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After James Harden scored 44 points in a win over the Pistons on Friday night, I asked him if he felt he belongs in the conversation for Most Valuable Player.
“Do I feel like I belong? I feel like I am the MVP,” Harden responded. “It’s just that simple. Just I don’t want to talk, I don’t want to speak individually on myself. I’m just going to leave it at that.”
It’s hard to disagree.
The Beard was dominant in Brooklyn’s 113-111 win in Detroit. Without Kyrie Irving (personal) and Kevin Durant (hamstring), Harden hit side-step 3s, step-back 3s, contested 3s and spot-up 3s to keep his Nets afloat against a Pistons team that has been their kryptonite this season.
The game was hardly an anomaly. The Nets’ star point guard is averaging a near triple-double in Brooklyn: about 26 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds per game. The Nets are 24-8 in games he’s played since arriving in a blockbuster trade on Jan. 12.
Harden has looked like an MVP, sounds like an MVP and every Nets teammate has said the same thing about his impact on a game.
“It’s crazy. He just makes the game so easy for you, you know and draws so much attention. But at the same time, you obviously look at his assist numbers and they’re unbelievable as well,” Blake Griffin said after the game. “So, playing against him it was kind of always one of those things where you hoped to slow him down. And now playing with him, you really appreciate playing with guys like that because, you know, most of my shots are just ‘be ready.’ And he does a great job of finding you, so it’s not something I take for granted.”
The MVP race isn’t one-sided. 76ers star big man Joel Embiid has led the race for some time, averaging 30 points, 11.5 rebounds and three assists per game to power Philadelphia to the East’s No. 1 seed.
The Sixers, however, have won six of their last seven games without Embiid, who has been out with a knee injury.
Lakers star LeBron James is always in the MVP conversation, as is back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose Bucks are jockeying with the Nets for playoff position behind another sensational season from The Greek Freak.
The Nets would be a shell of themselves without Harden. In fact, had they not traded for him in mid-January, it’s difficult to envision a world where Durant, Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie (ACL) are all available and they continue to win ball games.
If that’s the definition of the MVP — the player most valuable to a team’s success — it’s hard to argue Harden isn’t at the top of the discussion.
“I just try to go out there every single night and give my teammates everything I can bring to the game,” Harden said. “So, it’s just different. Games are different, and I just take what the defense gives me and the next game, it might be more lobs than shots. So I just play the game the right way and try to be efficient in doing it.
“Numbers are showing it for itself, and we’re winning. That’s all I can say.”