NBA MVP 2019: Latest Odds, Predictions on James Harden vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2019

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - MARCH 26:  Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks is defended by James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets during the second half of a game at Fiserv Forum on March 26, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It's no secret that the 2019 NBA MVP Award has come down to two players: the Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Houston Rockets' James Harden.

That's the easy part.

The hard part is deciding who deserves to win it more or, more importantly, who will garner the most votes.

Unlike last season, when Harden won the Maurice Podoloff Trophy in a landslide, the Rockets point guard has some serious competition in the Greek Freak. The Bucks had the best record in the league (60-21) just one year after finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference (44-38), largely thanks to a huge jump in Antetokounmpo's play alongside the work of head coach Mike Budenholzer.

The sixth-year forward has become a lethal two-way threat and is averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks a game. Additionally, he is the best defender on the NBA's best defensive team (104.8 defensive rating).

He's also been able to improve all season, book-ending his resume with a standout night against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

On Thursday in Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo went off for 45 points, 13 boards, six assists and five blocks to lift the Bucks to a 128-122 win over the Sixers and secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Equally impressive was the manner in which he did it. In just 35 minutes, he picked up the slack for Eric Bledsoe, who was tossed for getting two technical fouls early, controlled the tempo, outplayed Embiid and blocked one of his shots with less than 50 seconds remaining to seal the win.

His coach had to put in a good word for him after logging one of his best games of the season.

"That felt like a statement, especially what he does defensively with five blocks and 13 rebounds and changes the game, Budenholzer told Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "He's an MVP in our eyes. 

"I think Giannis, that's kind of how he's built—to play against the best and compete and just lay it all on the line. A little something on the line for us with the No. 1 seed."

Not to be outdone, Harden put up ridiculous stat lines of his own in March, pouring in 57 points against the Memphis Grizzlies, 50 points against the Sacramento Kings and a career-high-tying 61 points against the San Antonio Spurs.

"I don't know how you get any better," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni told L.A. Times' Dan Loumena after the victory over the Spurs. "Whoever was in the gym tonight probably [saw] something they have never seen before. There's no way. That was one of the best performances—the magnitude of the game, we needed it."

For the year, the reigning MVP is averaging a league-leading 36.1 points per game, along with 6.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists per outing.

Not only has Harden put up insane scoring numbers, he's done it at a record-breaking clip. 

He made history by reaching 32 games of 30 or more points scoredthe most since Wilt Chamberlainand became the first player in NBA history to score 30 or more points against all of the opposing teams in a season.


🚀 @JHarden13 becomes the first player in @NBAhistory to score 30+ points against all 29 opponents in the same season! #Rockets https://t.co/czZFuYGULH

The numbers Harden has put up have been beyond impressive, but he's done it while dragging the Rockets back to contention.

After a disappointing 11-14 start had Houston in 14th place in the Western Conference, Harden found a way to take his game to another level.

The Rockets (53-29) are going to the playoffs having clinched the Southwest Division and could finish as the No. 3 seed (if the Portland Trail Blazers lose Wednesday).

That's quite the feat, especially considering Houston had to navigate injuries to Chris Paul and Clint Capela that saw them miss a total of 39 games.

Obviously, it's hard to choose between Antetokounmpo and Harden for the MVP.

The voters have very little time before they have to submit their ballots, but players around the league have already made their choice.

James Harden.

In an anonymous poll conducted by The Athletic that was released Monday, 44.3 percent of 127 players chose Harden as this year's MVP compared to 38.9 percent for Antetokounmpo.

The big question is, did they get it right?

The problem with the MVP award is the ambiguity surrounding it. Is it for the best player in the league, the one most valuable to his team or the most valuable to the NBA?

B/R Betting @br_betting

Giannis or Harden? 🏆 https://t.co/Q7kTIGcQ4f

Another big factor is the team surrounding the player.

In Antetokounmpo's case, he has a first-time All Star teammate in Khris Middleton, but Harden has future Hall of Famer Paul by his side and former Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon hoisting up three-balls.

He also has emerging center Capela to protect the rim and catch alley-oop passes in the lane.

So it's a toss-up, and no one can argue against either one of these great players taking home the trophy. That means this should be one of the most talked about and interesting debates the NBA has seen in years.

Prediction: Harden edges Antetokounmpo by the slightest of margins for his second straight MVP


Follow Maurice Bobb on Twitter, @ReeseReport.

Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


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