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NBA MVP Watch: Is It Their Time?

Which players have the best shot at competing with Kevin Durant and LeBron James for the NBA’s MVP award?

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Without even playing one game in the 2014-15 season, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are currently the frontrunners for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award and with good reason. James has won the award four out of the last six seasons and made headlines this summer when he decided to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Durant, the reigning MVP, is entering his prime while leading the Oklahoma City Thunder – one of the best teams in the Western Conference.

A new season means hitting the reset button and getting a fresh start not only for Durant and James but also all the other players in the league with MVP aspirations. Who will have a chance at beating James or Durant in the MVP race? Here are several players to keep an eye on:

Derrick Rose

The Chicago Bulls made several improvements to their roster this offseason, but all eyes will be on Derrick Rose this season to see if he can stay healthy. It wasn’t long ago that Rose was one of the best players in the league. Back in 2011, he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists, and won the MVP trophy.

However, Rose must prove he can stay on the court in order to be in the MVP race this year. He missed the entire 2012-13 season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. After having surgery, Rose played in 10 games in the 2013-14 season before tearing his medial meniscus in his right knee, which required another surgery.

Rose has been asked time and time again about his surgeries, recovery and future but his performance out on the court will be the only way to answer those questions. The Bulls point guard was rusty, but played well at times during the FIBA World Cup tournament this past September.

How he performs on the court this season is what really matters to the Bulls organization and their fans. The most important thing for Rose this year is staying healthy. Second, he must create chemistry with Pau Gasol and rest of the team in order for the Bulls to reach their full potential and get to the playoffs.

If Rose can return to form and put up numbers similar to the ones he posted in 2011, he will be in the race for the 2014-15 MVP.

Kyrie Irving

At 22 years old, Kyrie Irving is entering his fourth NBA season but this year will be completely different from the past. Irving was drafted to the Cleveland Cavaliers after LeBron James’ departure in 2011 and has seen the team struggle year after year.

Despite the struggling team around him, Irving has performed well enough on his own to earn accolades like Rookie of the Year (2011-12) and two All-Star selections (even becoming a starter in 2013).

Last season, the Cavaliers were one of the worst teams in the NBA. This season, with James deciding to return to Cleveland, Irving should make his postseason debut and the team will enter the year with championship hopes. After adding James, the Cavaliers acquired Kevin Love, Mike Miller and Shawn Marion among others to fill out their roster.

Irving shined and thrived on his own, but now that he has James, Love and a veteran-laden supporting cast (that may also include Ray Allen by season’s end) the sky is the limit for the young guard.

Blake Griffin

The days of the Los Angeles Lakers being the best team in Southern California are currently on hold. The Los Angeles Clippers have made sure of that.

Their roster is full of familiar faces and two All-Stars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Last season, Griffin averaged a career-high of 24.1 points as well as 9.5 rebounds. He also became the first player in Clippers history to score at least 36 point in three straight games. Griffin finished third in MVP voting last year behind only Durant and James.

The arrival of Doc Rivers to sunny L.A. revitalized the Clippers and gave the team championship expectations. They had a good chance to make a run in the playoffs last year, but that was all stopped when they were sidetracked by the Donald Sterling situation.

With a new owner and Sterling banned for life from the NBA, the Clippers can focus on basketball and improving their game. This summer, Griffin expanded his range with a corner three, which he has displayed during the preseason to the surprise of many. If Griffin can consistently use his new range for the better and increase his overall numbers, he will be in the talks for the MVP award.

Mary Stevens is entering her third year covering the NBA. She is based out of Orlando, Fla. and has also covered the NFL, NCAA and MLS.

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