Kevin Durant debuted in the top three of Kia Race to MVP Ladder last week, only to find a few scores through no fault of his own in this latest edition.
Durant suffered a sprained right MCL on Sunday in a win in Miami that is expected to sideline him for several weeks. But the Brooklyn Nets took the opportunity on Thursday to take on the best team in the league in their first game since December 10 without the MVP of 2014.
“Our mentality is who’s going to be next on the schedule,” Nets coach Jack Vaughn said, shortly before informing his team of a 109-98 loss to the Boston Celtics. “It just so happens that it’s the top team in the league now. I think it puts us in a great frame of mind that we know if we’re not ready, we’re going to be embarrassed.
“We know if we don’t have our maximum effort, we’re going to be embarrassed. We know that if we don’t play harder than the guy next to you, you’re going to be embarrassed. So, great entry into the Kevin-less games we’ll be playing.”
Brooklyn hopes to get out of it soon, though, if last season was any indication of what might happen next.
Durant sprained his left MCL near mid-January last season and didn’t return until March 3 after Brooklyn lost 11 straight and 16 of 21 games with the star on the sidelines. The team still hopes Durant’s latest setback won’t be as significant as last season’s knee injury.
However, the expected long absence of the 34-year-old opens the door to the top five for another player who has been somewhat limited this season due to injuries.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid debuted fifth in this week’s Kia race to the MVP ladder, after making his 30th appearance of the season and dropping 30 points Thursday in a 133-114 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Of all the current top-five candidates, Embiid has featured in the fewest number of matches, while every other player except Giannis Antetekounmpo (35 matches) has competed in at least 38 matches for their team.
Even Durant showed solid toughness prior to Sunday’s injury by playing in 39 of Brooklyn’s first 40 games.
As for Embiid, the Sixers big man returned in typically dominant style Tuesday in a win over the Detroit Pistons, tallying his 20th 30-point performance of the season, while adding 11 rebounds and two blocks after missing the previous three contests due to a sore left foot.
“I’m fine, better than expected,” Embiid said of the foot pain after the game, adding that he still has to “manage” it.
36 points | 11 REB | 2 BLK
Great performance from a great comrade. vote @tweet For NBA All-🌟: https://t.co/dy1hdG6pzF
– Philadelphia 76ers (sixers) January 11, 2023
Prior to Embiid’s final three-match layoff, he had played 16 consecutive matches after missing four matches in late November with a foot injury. It should also be noted that Embiid was slowed down earlier in the season due to an off-season bout with plantar fasciitis that was not related to his most recent foot problem.
So, while Embiid’s long-awaited return to the top five, two-time MVP Nikola Jokic maintains his firm hold on No. 1 atop Kia’s race to MVP ladder. Plus, Luka Doncic rose to number two thanks to a gutsy performance Thursday night in a double overtime road win against the Lakers.
Jason Tatum fell to third despite his team’s five-game winning streak, and Giannis Antetokounmpo moved up an inch to fourth.
And now, the top five places in Kia’s 2022-23 race to MVP ladder:
1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Season stats: 24.9 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 9.7 apg
Part of what makes Jokic so interesting to watch is that you won’t see any consistent filling from the 27-year-old. It does whatever it takes to win on any given night, like Monday, when it’s become The first player in the history of the NBA With 15+ triple assists and no missed field goals. Two nights later, Jokic finished with 21 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists in a win over Phoenix and didn’t even play in the fourth quarter as Denver pulled away with its 11th win in its last 13 games, losing over 120 points. The eighth consecutive contest at home. The Nuggets are tied with Memphis for the conference lead and the best domestic record in the NBA (18-3).
2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week’s ranking: Number 3
Season stats: 34.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 8.8 apg
Doncic tallied 27 points over the first three quarters to finish with 30 triple-double in regulation, including Step back 3 indicators from 27 feet to force both overtimes in Thursday’s 119-115 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavericks star finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists over a gritty 53 minutes, saying after the game, “I think it was very physical.” no doubt. The performance marked Doncic’s tenth triple-double and propelled him up the MVP ladder as Dallas snapped a two-game skid. The Mavericks started the new year with a seven-game winning streak, but have since lost three of their last five games.
3. Jason Tatum, Boston Celtics
Last week’s ranking: Number 2
Season stats: 30.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 4.2 apg
Dribbling in front of four defenders Bucket It’s tough for sure, but more importantly, the 24-year-old continues to help Boston rack up wins. The Celtics have won five in a row and nine of their last 11 with Tatum averaging 29.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg and 5.6 apg over the streak. “Everyone has to sacrifice to be on a great team,” Tatum said after defeating Brooklyn on Thursday. “No individual stat or award can measure up to being on a winning team having a good time. There is nothing better than that.” Net dominance couldn’t be bad either, considering Boston won their last five regular season encounters with Brooklyn after sweeping the club last season in the first round of the playoffs.
4. Giannis Antitekounmo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week’s ranking: no 5
Season stats: 31.0 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 5.3 apg
Antetokounmpo was knocked out of Milwaukee’s 108-102 loss at Miami on Thursday with a sore left knee, with 11 players from both teams missing for various reasons. Against the Heat, the Bucks were playing the second night of a back-to-back tour of their current week-long road trip. The night before, the two-time season MVP scored seven points in a 114-105 win in Atlanta but Lead the team as facilitator With 18 rebounds and 10 assists. Since the last Kia Race fall to the MVP Ladder, Antetokounmpo has amassed two single-digit scoring nights built around a 22-point, 10-rebound performance in a win over the Knicks, after amassing a total of 128 points in the previous three contests.
5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week’s ranking: No. 6
Season stats: 33.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 4.4 apg
We noted Embiid’s 30-point performance in Thursday’s loss to Oklahoma City, but it’s worth noting that the 76ers center played only 10 minutes in the first half due to a foul issue, yet still managed to put together a bloated stat streak that included This bad block. Embiid played a key role in cutting the 16-point deficit to start the fourth quarter to six with 4:31 left to play, scoring 12 of his 20 second-half points in the final frame alone for a 3-for-3 outing. and 6-for-6 from the free throw line. Two days ago, the 28-year-old dropped 36 points with 11 boards in nearly 24 minutes of action against the Pistons.
The following five:
6. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (Last week’s ranking: No. 3)
7. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (Last week’s ranking: tied for 7th)
8. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week’s ranking: tied for 7th)
9. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics (Last week’s ranking: No. 9)
10. Shay Gilgos Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (Last week’s ranking: Unranked)
And five more (in alphabetical order): Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors; James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers; Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz; Julius Randle, New York Knicks; Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings.
* * *
Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can email him hereFind his archive here and follow him Twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.