Words by Phlip
Note: I am removing LeBron and the Heat from my prediction of their repeats effective immediately and it is totally on them to regain that position.
Now, with that on the table, I will begin with WHY I am taking that position…
LeBron’s streak of 20+ point games came to an unceremonious end in a hail of non-LeBron-like games and we have seen the acrimony spill over to the rest of the team up to and including the benching of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh garnered a combined 40 seconds of playing time in the 4th quarter of a 97-104 loss to Utah. Factor in losses to Portland, Indianapolis and Chicago and things have not been very pretty for the Heat of late. Reports suggest that all is not well in paradise, and it is readily apparent that LeBron – despite more human-looking numbers – is the only one consistently motivated on the team.
It seems that they’re doing the “Lakers” thing in simply GETTING to the playoffs and intending to then just turn it up when it happens. The problem with that approach is that other teams in the east – most surprisingly the Bulls – are gunning for them and waiting until the playoffs to start trying might not be the move. Inability as a defending champion to keep playing championship-level ball is why I cannot at this time continue to select them to repeat. Inability as a star player to KEEP them there is why I am rolling back my selection of LeBron to repeat as MVP. They have had the luck of the Lakers losing and the Knicks/Clippers winning as welcome distractions to the fact that Miami is NOT decimating the league as they promised us they would back in July 2010.
Now, if not LeBron and the Heat, then who?
There are two choices for each, and these should come as no surprise to anyone…
Option 1 – OKC Thunder. Naturally, they have the experience born of having been at or near the top of their conference for 3 years now, they’ve been to the finals and are better now than they have ever been. Credit for that can be placed on the back of one Kevin Durant, who has helped in our noticing that they are NOT missing James Harden or his beard in that they currently enjoy the best record in the league and a collection of signature wins against the best of the best. As the leader of the squad and seeing all of his numbers enhanced, Kevin Durant would cap this season off with his first MVP award.
Option 2 – LA Clippers. Look, they had a VERY uncanny (especially for the Clippers) December in which they did not lose a game and seemed to be having fun while doing it. As contenders, they are not to be ignored. As a contributor, Chris Paul is the leader of this team and seems to be making the most of what he has around him – up to and including the deepest bench in the NBA right now. They have parlayed this to the second-best record in the NBA at current and with the uncertainty in Miami and New York and the age in San Antonio it is fully conceivable that they will hold onto it for the balance of the season. Unless, of course, the “Cripples” curse rears its ugly head somewhere between now and April. Even then, they will still be well into the playoffs before it really stings. As the person who is holding it all together and getting the full out of his components, Chris Paul would be the MVP in this situation.
As of when I type this, the Knicks are 4-6 over their last 10 games, which to me suggests that they have realized that gravity is real and are returning to the Earth. The Lakers are still having the worst season known to man in spite of having beaten the lowly Cavaliers and Bucks over the past couple of games. The real test for each will be when the Knicks see the Nets and Celtics next week and when the Lakers took on the Heat on Thursday and the Bulls on Monday. Coming off of those games against opponents who happen to be worth their salt will serve as a test of whether either team’s trend toward the opposite their initial directions are real or not. Seeing as how the Lakers/Heat game (unsurprisingly) ended, my suspicions that they have not “arrived” were accurate. No, that game did not change my thoughts on the Heat either to be totally honest.
A healthy Stephen Curry has made a huge difference in Golden State and they – not the Clippers – have been the surprise of the Western Conference this season. Yes, I know they just got touched up by the Heat the other night, but the fact remains that they’re having a better season than any of us expected of them coming into it.
Around the league, I am noticing that the Rookie of the Year race is about as boring as it has ever been to be totally honest. I can NAME a couple of rookies other than prominent eyebrow owner Anthony Davis, but the problem lingers of why I would want to. Basically, it boils down to Davis and Cleveland’s Dion Waiters, and Waiters will have to eek out a MONSTROUS season – which the Cavaliers’ 10-31 record does not foretell – to contend with the sheer attention that Anthony Davis garners. Add to the fact that Davis is rebounding on a level of some of those have been around a while, the award is still his to lose.
Somewhere and somehow I have lost sight of the fact that we’re now halfway through the season and headed into the All-Star break with the trade deadline approaching fast. Expect me next week to discuss some moves that teams could possibly make to improve their fates. See you then.