It's officially official: James Harden is a verified, bonafide, beard-sporting, high-stepping skinny jean-wearing MVP candidate. And he will win or lose the MVP award in the next two weeks.
From stat-geeks reporting on Harden's three point assist rate to the cover of Sports Illustrated, James Harden is making his pitch to be the first Rocket to hoist the MVP award since Hakeem Olajuwon.
The next two weeks will be the most crucial in Harden's pitch for two reasons: The absence of Dwight Howard and the brutal schedule.
No Dwight Howard:
The timetable for Dwight Howard's return isn't entirely clear yet. The current prognosis is Howard will miss six to eight weeks since his knee injection in February. The max-contract big man who drug the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals shares not only the court, but also the fame and the credit with Harden.
Without Howard on the court the credit can only go to one man, James Harden.
On this article the comment section may exist solely to debate how much of the credit Howard deserves for the Rockets' success. His absence off the court has put Harden's abilities to distribute, create his own shot and yes, play defense, on display.
Over the next two weeks the load Harden carries each day will be on full display. A brutal schedule without Harden and a reformed Rockets roster will make Harden the star and the glue as a new look team attempts to push toward the playoffs.
As a light reminder. Harden is the Rockets' only All-Star. Curry takes the floor with Klay Thompson and quiet All-Star candidate Draymond Green.
Beginning with Friday's game against the Dallas Mavericks Harden and the Rockets started a two week stretch of eight games. Six of those contests are against playoff teams with a combined 261 - 178 record. That's an astounding nearly unbelievable win percentage of .681%.
This is a brutal two weeks putting the Western-Eastern Conference disparity on full display. The Rockets sit in third place in the Western Conference standings and over these two weeks they don't appear poised to improve their position, but could most certainly fall behind.
Harden's ability to lead the Rockets and hold the line at third place could very well determine if he wins the MVP award.
At the end of these two weeks Harden has every chance to win the award. The collapse of the Golden State Warriors wouldn't hurt either.