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LeBron James' recent tear has kept the door open on the MVP race, albeit only slightly cracked. The Lakers' cog has posted at least 32 points in four of his last seven games, a span which includes four double-doubles. It begs the question of whether James - who has the Lakers primed for the No. 1 seed in the West - can pull off the impossible and usurp Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo for the prodigious award.
Let's break it down.
Antetokounmpo's put up ridiculous numbers to the tune of 29.6 points and 13.5 rebounds per game, both career-highs. If he increases his assist average from 5.8 to 6.0 over the final lap of the season, he'll set personal-best marks in all three categories. Antetokounmpo's also pacing the league in a bevy of advanced statistics, including real plus-minus and defensive rating.
James' point and rebound averages are his lowest total since the 2015-16 season, but he's compensated in the assist column, posting a career-best 10.7 per game. However, when it comes to advanced stats, he's No. 8 in the league in efficiency rating, No. 13 in win shares per 48 minutes, No. 6 in box plus-minus, and No. 4 in VORP.
Now, let me introduce you all to James Harden, who's averaging an otherworldly 34.6 points per game on top of 7.3 assists and 6.3 rebounds. Harden, who won the award two years ago, leads the NBA in both win shares and VORP. He's second in the league in efficiency rating, offensive win shares, box plus-minus, and offensive box-plus minus.
If you were looking to bet on the MVP race and were late to the party on Antetokounmpo, perhaps it's not James who you should be putting money down on as the long shot.
Did you know that LeBron James is playing in his age-35 season and that he drinks red wine for the antioxidant benefits and that rookies in the league are closer in age to his son than his own self?
Come on. If there's one athlete who doesn't need to be pampered about the level of production he provides for his age, it's James. Then again, the media strings this out as if the 16-time All-Star could wind up in a retirement home before 2023.
It's an external edge for James, and it's certainly not his fault. So long as the NBA still has games left to play, the best to ever do it will be slipped into MVP talks - whether he's truly deserving or not.
The Bucks have 20 games left, and their remaining opponents own an average winning percentage of .517. The Lakers have 22 contests remaining, with their foes owning a winning percentage of .497. However, the defensive strength of schedule for both clubs is essentially the same. It's a wash at this point, and unless the two MVP hopefuls were on opposite ends of the spectrum to gain an edge via competition, it's mostly irrelevant.
James deserves to be in the MVP race. But he's getting walloped in just about every individual category. The three-time champ is keeping the door open, but only due to the media running out of good things to say about his rival in the East. I'd trust the betting markets and leave this alone. In all honesty, I'd rather bypass James' odds at +900 and take a stab at Harden at an even longer price.
Alex Kolodziej is a betting writer for theScore. He's a graduate of Eastern Illinois who has been involved in the sports betting industry for 12 years. He can quote every line from "Rounders" and appreciates franchises that regularly wear alternate jerseys. Find him on Twitter @AJKolodziej.