The NBA MVP race has gotten unusually testy in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, when Nikola Jokic looked poised to take home his third straight MVP, ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins suggested that award voters fostered bias toward black players by pointing out that only Jokic, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash have won MVP since 1990 without being a top-ten scorer, setting off a frenzy throughout basketball media.
But now, after a dreadful week of basketball from Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, Joel Embiid (-115) has passed the reigning back-to-back MVP as the betting favorite at PointsBet.
NBA MVP betting odds via PointsBet (150/1 or shorter)
Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers have been on a heater since early December, which has helped him slowly creep back into the MVP conversation and pass Jokic, who was dealing as a -350 favorite days ago.
After starting 12-12, the Sixers have 34-10 and are now threatening the Boston Celtics for the Atlantic Division crown and coveted second seed in the Eastern Conference.
The 28-year-old center has taken his scoring prowess to another level this season.
Embiid leads in the NBA in scoring (33.5 points per game) and is shooting 54.1 percent from the field, both of which are, by far, career highs.
Perhaps most importantly, Philadelphia enjoyed an iconic win over Denver during a nationally televised game in late January.
Embiid dominated Jokic inside during that game, scoring 47 points and pulling down 18 boards.
Jokic put up an underwhelming (for him) 24 points, nine assists and eight rebounds and looked unmatched at times against the overpowering Embiid.
Embiid’s favorite status has as much to do with his success as Jokic’s awful week, though, as well.
The Nuggets had lost four straight coming into play against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday.
That four-game losing streak includes losses to three teams below .500 teams (Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors) and the post-Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving Brooklyn Nets.
Jokic’s traditional numbers over those four games (29.5 points, 9.3 assists, 12.8 rebounds on 59.2 percent shooting) aren’t too much different from his season averages — he’s actually scoring about five points more per game.
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But the knock against Jokic has been his defense, and Denver’s has been atrocious this week.
Against four below-average or worse offenses, the Nuggets have allowed 123 points per game on a league-worst 125.2 defensive rating during their recent skid.
That rough stretch has helped the Sixers (46-22) pass the Nuggets (46-23) in terms of record, which will be a huge determinate in voters’ minds.
Denver is only 4.5 games up on the second-seeded Sacramento Kings and in danger of losing the No. 1 spot in the West if their struggles keep up, which was unthinkable as recently as a week ago.
If the odds are any indication, there’s still a ton to be determined in this race.