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Kia MVP Ladder: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic continue to rise

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Ja Morant and the Grizzlies are ready to head into Friday’s game against the Suns.

Calmly, perhaps unknowingly, Ja Morant said five words to set the stage for Friday night’s matchup between Memphis and the Phoenix Suns at the Footprint Center (10 ET, ESPN).

During interview with ESPN’s Malika Andrews On Wednesday, Morant was asked about which teams the Grizzlies might need to “go through” on the difficult journey to win the franchise’s first NBA championship.

“Celtics,” he said.

Andrews then cleverly mentioned that Morant was referring to “no one in the West”.

“No,” the leader said, shaking his head with a smile.

“I’m fine in the West.”

Surely, the Suns won’t agree with those sentiments on Friday at the whistleblower, especially since they finished last season with the best record in the NBA (64-18), and are only one game behind Memphis and the Denver Nuggets for the lead in the West. Conference Conference. This match featuring a pair of Kia Race to MVP Ladder stalwarts in Morant and Devin Booker loses some shine since the latter is officially listed as off due to a groin injury.

Ranked 10th in this week’s edition of Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, Booker will miss his third straight game after scoring a season-high 58 points on 21-of-35 shooting on Saturday to lead an epic Phoenix comeback win against the New Orleans Pelicans. The performance marked the 26-year-old’s fifth 50-point outing, as he became the youngest player to have five such games in his career since 2003, when Kobe Bryant accomplished the feat at 24. year.

Devin Booker scores 58 points to help Phoenix get back on top of New Orleans.

As for Memphis, the Grizzlies enter this contest on a two-game skid after earning seven straight wins. That run included a 41-point beating the dec. 15 of the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks, who are paced by former two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Morant had 25 points in that game, before racking up 35 in Tuesday’s loss to two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. Sandwiched in between, the Grizzlies fell 115-109 Saturday at Oklahoma City in a game, Morant was sent off just 43 seconds before halftime after picking up a second technical foul.

Morant finished that abbreviated appearance with six points on 3-of-10 shooting, but remains in the top five of this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, falling one spot to fifth. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant climbs to No. 1. 4 and Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum to move into third place amid Boston losing five of its last six.

Antetokounmpo and Jokic, meanwhile, occupy the top two spots in this top-five shuffle.

Durant and Antetokounmpo face off at Barclays Center on Friday in a contest that will be nationally televised on NBATV.

And now, the Top 5 of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder 2022-23:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season statistics: 31.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 5.1 apg

The latest NBA injury report lists Antetokounmpo as likely (left knee pain) for Friday’s game against Durant and the Nets (7:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV). Antetokounmpo sat out Saturday’s win over Utah due to left knee pain, but has since held off consecutive games with more than 40 points while shooting 65.9% from the field in addition to shooting 10 or more rebounds. Counting the regular season and the playoffs, Antetokounmpo’s latest tear marks the fifth time in his career that he has scored 40+ points in consecutive games. By the way, his current average (31.6 points per game) is also a career high.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s skill and effort helped the Bucks play at an unparalleled level.

2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season statistics: 24.7 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 9.2 apg

Apparently every other night you hear obscure statistics that associate Jokic’s name with that of Wilt Chamberlain, and at this point you wonder if he will join the latter as one of the players to win the MVP in three consecutive seasons. (Fortunately, our colleague Brian Martin has already explored the possibility for our Kia 2022-23 season preview.) Jokic dropped an odd 13-13-13 stat line for his second consecutive triple-double in the tuesday win against Memphis. Two days earlier, he became the first player — yes, since Chamberlain in 1968 — to finish a game with 40+ points, 25+ rebounds and 10 assists. In case you were wondering, Larry Bird is the last player to win three consecutive MVPs.

It’s nothing but respect as Nikola Jokic shows up at Inside the NBA after posting his sixth triple-double of the season.

3. Jason Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season statistics: 30.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 4.1 apg

Here’s the part where we tell Celtics fans not to worry because Tatum can get back into the No. 1 position just as quickly as he fell to third place. Tatum missed Sunday’s loss to Orlando for “personal reasons” and it was later reported that he skipped the game to celebrate the birthday of his son, Deuce. Kudos to 24-year-old Tatum for figuring out what’s most important. In his first game back, Tatum dropped 41 points from 52% from the field in a Wednesday defeat to the Indiana Pacers. So Tatum definitely wasn’t rusty. But he must help Boston find his way as he went from winning eight of nine (November 23-December 7) to his current state of dropping five of his last six games (December 10-21).

Jayson Tatum finished with 41 points in a loss to the Pacers this week.

4. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season statistics: 30.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 5.3 apg

Durant’s match with Antetokounmpo breaks the head-to-head tie between the two if the playoffs are counted. These two have faced each other a total of 24 times and the series is tied at 12-12, with Antetokounmpo picking up 43 points and 14 rebounds in a Oct. Victory 26 dollars. This Brooklyn team was very different from what we expected on Friday at Barclays Center, as Durant led a Resurgence of nets. Naturally, the league leader in total points (934) is receiving plenty of accolades for his attacking acumen. But he’s also been a leader defensively, recording eight interceptions in his last five games for a Nets team that’s 12-3 in clutch games this season.

Kevin Durant’s leadership has stabilized the Nets’ ship. Could a higher spot in the Kia MVP pursuit be next?

5. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season statistics: 27.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 7.8 apg

Fingers crossed we see arguably the most formidable backcourt duo in the league together again on Friday in Phoenix. The Grizzlies listed shooting guard Desmond Bane as questionable (sprained right big toe) for the game against the Suns. Bane has missed 17 games with the toe injury, and do what you want with it, but Morant released his teammate’s jersey number on Thursday in a encrypted tweet this may allude to the imminent return of the former. It should be noted that although Morant and Bane did a lot of noise Earlier in the season, the duo had yet to play a match with Jaren Jackson Jr., who missed the first 14 games.

Ja Morant had 35 points and 10 assists in a loss to the Nuggets.

The next five:

6. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans (Last week’s ranking: #7)
T-7. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (Last week’s ranking: #6)
T-7. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week’s ranking: #8)
9. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week’s ranking: unranked)
ten. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: unranked)

And five more (listed alphabetically): Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics; Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors; LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers; Julius Randle, New York Knicks; Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings.

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Michael C. Wright is Senior Writer for NBA.com. You can email him herefind his archives here and follow him on Twitter.

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