The 2016-17 NBA season comes to a close on April 12, just two weeks from today — yet the MVP race isn't any clearer now than it was when the season started.
LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Russell Westbrook each have a stake to this year's award. In the end, the winner will boil down to how the voters personally define the words "most valuable." There's not a whole lot those superstars can do to control their MVP destiny.
Yet they're not completely helpless. With the sports world turning its attention to the NBA, here's how each of the four MVP candidates can clinch the award.
David Richard-USA TODAY SportsDavid Richard
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Leonard has by far the toughest mountain to climb to claim the award, but he's not out of the race yet.
First, he'll need to lock up Stephen Curry and the red-hot Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night, bringing their recent dominance to a screeching halt on national television. The Spurs then take on Russell Westbrook's Thunder on Friday, so Leonard will need to repeat that performance against a fellow MVP contender.
Those are the individual matchups Leonard has to dominate, but that's not nearly enough to earn the MVP. San Antonio has to wind up with the best record in the NBA — and it's currently 2.5 games back of the Warriors headed into Wednesday's game. That means the Spurs must win out over their final nine games, seven of which come against Western Conference playoff teams.
Finally, Leonard needs the rest of the MVP field to leave the door open. If the Cavs continue to struggle, if Russell Westbrook fails to average a triple-double and if James Harden cruises into the postseason, then The Klaw has a chance.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook's MVP case starts with his quest to average a triple-double for the 2016-17 season, which is pretty much in the bag at this point. He needs to average just 5.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists over Oklahoma City's final nine games to match Oscar Robertson's historic feat.
The individual achievement is great, to be sure. Like Leonard, though, Westbrook needs to lead his team to a ridiculous record over the final two weeks of the season. Eight more wins would give the Thunder 50 for the season — a nice, round number that would illustrate just how valuable Westbrook was to a team that lost Kevin Durant in the offseason.
Throw in one more marquee performance against the Spurs on ESPN this Friday, and Westbrook would have to be the favorite to win the MVP.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Harden is actually the odds-on favorite to win MVP (via OddsShark.com), so all he needs to do is avoid screwing things up before April 12.
If he really wants to hammer his point home, though, averaging about 50 points per game over Houston's final eight contests would do the trick, likely allowing him to pass Westbrook in scoring and become the second player ever to lead the Association in points and assists in a single season, joining Tiny Archibald way back in 1972-73.
Joe RobbinsGetty Images
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
If you don't believe LeBron is always the most valuable player, it's hard to argue that this season's award belongs to him. As great as he is, he hasn't been as productive as Harden, whose Rockets are almost as dependent on the Beard as the Cavs are on the King.
Cleveland, though? The Cavs are 0-6 this year without LeBron. Sitting for the final two weeks as Cleveland continues to spiral would be the ultimate power play — and further proof no one has a bigger impact on the court than the Cavaliers superstar.