For most of the season, especially the last half, the NBA MVP discussions have centered around three players - Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard.
Proponents of Kawhi point to his improved scoring output, superior defensive skills, and stats at both ends of the floor. Fans of Westbrook quickly point to him averaging a triple double, the first player to do that since Oscar Robertson while breaking The Big O's record of 41 triple doubles in a single season. Fans of Houston's James Harden, however, seem to be drowned out by Westbrook fans, especially after the dynamic guard's record-setting performance against the Nuggets last weekend.
But all that changed in the Rockets regular season finale last night.
Before we proceed, let's look back to Sunday, when Harden was asked about whether wins should matter in the race for League MVP.
“I think that’s the most important thing,” Harden said. “I thought winning was what this is about — period. I’m not going to get in-depth with all that, but I thought winning was the most important thing. If you set your team up in a position to have a chance, at the ultimate goal, then that’s the most important thing.”
Some thought the Bearded One was throwing shade at his friend and former teammate Russell Westbrook. In reality they should be looking towards the Rocket's GM, Daryl Morely, for the possible inspiration behind the question and answer as his Twitter game got serious over the weekend.
AAU...All-Star game...Draft Lottery...2017 MVP race. Basketball is losing its focus on winning— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) April 8, 2017
And the #1 player on this list has the 3rd best record in the NBA https://t.co/XqtOxIgzUm— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) April 8, 2017
More context: '62 MVP #1 Bill Russell (60 Wins-20 Losses),#2 Wilt Chamberlain (49 W-31 L), #3 Oscar Robertson (43 W-37 L, avg triple double) https://t.co/2wRKI4JfFT— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) April 9, 2017
Morey's fusillade of tweets in support of his All Star was completely justifiable. While Westbrook's record-setting season of 31.9 points, 10.4 assists, 10.7 rebounds with 42 triple doubles is amazing and elevates him to the front of the MVP race, Harden has equal claim to the trophy, especially after punctuating his own NBA record-making season last night against the Timberwolves.
2,000 points, 900 assists and 600 rebounds, all while leading the league in assists. This gives Harden a season average of 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 assists, leading a Houston team that finished with an overall record of 55-27 to a #3 seed in the upcoming Western Conference Playoffs.
By comparison, Westbrook balled his way to a triple-double season average while leading the Thunder to a record of 47-35 and the sixth seed in the playoffs. It appeared that he locked down the MVP award after they beat the Nuggets, especially after his last second, 36 footer to win the game for the Thunder.
But after last night, maybe it's not a lock after all.
It's interesting to see how the paths of Harden and Westbrook continue to intersect. From being teammates, to setting NBA records, leading the league in different stats and even playing the entire season despite injuries and the "rest" syndrome affecting theNBA, these two record setting guards have elevated their games and teams this season.
With so much in common, it's no wonder that they'll be facing each other in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, maybe just as much for advancement as the NBA MVP award.