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RACE TO THE MVP
0219lebron2608.jpg
Will adding another former All-Star to the Cavs' talent core hurt LeBron James' MVP candidacy?
Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images

Can upgrading teammates help -- or hinder -- MVP contenders?

By Steve Aschburner, for NBA.com
Posted Feb 19 2010 10:57AM

With only a smattering of games since the All-Star break, there wasn't much opportunity for players to climb or fall in The Race -- although Carmelo Anthony sure seized what was there Thursday night in Cleveland, didn't he?

That doesn't negate the need for the committee's weekly meeting, though. No post-All-Star snooze for The Race, not with post-trading deadline news to address.

The trading deadline generated a flurry of team activity to factor into The Race. No one among the many fellows sent packing -- or, to take a half-full perspective -- "hotly pursued" Thursday had suited up in time for this week's monitoring, but they all had arrived in spirit and on paper.

11_Columnist_Banner_Race.jpg

How do spirit and paper impact The Race before they impact the standings? Easy: It changes supporting casts. While none of our Top 10 changed teams, several of their teammates did and it's well-established that teammates, pro and con, can dramatically affect an NBA star's MVP prospects. The more help a No. 1 guy has -- the closer his team gets to having a 1A and 1B, rather than clearly defined Nos. 2 or 3 -- the more his MVP claims tend to dip.

In essence, The Race is a sort of Strongman contest. The greater the load a candidate has to carry, and the farther he carries it, the higher he ranks in the eyes of the committee. When you really think about it, this turns the traditional views of team-building topsy-turvy.

An NBA star who does everything he can to chase a ring cannot help it if his GM doesn't surround him with sufficient help to get that job done. Meanwhile, an MVP candidate who does everything to win that particular bauble cannot help it if his GM surrounds him with so much help that his need to be super-human -- and really impress all of us -- is lessened.

That gets us back to the original point: Did Cleveland, by acquiring forward Antawn Jamison, improve itself enough around LeBron James that James' MVP prospects are dimmed? After all, Jamison seems like an ideal choice to provide enough firepower and defensive size to cope with or push rivals in Orlando, Boston and Atlanta. There could be nights when the emancipated Washington Wizard paces the Cavs in scoring or rebounding, giving LBJ a breather. His unbridled joy at winning the equivalent of an Eastern Conference lottery -- stuck in Washington's mess one moment, landing on Cleveland's championship-focused express the next -- could boost chemistry off the floor, too; even without the joy, he is a solid character guy on a team with lots of them.

And by my count, the Cavaliers now have four current or former All-Stars -- James, Jamison, Shaquille O'Neal, Mo Williams -- among their top eight. There even was rumbling Thursday that a fifth, trusty center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, could be headed back if Washington cuts him loose and he opts to wait the required 30 days before returning.

So is James less likely to win the MVP now? Nah.

The Race regrets pulling the rug out from under its own preamble, but as long as Cleveland motors along with the league's best record, as long as James stays healthy and as long as he can produce numbers like he did in defeat to Denver Thursday (43 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists), he can count on having a second Maurice Podoloff trophy to bookend the one he got in 2009.

1. LeBron James, Cavs (43-12)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5539.030.17.28.41.61.0.505.353.774
Last Week's Rank - 1
What's not to like about James' third triple-double of the season and the 27th of his career? Well, he did miss some crucial free throws down the stretch, finishing 12-of-17 from the line. And he went three-happy, shooting 1 of 9 from the arc (and 0 of 4 in overtime). Over his past three games, James is 4 of 19 on three-pointers. Still, that sample size is way too small to even rattle him in this perch.

2. Kevin Durant, Thunder (31-21)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5239.829.77.52.91.40.9.481.377.876
Last Week's Rank - 2
Got to cut Durant some slack, considering how busy he was during All-Star Weekend, doing his duty for his vast regional fans at the game in Dallas. He missed 19 of his 28 shots in his return to real action, but scored 25 to keep alive his streak of 26 consecutive games with at least that many points (next up to catch: Allen Iverson's streak of 27). Durant also had 12 rebounds and three blocks as the Thunder beat the Mavericks and moved within a half-game of them in the West standings.

3. Kobe Bryant, Lakers (42-14)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5138.628.05.34.61.70.3.461.327.814
Last Week's Rank - 3
There's a saying in sports that you don't lose your starting job to injury, and The Race has a similar version: An MVP candidate doesn't lose his Top 3 ranking to an injury that doesn't require surgery or figure to sideline him for more than a few weeks. Hey, committee's Race, committee's rules. Besides, Bryant's case might have been helped when he wasn't around to take (and make?) the final shot in the Lakers' 87-86 loss to Boston. The one-game losing streak bolsters his MVP claims, too, after those four inconvenient Kobe-less victories.

4. Dwight Howard, Magic (37-18)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5535.118.213.41.61.12.8.604---.608
Last Week's Rank - 5
The Race was impressed by Howard's 33 points, his 17 boards, his seven blocks and his five dunks in the post-All-Star spanking of Detroit. But it was wowed by his 11-of-13 foul shooting. Don't look now but the Orlando specimen is showing a nice touch, making 18 of his last 23 free throws and 51 of 73 in February (not counting 2-of-3 in the All-Star Game).

5. Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets (36-18)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
4137.929.56.43.41.30.4.463.376.854
Last Week's Rank - 6
There was a season or two in which Carmelo Anthony was said to be neck-and-neck with James as a franchise-type young star from the Class of 2003. There were several more during which the comparisons got a little awkward, with only Anthony and those who love him claiming much proximity, skills- or status-wise, to the guy in Cleveland. And then there was Thursday, with the two defending each other and posting monster numbers, all the while enjoying the matchup. Anthony smiled a little more, even before his overtime winner with 1.9 seconds left.

6. Chris Bosh, Raptors (29-24)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5336.424.511.42.30.61.1.525.375.790
Last Week's Rank - 4
After a strong outing at Cowboys Stadium, Bosh put up pretty numbers in a loss to Memphis: 32 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, 11 of 22 from the floor, 10 of 10 from the line. He was around till the end but suffered an ankle sprain that threatened his availability for two games this weekend.

7. Tim Duncan, Spurs (31-21)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
4932.219.111.03.10.61.8.516---.750
Last Week's Rank - 7
"Worst shooting night of my career," Duncan said after going 4-of-23 for eight points at Indiana Wednesday. That's horrible for an MVP candidate. What wasn't horrible, though, were Duncan's 26 rebounds -- 11 of San Antonio's 17 in the game -- his five assists or the Spurs' road victory.

8. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs (33-21)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5337.724.77.82.50.81.1.474.349.897
Last Week's Rank - 8
He averaged 26 points, eight boards and 4.5 assists as the Mavericks split their first two games back. But gee, his supporting cast is looking a lot better now since that trade with Washington; Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood were among Dallas' six scorers in double figures in beating Phoenix Wednesday. Remember how we started this: Better crew, tougher MVP chances.

9. Deron Williams, Jazz (34-19)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
4837.018.54.19.91.10.3.484.366.785
Last Week's Rank - 9
New Orleans rookie Darren Collison did a reasonable Chris Paul impersonation (24 points, nine assists) but Williams won the pseudo-matchup anyway by helping the Jazz to a victory, the second in back-to-back road games. Williams had 16 points and 10 assists with four turnovers, after posting 17, 15 and four at Houston Tuesday.

10. Steve Nash, Suns (32-23)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5533.717.93.311.20.50.2.513.426.940
Last Week's Rank - 10
Nash was about as busy as Durant over the break, after carrying the Olympic torch up in Canada, winning the skills competition and dishing 13 assists in the All-Star Game. Maybe that explains his 5-of-17 shooting (1-of-8 from the arc) in two games back, though he had 28 assists to five turnovers and helped the Suns split road back-to-backers.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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