MILWAUKEE -- AsBucksstar Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped up to the free throw line with 5:46 remaining in the fourth quarter Sunday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, the sold-out crowd at Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum began to serenade him with a familiar tune.
Antetokounmpo was putting the finishing touches on another dominant performance in a 117-104 victory. He scored 33 points on 13-of-17 shooting, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out six assists to outduel Sixers star Joel Embiid and put the stamp on Milwaukee's 56th win of the season, the most in the NBA.
The victory brought the Bucks closer to locking up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference -- they lead theBoston Celticsby two games with four remaining -- and added more fuel to Antetokounmpo's case for a third Most Valuable Player award.
"We certainly feel like Giannis is the MVP," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Best player, best record, what he does on both ends of the court, the rebounding, the blocked shots, the defense, guarding on the perimeter. He does everything: play-makes, attacks, gets to the free throw line. We feel like he's in the conversation and he should be the guy."
Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP, is averaging a career-best 31.1 points on 55% shooting to go along with 11.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 62 games this season.
While he expressed gratitude for being considered among the leaders for the award, Antetokounmpo said he was not focused on trying to win MVP, keeping the emphasis on the Bucks' goals as a team.
"It's a great compliment," Antetokounmpo said after Sunday's game. "I was happy when I won my first two. I'm happy that the last five years, I'm able to be in the conversation. I'm happy that I'm able to be consistent. I'm happy I'm able to help my team be great, but that's the goal. That's the only goal. Keep putting myself in position to help my team be great."
Antetokounmpo won his two MVPs in consecutive seasons (2018-19 and 2019-20) and made enough ballots to finish in the top five in voting each of the previous two seasons. But he has some ground to make up in the race for this year's award.
"[Antetokounmpo] has been MVP too much," Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said of whyhis teammate has been overlooked in the conversation. "He's been doing this too much, I feel like people get bored of it. It's kind of like the [LeBron James] effect. LeBron has done it so many times that people think that it's normal now. And it's not.
"But [Antetokounmpo] makes it look so easy. The first couple years that he got it, it's like, wow, nobody can do [that], and it's still, to this day, nobody can do what he does. He's [on] the No. 1 team, not just in the East, but in the league."
Embiid on Sunday finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a game the Sixers never led. Philadelphia is currently third in the Eastern Conference, and it fell to three games back of Boston for the No. 2 seed.
Embiid leads the NBA in scoring, averaging 33.0 points on 54% shooting with 10.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He has finished second in MVP voting, behind Jokic, each of the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, Jokic missed his third consecutive game on Sunday because of right calf tightness, but he is challenging for his third consecutive MVP award. He is averaging 24.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 9.9 assists for Denver, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The MVP race could be decided in the final week of the season, and with Milwaukee on the verge of wrapping up the league's best record, the Bucks believe Antetokounmpo's name should be mentioned at the forefront of any of those conversations.
"It's honestly like he makes being elite, elite, an all-time great player look routine," Bucks center Brook Lopez told ESPN on Sunday. "Which in itself is impressive. I think people maybe don't hold it against him, but it's voter fatigue. Jokic is a great player, all deserved, Embiid is a great player, all deserved. But it's just kind of the way it is with Giannis. He's so great that that's the reality that comes with it."