The top of the 2018 NBA standings could be shaken up over the next few weeks because of the injury status of a few key players. While the Houston Rockets (26-9) will be without James Harden for the near future, the Cleveland Cavaliers (24-12) welcome Isaiah Thomas onto the court for the first time this season.

Harden has arguably been the league MVP, playing so well that the Rockets had a better record than the Golden State Warriors (29-8) for much of the season. Houston fell two games behind Golden State because of a five-game losing streak, and a Grade 2 hamstring strain will sideline the Rockets’ best player for at least two weeks. Golden State has a chance to create some separation between themselves and Houston, now that Stephen Curry is recovered from an ankle injury.

The Warriors were just fine without Curry, going 9-2 when the two-time MVP was sidelined. He returned after a Golden State loss, hitting 10 three-pointers and scoring 38 points on just 17 field-goal attempts. With Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Warriors pull away with the Western Conference’s No.1 seed.

Even with Harden playing so well, Houston’s early-season pace wasn’t exactly sustainable. The Rockets won 25 of their first 29 games, going undefeated in the first 15 games that Chris Paul played.

Paul has missed nearly half the season with injuries. With Harden out, he’ll be the team’s focal point over the next few weeks. The point guard had 28 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in a double-overtime victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on New Year’s Eve. Houston is two games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs (25-12) for the West's No.2 seed.

Harden is first in the NBA with 32.3 points per game and third with 9.1 assists per game. LeBron James is the only other player that ranks in the top three in both categories. 

 




 

 

If Harden doesn’t end up being named the 2017-2018 NBA MVP, the award will probably go to LeBron James. He seems to be playing better than ever at 33 years old, and he’s kept the Cavaliers in the race for the Eastern Conference's best record without much help.

The Cavs sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics (30-10) in exchange for a first-round pick, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder in the summer. Only Crowder has been able to contribute this season as Thomas has been recovering from a hip injury. The point guard will finally make his Cavs’ debut Tuesday when Cleveland hosts the Portland Trail Blazers.

Thomas’ return couldn’t have come at a better time. Cleveland has hit a rough patch, losing four of their last five games. They’ve lost two straight games to teams that are under .500.

Cleveland has dropped behind the Toronto Raptors (25-10) in the Eastern Conference Standings. Boston has been the East’s No.1 seed for most of the season.

James Harden Houston Rockets James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in action against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on Oct. 17, 2017 in Oakland, California. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images