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Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

LeBron James led the Lakers to season-defining wins over the NBA-best Bucks and rival Clippers this weekend, all while playing lockdown defense on reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard — the two strongest challengers to his throne in recent years.

Why it matters: James' weekend statement may have changed the course of the MVP race, which Antetokounmpo — who will miss at least two games with a sprained knee — has been heavily favored to win for months.

The big picture: If James leapfrogs Antetokounmpo in the season's final weeks, he will clinch his fifth league MVP, tying him with Michael Jordan for second all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six).

By the numbers: James, who became the third player in NBA history to reach 34,000 points, is on pace to average 25+ points per game for a record 16th season. The next closest are Jordan, Karl Malone, and Kobe Bryant — all with 12 such seasons.

What to watch: A Lakers-Clippers playoff series — which has never happened — would be a blessing from the basketball gods. But as yesterday proved, the Lakers would have home-court advantage in all seven games, underscoring the Clippers' need for their own home.

Go deeper: The average NBA team is now worth $2.1 billion

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

7 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.