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Admit it: you replayed it 10 times marveling at Nikola Jokic delivering the cross-court dime to the corner, launching the ball over a double-team with just enough room for Aaron Gordon to drill this crucial 3-pointer in overtime.
That amazing play on Wednesday resulted in Denver capturing its third win in four outings as Jokic scored 49 points in producing his third-consecutive triple-double. That was his 10th triple-double of the season as he became just the third center since 1970-71 to post a triple-double with 45 points or more (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Alvan Adams accomplished the feat in 1975 and 1977, respectively).
“I’ve kind of made those passes I think on a regular basis,” Jokic said, throwing up his hands slightly to emphasize the point. “I think it’s a normal pass.”
Not exactly, but we get the gist.
While that one play isn’t what vaulted Jokic to the top of this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, it certainly illustrates the wizardry conducted nightly under duress by the Nuggets big man in keeping his depleted team in the thick of the postseason hunt.
“You tell me: if Nikola Jokic isn’t the MVP, then who is?” Nuggets coach Michael Malone asked. “That guy can beat you with his passing, his scoring, his rebounding. That last pass to Aaron not only wins the game, but gives him his 10th assist on the night. Sometimes, you see a great player will his team to a win.
“That’s just why Nikola is, again, for me the MVP. He’s gonna give it to you every way. It’s so much fun watching him. When he gets excited and he’s banging his chest and he’s screaming, man I love that. I love to see an engaged, emotional Nikola Jokic. And for us to be where we are right now, obviously Nikola is a huge, huge part of that.”
You don’t think so? Well, Marcus Morris converted a 3-point play with 3:12 left in regulation against the Clippers on Wednesday to pull Denver to within five points (108-103). From that point until the end of overtime, Jokic either scored or dished the dime for 25 of the Nuggets’ final 27 points, including 10 of those points over the last 1:30.
Here’s a more expansive look at Jokic’s impact against the Clippers, as Denver preps to host Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday (9 ET, NBA League Pass) in the fifth game of the club’s current six-game homestand.
49 PTS | 14 REB | 10 AST
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) January 20, 2022
Keep in mind that Jokic wasn’t the only big man making noise this week.
Joel Embiid moved up to No. 3 in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder by tying a career high with 50 points on Wednesday in just 27 minutes to go with 12 rebounds and three blocks in a 123-110 win against the Orlando Magic. The victory marked Philadelphia’s third in its last four outings.
We chronicled the impact of both bigs on the same night right here.
And now, the Top 5 this week in the 2021-22 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Season stats: 25.9 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 7.4 apg
Malone shouldn’t have to campaign for MVP on Jokic’s behalf because the truth is the production speaks for itself. Jokic currently ranks No. 1 in the league with 10 triple-doubles and seventh all-time with 67 career triple-doubles. Since Jokic arrived in Denver, the Nuggets are 47-10 when he finishes with 15 rebounds or more, and in four games this season he’s put together four showings with at least 24 points, 15 rebounds and seven-plus assists. The rest of the players in the NBA this season, meanwhile, have combined for just four such performances.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Season stats: 28.6 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 6.1 apg
The Bucks lost two of their last three and face another test Friday when they host DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls in a nationally-televised game at Fiserv Forum (8 ET, ESPN). Milwaukee’s two losses came against teams ranked in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference standings, and Antetokounmpo has connected on just 26 of 62 (41.9%) in his last three games. Still, you can’t deny Antetokounmpo’s dominating performance (33 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) in Wednesday’s win against the Memphis Grizzlies. Antetokounmpo and Jokic are the only two players in the league currently averaging at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week’s ranking: No. 4
Season stats: 28.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.2 apg
We tend to sleep on this big man’s skillset too often, but the truth is Embiid can hurt opponents in a variety of ways and on both ends of the floor. Embiid has racked up at least 25 points in 12 consecutive outings, marking the second time he’s put together such a streak, according to Stathead. Embiid joins Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain as the only Sixers to put together multiple such streaks spanning 12 games or more. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Embiid’s 50-point game on Wednesday represented the fewest minutes played (27:03) during a 50-point, 10-rebound performance in the shot clock era (1954-55).
4. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
Last week’s ranking: No. 3
Season stats: 29.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 5.8 apg
As this MVP chase intensifies, there’s a good chance Durant will continue to drop down the rankings, as he’s missed three of Brooklyn’s last four games, suffering a left knee injury Saturday against the New Orleans Pelicans. Doctors diagnosed Durant with a sprained left medial collateral ligament, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the forward could be looking at a four-to six-week rehabilitation timeframe. Kyrie Irving has led the Nets in scoring in Durant’s absence, and luckily for them, their next two games come on the road on Friday against San Antonio (8:30 ET, NBA League Pass) and Sunday at Minnesota (8 ET, NBA League Pass). Remember, Irving can’t play in home games due to New York’s vaccination mandate.
5. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
Last week’s ranking: No. 8
Season stats: 14.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 10.0 apg
Stephen Curry nearly returned to the top five after putting together his first 30-plus point night since Christmas on Thursday, but the Warriors suffered their second loss (on the front end of a back-to-back) in three games at home against a depleted Pacers team. Besides, we can’t ignore Paul’s role in snapping Dallas’ four-game win streak with a double-double, as Phoenix extended its own hot streak to five games with the point guard racking up 10 points in the final frame. The performance gave Paul his NBA-best 49th career game with 10-plus assists and no turnovers, and he’s dished 10-plus dimes with no turnovers in two consecutive contests.
The Next Five:
6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (Last week: No. 6)
7. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (Last week: No. 5)
8. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (Last week: No. 7)
9. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (Last week: No. 10)
10. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (Last week: No. 9)
And five more (listed alphabetically): Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat; Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks; Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers; James Harden, Brooklyn Nets.
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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