Examining the NBA's MVP race


Examining the NBA's MVP race

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.

Bears still have much to prove after disappointing loss to Patriots

Bears still have much to prove after disappointing loss to Patriots

 Beating the, arguably, best coach and quarterback pairing in NFL history is a difficult enough task. Trying to do it while allowing two touchdowns on special teams? Good luck. 
The Bears will leave Soldier Field frustrated with their 38-31 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday for a number of reasons, but top of the list will be Cordarrelle Patterson’s 95-yard kickoff return score and a blocked Pat O’Donnell punt that was raced into the end zone by Kyle Van Noy. A special teams unit that had been solid all year — and forced a fumble on a Patterson kickoff return in the first quarter Sunday — suddenly became a disaster, allowing an uncharacteristically undisciplined Patriots side back into the game, and then ahead in it. 
Add in an inaccurate game from Mitch Trubisky — who completed 26 of 50 passes for 333 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions — and an uneventful afternoon for Khalil Mack and the pass rush, and the Bears had to scratch and claw to hang with New England. 
Interestingly, after all week hearing from Bears coaches and players about how they couldn’t let the Patriots take them out of their own game, it felt like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady did exactly that. Mack frequently dropped into coverage — but so did Leonard Floyd, so maybe it wasn’t all about Mack’s injured ankle. While Brady frequently got the ball out quick, when he didn’t he was rarely pressured. 
And on offense, Taylor Gabriel had the same number of targets (one) as offensive lineman Bradley Sowell until midway through the fourth quarter. Trubisky dazzled with his legs, covering over 70 yards on an eight-yard touchdown run and dancing his way to a 39-yard scramble that set up a touchdown in the third quarter. 
But Trubisky’s struggles were clear, with the second-year quarterback throwing two ill-advised passes that should’ve been picked off in the end zone and then underthrowing Anthony Miller in the fourth quarter, allowing Patriots safety Jonathan Jones to make a tremendous interception. New England drove 96 yards after that pick into the end zone, with Brady taking apart a defense that missed two tackles on a 55-yarder to Josh Gordon, extinguishing any hope the Bears had of a comeback.
While Trubisky did lead a scoring drive after Adrian Amos assisted Kyle Fuller for an interception, cutting the deficit to seven. And Trubisky nearly pulled off a miracle with a Hail Mary to Kevin White, which was completed just shy of the end zone. 
The loss dropped the Bears to 3-3 and heaps plenty of pressure on Matt Nagy’s side to win seemingly-winnable games in the next three weeks: At home against the New York Jets, on the road against the Buffalo Bills and at home against the Detroit Lions. But then again: When the Jets come to town next weekend, it’ll have been nearly a month since the Bears’ last win. How the Bears fare over these next three games will be a clear window into if this team is a legitimate contender or one that faded after a strong start. 

WATCH: Mitchell Trubisky runs like Michael Vick for 8-yard touchdown

WATCH: Mitchell Trubisky runs like Michael Vick for 8-yard touchdown

The New England Patriots defense wasn’t giving Mitchell Trubisky many options through the air, so he decided to take matters into his own hands at Soldier Field.

The young quarterback’s legs were the Bears’ most-effective weapon in the first quarter, as Trubisky led the team with 35 rushing yards on four carries in the opening period of play.

He capped it off with an eight-yard touchdown scramble that had him looking like Michael Vick on the field.

The Bears will need to have a more well-rounded offensive attack to keep up with teams like the Patriots, but Trubisky found what was working in the first quarter.

Perhaps most importantly, he’s been smart and safe with his running, opting to slide and go to the ground on his big plays to avoid any big hits.

His legs continue to make this offense more dynamic, to keep up with top-notch opponents like New England.