NBA

'Hard to believe' Jokic will not be named NBA MVP, admits Sacramento Kings coach

By Sports Desk March 10, 2022

Sacramento Kings interim head coach Alvin Gentry admitted it is "hard to believe" Nikola Jokic will not be named NBA MVP again this season.

The comments came after the Serbian scored 38 points in a 106-100 win for the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, helping Michael Malone's men to their fourth consecutive victory.

The reigning MVP posted 32 points against the Golden State Warriors and 46 against the New Orleans Pelicans in the Nuggets' previous two outings. He is the first NBA player to average 35 or more points, 15 or more rebounds and 10 or more assists over a three-game run since Wilt Chamberlain did so between March 16-19, 1968.

After seeing Sacramento dominated by the 27-year-old, Gentry said he deserved a second consecutive MVP prize.

"That guy is just a different beast," he said post-game.

"He doesn't get shaken, he just does what he needs to do to win the game.

"He's just playing at such a high level, 46 points, 32 points, 38 tonight, he's just a different guy.

"Watching him play, it's hard to believe he won't be the MVP. 

"He's playing at such a high level and does so many things on the court, I think he's one of those guys you could take and put on any team, and that team's going to be pretty successful."

Denver have now won 12 of their past 14 games, while Jokic fell just three assists short of registering a third consecutive triple-double. 

His average of 25.9 points per game, meanwhile, is the ninth-strongest record among NBA players this season.

Jokic himself was pleased after recording another dominating performance in Sacramento but was keen to look ahead, with the Nuggets facing a rematch with the Warriors next on Thursday.

"Lately, we're playing really good, we're winning games," said the 27-year-old. 

"Hopefully, it's going to continue."

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    Joel Embiid had 23 points, 15 rebounds and six assists and the 76ers beat the visiting Miami Heat 105-104 on Wednesday in an Eastern Conference play-in game.

    With the victory, Philadelphia secured the seventh seed in the East and will face the second-seeded New York Knicks in a first-round series beginning on Saturday.

    The Heat, who made last season’s NBA Finals as a play-in team, will face an elimination game Friday against the Chicago Bulls for the eighth seed and the right to play the NBA-best Boston Celtics.

    Embiid’s availability against Miami was uncertain after the reigning league MVP tweaked his surgically repaired left knee Friday and sat out the regular-season finale two days later.

    He played 38 minutes and stepped up down the stretch with eight points in the final three minutes and dished out a clutch assist.

    With the game tied at 96, Embiid found Kelly Oubre Jr. under the basket with 36 seconds to play, and he was fouled while making a layup for a three-point play to put Philadelphia ahead for good.

    On Miami’s next possession, Nicolas Batum blocked Tyler Herro’s potential game-tying 3-point attempt.

    Batum provided a spark off the bench with 20 points and hit five of his six 3-pointers after halftime to help Philadelphia battle back from a 12-point deficit at the break.

    Tyrese Maxey added 19 points for a 76ers team that made 21 of 23 free throws.

    Both Herro and Jimmy Butler struggled with their shots for the Heat, who led by as much as 14 late in the second quarter.

    Butler injured his right knee in the first quarter and said after the game that he would need an MRI, putting his availability for Friday in question.

    Herro finished with a game-high 25 points but was just 4 of 14 from 3-point range, while Butler had 19 points on 5-of-18 shooting.

     

     

    White erupts for career-high 42 in Bulls’ win

    Coby White scored a career-best 42 points on 15-of-21 shooting and Nikola Vucevic added 24 points and 12 rebounds as the Chicago Bulls rolled to a 131-116 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

    White, who surpassed his previous career high of 37 points, had nine rebounds and six assists as Chicago advanced to a Friday matchup at Miami for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

    DeMar DeRozan had 22 points and nine assists and Ayo Dosunmu added 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting after missing the final four regular-season games with a bruised right quadricep.

    The Bulls shot 56.8 percent from the field and 42.3 percent (11 for 23) from 3-point range to go with a 47-34 rebounding advantage.

    Dejounte Murray led the Hawks with 30 points and Trae Young and Clint Capela each had 22 as Atlanta’s season came to an end after it closed the regular season with six straight losses.

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  • Heat forward Butler needs MRI on injured right knee Heat forward Butler needs MRI on injured right knee

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    Butler sustained the injury in the first quarter when he tried to fake out Kelly Oubre Jr. on a basket, only to have his knee buckle. He fell to the floor and Oubre appeared to land on top of him.

    “I fell, he landed, and my knee just didn’t do well, I guess,” Butler said. “I don’t know. It’s not a good feeling, I can tell you that.”

    Butler sank the free throw, exhaled, and missed the second one. He stayed in the game and finished with 19 points on 5-of-18 shooting in a 105-104 loss.

    The Heat will host the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, with the winner getting the No. 8 seed and a playoff matchup with the league-leading Boston Celtics.

    “We just need to get one and then we’ll worry about the next one,” Butler said.

    It’s unknown whether Butler will be available to play that game.

    “It felt like I couldn’t do much, which sucks with the timing of the game and everything,” Butler said. “I hope that I’m fine. I hope that I wake up tomorrow and can still stick-and-move. Right now, I can’t say that’s the case.”

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  • Haaland, Palmer, Watkins? Assessing the Premier League's Golden Boot candidates Haaland, Palmer, Watkins? Assessing the Premier League's Golden Boot candidates

    There is a thrilling three-horse race for the Premier League title as we approach the run-in, but there is also another tussle on the cards.

    The Golden Boot is up for grabs, with Erling Haaland having not quite hit the same heights as he did last season, when he broke the Premier League record for goals, with 36.

    Manchester City star Haaland is, as it stands, level with his former club-mate Cole Palmer at the top of the competition’s scoring charts, with 20 goals apiece.

    Palmer, who will go up against his old club in the FA Cup semi-finals this weekend, moved way up in the charts after he netted four times in Chelsea’s 6-0 rout of Everton on Monday.

    But with Palmer and Haaland in FA Cup action, there are plenty of other Golden Boot candidates looking to take advantage and nudge themselves to the front of the pack.

    Using Opta data, we assess the numbers behind the players vying for this individual accolade.

    Erling Haaland (20)

    Sure, Haaland might not quite have scaled the same heights as last season, but he has still scored 20 goals in 26 league games, scoring a goal every 109 minutes on average.

    However, the Norwegian has actually underperformed his expected goals (xG) of 23.7 – that 3.7 differential is actually the biggest xG underperformance of any player on this list.

    What about Haaland’s expected goals on target (xGOT)? That metric can be used to measure the quality of a player’s finishing, and Haaland’s xGOT of 20.3 suggests the 23-year-old is about on track based on where he has been placing his shots.

    Haaland has also chipped in with five assists, giving him an overall goal contributions tally of 25. He has created 28 goalscoring chances for team-mates across the campaign.

    Of course, Haaland is a penalty box poacher – 16 of his goals have come from inside the area, while 14 of them have come with his stronger left foot.

     

    Cole Palmer (20)

    Palmer has stolen the show this season for Chelsea, and is arguably the Blues’ driving force behind their push for European football.

    Having signed from City last summer, Palmer has made an instant impact despite only playing 27 times – he averages a goal every 103 minutes, which is better than any of the other candidates featured here.

    He scored a perfect hat-trick in the first half of the demolition of Everton, before adding a fourth from the penalty spot after the break – that was Palmer’s ninth successfully converted spot-kick in the league this term.

    Unlike Haaland, Palmer has overperformed his xG (15), with his non-penalty xG coming in at 7.9, while also proving his creative talents with nine assists from 53 chances created, which ranks behind only Mohamed Salah (60) of players featured here.

    Those 29 goal contributions are matched by only one other Premier League player…

    Ollie Watkins (19)

    One goal behind Palmer and Haaland, and someone who will be looking to get ahead when Aston Villa face Bournemouth on Sunday, is England international Watkins.

    A deft chip in Villa’s brilliant 2-0 win over Arsenal last time out brought up Watkins’ 19th top-flight goal of the campaign – he is now the club’s joint-leading scorer in a single season in the Premier League, matching Christian Benteke (2012-13).

     

    What separates Watkins from Palmer and Haaland is his minutes per goal ratio – Watkins has netted every 147 minutes on average, which is 44 minutes worse off than Palmer and 38 than Haaland.

    However, with 10 assists, the former Brentford forward leads the goal contributions charts along with Palmer. Interestingly, however, Watkins’ assists have come from an expected assists (xA) of just 3.6, suggesting he has been the benefactor of some particularly excellent finishing from his Villa team-mates.

    A goal against Bournemouth on Sunday would see Watkins become just the third English player to score 20+ goals and assist 10+ goals in a 38-game season, along with Frank Lampard in 2009-10 (22 goals, 14 assists) and Harry Kane in 2020-21 (23 goals, 14 assists)

    Watkins has proved to be a deadly finisher under Unai Emery, though the trick for opposing defences could be to prevent him getting space in the area to begin with, given that all 19 of his goals have come from inside the box. Obviously, that is easier said than done.

    Mohamed Salah (17)

    Liverpool will be hoping to bounce back from their damaging defeat to Crystal Palace last week when they take on Fulham on Sunday, and key to the Reds’ clinching success in Jurgen Klopp’s farewell tour will surely be the form of Salah.

    Since sustaining an injury at the Africa Cup of Nations, Salah has not quite hit top form, but he has still netted 17 goals across 26 league appearances this term, though five of those have been penalties.

     

    With an xGOT of 18.4, Salah can point to some above average goalkeeping as a reason for a small underperformance.

    Creatively, Salah has been excellent, providing nine assists and crafting 60 opportunities, but the Reds will need him at his very best in the run-in.

    Alexander Isak (17)

    Isak was at the double in Newcastle United’s 4-0 thrashing of Tottenham last time out. He has now scored 12 goals in as many Premier League appearances at St James’ Park this season.

    His opener against Spurs saw him become the fourth player to score in six consecutive Premier League home matches for Newcastle, with only Andrew Cole (eight) and Alan Shearer (15) having longer such runs, with Isak now level with Les Ferdinand’s best such run. The only other Swede to have netted as many Premier League goals in a single campaign as Isak has this term is the great Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 17 times for Manchester United in 2016-17.

    Only Palmer has a better minutes per goal ratio than Isak (104) of the players on this list, while he has overperformed his xG by 1.1.

    Isak has not provided quite as much creatively as others on this list, providing just one assist, but his 28.3 per cent shot conversion rate tops this list by some distance, with Palmer (24.4) next best.

    Dominic Solanke (17)

    Another player on 17 goals, and the final selection here, is Bournemouth talisman Solanke.

    His 18.1 per cent shot conversion rate may short fall of the other stars on this list, but Solanke is having a fantastic season, having become Bournemouth’s top Premier League goalscorer in a single campaign, surpassing Joshua King’s tally of 16 from the 2016-17 season.

    Only one of Solanke’s strikes has come from the spot, with the 26-year-old outperforming his 15.7 non-penalty xG, though his minutes per goal ratio of 167 is quite a stark drop-off from most of his Golden Boot rivals.

    The Chasing Pack

    Former Golden Boot winner Son Heung-min (15), Jarrod Bowen (15), Bukayo Saka (14) and Phil Foden (14) are all well in the hunt.

    The fact that 10 players are within six goals of each other shows just how tight this Golden Boot race is shaping up to be, though the chasing pack are running out of time if they are to make a late push for the award.

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