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RACE TO THE MVP
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Wins against fellow MVP hopefuls -- such as Miami and Dwyane Wade -- boost Dwight Howard's MVP bid.
Victor Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Howard needs more than intangibles for serious MVP shot

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Mar 4 2011 11:18AM

Chasing down another NBA rebounding title, while hardly simple at this stage of the season, is straight-forward stuff for Orlando center Dwight Howard: If Minnesota's Kevin Love maintains his current pace of 15.532 rpg, Howard will need to grab 407 boards in the Magic's final 20 games to finish at 15.537.

So no, it wouldn't be easy -- it would be quite daunting unless Love suddenly decides to pattern his game after Amar'e Stoudemire. But at least Howard's target, updated daily, would be clear to all in black and white.

The Race to the MVP isn't like that.

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Howard could become just the ninth player in NBA history to rank among the Top 10 in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and field-goal percentage. He could notch his sixth consecutive season with at least 1,000 rebounds and 100 blocks (Moses Malone is tops with seven, at least since they started counting blocks in 1973).

Wrapping up 2010-11, Howard could finish as the only player in the league averaging at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. He probably already is a favorite to be named Defensive Player of the Year for a record third consecutive time.

All of which guarantees the Orlando strongman nothing when the MVP votes are tallied.

It is a plight, albeit a somewhat happy one considering Howard's production and soaring excellence, for the folks in central Florida because so many darn intangibles get factored into voters' MVP determinations. Howard, by the way, is dripping with intangibles, from the improvements he has made individually as an offensive option to the leadership on full display through this season. But that doesn't mean they'll mesh with the intangibles that matter (maybe more) for other MVP candidates.

A year ago, Howard received just three first-place votes on the 123 ballots cast. And that was with a Magic team that won the Southeast, finished 59-23 and was considered a postseason heavyweight. This season, Orlando is 3.5 games behind Miami in the division, would need to go 19-1 to match last season's record and seems to have dropped to the second tier of aspiring Finals clubs.

So while the debate rages on with Derrick Rose and LeBron James as the consensus Nos. 1-2 picks for MVP (in that order here, flipped elsewhere), Howard plugs along.

"They're talking basically that it's LeBron James or Derrick Rose," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters last weekend. "So I don't understand why his name is not in the discussion."

Well actually, Stan, it is. The trick is getting Howard's name high enough in the discussion.

Chimed in Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing: "If we were to lose Dwight, we'd be at the bottom of the barrel. ... He's the most important player on this team, and he's proven it night in and night out, especially by the way he's been playing lately."

Howard did pick up February's Player of the Month award for the Eastern Conference, a nice bookend to the one he won for October/November. His team has revived a Web site touting his accomplishments (Dwight4MVP.com), which also might help.

Those who favor both MVP history -- big men historically dominated this award -- and defense as half of every game can make compelling arguments in support of the big smiler. Even the slide-rule set that dissects stats and attends conferences in Boston can understand why Howard's team might be a tad better defensively when he sits down than when he plays (like, duh, he sits when the other guys' backups are on the floor).

But the best thing Howard can do, same as with those Magic teammates and coaches who support him so loyally, is to keep on winning. Like it did four times last week. Like it did in beating the teams boasting other top MVP candidates, the way it pummeled Oklahoma City a week ago and stunned Miami Thursday with that comeback from 24 points down in the second half. The Magic face Rose's Bulls tonight and Kobe Bryant's Lakers in 10 days.

It won't be easy, leapfrogging a couple of spots in The Race. But it might be less challenging than outrebounding Kevin Love with only five weeks to go.

1. Derrick Rose, Bulls (41-18)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5837.824.64.48.21.00.6.442.339.840
Last Week's Rank - 1
Playing with both Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer back in the lineup might be more challenging, for a while, than playing without one or the other. Convincing MVP voters of that? More challenging still. We'll see this weekend (at Orlando, Miami) how well Rose and his team put the gag job at Atlanta behind them.

2. LeBron James, Heat (43-18)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5938.426.37.57.11.50.7.491.335.761
Last Week's Rank - 2
His statistical season is superior to pretty much everyone else's. But way-off shots at the end of losses to Chicago, New Yor and Orlando in eight days has Miami searching for its closer (hint, he's a few spots down this list). And the Heat are in the thickest part of their schedule.

3. Dwight Howard, Magic (40-22)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6036.923.213.91.31.22.3.596.000.593
Last Week's Rank - 3
Howard has led his team in scoring 42 times, in rebounding 55 times, in double-doubles with 50 and in speaking up both to the front office and in the locker room. There is little more he could do as a candidate than win. Can he get the Magic to 54 or 55 victories?

4. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs (44-16)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5134.222.86.72.50.60.7.525.424.869
Last Week's Rank - 6
All the Mavericks do is win: 17 of 18 over the last six weeks, with Nowitzki as the driving force. His shooting has been lights-out even by his standards, but other stats -- 12th in scoring, 57th (!) in rebounding -- will weigh down his MVP shot.

5. Kevin Durant, Thunder (37-22)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5539.328.47.12.81.11.0.465.337.874
Last Week's Rank - 5
Durant scored scored 21 points in just 26 minutes against Indiana, but a sprained left ankle had him listed as doubtful to face the Hawks at Atlanta Friday. OKC isn't doomed when he's out (3-1 when Durant doesn't start), but the Thunder is better when he's on (18-5 when Durant scores 30).

6. Kobe Bryant, Lakers (43-19)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6233.925.15.24.91.20.1.460.319.829
Last Week's Rank - 4
A perfect record since the All-Star break has calmed some of the storm in Los Angeles, with Bryant averaging 21.7 ppg and 5.0 apg. He remains the Lakers' best hope to right some wrongs (they've lost eight of their last 10 against Charlotte) Friday; Bryant's career average vs. the Bobcats (29.8 ppg) is his highest against any foe.

7. Dwyane Wade, Heat (43-18)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5837.125.56.84.31.40.9.500.312.731
Last Week's Rank - 7
No one else should be closing -- or at least, trying to close -- games for the Heat, especially in their current state. But going 0-for-6 in the second half vs. Orlando Thursday night, and 13-of-24 from the line last week aren't moving him up here.

8. Manu Ginobili, Spurs (50-11)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6131.018.03.95.01.60.4.425.343.872
Last Week's Rank - NR
Only someone whose intangibles and, more than that, ability to read what his team needs on a given night, could put up nights of 26, 35, nine and 13 points (with 4-of-19 from the arc), and maintain MVP status.

9. LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers (34-27)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6139.822.29.02.11.21.2.494.176.788
Last Week's Rank - NR
Aldridge has been one of the king's of the Honorable Mention list in The Race, but his work in February -- Western Conference Player of the Month -- get him upgraded. He started March like a lamb (14 points, 3 rebounds vs. Houston) but roared back a little (20, 10) at Sacramento 24 hours later.

10. Rajon Rondo, Celtics (44-15)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
4837.811.04.512.22.40.2.512.323.546
Last Week's Rank - 9
Rondo bumps Steve Nash from this spot on the strength of Boston's 115-103 victory Wednesday (16 points to Nash's eight, 15 assists to Nash's seven). The Celtics point guard also seems to have his club, and himself, righted after losing good-bud Kendrick Perkins via trade.

Dropping out: Steve Nash (No. 10 last week).

Honorable mention: Nash; Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers; Al Horford, Atlanta; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City.

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

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

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