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Who is the NBA's MVP? Our choices for that and other awards

Golden State's Stephen Curry, Houston's James Harden head a strong cast of NBA most-valuable-player candidates

The most compelling award in the NBA has always been for most valuable player, and that's no less true this season.

It really is a two-man race between Golden State's Stephen Curry and Houston's James Harden for the MVP hardware and it really is thisclose between the two guards.

That's not to say that Cleveland's LeBron James, Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook and the Clippers' Chris Paul aren't in the conversation.

It's just that Curry and Harden separated themselves with their superior play while carrying their teams all season.

Trying to define the ideal MVP isn't easy.

Is he simply the best player in the league?

Is he the best player on the best team who has lifted his team to greater heights?

Or is he the player having the most dominating season regardless of his team's success level?

There really is no clear-cut answer. But consider this: since the 1982-83 season, the MVP award has gone to a player whose team has won at least 50 regular-season games.

Curry, Harden, James and Paul are on firm ground there, as their teams have won 50-plus games. That leaves out Westbrook, whose Thunder team won't reach that mark largely because Kevin Durant has been out most of the season with foot injuries.

Other awards also will pose challenges for voters trying to choose a winner.

Rookie of the year candidates include Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins, Chicago's Nikola Mirotic, Philadelphia's Nerlens Noel and Orlando's Elfrid Payton.

Defensive player of the year could be between the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan, Golden State's Draymond Green and New Orleans' Anthony Davis, with a late push from Atlanta's DeMarre Carroll and San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard.

The field for sixth man of the year appears pretty much limited to three candidates: the Clippers' Jamal Crawford, Toronto's Lou Williams and Boston's Isaiah Thomas.

The coach of the year probably will be either Golden State's Steve Kerr and Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer.

But here's the thing:

There are so many lenses to look through these days when trying to make a quantitative decision about who deserves an award.

There is the old-school way with mainstream stats — points per game, assists, rebounds, shooting percentage and the like.

And there is the new-wave approach of advanced metrics — player efficiency rating, plus-minus, offensive-defensive efficiency, win shares, usage percentage and other statistical analysis, enough to make a person's head explode.

Not to be overlooked are other factors that could influence the voting process: how teams promote their players, coaches and executives; the likability of a player, coach or team; and personal relationships with media members who vote on the awards.

We don't have a vote, but here are our choices. The envelopes please!

MVP

Curry.

The Warriors have the best record in the NBA and will have the home-court advantage throughout the playoffs largely because of Curry.

One thing that stands out: Curry hasn't played in the fourth quarter of 17 games because he and the Warriors have been so dominant this season.

He's a lights-out shooter from anywhere on the court — his 44.2% shooting from three-point range is proof of that.

He averages 23.9 points per game, sixth in the league. His player efficiency rating of 27.6 is third), according to basketball-reference.com, and his plus-minus is 23.6 (sixth), according to ESPN.

That's not to say Harden isn't deserving. He has averaged an NBA-best 27.5 points (tied with Westbrook). That step-back three-pointer is a killer, and his Euro-step into the lane has left defenders stupefied. He's attempted and made far more free throws than anyone else in the league.

Harden has carried a heavy load all season because Dwight Howard missed 44 games with injuries.

For what it's worth, Magic Johnson, who won three MVP awards with the Lakers, picked Curry as his MVP on Twitter. "Curry led his team to the NBA's best record, and the thing I'm most impressed with is that he makes his teammates better," Johnson tweeted.

Rookie of the year

Wiggins.

The 20-year-old forward has shown that he may end up being the better bargain in the trade that sent him from Cleveland to Minnesota for Kevin Love.

Wiggins is averaging 16.9 points per game, and that figure has improved every month, going from averaging 12.3 per game in November to 25.5 in four games this month.

Defensive player of the year

Jordan.

The Clippers center may not be able to make free throws, but he can rebound like one else in the league, and block shots and intimidate.

"When you drive to the hole, he scares the hell out of a lot of people," Lakers Coach Byron Scott said. "It doesn't show up on the stat sheet, but he changes shots and he changes guys' minds by going in there."

Jordan leads the NBA in total rebounds (14.9 a game) and defensive rebounds (10.1), is fifth in blocked shots (2.22) and first in defensive win shares (5.1), according to basketball-reference.com.

Sixth man of the year

Williams.

The Raptors guard, who averages 15.3 points per game, didn't necessary separate himself from Crawford. It's just that the Clippers guard, whose average is 16.2, missed five weeks with a bruised right calf, weakening his candidacy. Williams has played in 16 more games.

Coach of the year

Kerr.

The first-year coach took over a talented team and made it even better.

He smoothly guided the Warriors to the best record in franchise history, the best record in the NBA and helped make them the most fun and entertaining team in the league, one with a legitimate chance of winning the championship.

broderick.turner@latimes.com

Twitter:@BA_Turner

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