Lillard a 'hot name' in MVP discussion
With the Houston Rockets on top of the NBA and James Harden on top of the scoring race, he may be running away with the MVP vote.
Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard might have something to say about that.
With stellar play steering their sizzling teams, they have at least entered their names in the conversation with a little more than a month left in the regular season.
Harden has been runner-up to Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook in recent years, but it's looked like his time this season. With more than 31 points and nearly nine assists per game — third in the league in that category — for a team with the league's best record, it's hard to imagine needing to look elsewhere.
"What Harden and Houston is doing right now, he's the MVP of the league right now," Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas said on NBA TV.
Davis and Lillard could deserve some thought.
Davis has carried New Orleans with dominant basketball since DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season last month. The Western Conference player of the month for February opened March by winning player of the week, largely on the strength of a 53-point, 18-rebound, five-block effort that rallied the Pelicans from a 17-point deficit to a victory over Phoenix on Feb. 26.
Then he went for 41 points and 13 rebounds Tuesday in his first game this week, hitting the tiebreaking shot as the Pelicans beat the Clippers in Los Angeles.
He's second in the league in scoring and blocks, and eighth in rebounds.
Lillard is building a good resume for this week's honor. He's scored 39 and 37 in two games thus far, with 19 in the fourth quarter Monday to rally Portland past the Lakers, and eight 3-pointers Tuesday in a rout of the Knicks. That gave the league leader in second-half scoring 35 or more in seven of the last 10 games.
Most importantly — for their teams and their candidacies — their clubs are rolling. New Orleans has won nine straight and Portland has won eight in a row.
The top four teams in the Western Conference have combined for 39 straight victories.
And if a couple of them have even a minor slump, they might fall right out of the playoff picture.
That's how tight things are in the West headed down the stretch. Golden State is 6-0 since the All-Star break and can't gain on Houston, which has won 16 in a row to remain a half-game ahead.
Third-place Portland has won eight consecutive games and is a game up on New Orleans, winner of nine in a row. Yet the Pelicans are just three games ahead of ninth place, and there remains just a 4 ½-game difference between No. 3 and No. 10.
"There's just not a whole lot of separation," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said, "so I think that's what you're going to see for the rest of the year."
Martin Luther King Jr. Day? Same.
Those were the dates of the two Golden State-Cleveland matchups, so they were obvious.
What about March 9?
That date probably wasn't circled by many looking for potential NBA Finals previews this season, but it sure looks possible now.
Houston visits Toronto in that Friday night showdown, a matchup of the best in the West and the leaders in the East.
The Rockets take a 16-game winning streak and the league's best record into their game Wednesday at Milwaukee. They have won nine straight on the road.
The Raptors are an NBA-best 27-5 at home and have won five in a row overall.
Other games to watch this week:
San Antonio at Golden State, Thursday. Start of a treacherous three-game trip for the Spurs, who then go to Oklahoma City and Houston.
Philadelphia at Miami, Thursday. The sixth-place 76ers are two games ahead of the Heat, who are eighth in the East.
Golden State at Portland, Friday. The Blazers beat the Warriors 123-117 on Feb. 14, when Kevin Durant scored 50 points and Lillard had 44.
New York at Milwaukee, Friday. It'll bring up bad memories for the Knicks, since it was against the Bucks last month that Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL.
Cleveland at the Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday. Think Isaiah Thomas would like to have a good game against the team that sent him west at the trade deadline?
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
Larry Nance Jr., Monday: 22 points, 15 rebounds in Cleveland's 112-90 victory over Detroit. Nance got his first start with his new team and looked worthy of it by notching those career-high numbers.