Harden's triple-double helps Rockets over Wolves 123-118

Before Russell Westbrook put the competition to bed over the weekend, when his buzzer-beating game-winner capped off a performance in which he scored 50 points and got his record-breaking 42nd triple-double of the season, some National Basketball Association fans and media were calling the 2016-17 season the deepest Most Valuable Player race in recent history. Westbrook might be an incrementally better offensive player than Leonard but he's not almost as efficient, while the Spurs star is miles ahead of Russell defensively.

With the National Basketball Association regular season over, one of the great Most Valuable Player award chases in league history is in the books, leaving a breath-taking season to look back over before filling out ballots. Patrick Beverley draws the unenviable task of trying to slow down Westbrook, but he's as capable a defender as you'll find at the point guard position. He had a solid first half of the game with 23 points 12 rebounds and six assists. How tightly things are called in this series will be a definite factor, as Oklahoma City, with its size and physicality advantage inside (the best rebounding team in the league), would seem to prefer a more loosely called game. Knocked off by the Cavs last season, they would get Cleveland one round sooner this time if both advance. James hasn't played in a Game 6 in a first-round series since 2008. All three may have been worthy MVP winners this season had Durant not hurt his knee in late February.

Blake Griffin, who tweeted that Westbrook should win MVP on Sunday, explained to HoopsHype's Alex Kennedy that, just as important as stats, the way Westbrook played and how other players view that should make him MVP. Those two have been so much fun this season, and figure to put on quite a show. Most of Westbrook's passes are specifically to players who are about to shoot, or more likely, dunk. Andre Roberson is a brilliant defensive player who will shadow James Harden the entire series.

Westbrook did the unexpected.

The dude averaged a triple-double.

Harden did the unexpected.

Harden is having an unbelievable season for Mike Dantoni and the Rockets, but when that offense is clicking, the point guard should put up wonderful stats.

LeBron James did the unexpected. Harden has been no slouch himself, averaging 29 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists while leading one of the league's top offenses.

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Even Isaiah Thomas, a long-shot MVP candidate, did the unexpected.

The Rockets finished the regular season as the third seed in the West with a record of 55-27.

Kawhi Leonard is awesome, and so are Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, but this series just does not scream excitement.

Leonard has had a spectacular season.

As a team, the Spurs are really good this season. There is no animosity between the two of them, just a desire to win at all costs. That's a pretty good case for the best offensive season ever.

Houston and Utah have both improved from previous year; Houston was an 8, and Utah, at 9, didn't qualify for postseason play.

Timberwolves: Andrew Wiggins finished with 21 points. Now we're going to evaluate Harden's in relation to Westbrook. Harden's teammates have higher player efficiency rating (PER) for the most part than Westbrook's teammates, and Harden has sixty-four more assists than Westbrook this season. In fact, he did not even come in second place.

Before that happens, however, let's take a look at all eight first-round matchups, ranking them from an entertainment/competitiveness standpoint. Depending on the players' performances in the post-season, the MVP trophy may still be far from won. Harden's push for MVP begins with a better team record. He is as deserving as the rest of the top candidates.

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