Each arena, of course, will be backing a different, qualified candidate for the Association's most coveted individual honor, the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, given each year to the Most Valuable Player.
There are no fewer than a dozen players who have been good enough to warrant some MVP consideration this season including Utah's own tandem of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. Others who've been great, but not quite great enough to be serious contenders this season include the Suns' Amare Stoudemire and two-time winner Steve Nash, Houston's Tracy McGrady, San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Orlando's Dwight Howard and Boston's Paul Pierce.
That leaves four top choices, one of which will no doubt win the MVP award. Here's a look at each of the most serious contenders in alphabetical order by last name followed by the arguments for and against:
KOBE BRYANT, Lakers
FOR: Despite being long considered the best all-around player in the NBA by many, Bryant has never won the MVP Award. Some voters might give him the advantage due to his lifetime achievements, but his stats this year are plenty persuasive even without sentiment. Bryant, the best player on a team still fighting for the best record in the rough-and-tumble West, is second in the league in scoring (28.7 ppg) while also averaging 5.4 assists and 6.3 rebounds. Plus, he's been playing hurt, with a ligament tear in his right pinky finger.
AGAINST: Bryant simply rubs many people the wrong way including some teammates, opposing players and fans. His preseason trade demand probably didn't help his public-relation efforts with media members, who are the ones who actually get to vote.
KEVIN GARNETT, Celtics
FOR: Garnett, a media favorite and 2003-04 MVP, is a major reason the Celtics have made the biggest one-season turnaround in NBA history. Without him last season, Boston won only 24 games. This year the Celtics already have 60 victories and will finish with the best record in the NBA. Garnett has led the way with a fine, all-around season, averaging 18.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks. He has been a team player and gotten along well with fellow All-Stars Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
AGAINST: Garnett's campaign seems to have peaked too early. If the award would have been given out at midseason, he would have been the likely winner. But rivals from the Western Conference have been getting the headlines in the second half. Plus, he missed nine games with injury and Boston was able to go 7-2 without him.
LEBRON JAMES, Cavaliers
FOR: King James is the NBA's leading scorer this season, averaging 30.4 points per game. The 23-year-old also averages eight rebounds and 7.3 assists and is a threat on any given night to go off for a triple-double. His team is not as talented as most other MVP candidates' rosters, so it could be argued that he is more "valuable" to his team than many. After all, the Cavs would likely be a lottery team if James wasn't around.
AGAINST: Everyone knows James will get an MVP award probably three or four before he is done. But he is only 23 and will have plenty of time to get personal honors in the future. His team's mediocre play may also hurt him. MVP voters seem to prefer the top player on teams that win 50-plus games.
CHRIS PAUL, Hornets
FOR: Paul is already considered the top point guard in the league even better than two-time MVP Steve Nash by many. He's been good all year but has been particularly strong down the stretch. He won the league's player of the month honor for March, averaging 24 points, 13.3 assists and 2.67 steals. Plus, he's leading the league in both assists and steals for the season and he's on a team that is leading the West.
AGAINST: Again, Paul may be a victim of his age, or more precisely, his lack of it. He's only 22 and many voters might have a hard time with him getting an MVP award before Kobe gets one. Jazz fans, meanwhile, would point out that Deron Williams has been just as effective, he just hasn't gotten nearly as much national media attention as Paul.
So who will win?
The guess here is that Bryant will be first, followed by Paul, James and Garnett in that order.
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