Hoops Rumors Polls

Poll: Eastern Conference’s First Round Playoff Series

With the play-in tournament complete and the playoff field set, the NBA’s postseason will begin in earnest on Saturday. Since three of Saturday’s four games are Eastern Conference matchups, we’re zeroing in on those first round series this morning before shifting our focus to the West later today.

Here are the four first round series in the East:

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Miami Heat (8)

This series holds a little more intrigue than the typical No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup. The Heat won the most games in the Eastern Conference in 2021/22 and nearly made it to the NBA Finals last spring. This year’s team isn’t much different from that one, even if its in-season results were a lot less impressive. A group led by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo certainly won’t roll over in the playoffs.

Still, the Bucks were one of the NBA’s most dominant teams in the regular season, winning a league-high 58 games. And despite some injury question marks, they’re the deeper, more talented team in this matchup. This series may not be a repeat of Milwaukee’s four-game sweep of Miami in round one of the 2021 playoffs en route to a Bucks championship, but there’s a reason why Giannis Antetokounmpo are massive betting favorites (-1200, per BetOnline.ag).

Boston Celtics (2) vs. Atlanta Hawks (7)

The Celtics will enter their first round series as even bigger betting favorites (-1300) than the Bucks. Boston’s +6.7 net rating on the season was the NBA’s best mark by a comfortable margin, whereas Atlanta has spent much of the season looking like a league-average team, finishing the year at 41-41 (with a +0.1 net rating) before winning a play-in game over Miami.

The Celtics’ No. 2 overall defense should be capable of slowing down the Hawks‘ star backcourt of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray; it remains to be seen whether Atlanta will have any answer at the other end of the court for Boston’s star wings, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. A Hawks upset isn’t impossible, but it looks like a real long shot, barring injuries.

Philadelphia 76ers (3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)

While the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are often significant favorites in NBA playoff series, it’s unusual for a No. 3 team to be as heavily favored as the Sixers are over the Nets (-1200). The odds make sense though — Philadelphia had the NBA’s third-best record, trailing only two Eastern powerhouses. And Brooklyn likely wouldn’t have finished as high as sixth in the East if not for the first-half contributions of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who are no longer on the roster.

The new-look Nets, led by Mikal Bridges, were competitive down the stretch, but they went just 13-15 after the trade deadline. The 76ers, meanwhile, followed up a 12-12 start to the season by winning 42 of their last 58 games, and they’ll be at full strength in the playoffs — stars Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey are all healthy after missing between 16 and 24 games apiece during the regular season.

Cleveland Cavaliers (4) vs. New York Knicks (5)

Now we’re talking. The rest of the Eastern Conference series are viewed as pretty one-sided, but the Cavaliers and Knicks is something a little closer to a toss-up. Cleveland is a -190 betting favorite, per BetOnline.ag, while New York is at +165 to win the series.

On paper, there are plenty of reasons to back the Cavaliers. Their +5.6 net rating ranked No. 2 in the NBA, buoyed by a league-best 109.9 defensive rating. And Donovan Mitchell is the sort of battle-tested scorer a team wants on its roster in the postseason.

On the other hand, besides Mitchell, Cleveland’s top players lack postseason experience. Darius Garland and Evan Mobley will be appearing in their first playoff game on Saturday, and Jarrett Allen didn’t advance beyond the first round in two brief postseason appearances in Brooklyn. These Knicks are well coached and have the East’s best offense (120.4 rating) since the calendar flipped to 2023.

The status of Julius Randle‘s left ankle could be significant — it sounds like he’s aiming to return for Game 1 on Saturday, but he hasn’t played since spraining the ankle on March 29 and likely isn’t back to 100% yet.

Poll: Friday’s NBA Play-In Games

This is only the third year that the NBA’s play-in tournament has existed in its current form, so it’s not as if there’s a lengthy play-in history to help contextualize this year’s results. Still, the results through the first four games have been unprecedented.

Coming into this year, no No. 7 seed had ever lost a play-in game — Miami became the first team to do so on Tuesday.

Coming into this year, no No. 10 seed had ever won a play-in game — Chicago and Oklahoma City both achieved this feat on Wednesday.

With three upsets in four games, the play-in results haven’t been easy to forecast. Only 11.55% of our poll respondents picked Atlanta and the Lakers to win on Tuesday, and the success rate wasn’t a whole lot better on Wednesday, with 17.88% of voters taking Chicago and Oklahoma City.

Will Friday’s games continue to produce unexpected results, or will the favorites bear down and advance to the first round of the playoffs?

In the East, where the winner will advance to face Milwaukee in round one, the Heat are six-point favorites at home against the Bulls, according to BetOnline.ag.

But Miami is coming off a disappointing home loss and has played inconsistent basketball for much of the season, while Chicago has played some of its best ball since adding Patrick Beverley on the buyout market in February. It’s also worth noting that the Heat went 0-3 vs. the Bulls during the season and were outscored by 32 points in those games.

Out West, the upstart Thunder will visit Minnesota as 5.5-point underdogs against the Timberwolves, with the winner on track to face top-seeded Denver.

The Wolves entered the season last fall with aspirations of making a deep playoff run, while Oklahoma City seemed more focus on player development than making the postseason. But the acclimation of Rudy Gobert in Minnesota hasn’t gone as smoothly as the front office hoped, while rising Thunder stars like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams, and Josh Giddey are providing a preview of a bright future in OKC.

Entering Friday’s game, the vibes certainly seem better on the Thunder’s side, where no one has punched a wall or a teammate lately (as far as we know, anyway). And perhaps the fact that no one expected them to be here will help the Thunder play freer and more confidently than the Timberwolves, whose season would be considered an even bigger disappointment if they can’t secure a playoff berth.

We want to know what you think. Are we in for more upsets on Friday, or will the higher-seed Heat and Timberwolves claim the NBA’s last two available playoff spots?

Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section to share your thoughts!

Poll: Wednesday’s NBA Play-In Games

In each of the first two years after the NBA introduced the play-in tournament in its current form in 2021, the No. 7 seeds defeated the No. 8 seeds — the Lakers and Celtics won at home in 2021, and the Timberwolves and Nets followed suit in 2022.

So history was made on Tuesday night, when the Heat became the first No. 7 seed to lose a play-in game, falling at home to the No. 8 Hawks. As a result, Atlanta will face the second-seeded Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, while Miami will get another chance to secure a playoff berth at home on Friday.

In Tuesday’s late game, the Lakers nearly followed Miami’s lead, falling behind by double digits to Minnesota. But Los Angeles’ defense keyed a comeback and the Lakers ultimately prevailed in overtime, clinching the No. 7 playoff spot and a first-round date with Memphis. The Wolves will return to Minnesota to host Friday’s play-in game for the right to face Denver.

The Heat’s and Timberwolves’ play-in opponents will be determined on Wednesday, starting in the East, where the No. 9 Raptors will host the No. 10 Bulls at 7:00 pm Eastern time.

Both Toronto and Chicago underachieved relative to their expectations this year after finishing among the East’s top six teams a year ago. While neither team was fully healthy – Lonzo Ball‘s season-long absence, in particular, hurt the Bulls – it’s hard to blame injury luck for their lack of success.

Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes all appeared in at least 67 games and logged at least 2,386 minutes, while DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic played at least 74 games and 2,682 minutes apiece. None of those players are on the injury report today, so Wednesday’s matchup will feature two relatively healthy clubs looking to salvage disappointing seasons.

The Raptors will enter Wednesday’s game as 5.5-point favorites, according to BetOnline.ag. They went 27-14 at home this season and have taken a step forward since acquiring Jakob Poeltl at the trade deadline. Toronto has a 15-11 record with a +3.0 net rating since Poeltl’s debut, and its new starting lineup (Poeltl, Siakam, VanVleet, Anunoby, and Barnes) has a +9.5 net rating in 313 minutes together.

But the Bulls seemingly acquired their own missing piece in February, when they signed Patrick Beverley on the buyout market. Since Beverley’s debut on February 24, Chicago has a 14-9 record and a +5.7 net rating (third-best in the NBA). The Bulls’ new go-to starting lineup (Beverley, DeRozan, LaVine, Vucevic, and Alex Caruso) has outperformed Toronto’s new group, posting a +14.7 net rating across 267 minutes.

Over in the West, the No. 10 Thunder will battle the No. 9 Pelicans for the right to travel to Minnesota on Friday.

Widely viewed as one of the NBA’s worst teams entering the season, the Thunder have exceeded expectations due in large part to the contributions of All-Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, breakout rookie Jalen Williams, and second-year guard Josh Giddey.

The Pelicans, meanwhile, had aspirations of a top-four seed in the fall and were a much better team when they had Zion Williamson available. They’ve looked average since the former No. 1 pick went down with a hamstring injury, recording a modest +0.2 net rating when Williamson isn’t on the court this season.

Both teams could find reasons for optimism in the results of their four-game regular season series. The Pelicans went 3-1 in those contests, including a pair of wins without Williamson available. On the other hand, Gilgeous-Alexander had a 44-point night against New Orleans and all three of OKC’s losses came by four points or less, so the Thunder actually outscored the Pelicans on the season.

The Pelicans’ home court advantage (they were 27-14 in New Orleans) helps make them 5.5-point favorites on Wednesday, per BetOnline.ag.

We got one upset on Tuesday. Will we get one or two more today? We want to know what you think. Make your play-in picks in the poll below, then head to the comment section to weigh in with your thoughts!

Poll: Tuesday’s NBA Play-In Games

By the end of the night on Tuesday, two more first-round playoff matchups will be locked in, with the No. 7 seeds in both conferences having been determined.

[RELATED: NBA’s Play-In Field, Top-Six Playoff Seeds Set]

The Eastern Conference’s No. 7 vs. No. 8 matchup pits Jimmy Butler and the 44-38 Heat against Trae Young and the 41-41 Hawks. The two Southeast clubs will do battle on Tuesday at 7:30 pm Eastern time in Miami for the right to face the second-seeded Celtics in the first round.

Miami is the home team in this game, won the season series with Atlanta (3-1), and will enter as a 4.5-point favorite, per BetOnline.ag. The Heat haven’t looked as good this season as they did in 2021/22, when they claimed the top seed in the East and came within a couple plays of making the NBA Finals. But they’re as healthy now as they’ve been at any time this season and were far better at home (27-14) than on the road.

Miami has also done a good job defending Young — his 19.8 points per game on .356/.208/.865 shooting in four games this season vs. the Heat were the worst numbers he put up against any Eastern Conference team.

Atlanta, meanwhile, has been the epitome of a .500 club this season. Since going 13-13 in their first 26 games, the Hawks have had a .500 record an incredible 22 more times en route to a 41-41 finish.

Still, like the Heat, the Hawks are healthy entering Tuesday’s play-in game. They’ve been a winning team (38-35) when Young is available and have been a little more effective under head coach Quin Snyder (+1.8 net rating) than they were under Nate McMillan (-0.5). Perhaps Atlanta will also benefit from past play-in experience — the club won two play-in games a year ago to claim the No. 8 seed in the East.

Over in the West, the No. 7 Lakers (43-39) will host the No. 8 Timberwolves (42-20) in the second play-in game of the night to determine which team will advance to the playoffs and face the Grizzlies in round one.

The Lakers are eight-point favorites and it’s not hard to see why. Since their trade-deadline additions debuted on February 11, the Lakers have the NBA’s sixth-best net rating (+4.8) and third-best record (18-8), despite missing star forward LeBron James for 13 of those games. They’re playing their best basketball of the season at exactly the right time.

The Timberwolves, on the other hand, are entering the play-in tournament with their huge 2022 offseason addition – Rudy Gobert – set to serve a one-game suspension after punching a teammate on the sidelines in Sunday’s regular season finale. Meanwhile, breakout All-Defensive candidate Jaden McDaniels, whom the Wolves insisted on keeping when they dealt for Gobert, will be sidelined due to a separate punch — this one, aimed at a wall, broke McDaniels’ hand.

With Naz Reid (wrist surgery) also unavailable and Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf strain) listed as questionable, the Wolves will be the shorthanded team on Tuesday, but it’s worth noting that amidst all their drama and injuries, they pulled off an impressive comeback win over New Orleans on Sunday to claim the eighth spot in the West. Maybe the turmoil will help the team come together and pull off an upset victory in Los Angeles.

We want to know what you think. Which two teams will win tonight’s games and claim the No. 7 seeds for the playoffs?

Vote in our poll below, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Poll: Most Impactful Buyout Market Addition

It was a busy February on the buyout market, with 10 different players giving up money as part of agreements to be released by their respective teams.

All 10 of those players have since found new homes, though one (Leandro Bolmaro) returned to Europe and one (Nerlens Noel) may have a new home only temporarily, since he’s still on a 10-day contract for now.

That leaves eight players who have signed rest-of-season contracts with potential contenders or playoff teams, and several of them have already claimed rotation roles with their new clubs.

Veteran point guard Reggie Jackson, for instance, has stepped into the role of second unit play-maker that Bones Hyland previously occupied with the Nuggets. In his first seven games with Denver, Jackson has struggled with his shot (.300/.324/.667) but is averaging 21.0 minutes per night and setting up his teammates (3.4 assists per game) while taking care of the ball reasonably well (1.1 turnovers per game).

Kevin Love, like Jackson, is once again playing regular minutes after being demoted from his role with his old team. And like Jackson, he has struggled to score efficiently so far, shooting just .396/.242/.875 in seven appearances (all starts; 22.1 MPG) for the Heat. Both Love and Jackson appear to have found good fits with their new teams, though they’ll need to boost their respective shooting percentages if they hope to keep playing 20-plus minutes per night.

Love isn’t the only buyout-market signee to immediately step into a starting role. Russell Westbrook has done the same with the Clippers and has become a major part of their rotation, averaging 30.4 minutes per game in his first seven contests. He’s still struggling with turnovers (4.1 per game) and hasn’t exactly been a defensive stopper, but has put up 14.1 PPG and 8.1 APG on 51.9% shooting.

While Terrence Ross and Justin Holiday weren’t brought into be difference-makers, they’ve played pretty well so far for the Suns and Mavericks, respectively. Ross is averaging 11.2 points in just 20.2 minutes per contest (five games) while making 39.3% of his 5.6 three-pointers per night; Holiday has made threes at the exact same clip (39.3% on 4.0 attempts per game) and has started two of his seven games with Dallas.

Patrick Beverley (Bulls), Will Barton (Raptors), and Goran Dragic (Bucks) are some of the other notable buyout market additions, but Beverley and Barton are on teams battling for play-in spots, and Dragic has yet to make his debut for his new team, so it remains to be seen how much impact they’ll be able to have.

Beverley, at least, is playing pretty big minutes in Chicago, starting all seven of his games so far and logging 28.0 MPG. And Dragic’s team appears well positioned to make a deep postseason run, so he should have plenty of time to get healthy and chip in. Barton hasn’t earned much of a role yet in Toronto, however.

Expectations are relatively low for players signed as free agents in February or March, so we shouldn’t count on any of these players to swing a playoff series — if they can be productive rotation players into the spring, that’ll constitute a win.

We want to know what you think. Which of this year’s buyout market additions will end up being the most impactful down the stretch and in the postseason?

Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Poll: Which Team Will Win Eastern Conference?

The Western Conference, where the No. 3 and No. 10 seeds are separated by just four games, may feature a more wide-open playoff race than the Eastern Conference, but things aren’t nearly as tight at the top of the West, where the top-seeded Nuggets have a five-game lead on the No. 2 Grizzlies and an eight-game cushion on the No. 3 Kings.

In the East, there has been a perception for much of the season that the Celtics and Bucks are in their own tier as the conference’s top teams, but their lead in the standings isn’t nearly as big as the one held by Denver in the West.

Heading into the All-Star break, the 42-17 Celtics and the 41-17 Bucks are separated by a half-game, while the 38-19 Sixers are only three games out of the East’s top seed and the 38-23 Cavaliers are within five games of Boston.

The Celtics opened the season by winning 21 of their first 26 games and haven’t slowed down much since then. Even during their less dominant 21-12 stretch following their 21-5 start, Boston has a top-five net rating. For the season, they own not only the NBA’s best record but the best net rating (plus-6.2).

The Bucks have made the Celtics sweat for that No. 1 seed though, winning their last 12 games in a row. Milwaukee’s defense, headed by Brook Lopez and former Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo, has the NBA’s second-best rating, and the Bucks still haven’t really gotten a look at their lineup with a fully healthy Khris Middleton. If Middleton is back to 100% or close to it by the spring, Milwaukee will be an incredibly tough out in any playoff series.

The Sixers‘ star duo of James Harden and Joel Embiid has hit its stride in its first full year together. After an up-and-down start to the season that saw them at .500 (12-12) in early December, Philadelphia has gone 26-7, with Harden and Embiid leading the way — the 76ers have a plus-8.7 net rating when they’re on the court together.

Although they’re the last of the East’s top four teams and own the least playoff experience, the Cavaliers shouldn’t be overlooked. Their defensive rating (109.3) ranks first in the NBA, and only Boston has a better full-season net rating than Cleveland’s plus-5.8 mark. The Cavs were on a roll just prior to the All-Star break, winning seven straight games before dropping one in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Those four clubs look like the best bets to represent the East in the NBA Finals this season, especially since the revamped Nets at No. 5 probably lack the star power to make a deep postseason run. But there could be some dark horse contenders further down the Eastern Conference standings.

The Knicks at No. 6 won’t make things easy on any playoff opponent; the No. 7 Heat made the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago with a similar roster to the one they have now, and have the conference’s fourth-best record against teams that are .500 or better.

The Hawks, Wizards, Raptors, and Bulls – who currently rank between No. 8 and No. 11 – have been too inconsistent so far to consider them real threats to win the conference, but each roster features at least one or two stars.

We want to know what you think. Which Eastern team will represent the conference in the NBA Finals this season?

Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to explain your pick.

Poll: Who Will Win 2023 Three-Point Contest?

The NBA’s 2023 three-point contest will take place on Saturday night as part of All-Star weekend in Salt Lake City.

The league’s announcement of this year’s participants resulted in a few raised eyebrows, since none of the eight players who will take part in the contest ranked among the top 10 shooters in the league – based on 3PT% – when they were selected.

Sharpshooters like Isaiah Joe (45.2%) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (45.0%) were among the league leaders not believed to have received an invite, while stars like Stephen Curry (42.7%) and Desmond Bane (42.7%) presumably turned down invitations.

The NBA’s picks for the event reflect the league’s focus on stars over role players and its preference for volume three-point shooters over those who have high percentages but only attempt three or four shots per game from beyond the arc. The resulting field is as follows:

None of the eight players taking part in this year’s event participated in last year’s three-point contest, so there won’t be anyone defending his title — last year’s champion, Karl-Anthony Towns, is on the shelf due to a calf injury.

There is one former champion in the field, however, as well as two other players who have competed in this event in the past. Lillard and Tatum have each been in previous contests, while Hield took home the hardware in 2020.

The highest-percentage shooter among this year’s eight-man group, Hield is the co-favorite to win this year’s event, along with Lillard, per BetOnline.ag. Huerter has the third-best odds, followed by Herro and Haliburton. Tatum and Markkanen are tied for the second-worst odds, while Randle is a significant underdog.

But the three-point contest is unpredictable, since one well-timed hot streak – or poorly-timed cold stretch – can be the difference between winning and losing. So we want to know what you think.

Who will win this year’s three-point contest? Do you expect one of the favorites to come out victorious, or are you riding with an underdog?

Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section to share your thoughts!

Poll: Which Team Will Win The Western Conference?

Every team in the Western Conference was involved in at least one trade prior to last week’s deadline. With so much activity and the standings so jumbled together (except at the top and bottom), now is a good time to take stock of where things currently stand out West for the teams that have a chance at making the postseason.

  1. Nuggets, 40-18 (28-11 vs. West)
  2. Grizzlies, 34-22 (16-16)
  3. Kings, 32-25 (20-13)
  4. Suns, 32-27 (21-14)
  5. Clippers, 32-28 (18-16)
  6. Mavericks, 31-28 (23-15)
  7. Pelicans, 30-28 (19-14)
  8. Timberwolves, 31-29 (22-19)
  9. Warriors, 29-29 (17-14)
  10. Jazz, 29-30 (19-17)
  11. Trail Blazers, 28-30 (20-16)
  12. Thunder, 27-29 (14-17)
  13. Lakers, 26-32 (13-20)

Phoenix made the biggest splash, trading for superstar forward Durant (MCL sprain), who won’t make his Suns debut until after the All-Star break. The Mavericks got a second star to pair with Luka Doncic in Irving, though he can be mercurial. The Clippers bolstered their guard depth and added a traditional backup center in Plumlee.

Golden State dealt away its former second overall pick and brought back a familiar face to try and defend its title, but discovered that Payton was injured and will miss a significant amount of time. The Wolves swapped out point guards, preferring Conley’s veteran leadership and additional year of team control to Russell’s expiring deal.

The Lakers completely reshaped their roster, but with only 24 games remaining, they’re running out of time to make up ground in the standings. The Jazz were a seller, but they have exceeded expectations all season and hold a half-game lead on the Blazers and Thunder for the final spot in the play-in tournament.

The top three seeds were all relatively quiet at the deadline, particularly the Kings, who only made one very minor trade. It’s understandable why the Nuggets and Grizzlies were confident in their teams, given their respective places in the standings.

After starting the season 14-10, the Nuggets have gone 26-8 over their past 34 games. They hold a five-game lead over Memphis for the top seed in the West and currently have a 26-4 home record in 2022/23 — home court advantage could be a big deal for Denver in the playoffs.

We want to know what you think. Which team will represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals?

Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section to weigh in with your predictions.

Poll: Where Will Jae Crowder End Up This Season?

The curious case of Jae Crowder should be resolved over the next two weeks. If not, there’s more drama on the way regarding the veteran forward.

Crowder has been sitting out this season while awaiting a trade. We’ve seen veteran players in similar situations in recent seasons but this one has a twist. Normally, they’re stuck on a rebuilding team and awaiting a trade to a contender instead of languishing on the bench behind young players earmarked for developmental minutes — think John Wall in Houston.

Crowder chose this path with an organization that won a league-best 64 regular-season games a year ago. He was reportedly frustrated that he was about to lose his starting job and didn’t receive an extension on his three-year contract, which expires at the end of this season.

Phoenix had some legitimate reasons for its reluctance to extend Crowder. The Suns have some major salary cap issues for the next three seasons, especially after matching the Pacers’ offer sheet for Deandre Ayton. A dicey ownership situation also factored into the equation.

Crowder is also 32 years old in a league that has gotten increasingly younger over the years. While he’s considered a 3-and-D specialist, his 34.6 percent career average from deep isn’t particularly noteworthy.

He did play key roles for two teams that reached the Finals – the Heat in 2020 and Suns in 2021. Miami, as well as the Bucks and Hawks, are among the teams reportedly interested in him.

It’s surprising that Crowder hasn’t already been dealt, particularly after mid-December, when many players who signed free agent contracts last offseason became trade-eligible.

According to a recent report, the Suns have been holding out for two of the following for Crowder: A first-round pick, a good young player, and a solid rotation player.

It’s likely they’ll have to drop the price tag to deal Crowder. The acquiring team can’t even be sure how much he’ll help them this season after sitting out for so long. Crowder has reportedly been working out regularly in the Atlanta area but there’s a difference between being in good physical condition and being in basketball shape.

If he’s not traded, it could get even messier. He could choose to sit out the whole season, finally rejoin the team or give back some of this season’s salary in a buyout and then choose his destination after clearing waivers.

That leads us to our poll: Which team will Jae Crowder play for this season, or will he play at all? Vote and then head to the comments to weigh in with your thoughts.

Poll: Will Nikola Jokic Three-Peat As MVP?

I realize that it’s probably too early to ask this question. We’re only a little over 40% of the way through the 2022/23 regular season, and a variety of factors — injuries, team results, etc. — could swing the MVP race in multiple directions, especially with so many strong candidates.

In the first edition of ESPN’s MVP straw poll earlier this month, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum led the field, followed by Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, Warriors guard Stephen Curry and Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. A lot has changed in the two weeks since that poll was conducted, including Curry sustaining a shoulder injury.

Tatum continues to excel as the best player on the league’s best team, a true two-way force. Antetokounmpo has great numbers, though the Bucks are in a rut, having lost four straight games. Doncic has put up mind-boggling statistics the entire season, but especially recently, becoming the first player in NBA history to record a stat line of 60 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists in the Mavs’ comeback victory over the Knicks on Tuesday, as ESPN’s Tim MacMahon writes.

Sixers center Joel Embiid has certainly climbed the rankings, mostly due to being healthy, leading the league in scoring for the second straight season while carrying Philadelphia up the Eastern Conference standings. The same can be said for Kevin Durant, who is having perhaps his finest season for the resurgent Nets, winners of 14 of their past 15 games.

In another year, stars like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Donovan Mitchell, and Zion Williamson — all of whom are having phenomenal seasons — would garner significant attention as well. Yet in ’22/23, they are mere afterthoughts.

As John Hollinger of The Athletic noted a couple days ago, Jokic, the reigning back-to-back MVP, might have the strongest case of all, despite a strong sentiment that voter fatigue will work against him (the same thing was said last season).

The Nuggets are 22-12, tied with the Pelicans for the best record in the West. Jokic once again leads the NBA in several advanced statistics, including player efficiency rating (32.3), win shares (6.6), box plus/minus (12.2), DunksAndThrees.com‘s estimated plus/minus (8.3), and FiveThirtyEight.com‘s RAPTOR wins above replacement (9.5, with Doncic second at 7.5), among others.

The 27-year-old’s traditional numbers are just as impressive. He’s averaging 25.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, 9.4 assists and 1.5 steals on .619/.324/.806 shooting through 31 games. Those 9.4 assists per game would be an NBA record for a center, his 68.8 true shooting percentage is the best mark among high-volume scorers, and he’s somehow shooting 62% from mid-range, which tops the league.

Maybe the most staggering statistic of all is the fact that the Nuggets are plus-10.9 with the Serbian on the court and minus-13.4 when he’s off, according to NBA.com. Jokic currently leads Basketball-Reference.com‘s MVP award tracker at 45.1%, trailed by Doncic (21.7%), Embiid (9.6%), Tatum (6.3%), Antetokounmpo (4.9%) and Durant (4.5%).

That leads us to our poll: Will Jokic three-peat as MVP? Vote and then head to the comments to weigh in with your thoughts.