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Curry, Harden and the Outsiders For NBA MVP


A wild race for the 2015 NBA MVP award just continues to heat up: LeBron, Curry, Harden or Westbrook? It's a four-man race, says Nisar Khan.

Warriors' sensation Steph Curry has propelled into the epicentre of the heated discussion.
Image: USA TODAY Sports / Anthony Gruppuso
Before the passion and the pageantry of the NBA Playoffs, one small matter in terms of the season—but astronomical in it's reservation for the record books—must be dealt with. That of course is the Most Valuable Player award.

With Steph Curry and James Harden firing on all cylinders in the West conference, a rift has been created in the flock of players in contention. But with LeBron James looking to make a late cameo in a bid to claim a fifth career MVP title, and Russell Westbrook delivering the sublime in Oklahoma City, the matter is far from a done deal.

As Golden State Warriors embrace their growing margin at the top spot of the West through Steph Curry's phenomenal shooting capabilities, the Houston Rockets, by virtue of the bearded-one James Harden have clawed their way up to the ascendancy with the potential to better their current 4th place very prominent.

If this was a marathon, Curry and Harden would undoubtedly be the final two on most lists—they still could be. Since it was inaugurated in 1956, no player has unanimously won through selection of all first-place votes - this time could see the biggest split in the award's 59-year history.
Harden has stayed around while a late rally from LeBron could bag him the prize. Image: Getty Images / Bill Baptist
LeBron James took some time to get going in Cleveland, with many adaptations to make and a nuisance of a knee injury to produce some more obstacles. Nevertheless, as the Cavaliers #23 begins to show shades of his multiple MVP-winning seasons, he's taking flight. Could that shift the votes of the panel of sportswriters and broadcasters to equal the "King"'s honours with that off Michael Jordan and Bill Russell?

Another returning from injury but explosive back into action is Russell Westbrook. On Wednesday night he torched the Sixers with a career-high 49 points as part of yet another triple-double, propelling himself into the discussion. With still plenty of basketball to play, it will remain a big task for the Thunder to keep the coveted 8th spot or go better, but if he does then a bet on him for MVP is a wise move—not necessarily safe with the melting pot so diverse—but plays like this will surely help him out.

As the debate circulates around and occupies plenty of column space, the teams and surrounding situations have been brought into the equation. Are Curry's credentials exemplified by his strong teammates? Is James Harden doing more than just taking the Rockets to 4th? Can LeBron do this without Irving and Love? Is Westbrook the only reason the Thunder have an outside chance of making it to the postseason?

Who will win the 2015 NBA MVP award?
Over in the Oracle Arena in Oakland, it's always raining threes. Not only because three-point contest champion Steph Curry is there, but also because Steve Kerr has assembled an incredibly strong team in California. Making up the other half of the feared "Splash Brothers" tandem is Klay Thompson who helped Warriors get that seismic lift-off after he proved his worth for a new contract within games as Warriors set out on an early unbeaten run.

But it's not just Thompson and Curry. The plethora of top-quality players provide some much needed bolstering to the squad. Andrew Bogut has found his commanding voice to dictate the center and is a significant presence in the key. David Lee and Andre Iguadola have epitomised the team-spirit and willingness of the squad, with both able to accept their lesser roles but still influence them crucially.

Behind it is a simple thesis, a flat-out formula to winning in a sport so demanding like the NBA when you're playing some 82 games in the regular season. If you keep fresh rotation, young prospects and put the best on-the-dribble shooter in the league, you're bound to get results, and possibly as far as the top of the West if you get it as right as them.

With the system working so well, the morale so high and the potential so large, it's a platform to thrive for Steph Curry at Golden State. On the contrary, things aren't as easy for Russell Westbrook. It takes no expert to deduce the potential that the team would have had with Kevin Durant healthy.
Westbrook has helped the load for the Thunder. Image: AP / Sue Ogrocki
An injury-plagued campaign for the star-man is keeping him out potentially until the playoffs roll around. A right-foot injury that, should he continue to play, could hinder the rest of his career ruled him out of his inclusion as a candidate in this article. "No doubt" was the phrase the forward re-iterated via Yahoo! Sports, but his impending return won't lift off any of the workload that remains for the now. The 8th seed place could still remain a dogfight especially in the incredibly-competitive West conference.

Leading that dog-fight will indubitably be Russell Westbrook. His protective mask serves as a new evolution for him and 49-points could be another springboard for what is to come. It's not just his talent, it's how he documents it—no finesse needed, just laid-back and ready to put on a show. That could put many MVP votes in his favour. While Westbrook missed a fellow start for many portions of the season, one man that didn't was LeBron James.
Things falling into place for LeBron. Image: USA TODAY Sports / Geoff Burke
A return home from LeBron didn't go as planned, at least from the start. An oscillating run in the season, including a knee-injury, didn't see the "big three" come into fruition—a few months later though, it finally is. Is that enough to take him to the top of the MVP ladder?

One thing is for sure: It's totally worth pondering that question. Pushing his averages up to over 26 points, nearing 6 rebounds and dishing an average of 7 assists per game, LeBron hasn't set the World alight like the typical standard of his, but there are subtle signs that he is beginning to.

His last 4 games have shown that in full colour. With 42 against Golden State—a huge meeting in what many previewed as this season's potential NBA finals—and posting a strong 37 points against Houston, even if he was shaky on the free-throw line. An incident whereby he was the victim would lead to the suspension of the Rockets' James Harden, the other player to this boiling MVP equation.
Fear the beard. Image: NBA.com
One season late, it looks like TNT's 2013-14 season prediction which put Harden as the MVP winner is closer than ever to happening. The sheer basketball played by himself and Curry have shown they have endured the MVP-calibre play for longest, and Harden's true talk has been best demonstrated in the absence of Dwight Howard. 

His achievements haven't been able to record as much success despite a strong position in the tougher of the conference. The Grizzlies shoved them aside on Tuesday by the closest of margins showing he can't do it all, but he can do enough, at least for the MVP award anyway. He's also picked up the Western conference player of the month for both January and February.

Having picked up no injuries either despite the tempo he's played at, a reinvention of himself is working wonders. As for his teammates, while they can get the job done, it's a different in consistency, they are there, they are a good standard, but without Howard out again after another injury involving his knee, the work Harden must put out is significantly increased. Changing himself from supposedly "playing for the foul" to yielding the best of his abilities has helped him achieve that.

There remains time for these candidates to shoot ahead, but the race will be a wild one. For me, it comes down to Harden and Curry, at this moment in time. LeBron and Westbrook could change that opinion in the coming games but for now it's down to those two—but anything can change, there's a lot more time on the court for these guys to shine.

It will not be done until the curtain shuts on the regular season - and who knows where we'll be by then. Can Curry shoot his way to a first win? Can Harden keep refuelling the Rockets? Will LeBron take a fifth title? Or will Westbrook continue to go against the odds? 

For all these questions, it's a waiting game. The time is now for one of these players to stake their claim for the Most Valuable Player award.

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Month in Review: February 2015, featuring best of NBA


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TheSportMatrix | We Live For Sport: Curry, Harden and the Outsiders For NBA MVP
Curry, Harden and the Outsiders For NBA MVP
A wild race for the 2015 NBA MVP award just continues to heat up: LeBron, Curry, Harden or Westbrook? It's a four-man race, says Nisar Khan.
TheSportMatrix | We Live For Sport
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