ON A ROLL

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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Martin Truex Jr. won his 2nd race of the season last week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR returns to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. This is the first of two races here at this track as they will race on Sunday afternoon. This will be different from the normal night race they usually have here as this will definitely affect the racing surface considering how much the sun could make the track slick. It should be a fun race come Sunday.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. passed Denny Hamlin to capture his second win of the season after rain moved the race to Sunday. He became the first driver to win multiple races after a fierce battle with his teammate Denny Hamlin. The race was filled with tons of wrecks including a fifteen car pileup including Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. It was one of the better races of the season as there was lots of beating and banging.

The race was not without controversy but not the kind you would expect. Early in the race Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and James Davison were involved in an altercation. The two were battling towards the back of the pack when Ware decided to drive through his teammate in turn four. The race got much worse for Cody Ware as he was involved in three more cautions all throughout the race. Many people around the sport were quite perturbed by his antics including broadcaster Mike Joy as he was audibly annoyed after Ware spun out later in the race. Many have questioned if the fifth-year driver should even be in the car and overall I can understand why some of those people think that. In his five years of driving, he has finished on the lead lap one time. I hope that he is able to figure it out and find success in the future, but this was not a good look.

The slump continues for two-time champion Kyle Busch

Throughout the race, Busch was running okay for the most part but towards the closing laps of the race he and Chris Buescher got together triggering a fifteen car pileup. Despite all this, he was able to rebound to a respectable tenth place finish. This has been more than likely the toughest stretch of his career since his championship in 2019. Many would say that the omission of Practice and Qualifying has really affected his performance. Whatever the issue is, this team really needs to find some speed, or he could be in danger of missing the playoffs. I look for this team to bounce back considering how talented he is.

Prediction

The driver that I have winning this week is Kyle Larson. This has been an incredible rebound season for Larson as he currently sits fourth in points. He is also second in laps led only to Denny Hamlin. Richmond has been a great track for him as it fits his driving style perfectly as he can run the outside line and find grip where others can't. This track is also rather sentimental to him considering he won his first pole award here during his rookie season in 2014. While he may not have the results he would want he has always been extremely fast here and even won back in 2017. I look for him to capture his second victory of 2021 come Sunday.

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