Kevin Durant, LeBron James

Three Stars of the Night: MVP Candidates shine on Christmas


Christmas Day is a showcase day for the NBA. No NFL. No college bowl games. Just hoops. And as you can imagine any league run by David Stern doing, it put its biggest stars on display on the biggest early season stage. The second opening day, if you will.

The stars on Christmas were the three guys at the front of the MVP race. With apologies to Kobe Bryant, who came in fourth in the stars voting by our committee (of one).

Third Star: LeBron James (29 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists)

He won the MVP last year and voters seem a little weary of voting for him, but you simply cannot have an MVP conversation without the single best player on the planet in the discussion. He almost put up a triple-double, which he seems to almost do a lot of nights. He showed off the full range of skills, from a couple monster dunks to a no-look pass late. If you think the MVP has to be the single best player in the league, you have to vote for him.

Second Star: Carmelo Anthony (34 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists)

He is doing more than just scoring this year, but when he does score the Knicks take leads. Like when Anthony put up 17 points in the third quarter when the Knicks seemed to take control of the game. He had seven in the fourth but the Lakers focused their defense more on him and his teammates could not make Los Angeles pay for that. Anthony deserves to be in the early MVP conversation, but now it falls on him to stay in the talks.

First star: Kevin Durant (33 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assist)

He didn’t have a huge first-half impact because he was mired in foul trouble, but he had 14 in the fourth quarter when you expect your stars to make plays (although he missed a tough three to tie it with LeBron in his face. He did. He has been the most consistent of the big stars this year and I get the feeling voters are going to give it to him because “it’s his turn.” But it’s more than that, he came back to the NBA off the Olympics a better player and he has led the Thunder to the top spot out West.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.