LeBron James reached another amazing career milestone against the new rival, Brooklyn Nets by becoming the third player in NBA history to hit the 35,000-point mark, joining very elite company in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Karl Malone.
But as you know, the tight Race to the MVP Ladder is not about individual career achievements (although they are fun to witness)
This comes down to "what's your impact" - how a player is presently and positively affecting his team’s fortunes on the court.
Despite scoring a whopping 32 points to go with eight rebounds and seven assists, LBJ and the Lakers came up short Thursday in a bad 109-98 loss to Brooklyn (Playing without AD) and Dennis Schröder (health and safety protocols), against a formidable potential NBA Finals foe missing Kevin Durant (hamstring).
After the game, Lakers coach Frank Vogel delivered news that Davis “is gonna be out for four weeks,” which only increases the burden for James to carry the Lakers, who have dropped two of their last three games.
“He’s got to play his game, and we’ve got to find ways where he can impact the game sort of with less energy,” Vogel said. “Putting him at the elbow, putting him at the low post, where he’s not running a million pick-and-rolls; just try to manage it that way. He’s got a great feel for that. If he needs a blow, he’s gonna get himself out or ask for a sub. We’re looking at those types of ways to, within his minutes, make sure he’s not carrying too much of a load.”
But that’s what MVPs do, and James’ efforts up to this point serve as a major reason the Lakers are 5-2 without Davis in the lineup.
“Coming into the season, we already knew it was going to be a challenge,” James said. “It shouldn’t be a surprise when you’re hit with some adversity. I think adversity builds character, and that’s how you handle it. So, nothing changes for me.”
James remains at No. 1 in this week’s Race to the MVP Ladder. But you’ll see new faces in the top five as Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry earn their way into the party, while Nikola Jokic slips a couple of spots. Donovan Mitchell continues to rise along with 2018 MVP James Harden, while Durant and Kawhi Leonard fall back due to their injury-related absences.
1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Season stats: 25.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 7.9 apg
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
His minutes have gone up in each of the last three months, and naturally, so has his productivity. Expect even more from the King with AD expected to miss up to four weeks. James is shooting 54.3% from the field in February, but one area to note is his accuracy from distance. James knocked down 35.5% on 3’s in December and 42.9% in January, only for that percentage over nine games this month to plunge to 26.8%. The Lakers seem to be struggling through a 3-point shooting slump, ranking 19th from range (35.8%).
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Season stats: 29.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 1.3 spg
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Playing in pain with a lower back injury, Embiid shouldered Philly again in Wednesday’s win over the Rockets, to snap a three-game losing streak. Embiid put up 31 points with 11 rebounds and nine assists with DeMarcus Cousins hounding him most of the night for his 12th straight outing scoring 25 points or more. Critics are on Embiid for missing six games. But what we witnessed against Houston was as prolific of a performance as you’ll see. Hopefully, Embiid’s back issues will clear up going into tonight’s game vs the Chicago Bulls.
3. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Season stats: 29.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 7.7 apg, 1.1 spg
Last week’s ranking: No. 8
The Hulu ad campaign should just air this man’s recent highlights on a loop with Lillard in the background freestyling, “Hulu. Has. Live. Sports.” It’s just flat out miraculous what he’s doing in carrying the load in Portland with CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic dealing with injuries. Dame is comming in clutch, as he’s 12-3 in those scenarios, burning the competition down the stretch, sinking 58.8% from 3 point land in the last 5 minutes of games separated by five points or less. He’s not an All-Star starter, but neither was Russell Westbrook the year he won MVP.
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Season stats: 30.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.0 apg, 1.2 spg
Last week’s ranking: No. 7
Had knocked down 51% from 3-point range in the 10 games before Wednesday’s ice-cold night against the Miami Heat. Curry also set a new career record for his most missed 3-pointers in a game, as he finished only hitting 5 of 20 from downtown on the night. Regardless, Curry kept shooting it and hit a clutch shot when needed to pace Golden State’s OT victory over the heat. Curry still continues to carry the highly undermanned Warriors, keeping them competing in playoff contention. MVP candidacy, from this vantage point, isn’t as much about numbers as it is impact. Curry checks that box.
5. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Season stats: 27.4 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 8.6 apg, 1.6 spg
Last week’s ranking: No. 3
Denver is on a two-game losing streak going into tonight’s matchup at Cleveland, and although Jokic has accounted for 76 points over his last two showings, you can’t forget what took place in Wednesday’s L to the 9-17 Washington Wizards. The Wizards outrebounded Denver 46-42, and outscored the Nuggets in the paint 50-44, finishing with a season-high 21 second-chance points. Jokic is basically averaging a triple-double, yet needs way more help unless Murray and Porter step up in big ways.Wilt Chamberlain is the only center to average at least eight assists in a season (8.6), and Jokic is on pace to do it!
The Next Five:
6. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
7. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
8. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
9. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers
10. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets
And five more: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics; Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz; Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics, Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks.