NBA

Kia MVP Ladder: Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid keep climbing

Kia MVP Ladder: Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid keep climbing

Dallas’ season-long defensive woes may be hurting Luka Doncic’s once-solid Kia MVP case.

Speaking specifically about his team’s leaky defense, Dallas coach Jason Kidd may have inadvertently predicted Luka Doncic’s seemingly slim prospects of winning the Kia MVP.

Like Doncic, the Mavericks can score.

Like Doncic, the club also struggles to prevent opponents from putting the ball in the basket.

Dallas’ 130-122 loss The Atlanta Hawks provided the latest test on Wednesday, with the Mavericks dropping their third straight game after allowing an average of 135.3 points in each of those setbacks heading into Friday’s matchup with Miami Heat at the American Airlines Center (7:30 ET, ESPN).

When asked how to stop the bleeding, Kidd cut his team deep.

“If it’s with this personnel, then you have to keep asking or demanding that these guys play defense,” he said. “It’s not just the offensive end. We gave up 130 tonight again [points]. The team shot 57%. It’s a shootaround. In this league, [if] you do, it doesn’t matter if you have Luka or Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] or LeBron [James]you are going to lose

“No matter how many points you score, you will always fall short. So until we get better at playing defense and understanding what we have to do, we’re going to score 120. But we’re going to give up 130, 140. One night, we might give up 150. But we’ll be fine because we scored, so it won’t look bad at all.”

Interestingly, the situation almost mirrors Doncic’s quest to win his first MVP. The 23-year-old consistently puts up flashy numbers on offense. But of all the players ranked in the top five of this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, Doncic owns the worst defensive rating (115.3).

While no one expects the three-time All-Star to be shutout night after night, if his current defensive rating holds up, it will mark a career low for a team leader who was . seventh last season in defensive rating (109.1) but it is 25th of this department (115.0) in 2022-23.

“The last few games, they scored 130 on us almost every game,” Doncic said. “I think we are good in attack. We have to make the same effort in defense as in attack”.

Losers of six of their last eight outings, the Mavericks face a Miami team on Friday that has won seven of their last 10, including Wednesday’s 124-98 road victory against a New Orleans team in which was missing CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson.

Colleague John Schuhmann points out that Miami’s bench improvement has played a role in its recent increase. The Mavericks, meanwhile, welcomed back their top two perimeter defenders in Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Green on Wednesday, and that should help against the Heat. But Dallas also announced Thursday that power forward Christian Wood (fractured left thumb) will be away for at least a week.

That leaves Dwight Powell and JaVale McGee as the only healthy bigs on the roster as Maxi Kleber continues to rehabilitate from a December. right hamstring surgery.

As for this week’s edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, Doncic drops two spots to No. 4 as seven teams are 1 1/2 games or less behind Dallas in the standings West Conference

Jayson Tatum moves back to No. 2 after Boston’s overtime win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, while Joel Embiid moves up to No. 3 after leading Philadelphia to win No. 4 in its current five-game road trip to the ‘West.

And now, the top 5 in the 2022-23 Kia race on the MVP scale:


1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 25.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 9.9 apg

count it We are now at 90 triple-doubles in Nikola Jokic’s career, which it was number 14 this season (not to mention his fifth in six games) in Wednesday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, a day after dropping a 36-point triple-double against Portland. Russell Westbrook is the last player (2021) to string five triple-doubles in six games, and the Nuggets are a perfect 14-0 when Jokic reaches that stat line. The all-time assist leader in Nuggets franchise history, Jokic has dropped 37 dimes in his last three games as Denver has won eight in a row, including 15 straight at home. Jokic hasn’t shot worse than 60% from the floor in his last five appearances. impressive

Nikola Jokic continues to put up crazy numbers as he leads the Nuggets to their eighth straight win.


2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 31.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.3 apg

He fell 34 points with 19 rebounds, the highest of his career in Boston’s overtime win against Golden State, helping the Celtics to their eighth straight victory. Since the last three games of the 2022 NBA Finals, Boston had lost four in a row against Golden State, but that changed on Thursday night. “We lost the championship. Nobody can get that back,” Tatum said when talking about the Celtics’ mentality going into the game. “So we didn’t see it as a rematch of the Finals. It’s just a game against a great team with great players and a great coach. But it was just one game.”

Jayson Tatum leads the Warriors for 34 points and 19 rebounds in a 121-118 overtime victory.


3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 33.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 4.2 apg

The steady climb continues. Embiid missed three consecutive games from Jan. 4-8, but returned with a vengeance, averaging 34.0 ppg, 9.5 ppg and 1.8 ppg in the following six games . The Sixers have won four straight on their current five-game road trip in the West and have won eight of their first 10 games in January to move into a tie for second place with the Bucks in the East. “I think we’re good, and I think we can be very, very good,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. Much of that hinges on Embiid’s continued production on both ends of the floor, as the big man and James Harden they seem to be hitting their stride.

Joel Embiid has 32 points and nine rebounds in a win against Portland.


4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 33.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 8.8 apg

The score is not the problem, nor shoot, considering the Mavs have shot 50% or better from the field in three of their last four games. Doncic leads the NBA with 31 30-point games this season, which is also a career high. But the 23-year-old, and the rest of the team, must improve dramatically on defense for Dallas to return to its winning ways, which would only improve Doncic’s MVP prospects. It’s not like this team isn’t capable, either, as evidenced by last season’s run to the West finals with Doncic as a willing defensive contributor. Every other player in the top five on this list has a defensive rating of 111.3 and since ChristmasDallas has the second-worst defensive rating in the NBA (121.9).


5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 31.0 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 5.3 apg

Antetokounmpo has not played since January 11, when he scored a season-low seven points in a win at Atlanta while adding 18 rebounds and 10 assists. He has missed Milwaukee’s last four games knee pain, but the Bucks aren’t worried about the two-time MVP’s future availability as he is expected to return soon, according to coach Mike Budenholzer. “Taking care of him is always our priority,” Budenholzer said. “We’re probably always going to err on the side of caution because we know how important it is to us.” At 31 points per game, Antetokounmpo will produce the highest scoring season of his career and the third best season in Bucks history.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 10 assists and 18 rebounds in his last game.


The following five:

6. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (Last week’s ranking: #7)
7. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (Last week’s ranking: #6)
8. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week’s ranking: #8)
9. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Last week’s ranking: #10)
10. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics (Last week’s ranking: #9)

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 send him an email herefind your 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.





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