NBA Power Rankings: Rockets can't be stopped, but does that lock in James Harden's MVP?
The Rockets are on fire, and my money is on Durant to join LeBron and Harden in the MVP race
Having a discussion over who should be the MVP of the season is always peculiar to me this time of year. Mainly because it's way too early. Yet, it all feels so very absolute in the moment. Right now, the only two people who could possibly win the award are James Harden or LeBron James. However, remember in October when Giannis Antetokounmpo was a sure-fire winner, or a couple seasons ago when it was Anthony Davis' award to lose? Things change over the course of a season.
Yet, it's a conversation we can't stop having. In reality, the discussion is more prevalent around who is playing their best ball in that portion of the season and it's an overall harmless discussion to have. However, it's around this time of the year where the names that stick out start to shine a little brighter. Even if James or Harden slip up a little in January they will still be in the conversation, because they've been that great up to this point.
What will be interesting to see is who's able to join those two in the race. My money is on Kevin Durant. The Warriors' star might be on the most super of superteams, but what he's doing right now while other players sit out with injuries is truly impressive. He's become a fearsome rim protector on one end and their go-to scorer on the other. If Durant is going to play like this all season then, then he has to be in the conversation, even if Stephen Curry comes back from an injured ankle and tears it up. Durant has just been that good.
|1||Rockets||Here's a wrinkle for a team that's won 13 games in a row: James Harden says he's fighting through pain right now. He was very banged up towards the end of last season, which were part of the Rockets' second-round exit.||--||6-7|
|2||Warriors||Forget the MVP talk for a second and consider Kevin Durant's evolution. He's been one of their most impactful defenders -- putting up a career-high 2.1 blocks per game -- while also pouring in buckets like always.||--||12-3|
|3||Cavaliers||Isaiah Thomas will be back in January! Meanwhile, the Cavs are starting a new winning streak after their 13-game run was snapped. They're setting themselves up for a really intriguing Christmas showdown with the Warriors if both teams are missing key players to injury.||1||2-12|
|4||Raptors||It's just hard to get around how different they look and feel this time around. The playoffs are what really matters at this point for a team that's been good year after year, but it's hard to not get excited watching them beat the pants off of everybody in the regular season.||2||12-3|
|5||Celtics||The gruesome loss to the Bulls also showed the value in Kyrie Irving. If one game led to that kind of result, then what would an extended time out mean?||--||8-6|
|6||Spurs||Kawhi Leonard is back in a limited capacity. He's yet to break 20 minutes, and both games ended up being losses. Then, when he sat out a game, the Spurs won. Could Leonard be the cause of the Spurs issues???? No, of course not. That's ridiculous.||3||7-5|
|7||Trail Blazers||Their offense is starting to find itself, but the defense is beginning to slip a little. They appear to be settling in as a team that will more than likely beat bad teams, but they don't really have a statement win yet.||9||10-3|
|8||Knicks||The Knicks are tied for fourth place in the East, just knocked off former teammate Carmelo Anthony and are on a four game winning streak. There's definitely a bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to them in terms of which Knicks team is going to show up, but they've maintained while those around them fall off.||11||4-11|
|9||Wizards||John Wall is back, but he's struggling to re-adjust himself scoring wise. He's not shooting well, but Washington probably sees that a happy problem since he's at least playing again.||--||5-9|
|10||Pacers||The season of Victor Oladipo continues. Whether it's a burst of scoring, a highlight dunk, or doing push-ups in the game interview, Oladipo and the Pacers have become must-watch television at this point.||3||8-6|
|11||Nuggets||Nikola Jokic is back, and the Nuggets did a solid job of surviving without him. They did go 3-4, but they got some great minutes out of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. It has to be encouraging to know that they can still win games without their stars.||6||9-5|
|12||Timberwolves||The Wolves are frustrating, because it feels like they should be better than they are. Watching them doesn't feel rewarding and they look way worse than they actually are. They also have one of the NBA's top offenses and are on pace to win somewhere around 48 games. A lot of criticism against them is valid, but they shouldn't be a victim of expectation.||2||6-9|
|13||Pistons||They put a little scare into themselves when they gave up a 19-0 run to the Magic in the fourth quarter. Just an example of how the Pistons have cooled off since their hot start -- they had a seven-game losing streak before running off three wins in a row -- yet are still one of the East's better teams.||1||7-6|
|14||Pelicans||As the Pelicans offense rises their defense continues to sink. They've fallen to one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA and that's an issue they'll have to solve at some point. For now, they sit on the edge of the playoffs which should be the end goal for them this season.||3||7-7|
|15||Bucks||Oh, hey, the bad Bucks are back. As Milwaukee started to get everything together, they went off and lost three straight. Just a reminder that young teams need to learn consistency.||7||10-4|
|16||Heat||Miami has quietly won four of their last five. However, those four wins all came against teams with winning percentages below .400, while the loss came to a team over .500. Wins against anybody are good, but it's too early to celebrate right now.||2||6-8|
|17||Thunder||The Thunder are finally figuring out their identity -- and doing it against good teams. When they play bad teams like the Nets or Hornets, though, they lose. So their problems aren't quite solved yet.||5||9-5|
|18||Jazz||Utah is skidding again, and Rudy Gobert is hurt again. They survived pretty well without him the first time thanks to Derrick Favors and Ekpe Udoh, but can they do it again? If they play well without him again does that mean something more or is it just a coincidence?||5||7-6|
|19||76ers||Philadelphia has very quietly been losing a lot. They're won two of their last seven and some of those losses are to teams they should beat like the Suns and Lakers. However, they've also lost in overtime twice, which is a toss up. Just a reminder that, as exciting as Philadelphia is, this is going to take time.||4||9-7|
|20||Bulls||The Bulls have won five straight. Yes, you read that right. The Bulls, who were once so clearly the worst team in the NBA that even the imploding Grizzlies looked better, are showing signs of improvement. Keep an eye on Kris Dunn. Defensively, he looks incredible right now.||8||4-11|
|21||Lakers||For a while, the Lakers had a top-five defense, but it's slipped to ninth. They're still competitive, but they haven't managed to do much we don't already know about them in terms of winning games.||1||7-6|
|22||Nets||Jahlil Okafor made his Nets debut in a loss to the Raptors. He played 23 minutes and scored 10 points. That also happens to be the only game he's played with them since being traded.||1||6-9|
|23||Kings||Now that the Dec. 15 deadline has passed, the majority of players who signed a contract in free agency can be traded. George Hill is a popular name in those discussions, considering his struggles in Sacramento so far.||1||8-6|
|24||Mavericks||Dallas spoiled the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard return game with a win at home. Honestly, if it hadn't been for the dreadful start, this Mavericks team would look way better than they are. They're competitive and they steal wins. That's about all you can ask out of a bad team.||1||5-8|
|25||Hornets||Charlotte is in trouble. The injuries are a thing, but they just can't win games right now against anybody. Steve Clifford is out with an illness and this team isn't the Warriors. They need their head coach back, all respect to Stephen Silas.||1||7-7|
|26||Clippers||Milos Teodosic is back, and while he isn't shooting very well, he's still one of the most exciting players the Clippers have right now.||1||8-5|
|27||Magic||Orlando has been battling through a lot of injuries. At one point they were missing five rotation players. Aaron Gordon came back from a concussion only to immediately go out again with a calf injury. On the plus side, Jonathan Isaac is back again and has been a phenomenal defender for a rookie.||4||7-8|
|28||Suns||Troy Daniels has quietly had a solid season for the Suns after his struggles with shooting the ball last year. He probably doesn't have too difficult a time getting open on the NBA's second fastest team.||2||2-11|
|29||Grizzlies||Marc Gasol says he won't demand a trade, but he would be open to one if Memphis approaches him with one. It's hard to know what the Grizzlies will do from here, when they fired a coach for Gasol and are still waiting for Mike Conley to return.||--||8-5|
|30||Hawks||The Hawks are the worst rebounding team in the NBA, which is interesting because Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins are both putting up very solid per-minute rebounding numbers.||--||3-11|
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