Written By: Kevin Keise Of Houston TREND

James HardenThere is about a month left in the NBA regular season and in a tightly contested MVP race, Oklahoma City’s superstar guard Russell Westbrook has made us all prisoners of the moment.

Since the All-Star break, Westbrook has single-handedly dominated the NBA. Playing without reining MVP Kevin Durant, Westbrook passed James Harden as the NBA leading scorer averaging 27.4 points per game, while dishing out 8.3 assists and grabbing 7.1 rebounds. He has made getting triple-doubles look effortless. During his historic February run, the extremely enthused point guard averaged a triple-double of 34.5 ppg, 11.3 assists and 10.4 rebounds, leading his team to a 7-3 record. In the last five games prior to their loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Russell Westbrook joined all-time great, Oscar Robertson, as the only players in NBA history to record 200+ points, 50+ rebounds and 50+ assists over a five-game stretch. In fact, Westbrook outplayed the “Big O.” Westbrook has 201 points, 61 rebounds and 56 assists in his last five contests, compared to Robertson’s 200 points, 54 rebounds and 52 assists.

If Westbrook keeps up this level of play and the Thunder move up from the eighth seed in the competitive Western Conference, then he should undoubtedly win the league’s MVP award.

However, that’s hypothetically speaking. Right now, if I had to vote for the league’s MVP, I’m voting for Houston’s own bearded one, James Harden.

The difference between Westbrook and James Harden is consistency. Now Harden hasn’t put up epic numbers like Westbrook, but he has been nothing less than phenomenal all season.

130501234618-0501-harden-three.1200x672Similar to Westbrook, Harden is also lacking help. Without Dwight Howard, Harden has led the Houston Rockets to a 19-10 record while averaging 27 ppg, 7.1 assists and 5.8 rebounds. Harden has a .536 free throw rate (highest among guards and eighth-highest overall), and has attempted (599) and made (520). Westbrook has a league high seven triple-doubles and right behind him is Harden with three.

Out of my top five MVP candidates, which includes Harden, Westbrook, Stephon Curry, LeBron James, and the entire Atlanta Hawks’ starting lineup, James Harden is on the worst team.

Harden single handedly willed the Rockets to the third seed in the West. The Rockets are now currently only two games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for second place. Who has been Harden’s second hand help? Terrance Jones! That’s right! T. Jones is an emerging power forward in the NBA averaging 19 ppg, but he has only played in 20 games. Prior to Terrence’s return to the Rockets, Harden looked to Patrick Beverly and Trevor Ariza for help. Out of all the players in the NBA, James Harden means the most to his team. LeBron James would probably come second. However, he still has Kyrie Irving to on his team to help carry the ball.

Stephen Curry, who could achieve a 50/40/90 season, is the best player on the team with the best record, but he has the best roster. Steph Curry is going to continue to put up numbers throughout the regular season. But if there’s a game where he plays bad like he did against the Clippers on Sunday night, the Warriors are so talented that someone else would gladly pick up his slack. The Warriors (49-12) are a team filled with All-Stars. Steph and Klay Thompson started in this year’s game. Off their bench, they have two former All-Stars in David Lee and Andre Iguodala. They also have Draymond Green, a potential All-Star, so standing out on that team isn’t hard.

635563556719814181-2015-01-08-James-HardenTo me, the league’s MVP has really come down to two people and one team; James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Atlanta Hawks. Westbrook has definitely captivated the NBA with his memorable performances, but the question that needs an answer is, will his hot streak continue when his running mate Kevin Durant comes back? Westbrook, as we know, isn’t an efficient scorer. He needs to not only dominate the ball, but he needs to get his shots. In the last six games, despite the triple-doubles, Westbrook has shot .42 percent from the field and averages 30 shot attempts per game. When K.D comes back, he isn’t going to get many shot attempts. So will the historic run end? Only time will tell.

James Harden on the other hand, is a different story. He brings it every night; and when Dwight Howard comes back, his stats are liable to improve because he’ll get easier assists and the pressure would be off of him, just a little, as the opponents’ defense would be focusing on Dwight, causing Harden to get easier buckets.

To be honest, the Hawks are the real MVPs. They have the second best record in the NBA at 49-13 and without a “superstar” they have beat all of the league’s top teams other than San Antonio Spurs, which they see again on March 22 in Atlanta. Earlier this season, the team went on a magical run winning 19 consecutive games and their play has been unexpectedly outstanding.

Unless the league gives the MVP to the Atlanta Hawks’ entire starting lineup, James Harden is my pick for MVP.