Detroit Pistons big man Jon Leuer didn't see a tiebreak…

Detroit Pistons big man Jon Leuer didn’t see a tiebreaker as necessary, either. Harden’s heroics, surrounded by a roster churned both by the acquisition and then release of 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony as well as a slew of injuries, was enough. Nor did he discount Harden’s league-leading point production because head coach Mike D’Antoni gives him the greenest of lights to shoot. “To me, it’s Harden,” Leuer said. “People say his numbers are inflated because of D’Antoni’s system, and he dribbles the air out of the ball, but carrying his team every night no matter who is out there, you can’t go against that. The team thing does factor in, which is why Giannis has to be considered. But the knock was the Rockets were a lower seed, and now they’re one of the top four in the West. I just don’t see how it’s not James.”

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But for the bulk of the players B/R spoke with, that person is Harden. Not only for what he is, but for what Antetokounmpo isn't quite yet. It's not that Antetokounmpo isn't a formidable opponent. His speed, length, hops and handle make him capable of maneuvering over or around almost anyone, often culminating with a ferocious dunk. All of that, combined with his work ethic, makes him a defensive riddle to solve as well. But players know defense requires a team effort to succeed, and offensive proficiency can be as much of a reflection of a team's system. They place the most value on the ability to score whenever and however a team needs to win. For all of Antetokounmpo's talent, that's where they see him falling short. "Late game, Giannis doesn't have the ball in his hands to win," Magic guard Evan Fournier said. "For an MVP, that's kind of hard."
Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins and Blazers guard and Steph's brother, Seth Curry, made the lone cases for Antetokounmpo, but they did it in the abstract way more often heard from fans or media members. Cousins valued Antetokounmpo's consistency over Harden being great "in spurts." "[Harden]'s been on one hell of a spurt of late, but if we start giving it based on spurts..."
Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari was quick to give the nod to Harden. Again, it was Harden's ability to get a basket whenever needed that mattered most. "They're different players," Gallinari said. "James is an amazing scorer. He can score in every way imaginable. He doesn't have weaknesses. To have the Rockets doing so well in the West, I would vote for him."
Well, let’s talk then. So I always love it when we have a story that changes so drastically within the context of a season, when we think one thing in November and December and then it’s completely different by the end. It’s insane how you guys have turned this around. Mike D'Antoni: "It was teetering. It was teetering. I mean you’re 11-14 (on Dec. 8), and at 25 games everybody usually says you can tell what kind of team you have – and we’re 11-14. And we hadn’t sustained Clint (Capela) missing 15 (games from mid-January to mid-February) and CP missing (17 from mid-December to late January) after that, so for me – and you can write it – that’s why James is the MVP. I’m telling you, he took that, and without CP, without Clint, with us changing almost half the roster, and took us where we have a chance to be third. Nobody else could do that. I’m telling you right now. Nobody."
Do you think (the MVP race) is close at all? Mike D'Antoni: "No, I don’t. I don’t." It’s a two-man race… Mike D'Antoni: "And I’ve got to tell you, (Giannis) is really good – reaaallyy good. And they’ve got the best record in the league, and that’s all good. So I’m not knocking him. I’m making the case for my guy, but take that and put it away. Your (Rockets) record is not quite as good as (the Bucks’, but) we’re right there. And (Harden) has done it with a complete change of roster. And again, his other carrying partner (Paul) was hurt for (17) games. Clint, his other guy, was out for 15 games. I don’t know. And he played every night. It’s hard for him to miss a game. He’s playing (36.4) minutes a game. He’s doing it all. I don’t know, I just don’t see the other argument. I do because of the record, and I do because of how good he is – and he’s really good."
It also should be noted that while Antetokonmpo has improved in some statistical categories from last season, he has slipped in several as well. He’s shooting an anemic 24 percent from 3-point range, down from 30 percent a season ago; his free throw percentage is 72, down from 76, and his turnovers are up, 3.9 a game this season compared to 3.0 last season. Yet, nobody questions whether Antetokounmpo is a certifiable MP candidate. He and Harden are clearly in a two-player race for the coveted award. “It’s either Giannis or Harden,’’ said a longtime NBA scout, who has seen both players perform up close on numerous occasions this season. “I hate Harden’s game; I just hate it. But, as much as I don’t want to say this, Harden deserves to be MVP again. He’s just had one hell of a season.’’
Giannis​ Antetokounmpo doesn’t​ like​ it.​ He​ doesn’t want to talk about it.​ Unfortunately, for​ him,​ it’s the​ only​ thing​​ people want to discuss with him at the moment. Who is the 2018-19 NBA Most Valuable Player? Is it him? Or is it Houston Rockets guard and 2017-18 MVP James Harden? For months, Antetokounmpo has stressed that he tries not to think about the award and has repeatedly declined the opportunity to discuss it, but he wanted to make a few things clear in a recent chat with The Athletic.
“I’m not going to say it doesn’t mean anything to me,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s one of my goals as a player to one day be the MVP of this league, but I’m not going to go into the discussions. ‘Giannis said this. James said that. Paul George said whatever. (Nikola) Jokic said this.’ I’m not going to go in a back-and-forth discussion. I don’t want to say anything.”
As Antetokounmpo has argued the entire season, if he does his job — playing his best basketball and leading the Milwaukee Bucks to the league’s best record, something he’s currently doing — it’s going to take care of itself. “Obviously, we have eight games left. We have 55 wins. We might be able to finish the season with 63 wins, if we play the right way,” Antetokounmpo said. “Because OK, the regular season’s over. Even though I’m the MVP or I’m not the MVP or whatever, I don’t care, there’s going to be playoffs.” “I want to get out of the first round. I want to go to the Eastern Conference Finals. I want to go to the Finals. There’s more to this than just the MVP.”
Matt Velazquez: More Alvin Gentry on Giannis: "The hunger that he has to play & the force that he plays with is 2nd to none in the league, really. Everybody talks about the MVP voting; he’s the best player on the best team. ... To me it would be hard not to vote for him for MVP.”
Lakers Nation: Luke Walton was asked today if he has an opinion on the MVP race between Giannis and Harden. "No I don't. I've seen a lot more of Harden, but really diving into tape of Milwaukee yesterday, Giannis is having a pretty good season, too. They're a really good team."
Curry’s 28.6 points per game and 44 percent shooting from 3-point range are his highest marks since his unanimous MVP campaign in 2016. “Everybody can come up with certain narratives,” he says on the topic of the MVP award. “It’s clear who the best guys in the league are, who’s helping the team win. Comparing numbers and styles … beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t know why I can’t [win again], but I feel confident in knowing what type of player I am. I’m sure KD would say the same thing.”
While players acknowledge Harden's mastery, some are put off by the style: both the way the Rockets play and the way Harden expertly uses the current rules to his advantage. The enforcement of freedom of movement rules and the relaxing of travel calls on his step-back -- and to be clear, most of the time he executes the devastating move within the rules -- have helped supercharge Harden's season in a way that can irritate his opponents. "Guys can say he gets away with travels on the step-back or he flings his body into people to get fouls, but honestly, a lot of us get away with stuff like that," said one All-Star who didn't want his name used because he wasn't trying to court controversy. "Just speaking for myself, and I don't know how others feel, but what he does isn't always team basketball. If you look at how Giannis plays, that's more the way I was raised in the game. Just my opinion," he said.
Based on admittedly unscientific conversations, there are many players who agree. Earlier this season, Harden scored 304 consecutive points that were unassisted. That streak was tracked with awe by fans and media. For some players, though, it created eye-rolling as it was the opposite of team play.
One year after sweeping four games with the Thunder, the Blazers this season have lost the first three to Oklahoma City, the latest 120-111 on Monday at Chesapeake Arena in a game in which George had 47 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and two steals. “Everybody in the whole arena can see that,” Lillard said of George’s play being the difference. “He’s at a different level. I mean, after watching him over the last 10 games or so — I catch a lot of their games — and seeing him tonight … that dude, he MVP. If they keep this up, he MVP.”
Harrison Wind: Will Barton laid out Nikola Jokic’s MVP case in his postgame interview tonight. Said it’s a “no brainer” that he should be in the conversation. “With what he’s doing, how could you not say he’s an MVP candidate?” Barton would later add, “It’s his time. This is his time.”
A dominant all-around performance in the Milwaukee Bucks' 116-109 road win over reigning MVP James Harden's Houston Rockets on Wednesday could have provided Giannis Antetokounmpo a massive platform to begin campaigning for the NBA's most prestigious individual honor. Antetokounmpo, however, dismissed the early MVP discussion like he so often sidesteps defenders with his long-legged Euro step. "All I care about is winning, to be honest with you," Antetokounmpo said after scoring 27 points, grabbing a career-high 21 rebounds and dishing out five assists for the East-leading Bucks in the win. "I know by winning -- doing whatever it takes out there, helping your teammates and just leaving it everything on the floor -- everything will take care of itself."
Morey made a rare appearance in the visitor’s locker room in Oakland. Before leaving, he and Harden had a conversation by the doorway, with the pair exchanging jokes. Morey has joined a growing congregation that believes the MVP race is all but confirmed, even with a good chunk of the season left. It’s Harden, followed by the others. “Race? There’s no race,” he said. “He should be first. We gotta prove that on the court over time, but I don’t see it as a race, really.”
Chris Paul: MVP 🤷🏾‍♂️
Tim MacMahon: Mike D’Antoni on James Harden: “He’s by far the MVP. Nobody does what he does on a nightly basis.”
A quick look at Harden's recent play will back that up. During this nine-game stretch, his stats across the board are remarkable: 39.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game to go with shooting 44.7 percent overall, 40.7 percent from 3-point range and 87.8 percent from the foul line. He has had eight straight 30-point games and has eclipsed 40 points three times in his past six. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, the 388 points Harden has scored in his past 10 games are the most by any NBA player in a 10-game stretch since Kobe Bryant scored 396 from March 22 to April 8, 2007. "I think he's just wanted to pick it up and take it to another level," Rockets forward PJ Tucker said. "I don't think he was playing at the level he wanted to early on. He's got his body in such great shape now, being able to push through the times when he gets tired, teams throwing double teams, different kinds of looks, and his determination to still score and get to his spots is pretty remarkable. "It's just what he does."
But then he was asked if his recent play, and his team's recent success, merited his return to the MVP conversation. It quickly became clear that the idea that he was a one-and-done MVP winner is something Harden simply wouldn't accept. "I mean, yeah. Of course I should be in that conversation," he said, followed by a laugh and a shake of his head. "I mean, I receive a lot of hate, but it won't stop me from going out there and killing every single night, being that dog that I am. You can name a few other people that should be in the conversation.
Harden had 45 points and six assists, Clint Capela added 24 points and 18 rebounds, and the Houston Rockets beat the Boston Celtics 127-113 for their eighth win in nine games. "Of course, I should be in that conversation," Harden, the reigning MVP, said. "I received a lot of hate, but it won't stop me from going out there and killing it every single night and being the dog that I am. You can name a few other people that can be in that conversation, but realistically, it's coming back."
Here’s Nikola Jokic’s reaction to Michael Malone saying he should be an MVP candidate: “That’s an individual thing. What happens happens...”
Erik Horne: Paul George on being in the early MVP conversation, says it’s not his focus: “My job is to play as hard as I can, try to win as much as possible. If that makes me MVP, then so be it.”
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they get the spotlight for being regarded as the best players on the projected best teams. Add James Harden to that mix. This head start, Curry believes, is vital. If a superstar doesn’t have a storyline to magnetize attention, he must hijack it with something incredible. Does that bother you that you aren’t in the conversation? “I don’t care,” he said, seamlessly executing a shoulder shrug, smirk and eye roll simultaneously. “I just know the narrative isn’t there so I would have to go above and beyond. So, it’s whatever. I’m blessed to have three rings. I’m good.”
Joel Embiid has expressed multiple times his desire to be this season's MVP, as in NBA Most Valuable Player. Brett Brown, though, has his own interpretation for what MVP means for the 76ers all-star center. "Joel's discussion for wanting to be MVP, that's Most Valuable Person," the Sixers coach said Friday. "He is our leader. That's what interests me the most."
You called this the ‘Summer of Separation.’ What does that mean? John Wall: Thirty-two. CH: Thirty-two. What does that mean? John Wall: That’s the ESPN ranking I got. So it’s a Summer of Separation. I’ve gotta separate myself. CH: That’s deep. It’s kinda deep. League MVP? Is that a goal? John Wall: Ultimate goal.
Jonathan Feigen: Harden brings his mom Monja Willis on the stage with him. "All glory to God, man. All glory to God. Shout out to the NBA Huge shout out to the Rockets, whole city of H-Town. Tilman, Tad, Daryl. Rafael. All the guys that helped."
Jonathan Feigen: Harden on his Mom: "She's my backbone. Good times. Bad times. I'm happiest for my Mom. Finished with: "See you all next year. Swag." And then Anthony Anderson mocks his defense.
Royce Young: Via @ESPNStatsInfo the Thunder are the first franchise in NBA history to draft eventual MVPs in three straight seasons (2007-2009). (They were already the first franchise in NBA history to do it back-to-back as well with Durant and Westbrook.)
Adam Wexler: #Rockets @James Harden wins the #NBA MVP award. It's his 1st MVP honor. He's the 3rd Rockets player to win MVP (Olajuwon '93-'94, Malone '78-'79 & '81-'82). @KPRC2
Bucks clearly felt the Rookie of the Year award was a two-man race, that wasn’t the case when they voted for the league’s Most Valuable Player. The nine Bucks who were polled unanimously chose James Harden of the Houston Rockets. The Rockets veteran shooting guard, now in his ninth season, has been a force all season, averaging a league-leading 30.6 points a game.
Jovan Buha: Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry wishes New Orleans had a better record so Anthony Davis would have a stronger case for MVP: "The only thing I'm disappointed in — I think if we could have had a better record, if we could have been in the runnings where we're going to play at home and [win] 50-plus games, I think his name would definitely be in the MVP running. When you have guys like Harden and what they've done, I think it's hard for anyone to not to vote for Harden for MVP right now. But obviously LeBron James and what he has done is very impressive too. ... I mean, we lost a guy that was averaging 26 and 12 [DeMarcus Cousins]. And then for Anthony to kind of take this team and put it on his back and do what he's done."
A year after Westbrook rallied to take the NBA's Most Valuable Player from Harden — the frontrunner for most of the season — the Rockets guard seems poised to bring home the hardware this season. It makes some sense to Westbrook. “There's a lot of guys doing a lot of great things in the league,” Westbrook said at Saturday's Thunder shootaround. “Honestly, I don't know kind of what you go off of, because MVP's kind of been picked differently every year. So it depends what criteria, what it is that you guys vote for. But obviously (Harden's) leading the charge at the moment.”
Tim MacMahon: Russell Westbrook said James Harden is having a great year for team with the best record, but he stopped short of declaring Harden deserves MVP. “I don’t have a pick. There’s a lot of guys doing a lot of great things in the league. Honestly, I don’t know what you go off of.”
The punctuation point came in Portland a couple weeks back, James Harden making his final lethal claim on an MVP award that will soon be his. He scored 42 points. He obliterated the Blazers' 13-game win streak. He gave Houston the 57th of their 62 (and counting) wins. He removed all doubt. “It's his turn,” Kevin Durant told The Athletic recently. “Just give it to him. It's his time to win it.”
When Wade’s Heat hosted James’ Cavs on Tuesday night, LeBron actually led the head-to-head rivalry 15-14, but Wade evened it up with the help of a 98-79 drubbing. It was a big win for the Heat as they try to hang onto a playoff spot, and before the game Wade was asked about his relationship with LeBron and what it’s like playing against him. Wade didn’t mince words: it’s a chance to play against one of the greatest ever. “He’s one of the game’s greatest players. Arguably the greatest,” Wade said. “I favor Michael Jordan. … So it’s one and two of the greatest players of all time and I get an opportunity to play against one of them.”
This is a season where prohibitive MVP favorite James Harden has done phenomenal things with NBA-leading Houston, where reigning MVP Russell Westbrook has been fantastic again for Oklahoma City, and where Anthony Davis has found a new stratosphere to take his game, especially after New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins. James raves about them all. But ... "I would vote for me," James told The Associated Press. "The body of work, how I'm doing it, what's been happening with our team all year long, how we've got so many injuries and things of that nature, guys in and out, to be able to still keep this thing afloat, I definitely would vote me."
Better yet, Sunday marked the 864th consecutive game that James scored at least 10 points, pulling him within two games of tying Jordan’s NBA record of 866 consecutive games. Barring something unforeseen, James will tie Jordan’s record Wednesday at Charlotte — the team Jordan owns. How’s that for poetry? 14. “He’s just a force,” Drew said. “He’s a force and he has put up MVP numbers without a doubt.”
“I mean to me it’s just clear cut he should be the MVP,” said Rockets guard Eric Gordon, who had 18 points against the Blazers to match his season-long average that is third on the team behind Harden and Paul. “He’s scoring. He’s passing. And to me, the efficiency is just there. You know, whenever there’s a tight game, he’s just hitting the tough shots. I just don’t know what else you want from a guy like that.
"Houston is having a good [season], but I'm most impressed with New Orleans," Green said after shootaround on Thursday. "With some of the games they won, with some of the numbers that AD has put up, has been incredible and they're doing that without DeMarcus. I think there was kind of a consensus around the world that once DeMarcus went out, that they'd struggle, and yet, AD is putting them boys on his back...That's impressive."
Draymond Green on James Harden: "You knew it wouldn't be long before he actually does pull through and win one, and then I know if you're him, you're sitting there like, 'Man, now here come AD putting up different historical stat-lines every night.' But James has had a great year. Their team is performing great. So, I don't know what happens, but he's put himself in the best position he possibly can, that's for sure."
Nick Friedell: LeBron James was asked Saturday about the possibility of winning another MVP award at this point in his career and acknowledged that he is playing for something more than just his own legacy at this point. "Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you're able accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot," James said after Saturday's practice. "I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I've had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of 'OK, you're past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you're past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.' Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I'm serious.
Tim MacMahon: James Harden was asked if he's looking to win MVP. "I’m looking to win the championship this year. That’s all of our goal. It’s a buildup. Every day is a grind. There’s going to be some ups and some downs, but as long as we’ve got our eyes on the bigger prize, we’ll be all good."
And you, Dwyane Wade, a former Finals MVP, who's playing his fifth season alongside James. What say you of Antetokounmpo? "Obviously you could tell he's put in a lot of work to his game," Wade said. "He's got the confidence early on from his coach when everyone was saying he couldn't shoot, he couldn't do this or that, his coach gave him a lot of confidence and his teammates believed in him. It took his confidence to another level. He's at that point now where he's just figuring it out. He's being nasty. He's dunking everything down by the rim.”
Ben Golliver: Story: After Westbrook tops Harden for MVP, Rockets GM Daryl Morey wonders whether it's time to scrap NBA awards. Blake Griffin‏: honestly, we should do away with championships too. seems dumb to me. participation trophies for everybody. don't @ me.
In a phone interview Saturday, Rockets GM Daryl Morey raised questions about the MVP voting process, which involves a panel of 100 media members casting their votes at the end of the regular season. “I don’t know if this is a good process,” Morey told The Crossover. “The ones that are decided by players or executives or media, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I honestly don’t think there’s a good process. You could argue for eliminating the awards altogether. I don’t really see a good way to do it that doesn’t have major issues. I like clean answers. If there’s not going to be a set criteria and there’s going to be issues with how it’s structured, for me it might be better to not have it.”
“Given that the criteria seems to be shifting away from winning, I would guess that [adding Paul] probably doesn’t help anyone’s chances on our team,” Morey acknowledged. “That said, I don’t think anybody really cares [going forward]. James definitely cared and I think we all cared [about the 2017 MVP]. But we’ve moved on since the award isn’t focused on winning any more. Let’s just win and not worry about it.”
Westbrook made the 2016-17 season a memorable one, putting his name in NBA record books as only the second player ever, and first since Oscar Robertson in 1962, to average a triple-double. Westbrook also broke Robertson's record for most triple-doubles in a season with 42. "I remember growing up just being home, playing the video games and stuff with my pops, and my mom sitting there and my brother and just talking about maybe one day I could be the MVP. Obviously I was joking at the time," Westbrook said. "But now to be standing here with this trophy next to me is a true blessing, man, and it's an unbelievable feeling, something that I can never imagine."
Enes Kanter: No! No! No! You Are The Real MVP...!
Enes Kanter: Oh no!! Plz Don't do him like that 😂😂
He had been the leading man for the duration of the NBA’s regular season, and for Russell Westbrook, there was no twist ending. At Monday’s NBA Awards show, the Thunder guard was named the league’s Most Valuable Player, an outcome that had been expected since the regular season ended in April.
Storyline: MVP Race
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TyTy Washington told The Post he didn’t interview with the Knicks last week at the draft combine, but suspects he will work out for them at their practice facility in Tarrytown. “Most definitely I feel I’m one of the most true point guards coming out of the draft, even though this season I played mostly off the ball,’’ Washington said at the combine. “Before this season, I was mainly a point guard. I played off the ball because that’s what my team needed. They needed me to make baskets and score for us. Cal said me being off the ball was no knock on me.’’