Nikola Jokic Now Favorite in Updated 2021 NBA MVP Odds as LeBron James Out Indefinitely With High Ankle Sprain


LeBron James holding ball with right hand

LeBron James is out indefinitely after suffering a high ankle sprain Saturday against the Hawks. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire)

  • LeBron James suffers high ankle sprain in Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks
  • Nikola Jokic shoots to top of NBA MVP odds at +115
  • Read below to see the updated MVP odds and who you should be targeting

The Los Angeles Lakers are now in worst-case scenario mode.

LeBron James left Saturday’s game with a high ankle sprain, and the team announced he’s out indefinitely. That leaves LA sans superstar as Anthony Davis is still a few weeks away with an Achilles injury.

While the Lakers will try to keep in the thick of the top of the brutal West, James’ MVP status in this, his 18th year, has taken a hit.

NBA MVP Odds

Player Odds
Nikola Jokic +115
LeBron James +500
Joel Embiid +550
Giannis Antetokounmpo +750
James Harden +1100
Stephen Curry +1600
Luka Doncic +1800
Damian Lillard +2100
Kawhi Leonard +2400

Odds taken on March 16th from FanDuel

James has dropped from +160 all the way down to +500, though still the second-best odds. Is the 36-year-old able to recover and still claim his fifth MVP award, or should you be targeting other players?

James Out Indefinitely

Early in the second quarter against the Hawks, forward Solomon Hill reached for what he believed to be a loose ball, and fell into James. James went down immediately, screaming while clutching at his right ankle. He was able to limp off on his own, tighten his shoelace and remain in the game.

After hitting a three-pointer, he left after a Lakers timeout and didn’t return.

Thankfully, early X-rays came back negative. But this sort of injury is different than just a regular ankle sprain, which James has done many times before, and that timeline for return could be as long as three months to recover, depending on how he heals.

James had turned the sliding Lakers around, after Davis went down with an injury on February 14. Coming out of the all-star break, the Lakers were 3-0 and James had re-established himself as the MVP favorite.

Who Are the Favorites?

That leaves Nikola Jokic as the current betting favorite at +115, but after a West Finals appearance last year, Denver has been an underwhelming fifth seed in the West. Still,  you can’t deny Jokic’s rise: he’s a career 17.9 scorer that’s up to 27 a night, while adding a career high in rebounds (11.2) and assists (8.6).

But there are also new names that have emerged as the season moves to the home stretch.

Perhaps the emerging star to keep an eye on is Dame Lillard in Portland, whose odds somehow lengthened from +1800 to +2100. The Blazers’ star is single-handedly raising the oft-injured Blazers’ roster to the upper tier in the conference.

After the Blazers dropped four straight to end February, they’ve gone 8-2 in March, and Lillard is averaging 33.2 points and 6.8 assists, while drilling a staggering 41.3% from three.

In the East, James Harden has taken the reins of the franchise, with Kevin Durant still out with a bad hammy, and Kyrie Irving moving into the off-guard spot. The Beard leads in the NBA with 11.2 assists per game, while still pumping in better than 25 points and eight rebounds a night. He’s led the Nets to 14 wins in their last 16 games, and his odds have shortened from +1400 to +1100.

Don’t Count Them Out

Don’t look now, but Luka Doncic is right there. He’s got Dallas in the top-8, averaging 28.8 points 9.3 rebounds and 8.4 assists, while lifting his 3-point shooting up to a respectable 35.5% after a brutal struggle to start the year.

And Giannis Antetokounmpo has come alive to push the Bucks to the upper half of the East battle, leading them to wins in 10 of 11, while averaging 29.1 points, 11.8 rebounds and 6.2 assists. His odds have shortened nearly in half, from +1400 to +750. But Giannis’ biggest foe is himself, and it’s hard to say he’s been better than the Giannis that’s won this award two years in a row.

What’s the Best Bet?

The Lakers’ main concern is the long game, and having a healthy James (and Davis) back healthy for the playoffs is priority No. 1. This will likely take him out of the MVP running, a similar position fellow candidate Joel Embiid finds himself in, as a hyperextended knee has him on the shelf for at least two weeks.

For my money, it’s a three-way race between Lillard, Harden and Luka. Because Durant will return at some point, Harden’s case may take a hit, and Doncic needs to take Dallas on quite a run to get into a top-4 placing, where almost all MVP winners reside. Lillard is in range, and a hot streak and Lakers slide could put Portland into a top-4 spot. He’s the best value of the bunch.

The pick: Lillard (+2100)