Every eventual NBA Most Valuable Player has his defining moment.
It’s arguable whether Giannis Antetokounmpo’s performance this week – going head-to-head with James Harden and coming away with a convincing victory – was that moment, but it certainly moved the Milwaukee Bucks star closer to winning the award.
Antetokounmpo kept his magical season going with 19 points and 14 rebounds in the Bucks’ 108-94 victory Tuesday over the Houston Rockets.
The Bucks are an NBA-best 56-19, have won four of their past five games and need just four wins in their final seven games to reach 60 victories for the fifth time in franchise history.
Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. James Harden for NBA MVP
Milwaukee’s success behind Antetokounmpo is just one reasons he has withstood Harden’s historic scoring rate and moved in front of the reigning MVP as the favorite for the 2019 award. As of Wednesday morning, Antetokounmpo was -200 in NBA MVP betting with Harden trailing closely behind at +125.
This late in the season, Tuesday’s victory will go a long way for voters. Though Antetokounmpo wasn’t all that dominant in the win – scoring 19 points, his fewest since March 1 – his team was. Teammate Eric Bledsoe clamped down on Harden and held The Beard to 23 points, his seventh-lowest scoring output of the season.
After the game the Milwaukee Bucks’ official Twitter account had some fun with the MVP race, photoshopping Antetokounmpo in to a picture next to P.J. Tucker, who entered the arena with Harden while wearing a sweatshirt that said: “I’m With The MVP.”
The Bucks are probably on to something. Antetokounmpo has had a historic season in his own right. The forward is averaging 27.3 points, 12.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists, numbers only reached by Oscar Robertson more than 50 seasons ago.
Antetokounmpo’s scoring efficiency is off the charts – he’d join Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley as the only players to ever average 27 points on 58 percent shooting or better – and his 30 points per 36 minutes has been accomplished by 12 players in NBA history.
Antetokounmpo is also carrying a Bucks team that is limping to the finish line. In the last two weeks alone they’ve lost shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon (foot), Nikola Mirotic (thumb), Tony Snell (ankle), Pau Gasol (ankle) and now Donte DiVincenzo (foot) to a foot injury.
Donte DiVincenzo will undergo a biologic injection to help address the bilateral heel bursitis that has forced him to miss 28 games this season.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 27, 2019
The recovery period will keep DiVincenzo out for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.https://t.co/6XOJLeXngA
Yet Milwaukee has maintained its standing as the NBA’s best team because of Antetokounmpo.
Milwaukee Bucks Star MVP, DPOY Candidate
What’s more, there’s a real argument that Antetokounmpo is also the Defensive Player of the Year. Milwaukee has the most efficient defense this season thanks in large part to The Greek Freak, who is averaging 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, something only he and Anthony Davis have accomplished this season.
He is listed at +400 odds in NBA betting to win that award, behind both Paul George and Rudy Gobert, but it speaks to Antetokounmpo’s dominance as a two-way player and further validates his MVP credentials.
For whatever it’s worth, Rockets point guard Chris Paul said he thought Tuesday’s outcome should have no bearing on the MVP race. Paul’s assertion that one game does not make an MVP race is correct, and what Harden is doing this season is extraordinary.
Houston was left for dead early in the season and needed to overcome injuries to both Paul and Clint Capela. Harden allowed them to do that, and the Rockets had won 14 of 16 before coming to Milwaukee.
Take nothing away from Harden, who already paid off for some bettors, but the reality is Antetokounmpo is the MVP frontrunner because he’s the best player on the best team in the league and is getting it done on both ends of the floor.
Milwaukee Still Favorite in NBA Eastern Conference
The Bucks remain the favorites in the Eastern Conference with +200 odds, and their +950 odds in NBA Finals betting to dethrone the Warriors are third best, just in front of Harden’s Rockets at +1000.
Antetokounmpo has made the jump from All-Star to superstar to league MVP candidate, and he has been doing it all season. His consistency has been incredible.
Tuesday’s victory was simply another feather in the Greek Freak’s cap, and barring another insane Harden run to close out the regular season, Antetokounmpo should bring home the MVP.