*Disclaimer* Any player on a team currently outside of the Top 8 in either conference will not appear in the biweekly Chris Haynes MVP watch.
5. James Harden
25.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 11.0 apg
The Brooklyn Nets star has been sidelined with a strained right hamstring and is expected to return soon. But the Nets have held steady in the standings in large part because of Kyrie Irving taking over as the offensive and playmaking catalyst. With Irving and Kevin Durant filling the stat sheet again, Harden’s true MVP candidacy will be in question.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
28.5 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 6.1 apg
The Greek Freak missed six games to deal with left knee pain, but now he’s back and has a legitimate shot at again leading the Milwaukee Bucks to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference standings. Voter fatigue could play a factor in Antetokounmpo earning his third consecutive MVP award, but if he continues producing and the Bucks climb the standings, it would be impossible to ignore the results in a shaky MVP race.
3. Damian Lillard
28.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 7.7 apg
The Portland Trail Blazers star was No. 1 on my list two weeks ago. But the team has since stalled, having won only two of its last seven contests. Teams are trapping and face-guarding the All-NBA guard, limiting his scoring opportunities and forcing him to facilitate and relying on teammates to hit shots. It’s been an effective strategy that the coaching staff has failed to adjust to. And because of it, Lillard’s bid for MVP has taken a hit.
2. Nikola Jokic
26.0 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 8.8 apg
The Denver Nuggets have finally leaped the sliding Los Angeles Lakers for the fourth spot in the Western Conference standings. Jokic has some of the best all-around numbers in the league and he’ll be forced to do even more with Jamal Murray out for the season with a torn ACL. The Joker is in the optimum position to snag the award.
1. Joel Embiid
29.8 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 3.1 apg
The Philadelphia 76ers have their franchise player back and he has returned on a tear while guiding the team to a 5-1 record in that timeframe. Philadelphia also recaptured the top spot in the conference, albeit only up a game on Brooklyn. Before Embiid’s knee injury, I said it was his award to lose. And now that he’s back playing dominating basketball and if he can remain healthy and secure the No. 1 seed by season’s end, I can’t envision Embiid not raising Maurice Podoloff trophy over his head.
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