NBA MVP Power Rankings: Harden, Westbrook Deadlocked At Top

As the NBA regular season enters the new year, only a handful of players have cemented themselves as legitimate MVP contenders. Most of the names are familiar, but the historic numbers being put up by Russell Westbrook and James Harden have created an interesting duel between two players trying to win the award for the first time in their respective careers. Here's how the MVP race is shaping up so far this season:

5) Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs

Once again, the Spurs have been sneaky good this season, posting a 30-7 record. Leonard has been the driving force behind that start, averaging career-high 23.9 points per game, along with 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.9 steals. Kawhi's offensive game is starting to match his defense greatness.

4) Kevin Durant, SF, Golden State Warriors

Durant has replaced Stephen Curry - the reigning two-time MVP - as the leading candidate for this award on Golden State's roster. Not only are his stats excellent (25.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 4.6 apg), but he's also extremely efficient. He is shooting an amazing 53.4 percent from the field, and more impressively, is averaging a career high in blocks (1.6 per game) and a career-low in turnovers. He's doing it all right now for the Warriors, spearheading their NBA-best 31-6 record.

3) LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland still leads the Eastern Conference, and even though they have lost a few games due to resting players, the Cavs have shown that at their best, they're still the team to beat (by beating the Warriors on Christmas Day). LeBron is playing a big role as usual, and he's doing all of that on 51.7 percent shooting. Don't sleep on the King if both Harden and Westbrook falter down the second half of the season.

1b) James Harden, PG/SG, Houston Rockets

There is a clear line between the top two players on this list and rest of the pack, and Harden's play is a huge reason why. The Rockets are a VERY surprising 9-9 on the year as Harden has flourished as the point guard in head coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo system, ranking first in the league in assists (11.9 per game) and fifth in points (27.9). He also has eight triple-doubles this season, headlined by the 53 points, 17 assists and 16 rebounds he put up on New Year's Eve against the New York Knicks. That made him the first player in NBA history to record at least 50 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a single game.

If Houston continues to be a contender throughout the entire season, Harden will be in position to claim the MVP if Westbrook stops averaging a triple-double.

1a) Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

Westbrook spoiled us with his triple-double streak to the point now where it feels like he didn't have a great game if he doesn't have one - and that is absolutely not the case. Westbrook already has 17 triple-doubles on the season  and is still averaging a triple-double per game (31.4 points, 10.3 assists, 10.6 rebounds). He has stepped up in a huge way since Kevin Durant left in the offseason, and this team would be downright awful without him.

You can make a very real case with Harden because of his absurd numbers and how much better the Rockets are this year, but as long as Westbrook is accomplishing the historic feat of averaging a triple-double, it gives him the edge.

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