After James Harden’s 38-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double helped the Rockets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 12, I stood in front of Patrick Beverley’s locker and started to ask a question. I say started because the Rockets spark plug didn’t allow me to finish.
I began that question with “If James wins the MVP is this one of those”, that’s when Beverley jumped in.
“If?” he replied. “Why you say if? When he wins the MVP.”
Outdueling LeBron James in front of a national audience seemed to solidify Harden’s standing for the award. Four days later, Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post polled 106 media members, and half had the Rockets guard at the top of their ballot, but fast forward four weeks since that Sunday at Toyota Center, and the landscape feels quite different.
This past weekend, seemingly the entire NBA media contingent was in attendance when he clinched a season triple-double in a lopsided loss against the lowly Suns, then as he went for a record-breaking 42nd triple-double Sunday in Denver, reporters chronicled every bucket, rebound, and assist. They even let you know when one of his teammates missed a shot he setup, denying him another assist. Not only did they see him notch that record-breaking triple-double, they watched as he drained a 40-footer at the buzzer, giving Oklahoma City its 46th win of the season in front of fans in Denver cheering as their team was eliminated from playoff contention.
Westbrook scored 50 points Sunday at the Pepsi Center to go with 16 rebounds and 10 assists, and with three days to go in the regular season, it sure does feel like the MVP is his to lose.
I agreed with Beverley that night in March, and I still agree with him: Harden should be the MVP, but my opinion doesn’t matter, and neither does Beverley’s. We don’t have votes, and over the past month, fair or not, Harden has simply been overshadowed by his old teammate.
Two weeks after that Cavs game, I walked out of Toyota Center thinking Harden had the award all but locked up. While the numbers weren’t sexy, he was brilliant in a Rockets double-digit win over Oklahoma City, but it was Westbrook who got the headlines.
USA Today declared Westbrook “won the MVP duel” with Harden. He did finish with 39 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists, but 18 of those points were scored in a fourth quarter that started with the Rockets up 25. The next night, Westbrook capped a fourth quarter comeback with a game-winning shot in Dallas, and a couple of nights later, he scored a 57-point triple-double in a come-from-behind win over Orlando. Seemingly every night, Westbrook is doing something to garner the spotlight while Harden works under the radar, and a bum wrist that affected him in national TV games against Portland and Golden State didn’t help things.
He had a triple-double, his 22nd of the season, in the Rockets win over Sacramento Sunday, but nobody talked about it. No members of the national media chronicled it. They were all watching Westbrook, he is the story.
The two will meet this weekend in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Harden’s Rockets will be favored and should win the best-of-seven series, but unfortunately for Harden, MVP votes are due the day before and won’t be announced until after the Finals. The Rockets guard would be a deserving winner, as he would’ve been two years when he finished behind Stephen Curry, but this wouldn’t be a snub. Harden was snubbed last year when he wasn’t voted onto any of the three All NBA teams.
100 members of the NBA media will decide the winner of the league’s Most Valuable Players. James Harden should win, he’s had the best season from start to finish on a team that’s turned out to be a lot better than what most predicted before it started, but if the award goes to Westbrook I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell Patrick Beverley.