This is a historically strong year for the contenders of the Most Valuable Player award. A year after Stephen Curry won his second straight award, unanimously, he isn’t really even in the conversation. LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Kawhi Leonard all have cases for the award, and pretty good ones.
The Cavs will play Harden’s Rockets tonight, a team that has outperformed expectations coming into the season. 18 months ago they were everyone’s preseason darling coming off a trip to the Western Conference Finals. A year of dysfunction paired with underachievement accompanied by the Warriors winning 73 games and adding Kevin Durant took pressure and attention away.
They’ve bounced back, and can score with anyone. It all starts with Harden.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (43-21) at Houston Rockets (45-21)
When: 9 p.m.
Where: Toyota Center — Houston, Texas
TV Info: Fox Sports Ohio, League Pass
It’s rare for a player to account for as much of his team’s offensive output as Harden is this year. He’s averaging 29 points per game on 61+ true shooting, and is assisting over 50% of his teammates basket when he’s on the floor. With Mike D’Antoni, Harden is the point guard and has the ball in his hands. He’s got Ryan Anderson, Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon to help him spread the floor, and Lou Williams has come on recently in a trade just to give them even more of a boost.
The Cavs will have their work cut out for themselves defensively, to be sure.
For the Cavs, we will want to see if the team can survive when LeBron James goes to the bench. Lately, the returns haven’t been so good, though things seemed to get a bit better last night against the Orlando Magic. I’d be surprised if the Cavs sat players, though I’d be careful about Kyrie Irving. He’s probably due for a night off soon.
The Cavs continue to integrate J.R. Smith into the fold, and will be without Kyle Korver. It’s incredible to think about the shooting the Cavs can put around James and Irving when healthy; Kevin Love should be back soon. Not many will see it this way, but this game is kind of the perfect set up for the Cavs. It’s a back to back, they are hurt, and it’s against a good team. If you win, gravy. If you don’t, you have plenty of built-in excuses.