There's still time left and things could always change as teams make a playoff push, but at this stage of the season, the race for the league's MVP award has been narrowed down to a handful of players. Due to an injury-plagued campaign, Derrick Rose isn't in the mix to repeat - -though Bulls fans can take solace in the squad having the NBA's best record and Rose can always hope for another prestigious award: NBA Finals MVP -- but at this late juncture of the regular season, here's a look at five players who have made a case to take home the league's top individual honor.
Kobe Bryant, Lakers: 28.2 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game
For all of the talk about Bryant getting older, the shooting guard continues to excel and has maintained a stranglehold on the NBA's scoring lead this season. While the Lakers might not be the threat to win a title they've been in the past, don't attribute the drop-off to Bryant, who's been as good as he's ever been. Without former mainstays Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher, not to mention a new coach in Mike Brown and Pau Gasol having a down year -- although center Andrew Bynum has raised his game to another level -- Bryant has adjusted and put the team on his back to ensure they're still a force to be reckoned with.
Kevin Durant, Thunder: 27.7 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game
The two-time reigning NBA scoring champion is actually second in that category this season, but that shouldn't take away from his brilliance. Durant has made considerable strides as a shot-creator, ballhandler and defender while leading the Thunder to the West's best record. Much has been made of his chemistry with All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook -- speaking of, Westbrook is also having a tremendous individual season -- but Durant is clearly Oklahoma City's go-to scorer in the clutch and the primary reason many believe the Thunder will reach the NBA Finals.
LeBron James, Heat: 26.5 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game, 6.5 assists per game
For all of the criticism James receives in some circles -- including Chicago -- his near-nightly domination can't be ignored. James has developed into a remarkably complete, two-way player and his emerging post-up game has given him yet another element to torment opponents. While his struggles in the clutch and the Heat's bouts with inconsistency give ammunition to those who aren't fans of his style, his individual success shouldn't be downplayed, particularly with fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh missing time due to injury.
Kevin Love, Timberwolves: 26.6 points per game, 13.9 rebounds per game
The league's Most Improved Player a year ago made another quantum leap in his game this season, becoming one of the NBA's top scoring threat, as well as being considered the game's top power forward in the minds of many observers. Love was the league's rebounding champion last season -- he currently ranks second to the Magic's Dwight Howard in that category -- but he's expanded his game further, as evidenced by winning the All-Star weekend three-point shootout. With rookie sensation Ricky Rubio out for the season, Love has put the Timberwolves on his back and surprisingly has them in playoff contention for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era in Minnesota.
Chris Paul, Clippers: 19.4 points per game, 8.8 assists per game, 2.4 steals per game
The only member of the quintet not to lead his team in scoring -- though he's not far behind Blake Griffin -- Paul is third in the league in assists and ranks second in steals. His trade to the Clippers, which spawned the infamous "Lob City" moniker has done more than create highlights; Paul has made the perennially-moribund franchise relevant. Arguably the league's best pure playmaker, Paul instantly transformed the Clippers into a Western Conference contender, but with Griffin and other weapons also attracting attention, it's hard to say he stands out more than the other names on this list.