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RACE TO THE MVP
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Race to the MVP: A new look, but familiar faces still here

By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted Feb 6 2009 7:28PM

Welcome to Race to the MVP, version 2.0. You will not need to download new software or restart your computer, though Dwyane Wade's fans may want to throw your laptops or Macbooks at my head like an Iraqi journalist chucking his shoes.

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But nearly 50 games into this 2008-09 season, two candidates have separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the MVP race. In order to better highlight their weekly accomplishments, we're going to separate them here too. We'll still rank and comment on every player one through 10, but with the top two MVP candidates, we're going to talk more at length about the week they've had and the challenges they face going forward.

That's not to say any of the eight guys following Nos. 1 and 2 can't jump into the one of those spots. They can. And if they do, they'll receive the same treatment. But for now, we're going to shine the spotlight on the top two guys. I think you know who they are.

Questions or comments on the new format? You can mail us at RacetotheMVP@gmail.com.

Line of the Week: Cleveland's LeBron James, Feb. 4: 52 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists vs. Knicks.

The NBA reviewed the tape and ruled LeBron was short of a triple-double. I'm sorry, Kobe fans, but a near triple-double anchored by 52 points trumps 61 points in my book any day.

Rise of the week: Dirk Nowtizki (back into the top 10)
Drop of the week: Yao Ming (out of the top 10)


RACE TO THE MVP :: TALE OF THE TAPE
28.5 PPG 27.5
7.5 RPG 5.6
7.0 APG 5.1
1.9 SPG 1.3
1.3 BPG 0.4
.491 FG% .476
.774 FT% .862
LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers :: Team Record: 39-9
Last Week's Rank - 1
If there were any player in the league who could trump the reigning MVP, it is LeBron James, who has been our top MVP candidate for nearly 80 percent of the season. Two days after Kobe dropped a new-MSG-record 61 on the Knicks on Monday, James followed with a 52-point, 11-assist, nine-rebound night on Wednesday.

While LeBron didn't explicitly express his desire to top Bryant's epic total, he actions spoke far louder than any pregame proclamations on Wednesday. LeBron attacked the Knicks from the outset. He didn't do it with Kobe's flair or smoothness, his game is still too raw and more powerful than Bryant's, but he attacked, and the Knicks were helpless.

As for his other body of work, James has been extremely consistent. Only twice in the new year has James failed to score 22 or more points in a game and so far, his February (39.3 points, 7 rebounds and 7.3 assists) could surpass his historic January (27.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 8.2 apg).
Kobe Bryant
L.A. Lakers :: Team Record: 40-9
Last Week's Rank - 2
What else can you say about Kobe Bryant, his nearly immeasurable skill level, his intensity, his drive and his focus? Here's one thing: instead of rubbing his teammates the wrong way, he has rubbed off on them, especially on this current six-game road trip.

There was no better example of this than in the Lakers' hard-fought 110-109 overtime win against the defending champs in Boston. Instead of backing down, the Lakers looked the Celtics in the eye and did not flinch. Kobe's teammates are nowhere as talented as he is (heck, few players ever have been), but it doesn't take talent to gird yourself against an ancient, hated foe.

It takes confidence and guts, and Kobe's steel has given his young teammates a collective self-confidence they had not had in the past.Is that valuable? You bet it is. Is it the most valuable? We'll see. The Lakers get another stern test on Sunday when they visit the Cavaliers, who are undefeated at home.


LeBron's Triple-Double at MSG
Watch highlights from LeBron James' 52-point night against the Knicks earlier this week.
Kobe Drops 61 in New York
Watch highlights from Kobe Bryant's Madison Square Garden-record 61-point night against the Knicks.


Race to the MVP - The Others


3. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic | Team Record: 37-11
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
20.4 13.9 1.4 1.0 3.0 .565 .590
Last Week's Rank - 3
With Jameer Nelson out, possibly all season, with a dislocated right shoulder, Howard becomes more of a focal point than ever. His presence should help Anthony Johnson and the newly acquired Tyronn Lue, but Howard needs to start taking over games offensively.


4. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat | Team Record: 26-22
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
28.5 5.0 7.2 2.1 1.5 .479 .746
Last Week's Rank - 4
Flash had a great week statistically (28.8 points, five rebounds and nearly seven assists per game), but it was a lousy week overall for the Heat, as they went 1-3. And that win was against the Clippers. Would have loved to have moved D-Wade up a notch, but not this week.


5. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets | Team Record: 28-18
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
21.5 5.4 10.9 2.8 0.2 .498 .864
Last Week's Rank - 5
Things you should tweak: your PC for better performance, your car's engine and your friend for his unfortunate fashion sense. Things you shouldn't tweak: your groin. The Hornets have lost four straight and will be in a world of hurt if their All-Star point guard's injury lingers.

6. Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets | Team Record: 33-16
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
18.3 2.6 6.4 1.4 0.3 .412 .900
Last Week's Rank - 6
Billups sprained his ankle in the Nuggets' win over the sittin' Spurs on Tuesday and missed Wednesday's game against the Thunder, one of the few teams against whom Denver could weather Billups' absence. The Nuggets hope the injury doesn't linger, especially in the middle of an eight-game road trip. Yikes.

7. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs | Team Record: 33-15
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
20.6 10.4 3.7 0.5 1.8 .520 .689
Last Week's Rank - 7
Enjoy your night off in Denver, there, did you, Tim? Good, now when you get back to work on Sunday, you'll have a very angry Celtics team waiting for you in Boston. Whoa, and then you have five more on the road sandwiched around All-Star in Phoenix. My bad, you can take a breather.

8. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers | Team Record: 30-18
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
22.4 4.7 5.1 1.2 0.4 .469 .819
Last Week's Rank - 9
Roy was the subject of a very nice piece by Ian Thomsen in this week's Sports Illustrated. "The 6-foot-6 Roy plays like a an aging vet who takes pride in outsmarting the rim-scrapers while conserving energy to extend his career," Thomsen wrote. We agree.

9. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics | Team Record: 41-10
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
16.3 8.9 2.6 1.2 1.3 .526 .847
Last Week's Rank - 9
I think everyone saw how valuable KG was when it was Glen Davis attempting the open 15-footers in crunch time against the Lakers on Thursday. The Celtics will need every ounce of energy from KG to help them survive during a crucial six-game swing through the West.

10. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks | Team Record: 29-20
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
25.4 8.3 2.4 0.7 0.7 .474 .914
Last Week's Rank OLI (11)
Welcome back to the top 10, Mr. Nowitzki. Despite a blah performance against the Jazz on Thursday (only 14 points on 6-of-20 from the field), Nowtizki and the Mavs have started to play better of later, sweeping their way through Florida and upending the Trail Blazers.

Outside Looking In (OLI)

11. Yao Ming
12. Joe Johnson
13. Pau Gasol
14. Jameer Nelson
15. Tayshaun Prince
16. Paul Pierce
17. Devin Harris
18. Steve Nash
19. Ray Allen
20. Tony Parker

Readers' favorites: Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Ray Allen, Danny Granger, Al Jefferson, Chris Bosh, Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Deron Williams, Paul Millsap, Rodney Stuckey, Mo Williams

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