Kia MVP Ladder: Key tests loom in award chase for Stephen Curry

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Stephen Curry is holding down the No. 2 spot in the latest Kia MVP Ladder.

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Steve Kerr volunteered a viewing tip recently for nights when Stephen Curry feels threatened enough to dial up a masterpiece.

Curry scorched the Atlanta Hawks for an NBA-season-high 50 points Monday in a 127-113 victory, finishing a perfect 13 for 13 from the free throw line on the way to becoming just the third Warrior in franchise history (per Elias Sports Bureau) to produce at least 50 points and 10 assists in a game.

“One thing I hope people realize when they’re watching him do what he did tonight is how competitive he is,” Kerr explained. “He rises to the occasion over and over again because he loves the challenge. You could see Steph’s competitiveness on full display along with his skill.”

Stephen Curry erupts with 18 in the third quarter and ends up with 50 points and 10 assists versus the Hawks.

When Curry trots out to the floor for player introductions Friday at the Chase Center, perhaps we should envision little red heart emojis fluttering around the star guard’s head like a halo. Because Golden State’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls (8-3) on Friday (10 ET, ESPN) represents the team’s most formidable challenge to date, after the Warriors piled up eight of its 11 wins this season against teams currently ninth or worse in the standings of their respective conferences.

“I don’t worry too much about where anybody ranks us or where I think we are compared to the rest of the league. The main thing is we’re in the fight again,” Kerr said. “It’s been a couple of years. I think we kind of climbed back in it at the end of last season, which has carried over to this year. I think we needed those last 20 games last season to remind ourselves that we could he good again because it was a long, almost two-year slog. So, to climb out of that and to start fast this year, it’s been a good reminder that we’re still pretty good.”

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Curry remains at No. 2 in this edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder after leading Golden State to a record of 6-1 (including three wins this week) during its current eight-game homestand. That stretch concludes Friday against the Bulls (8-3), led by DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. The stakes remain high headed into next week when the Warriors hit the road to face Kevin Durant — the current leader in the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder — and the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center.

The Warriors moved to 10-1 after they took down the Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

The Warriors rank among the NBA’s top four in four offensive categories (points per game, field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage and fast break points per game) and are No. 1 in defensive rating (99.2).

“It means we’re headed in the right direction. Like I said last game, you can’t win a championship or anything like that in November,” Curry said. “But you can put yourself in a really good position for the regular season to start thinking about playoff position and all that once you get there and building good chemistry with all the guys that we have suiting up. [It] gives us obviously room to bring Klay [Thompson] and [James] Wise[man] back, when they’re ready, to a very positive environment. That’s exciting. You want to get off to a good start because you want as much positivity and optimism around how we’re playing every single game.”

Elsewhere, in the top of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, injured Miami Heat swingman Jimmy Butler falls out of the top five along with Ja Morant, whose Grizzlies have lost two of their last three. Reigning Kia MVP Nikola Jokic creeps back into the top five at No. 3, and Paul George takes the fourth spot, while former two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo makes a gradual climb up the ranks.

And, a reminder: the season remains young, so you can anticipate more movement in this space over the next several weeks.

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And now, the Top 5 this week in the 2021-22 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:


1. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 29.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 5.0 apg

Kevin Durant lit up the Magic for 30 points in Brooklyn’s blowout win.

Mr. Efficiency avenged a loss in Chicago on Monday by leading Brooklyn’s fourth-largest road win in franchise history Wednesday, a 33-point win over the Orlando Magic. Durant hit 11 of 12 for 30 points in just 29 minutes through three quarters against the Magic, and his 91.7% from the field was the second-best in a 30-point game in franchise history, behind only Buck Williams, who hit 14 of 15 in 1982 during a Christmas contest at New York. Durant has scored 30 points or more in three consecutive games and four of his last five, and for the analytics nerds, he leads the NBA in midrange field goals made (47 of 74).


2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 27.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 6.5 apg

Stephen Curry erupts for an NBA season-high 50 points with 10 assists, almost single-handedly leading Golden State past Atlanta.

At 33, Curry started off the week by becoming the oldest player in league history to put up 50 points or more and 10 assists or more in a single game. But the road gets tougher with Friday’s matchup against the Bulls, followed by a four-game road trip at Charlotte, Brooklyn, Cleveland and Detroit. Curry heads into Friday ranked second in the NBA in scoring and seventh in free-throw percentage (94.9%). Curry maintains his active streak of hitting at least one 3-pointer in 136 consecutive games, and that ranks as the second-longest streak in league history behind his own streak of 157 straight outings.


3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 10

Season stats: 25.4 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 5.7 apg

Nikola Jokic came through with a 25-point night in Denver’s win against Miami.

We heard way too much about the Joker’s shove on Miami Heat forward Markieff Morris, which resulted in a suspension, and the subsequent Twitter drama that ensued, but not enough about this game-saving block on Saturday against the Houston Rockets. Because of that, we feel compelled to give you a second angle on that play, which shows just how much Jokic is contributing to Denver’s 7-4 start without star guard Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., who has missed the last two games due to a back ailment. The Nuggets are 3-0 on their current five-game homestand, which resumes Friday against Atlanta (9 ET, NBA League Pass) with Jokic back in the fold.

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4. Paul George, LA Clippers

Last week’s ranking: Not ranked

Season stats: 26.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 5.4 apg

Paul George was huge again for the Clippers as they beat the Heat on Thursday.

Surprise, surprise. Look who cracked the top 5. LA’s 1-4 start, no doubt was concerning. But Paul is a major reason why the Clippers have rebounded to win six in a row, including Thursday’s slugfest against a scrappy Miami Heat squad without an injured Jimmy Butler. George shot just 11 of 25 for 27 points, but he finished with a game-high three steals, in addition to scoring nine points on 4-of-8 shooting in the hotly-contested fourth quarter. He’s been a magnet for criticism in recent years, but you can’t deny George’s incredible contributions for a team missing another potential MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard.


5. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 26.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.8 apg

The Bulls are delivering the thrills in the regular season and playing a style that may work in the playoffs, too.

DeRozan enters Friday’s clash against Golden State as the league’s sixth-leading scorer, and he’s poured in 20 points or more in all but two games this season. In fact, DeRozan and teammate Zach LaVine are two of just nine players in the NBA to have produced at least nine games this season with 20 points or more. They’re the only teammates thus far to accomplish that feat in 2021-22. DeRozan didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in Wednesday’s win over Dallas, but you can almost always count on the forward to make plays like this.


The Next Five:

6. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

7. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

8. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

9. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

10. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

And five more: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz; Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns; Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls; Julius Randle, New York Knicks.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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