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Last season’s MVP race raged on into the final weeks of the regular season with both Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Houston’s James Harden dazzling all the way to the finish.
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In the end Curry won his first KIA MVP and Harden waited until summer to collect his hardware from his peers at the National Basketball Players Association.
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But we don’t have a compelling race a quarter of the way through this season, not with Curry and the Warriors riding the wave of their record 23-0 start (they’ll go for 24-0 tonight in Boston, 7:30 ET on League Pass).
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Sure, Paul George is having a staggering comeback season for the Indiana Pacers Jerseys. Kawhi Leonard has assumed the leading man role for the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron James is doing what he always does, grinding his team to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. And Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are just getting comfortable in a new system in Oklahoma City.
… He’s so far out in front the pack … good luck trying to catch him.
– An Eastern Conference executive on Stephen Curry’s MVP run
And yet none of them can match the pace Curry has set thus far. The NBA’s scoring leader (32.2 points per game on a wicked .529 shooting from the floor and .465 from beyond the 3-point line) is in the midst of what has the makings of one of the greatest seasons in league history.
“If he shut it down for the rest of the regular season after that Christmas game against the Cavaliers I don’t know if anybody could catch him,” joked an Eastern Conference executive when asked if Curry had rendered the MVP race moot shortly after Thanksgiving. “I’m joking, but really he’s so far out in front the pack … good luck trying to catch him.”
Harden has crawled back into the mix on this week’s KIA Race to the MVP Ladder, but is far from making things interesting the way he did in last year’s race.
MVP (Not Named Steph Curry)
We all love Steph, but there have been some great performances which are being overlooked this season.
Even more intriguing is what Curry will cook up next during the Warriors’ historic and revolutionary run. He’s been on his own planet all season, proving that you can actually get better at being, well, the best. And while we all struggle to make sense of how this could be, Curry’s got it figured out.
“Individually, everybody has taken their games up a notch,” he told ESPN The Magazine for their Ideas of the Year issue. “As a team, it’s chemistry. We’re in our second year in Coach Kerr’s system, which he always said is when you get your bearings, not just the playcalls but the principles, the fundamentals of how to get our shots, how to play up-tempo, how to defend. It’s innate now.”
As for whether or not he’s the best in the game right now, he’s got that figured out as well.
“When I’m on the floor, I believe I am, for sure,” he said. “I don’t get into why I’m better than such and such. But that’s my motivation when I work.”
Curry doesn’t have to entertain that conversation, at least not at this point in the season.
There is no intrigue, no uncertainty for anyone paying attention.
His “work” speaks for itself.
The Top 10 in this week’s KIA Race to the MVP Ladder:
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Curry’s 29 Points
Highlights from Stephen Curry as he scores 29 points in the Warriors win over the Pacers.
The Celtics believe they have a trap set for Curry and the Warriors tonight in Boston. The Pacers tried to beat Curry and the Warriors at their chinese nfl jerseys own game_dicKeepLinks12 Tuesday night and got popped. Klay Thompson went off for 39 points, stealing a bit of the spotlight from Curry, who finished with a near triple-double with 29 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds. A quick reminder of just how ridiculous Curry has been on the Warriors’ first five games of their road trip: he’s averaging 33.4 points on 58 percent shooting from the floor and a staggering 55 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
2. Paul George, Indiana Pacers Jerseys
Last week’s ranking: No. 3
Paul George’s 33 Points
Highlights from Paul George as he scores 33 points in the Pacers loss to the Warriors.
Three straight losses by the Pacers have stained George’s work since our last update. He dropped a career-high 48 points on 15-for-27 shooting from the floor (8-for-11 from deep), 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in a loss in Utah. He followed that up with 33 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals in a loss to the Warriors and is averaging 33.6 points in his last seven games. Next up is tonight’s showdown at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against old foe Miami (7 ET, ESPN), who will have to figure out a way to stop a more mature and more polished Paul George than the budding young star they had to deal with in the playoffs a few years ago.
3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys
Last week’s ranking: No. 4
LeBron’s Big Night
LeBron James scores 33 points and 10 rebounds as the Cavaliers beat the Blazers 105-100.
Help is on the way for LeBron in the form of Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, who could make their respective season debuts during the Cavaliers’ two-game road swing through Orlando (tonight) and Boston (next Tuesday). If that means a slight reduction in LeBron’s minutes (he’s averaging 41 in 3 games so far this month), that’s probably a good thing. Then again, the extra minutes have meant supersized production (31.3 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals). So much for that “maintenance plan” they’ve been working on in Cleveland.
4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last week’s ranking: No. 5
Westbrook’s 20 Points, 10 Assists
Russell Westbrook scores 20 points and dishes out ten assists to help the Thunder top the Hawks.
Westbrook was at his diabolical best in the Thunder’s revenge win over Atlanta Thursday night, finishing with 23 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals. The Thunder couldn’t finish against the Hawks last week in Atlanta but got huge efforts from their two biggest stars this time around. Westbrook located his touch from deep during the game, too, knocking down three of his four shots from beyond the 3-point line after shooting just 3-for-13 from that distance in the previous four games. The Thunder don’t rely on his 3-point shooting but every little bit helps.
5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Leonard On Fire From Deep
Watch Kawhi Leonard hits seven 3-pointers in a victory over Memphis.
A bad sandwich kept Leonard out of uniform against Philadelphia Monday and he didn’t look like himself in his return game, scoring 9 points in Wednesday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors. He will, however, have a great opportunity for a much-needed bounce back effort tonight when the Spurs host the Los Angeles Lakers in the south Texas stop of the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour. In four games this month, Leonard’s scoring numbers have dipped (16.0 on 42.6 shooting compared to 21.8 on 51.8 percent shooting last month), so don’t expect him to get sentimental with Kobe in town.
6. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last week’s ranking: No. 7
Nightly Notable: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant has 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to lead Oklahoma City over Atlanta.
Durant recorded his seventh career triple-double (25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) in the Thunder’s win over the Hawks Thursday. Billy Donovan’s favorite part had to be Durant and Russell Westbrook combining for six assists before either one of the All-Stars, two of the top six scorers in the league, made a basket. Durant could easily average 30 a night if he felt the need to chase numbers, but he’s showing off his entire arsenal (9.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.4 steals in his last five games) and playing with the framework of Donovan’s system.
7. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Last week’s ranking: No. 8
Arena Link: Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry joins GameTime via arena link after a 19-point performance in a victory over San Antonio.
Lowry had a career night (41 points and six 3-pointers) and did everything in his power to outduel Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. He followed that up with 27 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in a Monday win over the Lakers and finished with 19 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds as he and DeMar DeRozan led the way in Wednesday’s defeat of the San Antonio Spurs. Lowry’s breakout campaign a year ago has given way to an encore performance that suggest his best is yet to come, which is remarkable for a player 10 years into his career.
8. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls Jerseys
Last week’s ranking: No. 6
Butler’s Career-High 36 Points
Jimmy Butler scores a career-high 36 points on 12-24 shooting and grabs seven rebounds in a loss to Boston.
Butler continues to grind away on and off the floor. And whatever identity issues the Bulls are working out, Butler is having no trouble doing his thing, even when his shot fails him the way it did in Thursday’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers (when he shot just 4-for-14 from the floor and finished with 14 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals). Butler’s forcing the action the way at No. 1 option is supposed to and he’s seeing the results of that aggressiveness on offense at the free throw line, averaging a career-best 9.2 attempts and making 84.8 percent from the line.
9. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Last week’s ranking: No. 9
Muscle It In
Blake Griffin battles with Taj Gibson for position and hits the hook shot.
Griffin saw his night end early against the Bulls Thursday night after his swipe at a Taj Gibson shot ended up being a clothesline of Gibson, resulting in a Flagrant 2 and automatic ejection. Griffin and the Clippers remain an easy target this season given the expectations and their struggles, but they are very much in the mix in the Western Conference. Griffin’s not scoring the way he did in the first few weeks of the season, and it probably wasn’t realistic to think he would keep that up. His overall production, though (he’s working on a streak of four straight double-doubles), keeps him among the league’s elite.
10. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Last week’s ranking: Not ranked
Nightly Notable: James Harden
James Hardes scores 42 points on 13-23 shooting, grabs nine boards with seven assists to lead Houston over Washington.
As disastrous as things have been early on this season in Houston, James Harden’s ability to will these Rockets to victory on any given night is still there. After an awful 10-point, 9-assist, 7-turnover performance in a Tuesday loss in Brooklyn the next night he turned in a 42-point, 9-rebound, 7-assist, 2-block, 2-steal effort in to lead the Rockets to a win in Washington. If the playoffs began today, Harden and the bipolar Rockets would make the cut, just barely. They’ve won four of five heading into Saturday night’s home game against the Lakers. Harden, second to Stephen Curry in scoring, has averaged 26.4 points, 8 assists, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks during that stretch.
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