Analysis: Doncic, Jokic set the pace; wild MVP race looming

Dec 27, 2022, 8:00 PM | Updated: Dec 28, 2022, 10:02 am
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic reacts to call during the first quarter of an NBA basketball gam...

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic reacts to call during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks in Dallas, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

Luka Doncic had 60 points and 21 rebounds and 10 assists on Tuesday, a stat line never seen before in NBA history. Nikola Jokic had 41 points and 15 rebounds and 15 assists on Sunday, a stat line that was managed on only two other occasions.

Two amazing games without a single dunk.

The two best players in the NBA right now — and likely the current frontrunners in the MVP race — do not play with LeBron James’ strength and force, or with Michael Jordan’s acrobatic creativity, or with Wilt Chamberlain’s ability to just overmatch anyone who dared to stand near his path. They do not put on the shooting and dribbling display of a Stephen Curry, or glide from one end of the floor to the other like Giannis Antetokounmpo, or make scoring look as easy as Kevin Durant does.

Doncic and Jokic do it differently. They dominate by making the game get played at their pace. They do what they want, when they want, almost always making the smartest play. Play off them, and they shoot the midrange or the 3. Play up on them, and they’ll use their bulldozing ability to create just enough space for a move or the right pass.

“He’s special,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said of Doncic’s latest masterpiece. “The history of the game is written by the players, and that was written again … Luka doing something that’s never been done before. It’s hard to do.”

Forget the numbers for a second. Consider how Doncic got Tuesday’s game into overtime. The Mavericks were down by nine with 27 seconds left in regulation. No team in the last 26 years — since play-by-play records of games began getting tracked digitally –had outscored an opponent by nine points in the last 27 seconds of a fourth quarter, according to SportRadar.

The Mavs did it, with a Luka Miracle finishing it off. Down by three with 4.2 seconds left in regulation and at the foul line, Doncic made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second. The Knicks botched two tries at controlling the rebound, Doncic leaped for the ball and shot a 10-footer all in the same motion. It went in, the game went to overtime and history was made.

“I guess I was kind of lucky,” Doncic said.

Being prepared to take advantage of an opportunity is how players make their own luck. That’s also how 60 points and 21 rebounds and 10 assists happen – it isn’t getting lucky. Nor was a 41-15-15 effort by Jokic to get a Christmas win over Phoenix.

It’s hard to win the MVP award, harder still to win it twice and Jokic is going to find out how difficult it is to win it three consecutive years. Doc Rivers has said many times that players like Jordan or James would have more MVP’s if not for voter fatigue and people simply getting tired of the same person winning every year. He’s right, and Jokic will probably have to deal with some of that when the ballots get sent in next April.

But he’s obviously earned serious consideration. So has Doncic, obviously. So has Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, whose monster season so far includes a 59-point, 11-rebound, eight-assist, seven-block game in November. So has Jayson Tatum, who has Boston looking very much like a team poised to win an 18th NBA championship.

The numbers are just absurd, everywhere. Scoring is up in the league, again. Entering Wednesday there were 51 players averaging more than 20 points per game. More than half of them won’t be going to the All-Star Game, because there’s only 24 spots in said game.

On average, somebody has a 40-point game every night the NBA plays now. There have been 70 such games so far this season. There were 119 in the entirety of the 2021-22 regular season; this season, the league is on pace for 168 of them this year. Big nights have never seemed to come this easily.

And Doncic and Jokic are making them look easier than anyone else.

They each have seven triple-doubles already; nobody else has more than three. Doncic is averaging 33.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 8.8 assists; since assists started getting tracked, nobody has ever ended a season averaging so much in all three categories. Jokic goes into Wednesday averaging 25.3 points, 11 rebounds and 9.5 assists; only Oscar Robertson has ended a year with those kind of averages.

The season isn’t even half over yet. The fun is just starting. Others are in the race, others may still get into the race, but Doncic and Jokic have already put the league on notice that the MVP battle this year might be one for the ages.


Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)


AP NBA: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]
26 days ago
Joe Jarzynka...
Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]
26 days ago
FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...
Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]
26 days ago
Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...
Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]
26 days ago
FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...
Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]
26 days ago
FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...
Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]
26 days ago
Analysis: Doncic, Jokic set the pace; wild MVP race looming