8. DWIGHT HOWARD – Last week: 27.5 ppg/15.3 rpg/2.0 bpg
LW: 9, Rising
In anticipation of the trade deadline, Howard has continued to maintain his high level of play. The Magic went 3-1 last week, suffering a bad loss at Charlotte, but a great bounce-back win in Chicago against Rose & co. He’s been scoring and rebounding at a very efficient pace, putting together roughly 28 & 15 since last Monday. Clearly the trade talk has very little effect on Dwight’s play on the court. If you compare the way Dwight is playing now, to the way ‘Melo played in his weeks before leaving Denver, you can see that Dwight might not be too opposed to staying put in Orlando. He hasn’t done too much talking to the media (which is a double-edged sword). He isn’t playing for stats only. He’s playing to win. That’s what you have to admire about Dwight Howard at this stage in this year’s MVP race.
7. KEVIN LOVE – Last week: 30.3 ppg/16.3 rpg/1.6 apg LW: 10, Rising
K-Love has posted monster numbers in the month of March so far. He’s got five double-doubles in as many games, but these aren’t just the average Joe’s double-doubles. He torched LaMarcus Aldridge twice, first for 42 and 10 on the 3rd, and then last Wednesday for 29 and 16, which came just one night after giving Blake Griffin 39 and 17 in a one-point win over the Clippers. K-Love continued his hot streak against New Orleans on Saturday, putting up 31 and 16 in a losing effort. After completely dominating the only two players who are even close to competing with him as the league’s best young power forward. K-Love has proved to be superior at his position. Even though the front office is skeptical, we’ll see how the loss of Ricky Rubio impacts the team’s performance. As far as Love’s individual performances go, he’s kicking it into high gear.
6. KOBE BRYANT – Last week: 28.0 ppg/4.3 rpg/4.8 apg
LW: 8, Rising
Despite taking a great step forward, putting together a great performance winning at home against Miami last Sunday, nothing’s changed for Kobe Bryant in the past week. He’s still leading the league in scoring, but still playing down to his competition, shooting a ridiculous amount of shots and not making enough of them. After the home victory on Sunday against Miami where he finished 13-for-24 from the field with 33 points, he turned right back around and went 8-for-26 with 22 points in a loss at Detroit. Then he let Nick Young and Roger Mason hold him to 9-for-31 shooting with 30 points in the Lakers first loss to the Wizards since ’06. Then Kobe went 11-for-26 and 9-for-20 in the following two nights in a couple of three-point wins. For me to really consider Kobe as a real threat to win the MVP, he has to stop playing down to his competition and start shooting a better field-goal percentage. However he’s still doing exactly what the Lakers need him to do to win games.
5. CHRIS PAUL – Last Week: 24.8 ppg/7.8 apg/4.0 rpg
LW: 4, falling
Chris Paul has adjusting well to his new scoring role with the absence of Chauncey Billups. This month he already has three games with 18-plus field-goal attempts, which is more than he had in the entire month of February. But he seems confused on whether he should distribute more, or score more. Last week they went 1-3 against some very middle-of-the-pack teams. On Monday they lost to Minnesota by one in a game where Paul went 5-for-14 from the field with 18 points and only five assists. Then they lost at New Jersey where he only took 11 shots but had 10 assists. The next game he went into do-it-all mode, scoring 36 points and dishing 11 assists at San Antonio in the only win they would grab this week. Then he followed that up by scoring 23 and only dishing five times against Golden State. So it seems as if he’s a bit unsure of what his team needs from him at this point. Regardless, a 1-3 run in the last four games isn’t going to help his MVP stock.