"I am the MVP.''
Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden issued this declaration after registering 44 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in a Friday win over Detroit, and as for his candidacy?
As for his attitude?
Harden is a perennial candidate for the NBA's top individual honor - he won it in 2018 - and he's right there again. In that particular game, he played without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant and led the Nets to their 17th win in their last 20 games.
In fairness to him, the subject came up because he was asked if he belongs in this year’s conversation. Maybe Harden felt a bit insulted by the query.
“I feel like I am the MVP,'' he answered.
Then he continued on ...
“I don’t want to speak individually on myself,” Harden added. “I’m just going to leave it at that.''
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Then he didn't "leave it at that,'' and this is where, to Dallas Mavericks fans, Luka Doncic conveniently enters the picture.
Said Harden: “I just try to go out there every single night and bring my teammates everything I can bring to the game. ... Just play the game the right way and try to be efficient in doing it.”
Harden is averaging 25.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and a league-best 11.2 assists per game. But "play the game the right way''? The pouty method he used to escape Houston in order to join the loaded Nets was not "right.'' Additionally, Harden's incredible array of teammates - Durant and Irving and now buyout newcomer LaMarcus Aldridge - makes his job almost infinitely easier than the job Doncic has in carrying Dallas.
Harden is, frankly, as biased toward himself as we are partial to Doncic, and we concede that when we peruse the work of respected NBA writer Sam Amick of The Athletic, who wrote a column on the MVP race on Feb. 24 that had this top five: LeBron James, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Damian Lillard and Steph Curry.
No Harden. No Luka.
Amick has since added that "Harden'' is not on the top of my list just yet, but he's moving up the ranks for sure. More than a month later, here's my updated top five: Jokic, Embiid, Damian Lillard, Harden, LeBron.''
Still no Luka, who is averaging about 28 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in leading Dallas to a recent surge slowed only by the fact that the Mavs just lost two straight games ... while Doncic sat out with a sore back.
UPDATE: The Mavs' Sunday afternoon media info does not include Doncic among the injured, indicating that his back might be OK for Monday's visit to OKC.
Amick has his preferences and we have ours and Harden is entitled to his. And Luka? Part of the beauty of his game is matched by his persona: He's unlikely to ever boast, "I am the MVP.''
Luka Doncic's statement, his response, will simply be to continue to play like one.