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Even when LeBron James is down, he's not down for long.
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LeBron leads first 10; Nash takes top spot of next MVPs

By Steve Aschburner,
Posted Mar 26 2010 12:03PM

Week after week, The Race updates loyal readers on the highs, lows, comings and goings of the same 12 or 13 guys as they move up, down, onto or off of this list of MVP candidates. To the point that, if you didn't know better, you wouldn't realize that the NBA actually is the home of more than 400 world-class athletes, each of whom has been wildly successful in his own right. Yet here the committee is, obsessing and enumerating 10, and 10 only, for the most special consideration.

Well, it's time to broaden our horizons. This league is about more than just 10 guys.

We're going to look at 10 others. (Sorry, the rest of you 390 or so.)

What The Race wants to do this week is to identify its candidates for the mythical award of Pretty Valuable Player, or PVP for short. If you don't care for that designation, they could be known as Next-Most Valuable Players, which would make them NMVPs. Or the committee could call them simply The Second 10.

It's inevitable that, as the season progresses, the evidence mounts and the arguments harden, cracking the top 10 of MVP candidates becomes increasingly difficult. Some guys can be right there, noses pressed to the glass, without gaining or sustaining enough traction. Other guys can be a clear half-step down, which still leaves them a whole flight of stairs above the league's worker bees. The Race decided to honor, in this smallest of ways, the next 10 players who, with a little luck or someone else's debilitating injury, could have their faces and individual glories hailed below on a weekly basis.

This will have to do:

Steve Nash: It's a thin line between Nos. 10 and 11, and Nash has zigged and zagged across it numerous times this season. Given his two MVP trophies already, it's unlikely the Phoenix playmaker will pinch himself over this cockamamie NMVP status.

Tim Duncan: Slipping into The Second 10 is nothing Duncan would brag about, if he ever bragged at all. One's first thought is, this slippage is in sync with his career arc, but then you remember that the Spurs' power forward still ranks among the league's top dozen players, as judged by the committee for this season. And other past MVPs like Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett aren't here at all.

Brandon Roy: There is an ensemble feel to what the Trail Blazers do on their best nights, but there is no denying the impact Roy has had generally and throughout this season.

Josh Smith: No, it wasn't just his tip-slam to beat Orlando that puts the Atlanta forward here. It is his all-around game and his growing maturity, in terms of doing what the Hawks need rather than showing what he himself can do at any given moment.

Carlos Boozer: The Race considers him the "other" Chauncy Billups, but in mirror image to the way Denver has it. In Salt Lake City, the point guard is the more valuable of the MVP and NMVP candidates, but the forward isn't far behind. Just so happens this forward was the West's player of the month in February, too.

Rajon Rondo: If the committee is going to go 20 deep, it seems appropriate that every likely playoff team should be covered with an MVP or NMVP candidate. In Boston, you'd be splitting hairs in ranking Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, especially given Rondo's impact and performance since October.

Andrew Bogut: Milwaukee needs some love, too, and for all of Brandon Jennings' difference-making, the Bucks wouldn't be considered a dangerous first-round opponent for an upper seed if not for Bogut, playing as healthy and as consistently as he ever has.

Gerald Wallace: Charlotte's headed for the postseason, too, and Wallace -- banged-up as he's been -- gets the biggest piece of credit pie.

Aaron Brooks: OK, so Houston is on the outs right now in the West. But where exactly would the Rockets be without the vast improvement their slight point guard has shown this season (after serious glimmer in 2008-09)?

Derrick Rose: Rose is here representing the best of the worst. He edges New York forward David Lee as the most valuable guy on a sub-.500 team. You hardly ever see such players in The Race and, frankly, they rarely are permitted to crack it. But there is no denying the Chicago point guard's value as a D-Wade Lite this season.

And now, The Race resumes its regularly scheduled programming:

1. LeBron James, Cavaliers (57-15)
Last Week's Rank - 1
Best home record, best road record, best overall record, longest active winning streak and No. 1 in point-differential (7.6). If those Cleveland claims aren't persuasive enough, here are two more from James' mountain of MVP evidence: His performance at New Orleans was termed a "quiet" 38 –- that's how high he's raised his bar. And the Cavaliers' leader keeps his crew focused on nights their minds might wander; they are 32-3 against teams with losing records, winning 27 in a row.

2. Dwight Howard, Magic (50-22)
Last Week's Rank - 3
Not even Superman was going to deny Josh Smith in Atlanta, not if Rashard Lewis doesn't box out. Howard owned the rest of the night, especially defensively, with 19 points, 24 rebounds and four blocked shots. Orlando has won 50 times for the third season in a row, something that hadn't happened since 1994-96, when a different dominator filled the Magic middle.

3. Kevin Durant, Thunder (43-27)
Last Week's Rank - 2
Sometimes less can be more: Durant blows up for 45 against San Antonio and the Thunder lose. He downshifts to 25 in 31 minutes two nights later, taking just 18 shots with four rebounds and three assists and his club cruises over Houston. It was the flip side of MVP worthiness, where a star player acts as lubricant (season-high 30 assists for OKC, 23 points by James Harden, 19 from Jeff Green).

4. Kobe Bryant, Lakers (53-18)
Last Week's Rank - 4
The committee could be wrong, but it suspects that Bryant has other things on his mind than individual accolades like the scoring title or even the MVP Race. He totaled 70 points in three games and took a modest 44 shots –- didn't even assert himself to get to the foul line in the last two. But the Lakers won all three and Bryant dished 23 assists.

5. Deron Williams, Jazz (47-25)
Last Week's Rank - 7
If Carmelo Anthony could rate this high a week ago while getting man-size help from Chauncey Billups, Williams can land here while sharing Utah's heaviest loads with Carlos Boozer. Some might say that Andrei Kirilenko's return to the starting lineup was key to the Jazz's push –- from 18-16 to start, followed by 28-9 –- but Williams is the double-double traffic cop who makes it all work. His streak of 21 games with at least nine assists is the longest since Mark Jackson had 29 in a row in 1996-97.

6. Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets (47-25)
Last Week's Rank - 5
Last week, the committee credited Anthony for knowing that the Nuggets needed rebounding and late-game scoring. Now it is wondering if the Denver forward can adapt again –- because his team needs even more. He has averaged 31.6 points and 9.4 rebounds over his last eight games, but the Nuggets -– obviously missing coach George Karl's strategizing and personality during Karl's cancer battle –- went 4-4. This is where MVP guys find yet another level.

7. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks (47-25)
Last Week's Rank - 6
Games of 16, 18 and 15 points tend to grease a rung or two for the players on this list, so Nowitzki slips down one after the Mavericks' 1-2 week. Losing to Portland again –- Dallas is 0-3 against the Blazers -– carried some playoff implications for a possible spring meeting. To his credit, Nowitzki shot 21-of-36 in the three games, but LaMarcus Aldridge and a swarm of defenders were able to hold him 10 points under his average Thursday.

8. Dwyane Wade, Heat (38-34)
Last Week's Rank - 8
Never mind auditioning for that marquee free-agent role this summer; when Wade went into Chicago Thursday, he stayed on task in solidifying Miami's Eastern Conference playoff position. With 12 points and 10 assists in 29 minutes, the Heat superstar ignited an easy 103-74 victory, giving Miami three in a row and nine in its past 12. Hey, he already knows he's loved in Chicago. No need to force things.

9. Chris Bosh, Raptors (35-35)
Last Week's Rank - 10
There figures to be some churning here near the bottom of The Race, what with Denver at Toronto on Friday night. Normally, Bosh's play would be the envy of his peers -– he has averaged 21.3 points and 8.8 rebounds through 10 games this month. But on this list, peers have loftier standards and so does Bosh; his season averages are 24 and 11 so the Raptors forward actually has been slumping.

10. Chauncey Billups, Nuggets (47-25)
Last Week's Rank - 9
In his past two games, Billups totaled only 10 baskets. Yet he scored 54 points, thanks to his 31-of-32 foul shooting. That's stellar, although what the committee noted about 'Melo a few spots up holds for his more experienced teammate, too. Maybe The Race is wrong in isolating on Anthony and Billups; when those two are joined in the starting lineup by Kenyon Martin and Nene, Denver is 29-8. When one or more is missing, it is just 18-17.

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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