a chance to write a different story this year, as will his two closest competitors. With three weeks left, there is everything to play for in a race that has grown into a fully open race.


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