Since the start of February, LeBron James has rendered the 2013 NBA MVP debate all but irrelevant.
Despite Kevin Durant exploding for his best-ever season and Chris Paul leading the Los Angeles Clippers to their best-ever year, the MVP race is already over.
At this point, it's only a question of who'll finish second behind James.
James has every portion of the typical MVP candidate resume covered. If he didn't already have the award locked up with his insane per-game statistics (26.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.3 assists) or his league-leading PER of 31.0, the Miami Heat's current 27-game win streak should do the trick.
He's the league's best player on the league's most dominant team, and he's left all challengers to his MVP throne in his dust.
To be featured as a leading MVP candidate here, a player must either be the undisputed best player on his team, one of the league leaders in a major statistical category or on one of the squads with the best records in the league.
Can anyone prevent James from taking home his fourth MVP award in five years? Find out here if it's even possible with fewer than 15 games left in the 2012-13 season.
Note: Statistics and records are current through games played on March 24, except where otherwise noted. Last week's rankings here.
In alphabetical order:
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Here's all you need to know about Stephen Curry's MVP candidacy: In 19 post-All-Star-break games, Curry has averaged 26.1 points, 6.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 48.7 percent from the floor, 48.1 percent from three-point range and 90.5 percent from the free-throw line.
An ankle sprain suffered on March 23 against the Washington Wizards could be a slight concern, but Curry sounded confident after the game that the injury wasn't severe. He proved it by bouncing back two nights later to play against the Los Angeles Lakers in a game with critical playoff seeding implications.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers
With the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks neck-and-neck for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, Paul George deserves at least some recognition in the MVP race. He kept the Pacers afloat offensively with Danny Granger sidelined for most of the season and emerged as a potential breakout star.
George has dealt with a sprained ligament in his left pinkie finger since mid-March, according to the Indianapolis Star, but it hasn't seemed to affect him much. He dropped 19 points in 28 minutes in a 22-point win over the Orlando Magic on March 19, then followed up with 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a 102-78 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks three nights later.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Even though the Los Angeles Clippers hit a rough patch in March, going 4-4 in the first eight games of the month, I can't drop a player from the MVP rankings who ranks sixth in the league in win shares (9.8) and ties Russell Westbrook for ninth in PER (23.4), according to Basketball Reference.
In only 32.6 minutes per game in March, Griffin has averaged 17.6 points on 55.9 percent shooting, 7.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists. If and when his minutes shoot up in the playoffs, Griffin could easily start posting 20-10-5 a night.
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
The Miami Heat continue to attract a majority of the attention, but the Denver Nuggets rode a none-too-shabby 15-game win streak of their own until meeting the New Orleans Hornets on March 25. During that streak, point guard Ty Lawson averaged 19.7 points on 50.3 percent shooting and 6.1 assists per game, according to NBA.com/stats.
Lawson missed the Nuggets' three games on March 21, 23 and 25 due to a bruised heel, which could end any chance of him receiving MVP votes if it ends up keeping him out any longer. Otherwise, as long as Denver keeps on winning, Lawson could be a sleeper top-10 MVP candidate heading into the final weeks of the season.
Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets
The thought of Deron Williams being in the MVP conversation pre-All-Star break was laughable. Brooklyn's $100 million man averaged 16.7 points per game while only shooting 41.3 percent from the field and 34.7 percent from three-point range.
Since the All-Star break, Williams has been an entirely different (read: better) player. In the Brooklyn Nets' 17 post-All-Star-break games, he's averaged 23.4 points and 7.9 assists per game, shooting a much more respectable 47.7 percent overall and 44.2 percent from deep.
With Brooklyn making a late charge at one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Williams deserves a few fringe MVP votes.
Just missed the cut: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Dropped from rankings: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (injury)
Last week's ranking: 7
Russell Westbrook doesn't fall this week based on his recent performance as much as other stars (namely Tony Parker and Carmelo Anthony) returning from injuries.
It's been a tale of two halves of the season for Westbrook in 2012-13. Before the All-Star break, Westbrook struggled with his shooting percentage, going only 42.6 percent from the field, but averaged an eye-popping 8.6 assists in November and 8.8 assists in December.
Westbrook has kicked up his scoring a notch since mid-February, averaging 25.3 points on 47 percent shooting in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 18 post-All-Star-break games to date. His career-high assist totals have dropped down to 6.1 per game in February and March, however.
The Thunder point guard is the only player not named LeBron James averaging at least 20 points, seven assists and five rebounds per game this season, according to Basketball Reference. He's also registered a career-high 10.0 win shares, fifth-best in the league, and is tied with Blake Griffin for ninth in the league in PER (23.4).
As always, Westbrook's greatest challenge in the MVP race is his superstar teammate, Kevin Durant. With Durant threatening to become the first scoring champion in league history to post 50-40-90 shooting averages, Westbrook stands no chance of finishing ahead of K.D. in the MVP race.
Odds of winning MVP: 0.25 percent
Last week's ranking: 8
When healthy during the 2012-13 season, Tim Duncan has been as much of a dynamic force as ever.
The 36-year-old is clearly winning the battle against Father Time this season, as he's averaged 17.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.7 blocks in only 30 minutes per game for the San Antonio Spurs.
With point guard Tony Parker out for most of March due to a sprained ankle, Duncan only shouldered more offensive responsibility. In the Spurs' five games from March 14 to 24, Duncan averaged 23.8 points on 54 percent shooting, 13.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.8 blocks per game.
The Big Fundamental ranks fifth in the league in PER (24.3), according to Basketball Reference, and doesn't look to be in danger of slowing down any time soon. He, Parker and the Spurs have kept chugging along through a spate of injuries and still hold the best record in the Western Conference for the time being.
If the Spurs finish with the No. 1 seed in the West despite suffering injuries to all three members of their Big Three, Duncan will merit some top-five MVP consideration. He's only ranked this low in the fear that coach Gregg Popovich begins resting Duncan early for the upcoming playoffs.
Odds of winning MVP: 0.25 percent
Last week's ranking: Honorable Mention
As promised, the instant Tony Parker returned to the San Antonio Spurs' lineup, he jumped right back to being a top-10 NBA MVP favorite in 2013. He's only likely to move further up next week.
In his first game back on March 22 after missing eight games due to a sprained ankle, Parker lit the Utah Jazz up for 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting and five assists in a 104-97 win. Two nights later against the Houston Rockets, Parker dropped 23 points, seven assists, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal in the Spurs' 96-95 loss.
Before the injury, Parker had climbed his way up to being a top-three MVP candidate by virtue of his virtuoso season. He kept the Spurs afloat while Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili battled injuries in the early part of 2013, helping guide San Antonio to the best record in the cutthroat Western Conference.
The fact Parker remains tied with Kobe Bryant for eighth in the league in win shares (9.1), according to Basketball Reference, despite missing eight games only furthers his MVP candidacy, as does being tied with Dwyane Wade for sixth in the league in PER (24.2).
With a late-season push to lock up the No. 1 seed in the West for the Spurs, Parker could skyrocket back into the top five of the MVP favorites list before season's end.
Odds of winning MVP: 0.5 percent
Last week's ranking: 9
Carmelo Anthony slipped here in recent weeks due to a right knee injury that caused him to miss six games in March, but his return to the court justifies a jump in this week's MVP rankings.
Anthony returned from the injury on March 20 and lit the Orlando Magic up for 21 points on 14 shots in a 106-94 win, then dropped 37 points on 31 shots two nights later in a 99-94 win against the Toronto Raptors. He's back and unconscionably chucking up shots better than ever.
'Melo's MVP candidacy took off at the beginning of 2012-13 but cooled off as the season progressed. He went from knocking down roughly 47 percent of his shots in November and December to only 42 percent in January and 40.6 percent in February.
With two superstar wing scorers in LeBron James and Kevin Durant each knocking down at least 50 percent of their field-goal attempts, Anthony's season average of 43.8 percent shooting won't cut it in the MVP race.
If Anthony can get his New York Knicks to finish with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, he still has a shot to wind up as a top-five MVP candidate. If the Knicks shut Melo down with a few games left in the regular season to get him rested for the playoffs, he'll likely fall in the 6-8 range.
Odds of winning MVP: One percent
Last week's ranking: 5
Kobe Bryant can't move up in the MVP rankings after the week he and the Los Angeles Lakers just had.
Bryant missed the Lakers' back-to-back games over the weekend due to the infamous Dahntay Jones ankle-spraining incident back on March 13, something the playoff-desperate Lakers could hardly afford. The Lakers gutted out a 113-102 win over the Sacramento Kings on March 17 in Bryant's absence but fell to the Phoenix Suns in a 99-76 laugher the next night sans Bryant.
Even when Bryant returned on March 22 against the Washington Wizards, it was the same old story for the Lakers. They jumped out to an 18-point second-half lead but then immediately choked it all away and lost the game, 103-100. Bryant finished with 21 points, 11 assists, four rebounds and six turnovers.
On the season, the Mamba ranks third in the league in scoring (27.0 points per game) and is the only player not named LeBron James to be averaging at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. Despite his team's paltry 36-34 record, those are MVP-caliber statistics.
The Lakers still have a 1.5-game lead on the Utah Jazz for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, leaving Bryant's chances of finishing as a top-five MVP candidate intact. The Lakers can't afford many more bad losses, though.
Odds of winning MVP: 1.5 percent
Last week's ranking: 6
The Rockets wouldn't be on the right side of the playoff standings without James Harden taking over as a true No. 1 option. The Beard has averaged 26.3 points, 5.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 44.9 percent overall and 37.7 percent from three-point range on the season.
He's struggled with his shooting accuracy at times as he continues to acclimate to being the focal point of defenses, but he's compensated by becoming a free-throw-drawing machine. Harden averages 10.3 free-throw attempts per game, the only player in the league over the 10 FTA mark.
While it's difficult to imagine an MVP coming from a team only eight games above .500, Harden ranks third in the league in win shares (12.2) behind only LeBron James and Kevin Durant and eighth in the league in PER (23.9), according to Basketball Reference.
His Rockets now trail the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors by only half a game, which could help Houston avoid San Antonio and Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs. Harden's been phenomenal this season, but he's still likely a year away from truly contending for an MVP award.
Odds of winning MVP: Two percent
Last week's ranking: 4
Chris Paul has once again seized the title of NBA's best point guard during the 2012-13 season.
Paul has helped guide the Los Angeles Clippers to the precipice of the first 50-win season in franchise history, with the Clips currently sitting at 48-22 with 12 games to play. Despite playing a career-low 33.3 minutes per game, Paul has averaged 16.8 points, 9.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds and a league-best 2.4 steals each night for Los Angeles.
He's knocked down a career-high 89 percent of his 4.6 free-throw attempts per game this season, frequently turning into the Clippers' top closer in tight games. The Brooklyn Nets were the most recent victim of Paul's late-game heroics, losing 101-95 on March 23 after Paul dropped 17 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter.
CP3 is the only player in the league averaging at least 15 points, nine assists and three rebounds per game in 2012-13, according to Basketball Reference. He ranks third in the league in PER (26.4), trailing only LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and ranks fourth in win shares (11.7) behind James, Durant and James Harden.
With the Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies all separated by a game or less in the race for the West's third-best record, Paul needs to stay electric in the final few weeks of the season. Assuming he can guide the Clips to home-court advantage for the playoffs, there's no reason Paul should finish outside the top five of the MVP voting.
Odds of winning MVP: Two percent
Last week's ranking: 3
With the Miami Heat's 27-game win streak only continuing to grow, Dwyane Wade's case for MVP gets stronger each week.
LeBron James' brilliance in February may have engineered the streak, but Miami couldn't have sustained it for this long without superlative play from Wade too. Since the streak started on Feb. 3, the man once known as Flash has averaged 22.8 points, 5.8 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game, according to NBA.com/stats.
He's shot a career-high 51.9 percent from the field on the season and is one of only four players averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game, according to Basketball Reference, along with his teammate James, Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant.
Wade is now tied with Tony Parker for sixth in the league in PER (24.2) and tied with Stephen Curry and Tyson Chandler for 10th in win shares (9.0), according to Basketball Reference. Considering the questions Wade faced early in the season about permanently losing a step, a bounce-back like the one he's managed this season is nothing short of incredible.
A sore right knee kept Wade out of the Heat's games on March 24 and 25, which could ding his top-five MVP chances if it persists much longer. Here's guessing the Heat figured they could dominate the lackluster Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic with only two of their Big Three and decided to give Wade a few precautionary nights off.
Unfortunately for Wade's MVP candidacy, he happens to play on the same team as the runaway MVP favorite. He'd have to average about 40 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists per game for the rest of the season to steal votes away from LeBron.
Odds of winning MVP: 2.5 percent
Last week's ranking: 2
A mini-shooting slump in March has Kevin Durant in danger of losing his one true advantage over LeBron James in the 2013 MVP race.
Since mid-December, Durant has been a member of the 50-40-90 Club, shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line. He's also battled his way to being the league's scoring leader (28.3 points per game) for the fourth straight year.
Before this season, no player in NBA history had ever finished the season in the 50-40-90 Club as the scoring champion. With 11 games remaining for the 2012-13 Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant has a chance to make history.
He's flirting dangerously close to losing his hold on the notoriety, though. He's shot only 46.3 percent from the field, 31.6 percent from three and 88.8 percent from the charity stripe in March, dropping his season averages to 50.3 percent, 40.6 percent and 90.6 percent, respectively.
Without that first-in-league-history honor on his belt, Durant stands no chance of dethroning the reigning MVP in 2013. His advantages over James in the per-game scoring and rebounding columns aren't enough to make up for the deficits in assists or defense.
Durant can't rely on the advanced analytics advocates to make his MVP case either. He ranks second in the league in both win shares (16.3) and PER (27.9), and take one guess who's ahead of him in each category.
This doesn't mean that Durant isn't posting the finest season of his career; he absolutely is. He just happens to be up against a basketball buzz saw named LeBron James in this year's MVP race.
Odds of winning MVP: Five percent
Last week's ranking: 1
Before the start of February, the 2013 NBA MVP race wasn't anywhere close to being decided.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant had separated themselves from the pack as the top two contenders, but Durant was neck-and-neck with James for a while there.
Then the Miami Heat decided to not lose a game for the next two months and go on a 27-game win streak (and counting). That all but silenced Durant's MVP bid, despite the career-best season he's posted for Oklahoma City this year.
The ease with which James and the Heat assert their will should mortify the rest of the league. They'll go down 10 or 15 points early, possibly even 27 points in the second half in Cleveland, then go on a 20- or 30-point run that swings the game back in their favor.
James, in particular, has been a breathtaking basketball machine since the start of the streak. He averaged 29.7 points, 7.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game in February, shooting 64.1 percent from the field, 43.2 percent from three-point range and 80.9 percent from the free-throw line. The MVP race all but ended there.
He's followed up in March by averaging 24.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. James is about as unstoppable as they come on a basketball court these days.
Throw in the fact that he ranks first in the league in both PER (31.3) and win shares (17.3) by a widening margin over Durant, according to Basketball Reference, and it's a no-contest. The only way James doesn't win his fourth MVP in five years this season is if coach Erik Spoelstra benches him for the rest of the year.
Odds of winning MVP: 85 percent