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The race for the MVP continues

Russell Westbrook
Feb 8, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) smiles on the court in the game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Oklahoma City won 122- 106. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

As the NBA gets ready for the All-Star weekend in three weeks from now, let’s have a look on the league’s superstars that fight not only for a place in the postseason, but also for the MVP award.

After more than 45 games in the season, here are the players that are considered MVP contenders in both the Eastern and Western Conference.

Western Conference

Russell Westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder’s point guard is the team’s reference point, following Kevin Durant’s departure a few months ago, and does his best to help the Thunder go all the way to the end.

The 28-year-old player performs at very high standards and is tremendous game after game, as he has made the most triple-doubles in the league this season.

Thanks to his versatile skills, Westbrook can do everything on the floor and his numbers prove he certainly deserves to be named the MVP.

With 30.7 points, 10.7 boards and 10.4 assists per game, Westbrook has broken every record and fights tooth and nail to lead his squad to the playoffs, although Oklahoma still needs to make many changes to its tactics in order to challenge the Golden State Warriors and the Spurs in the postseason.

However, even if his team doesn’t make it to the playoffs, it’s very likely that the 28-year-old All-Star will eventually win the award, as he has done unbelievable things on the floor and is nowhere near his prime yet.

Kawhi Leonard

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The 25-year-old forward is the San Antonio Spurs’ leader. With the legendary Tim Duncan retiring during the summer and Tony Parker (as well as Manu Ginobili) acting as the supporting cast, Leonard has taken over.

Averaging 25.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game, the MVP of the 2014 NBA Finals is at his very best in every match, making the Spurs one of the favourites to win the NBA title for the sixth time.

Leonard has a great field goal percentage (49%), while he also shoots the ball very well from the three-point range (41.3%). Moreover, and thanks to his amazing defensive performance, the 25-year-old player has no problem to deal with every difficult situation on both ends of the floor and that’s why he is one of the favourites to become the MVP.

James Harden

Photo: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets’ combo guard is a truly remarkable case and many people believe he will be named the MVP at the end of the season.

Harden is a very talented player. There is no doubt about it. However, since he left the Thunder to join the Rockets, it was obvious he couldn’t take his team to the next level and fight for the title.

This year, though, things changed. The arrival of former LA Lakers’ and Phoenix Suns’ coach, Mike D’Antoni, was a game-changing decision for the Rockets.

D’Antoni decided that the 27-year-old player would be the point guard and, consequently, Harden plays the best basketball of his career.

Averaging 28.6 points and 11.6 assists (number one in the entire league) per game, he has transformed his squad into the biggest threat for the Warriors and the Spurs in the battle for the first place in the West.

And, due to his coach, he is able to run most of the team’s plays, having the same role as the one the legendary Steve Nash used to have, during his presence in Phoenix.

Because of his strength and impressive footwork, Harden is capable of scoring points from almost every position on the floor, making his opponents’ mission to stop him extremely difficult.

If he continues that way, then Houston will improve its chances to advance to the NBA Finals, although it will certainly be a very difficult task. No matter what will happen in the end, though, Harden now is the number one favourite for the MVP award.

Eastern Conference

LeBron James

Photo: Getty Images

A few months ago, the “King” shocked the world and gave the Cleveland Cavaliers the first NBA Title in their history. Now, having accomplished his initial target, James is ready for the repeat, as Cleveland looks ready to cruise to the Finals.

Although he has more playing time than last year (almost 38 minutes), LeBron plays at very high standards in every game and seems unstoppable on both ends of the floor, with 25.6 points per game as well as 7.9 rebounds and 8.4 assists.

With Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on his side, James has the ideal supporting cast that will let him fight until the end for the title.

Despite his incredible numbers, it’s no so likely for him to be named the MVP, due to Harden’s, Westbrook’s and Leonard’s performances, however the “King” should never be underestimated and may –very easily- turn things around.

DeMar DeRozan

Photo: Danny Moloshok/AP file photo

Toronto Raptors’ shooting guard is on fire since the beginning of the season. DeRozan seems to have improved most aspects of his game and has managed to be Toronto’s best player so far. Thanks to his all-around playing style, he has a wide variety of moves that can help him score easy baskets (27.9 ppg).

Despite the Raptors’ great performance until now (second place in the East), the versatile guard is not among the favourites to claim the award, unless Toronto turns things upside down and finishes the regular season with the best record in the NBA.

Isaiah Thomas

Photo: Brian Babineau/Getty Images

The 5-feet-9 guard has made the Boston Celtics a title contender for the first time since 2010. Since arriving to Boston in 2015, the talented play-maker has been constantly enhancing his performance, being among the top players so far in the season.

Averaging 29.1 points and 6.2 assists, Thomas is Boston’s leader and one of the best “clutch” players in the league, as he always takes over in the fourth quarter, when everything is on the line.

Due to his speed and great footwork, it’s difficult for every opponent to stop him, so the 27-year-old player is able not only to score 20+ points in every game, but also to dish out many assists.

Just like DeRozan, he will probably not win the award, unless Boston shocks everybody and goes all the way to the end. No matter what will happen, though, both Thomas and DeRozan certainly deserve to be named the MVP of the regular season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Photo: USA TODAY Sports Images

 The “Greek Freak” is, without a doubt, a special case. Just after three and a half years in the NBA, he became an All-Star, while he gets better game after game, making consecutive double-doubles and doing his best to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to the playoffs.

Although he doesn’t shoot the ball well form beyond the arc (28.1%), the 22-year-old player can do everything on the floor and that’s why he became the club’s franchise player during the summer.

His extraordinary numbers will probably not give him the award, as his team is not among the top ones in the league, however he is one of the favourites to be named the Most Improved Player.

The reason I mention him as one of the MVP contenders is that if he keeps on playing at the same high standards and the Bucks create a much more consistent team in the following years, then it’s certain that – sooner or later – the “Greek Freak” will reach the top of the NBA.

In the end, although all players focus on advancing to the playoffs, the aforementioned ones certainly have in mind the battle for the MVP award, so they will keep on doing great things on the floor in their effort to be named the league’s best player.

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