ON A ROLL

Joel Blank: This time, the MVP is James Harden's to lose

Joel Blank: This time, the MVP is James Harden's to lose
Barring a collapse, James Harden will be the MVP. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Hey James: It's yours to lose.

As we put the All-Star Weekend and unofficial midway point of the season behind us, there is still plenty to be decided between now and the end of the regular season— and that doesn't even include the playoffs. With postseason seeding still to be determined, as well as division titles and of course home court advantage, there is a ton to sort out during these final two and a half months of the regular campaign. With all of that uncertainty, there does seem to be one thing that is already decided, and that would be James Harden as your 2017-18 MVP.

The Beard has arguably been the most consistent player in the NBA over the past four seasons. He has twice been runner-up to the MVP trophy, losing to both Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. This season, he has taken it to another level both individually and as a result his team has reaped the benefits. Harden leads the league in scoring at over 31 points per game as well as being No. 1 in points scored, 3-pointers attempted and made, and has the team single-game scoring recored this season with 60 points against the Magic. He is also second in the league in assists per game, ninth in steals and is grabbing 5 rebounds per contest. The face of the Houston Rockets franchise also has the team playing at an all-time regular-season high level. The Rockets have the best record in the NBA and have put together the best regular season record at the All-Star break for a Houston team in franchise history with a 44-13 record. Sure the team added Chris Paul, but CP3 missed 14 of the team's first 15 games and has only played in 39 of the team's 57 contests. Harden has improved his game statistically across the board every year he has been with the Rockets and this year is no exception. He is averaging more points than he has ever averaged in his career, while improving his field goal and 3-point shooting percentage and still shoots over 86% from the free throw line.

Every year, there are always a handful of players that stand out from the rest and are in consideration for the greatest individual award given out in every NBA season. Kyrie Irving and the Celtics got off to a hot start and he was immediately thrown into the discussion. Jimmy Butler has the Minnesota Timberwolves playing at a level that they have not seen in over a decade so he will get some votes. Like it or not, as the greatest player on the planet today, LeBron James has his name in the discussion once again and deserves it with his numbers as impressive as ever, even in his 15th season. That said, those players and their respective teams have had their ups and downs and none of them have been as consistent as the Beard and his boys from H-Town.

The biggest difference between Harden’s previous runner-up MVP campaigns and this season seems to be the hype. When the Beard came in second to Steph Curry, media was constantly talking about how the Warriors were on a pace to be the greatest regular-season team of all time and Curry was making a case for being the greatest shooter in league history. When James was runner-up to Russell Westbrook a year ago, the talk of the basketball world and all the media outlets that follow it was the historic season that Russ put together as he chased the legend of Oscar Robertson and  averaged a triple-double for the season. This year is different as it seems that everyone is talking about the Rockets and giving them a legitimate chance to dethrone the Warriors in the Western Conference and quite possibly win it all. So it seems as if the stars have aligned and there is a new day dawning for James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

So the MVP is James Harden's to lose. The bigger question is, is the NBA title as well? For as good as Harden and the Rockets have been during the regular season, we all know that awards are given for the regular season but legends are defined by the postseason. The beard still has a lot to prove in the playoffs and all eyes will be on him this year to see if he can erase the ghosts of the past and prevent yet another disappointing, premature elimination. The microscope is on, will James Harden pass his "Finals" exam? It's yours to lose Beard, maybe in more ways than one?

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The Texans will have to shuffle the o-line once again. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

“Another one!”- DJ Khaled

That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.

The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.

Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!

One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.

As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.

To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.

I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.

The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.

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