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MVP Award: Jokic & Lillard Set to Headline Two-Player Race

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Following LeBron James’ ankle injury, CBS Sports NBA contributor Brad Botkin suggested that Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard could be positioned to bolster his MVP candidacy.

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images

Following LeBron James’ injury exit from Saturday’s contest between the Lakers and Hawks, CBS Sports NBA contributor Brad Botkin shifted his attention to the MVP race. With James (ankle) and Joel Embiid (knee) sidelined, Botkin explained that Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and Nuggets center Nikola Jokic are poised to fill the void left behind.

Botkin’s argument for Lillard and Jokic focused on how a prolonged absence by any MVP hopeful could create enough space to separate the field.

I’m not saying that’s right. But I think it’s the reality. Barring more injuries, this thing is coming down to Jokic and Lillard, and what a photo finish that could be. Jokic owns top billing on just about every advanced stat known to man, but the way Lillard, who averages top-five across the advanced-stat board, has carried the Blazers to the West’s current No. 5 seed despite C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic missing a combined 60 games, to me, gives him the edge.

For context, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton highlighted how injury absences have historically impacted the MVP race.

The impact of injuries is a key reason it’s dangerous to start to draw MVP conclusions too early in the season. Staying on the court is a key part of value within an individual regular season. Historically, 10 games missed has been about the cutoff for MVP consideration. The last player to miss more than 10 games in an MVP season was Allen Iverson in 2000-01 (11). Before that, you have to go back to Bill Walton in 1977-78 (an unprecedented 34) for the previous example. (No MVP between Walton and Iverson missed more than seven games.)

Through 40 outings this season, Lillard is averaging a career-best 30.6 points per game. When it comes to get his teammates involved, the former Weber State star is averaging 7.7 assists per game.

You can read Botkin’s full MVP breakdown at CBS Sports.