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Race to the MVP: It's a Wonderful Top 10

By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted Dec 19 2008 8:17PM

As we take that sleigh ride down the trail toward Christmas, 'tis the season for many holiday traditions. As I noted in this week's mailbag, one of my family's traditions is sitting in front of the telly and hunkering down for 130 minutes to watch, It's a Wonderful Life.

For those few of you who haven't seen the movie, it's the story of George Bailey of Bedford Falls, USA. He's always dreamed of getting away to see the world but has been stuck in tiny Bedford Falls all his life. After a mistake by his business partner leaves his savings and loan $7,000 in arrears, George is facing prison time for fraud. He contemplates suicide.

Thanks to the help of an angel, George gets to see what would life in Bedford Falls would be like if he had never been born. It's not pretty. Nearly everyone George has helped has become helpless. Bucolic Bedford Falls has become a dump called Pottersfield, named after the town's richest and most heartless man, George's nemesis, Mr. Potter.

It's a dark theme for a Hollywood and Christmas classic, but considering it is a Hollywood movie, you can imagine how it ends. And after seeing the movie at least 30 times, my tear ducts still get a workout.

So, as the holiday draws closer, let's look at "It's a Wonderful Life" as it pertains to the MVP race. Just as Bedford Falls would be a lesser place without George Bailey, where would the Cavs, Hornets, Lakers, Magic, Heat, Nuggets, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Mavs and Hawks be without their MVP candidates?

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How good would the Cavs be without LeBron James taking big shots or blocking big shots or rumbling down the lane, tucking the ball like a fullback on the way to the hoop?

Lakers fans, remember the Kobe saga from the summer of 2007? Now, could you imagine him in anything but Forum Blue and Gold?

How important has Chris Paul been to the Hornets, not only on the court, but also to the ravaged New Orleans community as a whole? The same with Dwight Howard's community efforts in Orlando.

San Antonio has had some great players in its franchise history, but the Spurs didn't win an NBA Championship until Tim Duncan came along.

We've seen what Chauncey Billups, a Denver native, has done for the Nuggets' fortunes this season. In this week's Sports Illustrated, people throw Billups' name out as a potential Denver mayoral candidate.

And where would the Mavericks' franchise be if they hadn't made a Draft night deal for a skinny, unknown, 19-year-old German in 1998? Teammate Jason Terry knows what Dirk Nowitzki brings to the Mavs.

"Dirk is very unique," Terry said. "He's a seven-footer than can shoot from the perimeter. He can put it on the floor and he can go inside and post up. He's the greatest shooter in the league today, and it would be very tough without him.

"He draws so much attention and he makes his teammates better. That's the real true MVP. You make the guys around you better."

Seven of the Top 10 in this week's Race to the MVP -- and few players who are on the outside looking in -- will take the court in five games you can unwrap on Christmas, including the one many have been waiting for: the Celtics visit the Lakers at 5 p.m. ET on ABC.

So, think about Terry's words as you gather 'round and bask in the warmth of family, friends and the TV this holiday season: Who makes you better? And what can you do to show your appreciation?

Thank you, and happy holidays. We're back on Jan. 2. In the meantime, you can always let us know what's up at our e-mail box: RacetotheMVP@gmail.com.

Now, on to the rankings.

1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers | Team Record: 21-4
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
27.3 6.7 6.3 2.0 1.2 .497 .796
Last Week's Rank - 1
Just about one-fourth of the season is gone and if you surf about the World Wide Web, you'll see many polls name LeBron the season's first quarter MVP. It's tough to argue against him. Let's go through the checklist, shall we? Good team? Check. Good numbers? Check. Improved defense? Check. Making those around him better? Check. Doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants? Check. For now, it's LeBron ... and everyone else.

2. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets | Team Record: 15-7
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
20.3 5.5 11.9 2.8 0.2 .536 .878
Last Week's Rank - 5
Only in the sports world can the word thief be a compliment. On Wednesday, Paul became one of the greatest thieves in NBA history when he recorded a steal in his 106th consecutive game, besting Alvin Robertson 22-year-old record. That is what's great about Paul: excellence on both ends of the floor. Although he shot poorly on the Hornets' recent three-game roadie (12-for-36), he managed 35 assists in those three road games. Strangely enough, Paul's biggest play of the week was his winning a jump ball on Wednesday against Manu Ginobili in the Hornets' 90-83 win over the Spurs.

3. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers | Team Record: 21-3
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
25.0 5.4 4.3 1.5 0.5 .461 .873
Last Week's Rank - 4
Last week, I asked (out loud) whether Kobe was hurt. One day later (coincidence, I'm sure), Phil Jackson was asked about Kobe's health and said his MVP was Boston, er fine. Kobe then went out averaged 28.7 points, 5.7 Bostons, er, boards and 4.7 assists in three Lakers wins. Maybe he has Celtics-else, er, something else on his mind. T-minus six days 'til the Lakers get their chance to avenge The Finals and what a Christmas gift for the rest of us.

4. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic | Team Record: 20-6
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
21.1 14.1 1.5 0.8 3.9 .571 .567
Last Week's Rank - 4
A knee injury caused Howard to miss the first game of his career. Then he missed another. From Howard's blog on Thursday: "My injury's nothing serious, nothing people should be worried about. I fell on my knee in Phoenix and I kind of bruised it, so I met with the doctors and they all talked and they basically just said to ice and try not to get hit anymore." The Magic won both games Howard missed this week. And you know what that means? Nothing. The Magic are a lesser team without Howard regardless of the two wins.

5. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat | Team Record: 12-12
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
28.0 5.1 7.2 2.2 1.5 .481 .758
Last Week's Rank - 2
I thought it too punitive to drop D-Wade to No. 6 after nearly having him at No. 1 last week, but that's the kind of week it has been for him. With the Heat at 12-12, it could be hard to justify having Wade in the top 10 if his squad dips below .500. If any week crystallizes Wade's importance to the Heat, this week was it: he shot .339 from the field in three Miami losses.

6. Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets | Team Record: 17-8
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
17.7 2.5 7.0 1.3 0.3 .430 .892
Last Week's Rank - 7
Instead of writing 10 R2MVP nuggets (get it?) this week, I only had to write nine. Here's George Karl about Chauncey Billups in the New York Times: "There's a presence to his presentation. He?s a proud man but a humble man, a communicative man but a quiet man. Chauncey has the intangible part of the point guard position down much more than the fans and the amateur observers would think. The efficiency, the leadership in the locker room, he has those things on an A-plus level, and how valuable is that. People talk about Steve Nash, the other point guards, but from a standpoint of production or success, Chauncey?s got to be one or two."

7. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs | Team Record: 13-8
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
21.3 10.6 3.3 0.4 1.7 .527 .704
Last Week's Rank - 7
With his fifth rebound against the Hornets on Wednesday, Duncan became the sixth player in NBA history to record a career 18,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 2,000 blocked shots. That may have been the highlight of the week for the Big Fundamental. After two wins over two of the West's lesser lights (Minnesota and Oklahoma City), the Spurs and Duncan got thumped by New Orleans and Orlando.

8. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers | Team Record: 17-10
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
23.4 4.6 5.2 1.0 0.4 .471 .848
Last Week's Rank - 9
How cool was Roy's 52 points against the Suns on Thursday? Blazers coach Nate McMillan called it "a quiet 52." Opponents shudder at the thought of Roy making noise. NBA.com's Dave McMenamin was in the house to witness and heard chants of MVP! MVP! At 36.4 points, nearly six boards and 5.0 assists per game over the past five games, you'd have to say Mr. Roy is making a strong case as of late.

9. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks | Team Record: 14-10
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
26.4 9.3 2.5 0.6 0.9 .468 .917
Last Week's Rank - 10
Did you know Nowitzki is averaging more points and more rebounds per game this season than he did in his 2007 MVP season when he averaged 24.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per? If you didn't, now you do. The Mavs started a stretch of six of their next seven games on the road, including a Christmas night contest against Roy's Blazers, which may be their toughest test in the next week (at New Jersey, at Washington, home against Memphis).

10. Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks | Team Record: 15-10
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
23.0 4.5 5.3 1.2 0.5 .462 .826
Last Week's Rank - OLI
Welcome back to the top 10, Mr. Johnson. Granted, Hawks fans would have liked, nay, loved to have seen you hit that late free throw to tie the game on Wednesday against Boston, but that's part of the maturation process. If anything, Johnson and the Hawks' strong showing against the defending champs shows everyone the Hawks are no joke. Johnson's steady game mirrors another 10th overall pick: Paul Pierce. Except Johnson has better numbers right now.

Hoops Line of the Week: Danny Granger, Dec. 17: 41 points, 6 assists and 11 boards

Stellar line Mr. Granger. You'd be in the Top 10, but your team is 9-16. I'm sure you understand.

Drop of the week: Devin Harris (out of the Top 10)
Rise of the week: Joe Johnson (into the Top 10)

Dropping out: Devin Harris. Sorry, D.

Outside looking in, for now, in alphabetical order: Carmelo Anthony, The Boston Three Party And One (Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo), Pau Gasol, Danny Granger, Devin Harris, Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire, Yao Ming

Other readers' favorites: Shaquille O'Neal

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