NBA Predictions: 4 Games That Could Swing the MVP Race

Ben Shapiro@benshapironyc1 Analyst IIIApril 2, 2012

NBA Predictions: 4 Games That Could Swing the MVP Race

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    The MVP race is heating up as the regular season winds down.

    To win the MVP award in the NBA a player must excel in relevant statistical categories and lead his team to a great regular-season record. 

    No player has won the MVP trophy with his team having less than 50 regular season wins since Moses Malone of the Houston Rockets in the 1981-1982 season. 

    Malone played every game that year and averaged 31.1 points and 14.7 rebounds per game. An absurd 6.9 of those rebounds were offensive rebounds, which is the second best per game average since the stat started being recorded in 1973-1974. 

    Winning 50 games in a standard 82 game regular season equates to a winning percentage of nearly 61 percent. This season is shortened due to the lockout but to achieve an equivalent winning percentage a team would need to win over 40 games. 

    The Minnesota Timberwolves currently have a record of 26-28. There are only 13 games left in the season. In spite of the tremendous season that Kevin Love is having it seems highly unlikely that he can win the award. He will definitely get some votes, but he stands little chance of actually winning it. 

    That leaves three major contenders for the MVP Award: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. James and Durant play for teams with two of the top records in the league. Bryant's Lakers are not among the very best teams in the league, but they will likely finish with enough wins to garner Bryant quite a few votes. 

    Three great players and less than a month left to decide who wins the award. Head-to-head matchups will take on extra gravitas down the stretch. Here are the key games that could swing the MVP race in the season's final month. 

April 4: Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat

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    NBA fans won't have to wait long to see a big showdown. The first one takes place this coming Wednesday in Miami when the Thunder visit the Heat. 

    The Head have not been playing well as of late and were handed a blowout loss in Boston on Sunday afternoon. They have now lost three of their last five and haven't beaten a winning team on the road since March 16th against the 76ers. 

    The last head-to-head matchup with the Thunder didn't go so well either, as Miami lost 103-87 in Oklahoma City on March 25th. The game featured a near triple-double by Durant, whose final stat line included 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists on 11-of-20 shooting. 

    James meanwhile had a quiet game in which he scored only 17 points with three rebounds and seven assists. 

    Both the Heat and James should be looking for payback this coming Wednesday in Miami. A convincing win by the Thunder could really bolster Durant's case for the MVP Award. 

    James on the other hand could quiet his critics if he were to lead the Heat to big win against a very good opponent, especially if that win includes him outperforming Durant on national television. 

April 11: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs

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    The Lakers aren't just behind the Thunder in the Western Conference—they're behind the Spurs too. San Antonio has put together another great season behind Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. 

    Duncan has already won two MVP awards in his career, and while he won't be contending for the award this season, Kobe Bryant could make his own case a lot stronger by leading the Lakers to a win on the road. 

April 12: Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls

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    Last year Derrick Rose led his Bulls to a 60-win season and took home his first MVP award. He became the youngest player ever to be named league MVP and had high hopes of repeating this season. 

    Unfortunately for Rose, this season has been one of frustration as he has struggled with injuries. On the plus side, Rose's absence hasn't slowed down the Bulls. The team has gone 14-6 in games he has missed, and Chicago still boasts a league-best 42-12 record.

    Missing 20 games has in all likelihood eliminated Rose from serious contention for the MVP award, but when another superstar matches up against the previous season's MVP, you can bet that the level of play will be at its peak. 

    LeBron James already has two MVP awards. His legacy from this point forward will always be tied to his postseason accomplishments, or lack thereof. With a third MVP award well within reach, James won't be letting up on what has been one of his finest regular seasons.

    James is averaging a career high in rebounds, field goal percentage and three-point accuracy. His team has the third best record in the league. Is this the year he wins his third MVP? Is this the year he wins this first NBA title? Basketball fans will have to wait to find out the answers to both questions, but they should be in for a treat when James blows into the Windy City to face off against the Bulls. 

April 22: Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers

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    Kobe Bryant has had one of the greatest careers in NBA history but he's only won one MVP award. Could this season provide him with his second piece of MVP hardware? 

    Of the three favorites he probably stands the slimmest chance as his team easily has the worst record at 32-20. In addition, while Bryant does lead the league in scoring, he's having one of his weaker seasons in several other statistical categories. 

    The Black Mamba is having his worst shooting season since his rookie season and his worst from three-point range since his third season as a pro.

    Still, Bryant has had to lead his team through a tough set of obstacles this season. Key players have been dealt away, there's a new coach in town and there have been team chemistry issues all season long. 

    While Bryant is having what might be considered an off year by his own lofty standards, Kevin Durant is having arguably his best as a professional player.

    Durant is averaging 27.7 points per game, good for second in the league. He's also averaging career highs in rebounds (8.1), field goal percentage (.501), three-point percentage (.376) as well as both steals and blocked shots.  

    By the time Oklahoma City visits Los Angeles the regular season will be nearing its conclusion and the playoff pairings of both teams could be foregone conclusions.

    The MVP race probably will not be. This late-season tilt will be critical. A great performance by either player could catapult one of them to the front of the pack.