We're nearly there. Less than three weeks to go before the end of the regular season, and the MVP race is coming down the home stretch. James Harden was on top last week and has held our top spot for a long time now. However, Stephen Curry is coming in hot and there's always a chance there's a shake-up if something drastic happens.
1. James Harden (Last week: 1)
Harden didn't do anything all that outlandish over the last week. Instead, he continued to put up solid performances while the Rockets win games short-handed. Houston lost to Toronto Monday night, but that was only thanks to a career night from DeMar DeRozan, who scored 42 points.
Harden put up 31 points in the loss and he averaged 28 points and seven assists in Houston's last four games. Houston momentarily had a hold on the No. 2 seed in the rugged Western Conference despite all of its injuries. That team success amid adversity is a huge part of Harden's MVP case.
2. Stephen Curry (Last week: 3)
While I have Curry No. 2, you'd get little argument from me if he won the award. He has been consistently great on the league's most dominant team over the course of the entire season, and he's only getting stronger as we wind down the year.
Curry is averaging 24 points and eight assists, with a shooting line of 48 percent from the field, 51 percent from three and 95 percent from the free throw line in March. Over the last five games, he's averaging 29 and seven with a shooting line of 55/61/100. Pure flames.
For the season, Curry is third in the NBA in PER behind only Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. He's first in ESPN's Real Plus-Minus stat and second in WAR. He's second in Win Shares, first in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes, second in Box Plus/Minus, first in Offensive Box Plus/Minus and first in VORP, per Basketball-Reference.com. This is just a lot of ways of saying Curry has been amazing and has had a huge impact.
We can go even further, of course. Curry is first in raw plus/minus by 62 points over his teammate, Klay Thompson. The on/off splits also paint quite the picture of Curry's impact. The Warriors have outscored opponents by over 17 points per 100 possessions with him on the court this season, per NBA.com. When he has been on the bench, Golden State has outscored opponents by less than a point per 100 possessions.
Curry has improved his defense in addition to reaching new heights on offense, and his and the Warriors' overall dominance make him a worthy candidate. I have Harden over Curry simply because of how Harden has carried his team to an elite record despite a litany of key injuries.
3. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
Westbrook dips one spot thanks in part to two losses (and one incredibly ugly one) and a dive in his offensive efficiency. The Thunder were mutilated by the Spurs last Wednesday, and Westbrook didn't make a single field goal after the first quarter. Oklahoma City then lost to Utah in its next game, and although the point guard had 37 points, eight rebounds and six assists, he also recorded nine turnovers and the Thunder blew a double-digit point lead.
It's tough to throw too much shade in Westbrook's direction considering the Thunder's situation, as Kevin Durant is out for the season and Serge Ibaka is still out with a knee injury. Russ is going to make mistakes, and he's going to be forced into tough shots. But with Curry playing so well on a team crushing everybody, the switch had to be made.
SB Nation presents: Russell Westbrook’s most ridiculous highlight moments
4. LeBron James (Last week: 4)
When you're averaging 26 points, seven assists and six boards and having a down season, you know you're an amazing basketball player. James set the bar so high for himself over the past few years that it was nearly impossible to get much better. The guy shot almost 57 percent from the field each of the last two seasons, which is insane for a player at his position.
James is down at 49 percent shooting this season, so he's going to break an eight-year streak in which his field goal percentage went up. He has also had a penchant for high turnover games this season, including multiple ones with nine.
But in the grand scheme of things, those are minor quibbles. Ever since James returned from a hiatus due to some nagging injuries in January, the Cavaliers have run roughshod over the league, going 29-8 with a 16-game home winning streak. It should be little surprise that Cleveland has been at its best (at least offensively) with James on the court.
Since that return, the Cavaliers have an offensive rating of nearly 115 with James on the floor, per NBA.com. That's the best mark on the team, and only Timofey Mozgov has a better net rating while on the court in that span. However, James is the only player on Cleveland with a negative net rating while on the bench during that stretch.
There's little chance James wins MVP, as that slow start to the season helped torpedo those chances. But for the last two-plus months, the four-time MVP has as good a claim as any.
5. Anthony Davis (Last week: 5)
The Pelicans are still alive in the West playoff race, and if Davis and Co. somehow sneak in, that would boost his MVP candidacy. I'm not sure it would be enough to vault him to victory, but it could easily get him into the top three, especially considering all the injuries New Orleans has suffered this season.
If the Pelicans are going to have any chance at a playoff berth, wins on the road in the next two games against the Lakers and Kings are a must. After that, the closing stretch is much tougher, with six of the last seven games coming against West teams currently over .500.
6. Chris Paul (Last week: 6)
Paul and the Clippers keep on rolling, having won seven straight games. The point guard has double-doubles in five of those seven games and he has shot at least 55 percent in five of those seven games as well.
Paul is averaging 22 points and 11 assists in March, and he's nearly at 50/40/90 for the month, as his 89.8 percent from the free throw line is the only thing that's juuuust short. While not all the stats bear it out, this has arguably been Paul's finest season in Los Angeles.
Next four: LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, Dwyane Wade
SB Nation presents: Nick Young on how he went from wannabe to Swaggy P