Another winning performance from DeMar DeRozan has NBA observers, and the league at large, paying more attention to his once-unlikely candidacy for NBA MVP than ever before.
Amplifying his belief in DeRozan as only he can, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN's First Take said on Friday morning's broadcast that no player, not even once-perceived MVP favorite Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, should be put ahead of the Chicago Bull in talks regarding MVP.
DeRozan compiled his eighth straight 35-point game in a 112-108 victory over Atlanta Thursday night, scoring his last five points in the game's final minute to secure the win. DeRozan also extended his streak of shooting at least 50 percent in those games, that combination of stats now a new NBA record.
"I have DeMar DeRozan neck-and-neck with Joel Embiid at this particular moment," Smith said. "No one can be definitively placed above DeMar DeRozan for league MVP honors."
Smith further validates DeRozan's MVP argument by citing the Bulls overall record, which once again has them alone atop the Eastern Conference at 39-21, and that DeRozan is doing his work in "the house that MJ built," referencing the United Center and doing things that even Derrick Rose didn't do in his 2010-11 MVP campaign.
Also on the show was commentator and former NBA champion Kendrick Perkins, who spoke to the wide openness of the MVP race over the course of the season given several serious candidates across the NBA, but also said he currently gives DeRozan a "slight edge" over Embiid as front-runner.
"The Chicago Bulls I believe are on a six-game winning streak, (DeRozan) has doing this with an injured Zach Lavine, no Lonzo Ball, no Alex Caruso, he has been balling," Perkins said. "I haven't seen a guy get buckets like this, at an efficient level, from the mid-range area, since Michael Jordan."
While this is Smith's most definitive statement towards DeRozan as an MVP, he has geared up his praise for him in recent weeks, including mentioning DeRozan as the most "underappreciated" NBA All-Star ahead of last week's All-Star Game.