NBA Most Valuable Player Watch – March 29

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Since Basketball Insiders’ last MVP update, significant injuries struck two of the frontrunners of the race. Despite it being late March, with teams gearing up for playoff pushes, the MVP ladder looks drastically different. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the many shakeups that have occurred in the past two weeks.

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Previous: 2)

The last man standing from this season’s earlier three-man MVP race, Jokic has a stronger case than anyone else. Jokic’s play is consistent and he’s leading the Nuggets further and further into the playoff race, as the Nuggets are 4-2 since the last ladder. Across that span, Jokic is averaging 25.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game.

Those numbers are very close to Jokic’s season averages, but he shot 62.3 percent from the floor and 52.4 percent from three-point range in that time.

With Aaron Gordon now on board following the NBA trade deadline, the Nuggets have a real shot at moving up the standings. Denver is just 3.5 games out of the second seed in the west with tests against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on the horizon.

Jokic has a legitimate chance at being the first true center to be named MVP since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-00. So much for the center position being obsolete.

2. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets (Previous: 5)

By his own bold proclamation, James Harden is the MVP. While he isn’t quite there, he has a stronger case than anyone sans Jokic. The Nets are 31-15, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving missing a combined 42 games. Harden is leading the league in assists, while scoring 25.8 points per game.

The Nets are 17-2 in games Harden has played in since Feb. 10. And in the last two weeks, Harden is averaging 30.8 points, 11.4 assists, 8 rebounds and 2 steals per game. In that span, Harden put up two 40-point performances, one of which was a triple-double against the Indiana Pacers.

With Harden on the floor, the Nets are simply dominant. Both Irving and Harden deserve immense credit for keeping Brooklyn competitive without Durant. Adding Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge will help take the load off the duo’s shoulders.

3. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Previous: Not Ranked)

Lillard deserves more buzz for the way the Blazers are playing this season. Portland is 28-18, winners of three straight and six of the last eight. That record leaves the Blazers tied with the Nuggets, just 3.5 games out of second place.

In the last two weeks, Lillard is averaging 25.3 points, just below his season average of 30 points per game, to go with 6.5 assists. With Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum back from injury, Portland has a chance to go on a run, especially after the acquisition of Norman Powell from the Toronto Raptors.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Previous: 4)

Antetokounmpo hasn’t played many games since the last update, leaving him in the same position for the last two weeks. However, the Bucks are one of the hottest teams in the league, 13-3 since Feb. 19. Currently, Antetokounmpo is averaging a career high in assists per game with 6.4, continuing to evolve in a year where Milwaukee will desperately try to get over the hump.

5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: 1)

Embiid hasn’t played since March 12, but his team is 6-2 in games without him, two factors that severely hinder his MVP case. However, Embiid still lands in the fifth slot this week, his 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game are too good to ignore. Embiid is resuming on-court basketball activities this week, making his return seem somewhat imminent.

6. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (Previous: 3)

James is in a similar spot as Embiid, but his team is just 2-3 in games he has missed. James is expected to miss four to six weeks with his injury, an unfortunate circumstance for a player as dominant in his 18th season as he was in his first. “The King” is averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists this season.

Honorable Mention: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers (Previous: NR)

Leonard’s Clippers are 6-1 in their last seven games, with Leonard averaging 23 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 36.8 percent from deep during that time. Many of Los Angeles’s recent wins are flat-out dominant, with a 27-point win over the Charlotte Hornets and a 33-point win over the San Antonio Spurs. Be on the lookout for a late-season surge from the Clippers while the Lakers deal with injuries.

With so many shakeups in the rankings this week, it just goes to show how unpredictable this league can be. Follow along with Basketball Insiders to see how teams prepare for playoff runs with under 30 games to go until the end of the season!