We’re about two-thirds of the way through this shortened NBA season, which means it’s about time for another check in with our MVP candidates. Last time around, LeBron James was unseated from his #1 spot on the list, but he’s back, despite his fourth-quarter shortcomings. But we’ll get to that and everybody else worthy of MVP chatter presently. As always, here are your candidates for the 2012 NBA MVP Award:#5 – Derrick Rose – We’ve watched Derrick Rose win plenty of games all by himself this season, but Chicago keeps winning without him. This is a pretty good team even when Rose sits, so no matter how good he is, we can’t make the same argument as last year that no team needs their superstar more. I think the Magic, Lakers, and Nets might have stronger arguments at the moment. All that said, I can’t in good conscience keep D-Rose out of the top five. The kid’s just too good. Also, too big, too fast and too strong.#4 – Kobe Bryant – Losing Derek Fisher had to have hurt Bryant on a personal level, but gaining Ramon Sessions will help him professionally. Bryant is still leading the league in scoring by over a full point, and I think we can all agree that if Kobe ever did submit to his injuries and sit for any extended period of time, the team’s chances of doing anything at all in the postseason would disappear completely. The Lakers look primed for a strong push to wrap up the season, and that should help Kobe’s MVP stock.#3 – Dwight Howard – Right in the thick of dealing with what had to have been the most stressful decision of his life, Howard went ahead and dropped 24 points and 25 rebounds (plus 2 blocks and 3 steals) in a home win over the Miami HEAT, proving just how valuable a big man that dominant really is in this league. If you want to know his true value, just consider what the Magic would’ve looked like had he actually gotten traded. It wouldn’t have been pretty, and Orlando’s season likely would’ve gone down the toilet. With him, though, Orlando might be the only Eastern Conference team that could beat Chicago or Miami in a seven-game series.#2 – Kevin Durant – The biggest difference between Kevin Durant now and Kevin Durant a year ago is that he’s a more complete player in 2012. He’s averaging career highs in rebounds, field goal percentage, assists, and even blocks this season, which has taken a great scorer and turned him into one of the league’s best all-around players. His PER is almost six points lower than LeBron’s, however, which makes a big difference in how good a year a player is having. Durant will get his fair share of MVP votes, but the more people I talk to, the more I realize he just isn’t going to win it.#1 – LeBron James – So I let Kevin Durant have the #1 spot for a week because, honestly, he deserves to sit atop this list at least once this season. But immediately after publishing the article I kept coming back to that PER, which has dropped below 33 to 32.37, but still enough to be the highest single-season PER of all time.Does it bother me that James dropped 33 points in the first three quarters of that loss to Chicago last week, then scored only 2 in the fourth? Absolutely. Does the fact that they lost that game even with Derrick Rose sitting make it even worse? You bet. But this guy is having a statistical season the likes of which we’ve never seen before and may never see again. He’s not great in the clutch, but he is great, period. To deny him the MVP this season just wouldn’t be right. If he can’t find a way to close games out in the fourth quarter, the playoffs will punish him for it. As for the regular season, though? There isn’t anyone better.Honorable Mention:Chris Paul – The Clippers have hit something of a wall, losing five of their last nine games, the majority of which were at home. The fact that those losses are coming at the hands of teams the Clippers should be beating—Golden State, Minnesota, and New Jersey, to name three—makes the slump even tougher to stomach. Paul, as the leader of the team, is responsible for some of that. Anyway, his numbers have struggled the last couple of weeks too. He played a great game Sunday against Detroit, but five times in March alone he’s posted only five assists in a game. An MVP point guard needs to do better than that more consistently, which is why Paul—great as he is—is still stuck in Honorable Mention.Kevin Love – Just like we say every week, the numbers are staggering but the team simply isn’t good enough. Losing Ricky Rubio for the year probably won’t help his stock either. It’s a shame too, because the Wolves have been so fun to watch this year.Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook also probably deserve a little love on this list, but with their two teammates acting as the clear frontrunners for the award, it’ll be hard for either one to gain much traction in the big picture race. If they aren’t the top MVP candidate on their own team, how could they be in the context of the entire league?But those are semantics. At the end of the season it’ll either be Durant or James; it’s just a matter of playing things out to see which one it is. And don’t think this will be our last time debating it. There will a couple more opportunities for us to flesh this thing out before it’s official. Until then, this is where we stand, with the league’s most controversial figure atop the ladder. For now.