With Nikola Jokic on top, the MVP Ladder becomes a three-man chase as we enter the last stretch of regular season

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We are only a month away from the end of regular season, and Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic is still leading the way to become only the fourth player in NBA history to conquer three consecutive MVP titles, joining the elite club compound by Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.

The last one to achieve this feat was the Celtics legend, who earned the awards from 1983 to 1986, meaning it’s been almost 40 years since a basketball athlete dominated the league this way.

Even though the Denver big man has been guiding the race ever since the start of the current campaign, we know that anything can happen in this sport, as the other runner-ups have been growing in confidence ever since this year started.

For example, Joel Embiid has led the Sixers in three of the team’s last four games to victory, averaging 36.8 points during that timeframe, edging Philadelphia closer and closer to the Boston Celtics for the East’s second place (just two games from tying their record).

However, if we are talking about who’s first in that conference, it’s Mr. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Milwaukee team finally took over the league’s general standing for the first time since last week, as they recently lost their third-longest winning streak in franchise history with 16 consecutive triumphs.

Aside from the last two games missed by the Greek Freak (one due to a non-Covid related illness and the other because of a sore hand), the dominant force in those 19 victories, out of their last 20 outings, has been thanks to him. The last time out, the foward star scored 23 points, won 9 rebounds, and handed out 13 assists against the Washington Wizards.

So as Jokic still hangs on tightly to his frontrunner’s case in this week’s Kia MVP Ladder, it definitely has become a three-man race where each one of this top three could eventually wear this crown righteously. The one who’s fallen out of contention is Mavs’ Luka Doncic, as his team has lost seven out of their last 10 contests, falling back into Play-In Tournament territory in the Western Conference.

The other is Celtics star Jayson Tatum, who’s team has also lost three out their four past matches, something that just happened for the first time this championship. I mean, if you check their stats, they are still outperforming the rest of the NBA’s players, they are simply not being able to carry their squads by themselves any longer.

Jokic was displeased with all the fuss around the MVP debate this week, as former NBA player and current broadcaster Kendrick Perkins defended his case against the Serbian. Even his coach Michael Malone felt the need to protect the big man against the allegations of stat padding.

“Nikola’s an essential hub of everything we do on the offensive end of the floor. Just because he’s that skilled to be a 10-assists-per-game center, don’t hold that against him,” Malone expressed. “He’s gonna make the right play. I do know that we’re [25-0] when he has a triple-double.”

“So, if people want to construe that as stat padding, boy I hope he continues to do it. When he gets triple-doubles, we win. It impacts our winning because he’s an MVP player. When he contributes in all those different ways, that allows us to play at a much higher level,” he concluded.

Here are the Top 10 contenders for the 2022/23 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (last week’s rating: No. 1)

2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (last week’s rating: No. 4)

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (last week’s rating: No. 2)

4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (last week’s rating: No. 3)

5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (last week’s rating: No. 5)

6. Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns (last week’s rating: No. 6)

7. Julius Randle, New York Knicks (last week’s rating: No. 7)

8. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (last week’s rating: No. 8)

9. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers (last week’s rating: not ranked)

10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (last week’s rating: No. 10)

Antonio is a life long sports enthusiast and professional journalist, who shares an obssesive urge to find and dig up the most interesting facts to guide gamblers towards more exciting, yet safe bets. In his own words, ''you can never really know enough about the things you love''.

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