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Clippers vs. Rockets Game 1, NBA Playoffs 2015: Chris Paul, James Harden, and the MVP debate

Two more conference semifinals series begin tonight, highlighted by an exciting matchup between the L.A. Clippers and Houston Rockets that features a pair of MVP candidates.

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Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Although I know the 2014-15 NBA MVP race has widely been considered the most interesting race in years, I've never really considered the decision to be all that complicated: as Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob told Sam Amick of USA Today last month, "I'm biased, for sure, but (the MVP race) is not even remotely (close)."

My bias comes not (solely) from blind allegiance to all things Warriors but far moreso from watching game after game in which Stephen Curry sat down — for any amount of time, against any quality of opponent — and the offense completely fell apart. So when you encounter someone who doubts Curry's MVP credentials, respond with a simple question: Have you seen the Warriors play without Curry?

It could get ugly.

We've been through this many times before, but for one of the clearest examples from this season I'll direct you back to the loss to the Indiana Pacers in February after which Andy Liu wrote, Warriors lose to Pacers 98-104; Stephen Curry wins MVP. (Somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind as GSoM manager I would like to think that Andy's headline subconsciously influenced some voter somewhere who wasn't previously paying attention, which would be a nice accomplishment for both him and the site).

Anyway, what does did in fact make this season's MVP race interesting was that the often semantic debate that usually revolves around "value" — "best player on the best team" vs. "most dominant player" vs. "best season", etc., etc. — was sidestepped, or at least minimized, in favor of an unusually in-depth national discussion about which player actually contributed the most to their team's success. I say that knowing that many people did advocate for Curry because he was the best player on the team with the best record, but I honestly believe that's the least substantive argument for Curry as MVP despite the fact that I'm sure it did in fact win him the award -- Curry is MVP because his team wouldn't be near what they are without him.

We might have disagreed with the terms of that debate — how people evaluated Curry's supporting cast, how little weight people seemed to place on minutes, or how much the team's season-to-season improvement mattered — but it was a fascinating one nonetheless that was especially memorable in that I don't think the merits of the other top contenders will be washed away with the passage of time quite as easily.

James Harden, who reportedly finished second in the MVP voting, has benefited from the take Harden off his team and they'd be nowhere argument as much as anyone in the running for this year's award. I do find it interesting that people value being "somewhere" vs. "67 wins", but it certainly forced an examination of which is harder unlike past debates.

But Chris Paul, whose entire candidacy could be neatly encapsulated within his Game 7 performance to beat the defending champion and ruling dynasty San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, might prove to be the most interesting candidate in this year's race. SB Nation's Tom Ziller made the case back in March that Paul had the best MVP argument despite not getting the attention with a rather simple argument: "My case for CP3 is brief and clear. While CP3 scores just 18 points per game on efficient shooting, he creates 23.4 points per game by assist." To extend that, or simplify it further, Paul's on/off of +20.9 was better than any of the top candidates.

There were plenty of good arguments to go around this year, as Jared Stearne broke down last month; as Ethan Rothstein of SB Nation's The Dream Shake wrote yesterday in response to the Curry news, " would be a fool's errand to debate that Curry didn't have an MVP-worthy season."

With all of those debates swirling in the background, the Houston Rockets will open their second round series with the L.A. Clippers tonight and every move Harden and Paul make will probably be analyzed through the lens of their MVP-worthiness as much as what it means in the short-term. And the evidence for Paul's value might be most present through his absence: after the hamstring injury he suffered in that Game 7 on Saturday, there's no guarantee he will play or be at full strength. Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine the Clips being successful if Paul isn't on the floor, much in the way we lament our MVP star being off the floor.

Anyway, this will serve as your open thread for the night. Had I not been reveling in Curry winning the MVP award for the last 24 hours or so I might have mentioned the other game on the schedule, but I'll leave that to you to break down in the comments below. For now, stay focused on the Western Conference in the poll below.

Tonight's schedule:

Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, 4 p.m. PST (TNT)

L.A. Clippers vs. Houston Rockets, 6:30 p.m. PST (TNT)

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