The NBA season is deep into its second half, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.
1) Nikola Jokic has his MVP moment with 47 points against Grizzlies
Winning the NBA MVP award takes more than just having the stats — it requires MVP moments. While some voters will say it shouldn’t, the reality is winning the award requires those lasting images and games that help form a narrative to go around those stats.
Denver’s Nikola Jokic had one of those moments Monday night.
Already the MVP frontrunner, Jokic scored 47, added 15 rebounds and eight assists, and hit the dagger three in double-overtime to lift the Nuggets past the Grizzlies on Monday (despite 36 points and 12 assists from Ja Morant).
Nikola Jokic tonight:
The first center with a 45/15/8 game since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1996. pic.twitter.com/0vwF4pEYSv
— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 20, 2021
Jokic has MVP numbers: 26.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 8.8 assists a game, shooting 41.9% from three this season. The advanced stats love Jokic as well, and he has lifted Denver to a top-four seed in the West despite injuries around him — most recently Jamal Murray, gone for the season with a torn ACL — that have held the Nuggets back.
Some fans and pundits are still trying to force the drama of a race on the MVP chase. Joel Embiid is healthy again in Philadelphia and put together some dominant performances, which has pushed some to say he is back in the mix to win MVP (although Embiid was bottled up down the stretch against the Warriors Monday, skip ahead to No. 2 for more on that).
The problem for Embiid — and for that matter, LeBron James — is simply availability. Jokic has played in every Nuggets game so far this season; Embiid has missed 18 Sixers games. Jokic has played 760 more minutes this season than Embiid — the equivalent of 15.8 full 48-minute games. Or, look at it this way: Jokic has played 73% of Nuggets minutes this season while Embiid has been on the court for 46% of 76ers minutes. (LeBron is at 49% of his team’s minutes.) For comparison, last season Giannis Antetokounmpo missed 10 games and played 55% of Bucks’ minutes (a relatively low percentage because he could take off a lot of fourth quarters thanks to Milwaukee blowouts).
Jokic now has an MVP moment to go with his statistics. Nobody has wrapped up the award with a month to go in the season, but Jokic will be tough to catch.
2) Stephen Curry looks like his MVP self scoring 49 against Philly
Stephen Curry is the hottest player in the NBA — he is playing his way onto some MVP ballots of late.
Monday night he put up a 49-spot on his brother Seth Curry and the 76ers — his 11th straight game with at least 30 points, breaking the record for consecutive 30-point games by a player 33 and older (he had been tied with Kobe).
With the 49-point night, Curry passed Bradley Beal to take over as the NBA’s per-game scoring leader this season. Curry is on fire of late.
Steph Curry in April (10 games):
He’s on pace to join James Harden, Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant (3x) and Wilt Chamberlain (11x) as the only players in NBA history to average 40 points in a month (min 10 games). pic.twitter.com/je9AUrm9OE
— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 20, 2021
The Warriors picked up a key win against a shorthanded 76ers team (no Ben Simmons or Tobias Harris). Joel Embiid had 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists, but late in the game Kevon Looney and Draymond Green were able to collapse on him and — without the Sixers’ usual weapons around him — Embiid couldn’t make the Warriors pay for it. That helped secure the Warriors’ win.
3) Suns top Bucks in brilliant game with disappointing ending
Phoenix at Milwaukee was one of the best games of the season, two of the top teams in each conference trading haymakers of big shots — Khris Middleton answering Mikal Bridges as they both hit threes. Giannis Antetokounmpo cramped up and watched the end of the game from the bench, he saw the Suns and his Bucks playing at a high level and just finding a way to make plays.
Then it ended like this.
P.J. Tucker, was that a foul?
“It is what is. They made a call. I think in that situation, it’s a tough call to make. Tied game, overtime, from all the plays that happened before, how the way the game was being officiated, I think that’s a really tough call.”
That’s the polite “don’t fine me, but that call was crap” phrasing by Tucker.
The bottom line is there was contact, the call was made, Devin Booker calmly hit the free throw, and the Suns get the win.
Phoenix is holding on to the two seed in the West. Milwaukee seems destined for the three-seed in the East, which likely means facing Brooklyn or Philadelphia in the second round, then the other of those teams in the conference finals. That’s a tough road for the Bucks to prove they have fixed their playoff woes.