For most of the season, Dwight Howard's on-court dominance was enough to make him an MVP candidate. But his off-court drama, first with free agency and now with coach Stan Van Gundy, looks as if it will ultimately sabotage Orlando's season. So out goes Howard and in come Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo, meaning five point guards and no centers are among our top 10 MVP candidates with two weeks left in the regular season.
Steve Nash, PG, Phoenix Suns
Take a look at the Phoenix roster and answer this: How the heck are these Suns in the playoff hunt? It's gotta be Nash, right? At 38, he's lost some quickness and takes just nine shots per game. But he's still an offensive maestro, shooting 54 percent and dishing out 11.1 assists per game. In one important respect, he's the same as he was when he won two MVP awards. He makes everyone better.
Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat
He hasn't played well in April, so one must wonder how much his various injuries are hampering his effectiveness. Wade seems immune from criticism when the Heat lose because LeBron James and Chris Bosh are more tempting targets, but he must start playing like a superstar again if he wants a second ring.
Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics
Every young point guard should be forced to watch tape of Rondo's play the past month. Since March 11, he's had at least 10 assists in every game — 19 straight and counting after his 20-assist performance Wednesday as part of a triple-double against the Hawks. His unselfishness has set the tone for Boston's incredible resurgence in the second half of the season.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook, with just three 10-assist games all season, has a completely different mind-set than Rondo and Nash. But his aggressive mentality and explosive scoring ability are big reasons for Oklahoma City's ascent in the West. When he's good, the Thunder are very, very good. When he's off, as he has been lately, they're beatable.
Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Even before suffering a concussion Wednesday in Denver, Love had looked tired this month after averaging 30 points and 15 rebounds in March. The Wolves haven't won a game in April, and it appears Love and his team are out of gas.
Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe's been a warrior all season, playing far more minutes than he should in his 16th NBA season and leading the league in scoring. But his MVP candidacy surely wasn't helped by the fact LA had arguably its most impressive win of the season in San Antonio while he was on the bench. The Lakers moved the ball and used their big men in a way you rarely see when Kobe's on the court.
Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs
After carrying the Spurs for most of the season, Parker hasn't had to do much heavy lifting lately. That's because Manu Ginobili has returned to take over some of the playmaking duties and Patty Mills has emerged as a capable backup point guard. For San Antonio, that's a good thing. For Parker's MVP candidacy, it's bad news.
Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul moves up to No. 3 partly because Parker, Bryant and Love have gone backward. But Paul also has earned it by leading another surge by the Clippers, who have won nine of 11. His game-winning layup at Oklahoma City was the latest clutch shot in a season full of them. Also give Paul credit for changing the culture of the NBA's worst franchise with his leadership and competitive fire.
Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
To win his first MVP award, Durant needed to make a compelling case in the last month of the season. So far, he's not doing it. Starting with his nine-turnover game in Miami, Durant hasn't been good enough to seriously challenge LeBron James for the league's top individual award. At this point, Durant's focus needs to be on keeping the Thunder in first place in the West.
LeBron James, SF, Miami Heat
For half the season, it looked as if LeBron would run away with his third MVP award in dominating fashion. He'll probably still win it, but he hasn't been as dominant since the All-Star break. Not coincidentally, neither have the Heat. And unless LeBron wins his first championship ring, a third MVP won't mean a damn thing.