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RACE TO THE MVP
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Derrick Rose and the Bulls have come out ahead in every matchup with the Heat so far the season.
Jonathan Daniel/NBAE/Getty Images

After topping the Heat yet again, this Rose is in full bloom

By Steve Aschburner, for NBA.com
Posted Feb 25 2011 2:35PM

Within the larger confines of The Race To The MVP, a dash to the More Valuable Player Award broke out Thursday night at Chicago's United Center.

That's More Valuable, rather than Most, because in this case it was a comparative competition rather than a superlative. The Race is a generous form, with spots for 10 MVP candidates even though the NBA's official ballot allows for only five. But with Derrick Rose and LeBron James running 1-2 -- in that order -- atop The Race for weeks now, it seemed appropriate that the showdown of their teams, the Chicago Bulls vs. the Miami Heat, might narrow the MVP focus in laser-like fashion.

Members of the committee, all of whom were in the house, weren't the only ones who saw it that way.

"So would it be safe to say that the result of tonight's big matchup between Miami vs. Chicago (in Chicago) will determine who the #1 ranked guy on the Race is tomorrow?" e-mailer "Yoon Mi" wrote. "I can't wait cause it is going to be an awesome game and a possible playoff preview. "Personally I agree with ESPN's award watch that LeBron is the MVP right now but I agree with you on the other 2-10 rankings. Hopefully LBJ can prove me right tonight with a big road win and send Chicago to a second consecutive loss. Cheers!"

Cheers back at Yoon Mi. But things didn't quite work out that way.

Truth be told, when the week began, the committee was fully intending to flip Rose and James for this edition. Seeing both in action at All-Star Weekend was a reminder -- a mostly needless reminder, though -- that James is the better player by a wide margin. If the NBA were forming tomorrow, in a newly contracted version with 12 teams in the biggest and most glamorous markets, the undisputed No. 1 pick playground-style would be the Heat's Mack truck of a small forward.

Slice it another way and the result is the same: If Chicago or any other team with a player in The Race wanted to pry James loose from Miami via a trade, it would have to offer something like its MVP candidate, its second-best player, maybe another starter, a rotation guy and multiple draft picks. Most teams wouldn't even have enough assets to get a deal done. No one else in the league would extract a higher price.

But that's a different debate. Revisiting old ground, the MVP isn't just the "Most Outstanding Player of 2010-11" award, nor does it automatically belong to the best player on the best team. It is a mysterious recipe of factors, brewed in a cauldron of intangibles, and boosting the performance of a team with fewer stars than the next guy's is part of the mix.

The curious thing Thursday in Chicago's 93-89 victory on TNT was that Rose, more than on most nights, seemed to have plenty of help. Forward Luol Deng -- who would have been willingly discarded in a preseason Carmelo Anthony trade if the Bulls had been willing to part with center Joakim Noah -- had 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against Miami and outplayed James in the second half.

Carlos Boozer made up for his usual spotty defense with 16 points and nine rebounds, while the Heat's Chris Bosh -- frequently pestered by Noah -- shot 1-for-18. Rose's bench gave their team 22 points to Miami's two. Backup center Omer Asik (whom the Bulls wouldn't give up in a proposed Courtney Lee deal) had a game-high 11 rebounds in 21 minutes.

Still, in the end, it was Rose who swung the game Chicago's way. And he did it with James defending him down the stretch.

Statistically, the Heat star's numbers were gaudier: 29 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block on 12-of-21 shooting, including a couple remarkable breakout dunks in the opening minutes. Rose finished with 26 points, five rebounds and six assists on 9-of-24.

But there was Rose's 22-footer, after a loose ball run down by Deng, with Dwyane Wade switching to cover that sent Miami into a timeout down 89-84 with 1:06 left. The normally placid Rose exploded with some excited words that he shyly would not repeat afterwards. Then at 89-89 in the final half minute, Rose penetrated, drew Wade over to help out James, then found the man Wade vacated over in the corner. It was Deng, whose 3-pointer gave Chicago control of the final 16 seconds and the game.

Earlier in the day, two of James' teammates -- Bosh and Juwan Howard -- said that they leaned toward Rose in the MVP race (NBA players don't actually vote but their opinions on the matter rightfully carry much weight). "LeBron has won the last two and is my teammate," Bosh said. "But Derrick has had a phenomenal season. ... I think it's close. But I think I would give it to Derrick if I were a voter. ... If you take him out of the lineup, there's no telling what you get."

Wade stayed true to his school, admitting teammate "bias" in picking James.

Later, before tipoff, James was pretty gracious about it.

"The award isn't named after myself. There's guys who came before me and there's guys that come after me who'll win the award. It's not like it's mine," the two-time reigning MVP said. "I just go out there and do what I do every night to help our team win basketball games.

"Like I always keep saying, team success comes with individual accolades. D-Rose is having an unbelievable season. He's doing everything -- and more -- to help this team be a contender. There's no way you can mention the MVP race without mentioning his name."

Afterward, to even the scales, the committee hit the Chicago locker room in search of Rose teammates who might throw their MVP support to James.

Result: Massive fail. Rose will rattle off several names when asked, but at the season's start he volunteered himself as a top MVP pick. Deng laughed and waved off the question. Ronnie Brewer then broke down the Bulls' dynamics and the heavy-lifting Rose has done.

"No, I'm going to stay with my teammate," Ronnie Brewer said. "I'm not going to say somebody's more deserving. I still think if Joakim and Booz had not got hurt, they would have been All-Stars. I think Luol Deng was very deserving of an All-Star berth. Unfortunately, they didn't get it, so we had one All-Star. But we were still competing as one of the top teams in the East.

"You look at Boston and Miami -- they had four and three guys, respectively. The way that he's carried this team and made everybody better across the board, there's no other person who deserves than D-Rose."

Here are this week's candidates, with a clear Top 2 and Eight Admirable Others:

1. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (39-17)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5538.025.04.48.21.00.6.447.351.841
Last Week's Rank - 1
Rose couldn't carry Chicago past Toronto in the Bulls' dismal defensive effort Wednesday, but he revved up against Miami. Rose is the only point guard to rank among the Top 10 in points+rebounds+ assists. And he has gotten the refs' attention, hitting 21 of 24 free throws in two games.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat (42-16)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5638.326.27.57.21.50.6.488.343.757
Last Week's Rank - 2
After his triple-double as the star of Stars in L.A. (though not MVP), James kept on going with 60 points, 18 boards and eight assists in the Heat's 1-1 week. But he shot only nine free throws, about half his average.

3. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (36-22)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5636.623.013.91.21.22.1.592.000.590
Last Week's Rank - 3
You want leadership? Howard provided it on the court with 31 points and 17 rebounds against Sacramento Wednesday, even hitting 11 of his 12 foul shots. He tried to bring it after the Magic's dreary loss, too, saying "If guys don't want to play, they have to sit down." Nights like that keep Howard's future whereabouts in play.

4. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers (40-19)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5934.025.25.44.81.20.1.460.322.829
Last Week's Rank - 5
If Bryant can drag the Lakers back to where they should be -- in the standings and as a unit -- then he might seriously challenge for his second MVP. Getting 57 points, 12 boards, 11 assists and two victories on the heels of an All-Star MVP was a nice week.

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (36-20)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5239.528.87.12.81.11.0.469.337.877
Last Week's Rank - 4
How valuable is Durant? Let's put it this way: He has been good enough, fast enough, that the Thunder's championship ambitions have been fast-tracked, hence the moves at the trading deadline. Durant scored 21 in a breezy 32 minutes against the Clippers, then 30 in 42 in the loss at San Antonio.

6. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (41-16)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
4834.222.76.62.50.60.8.528.420.882
Last Week's Rank - 7
Giving the Mavericks just what they need on most nights, leading them to 14 victories in 15 games. Nowitzki's 62.3 "true shooting" percentage is the best of his career by a wide margin.

7. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat (42-16)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5437.125.56.94.41.41.0.498.313.739
Last Week's Rank - 6
Until he got 22 points Tuesday against Sacramento, Wade never had scored 20 or more in a game in which he shot no free throws. Then he got 34 while going 10 of 12 from the line against the Bulls.

8. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs (47-10)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5731.117.83.84.91.60.4.422.350.872
Last Week's Rank - --
Maybe this is too little recognition, too late in the Race. Ginobili has appeared here multiple times, but at the moment his edge over Tony Parker (17.5 ppg) as the Spurs' leading scorer is down to a sliver of a point. He also is getting outshot by his backcourt mate (52.3 percent to Ginobili's 42.2). But then, it's never a competition between Spurs. That 47-10 mark demanded tribute.

9. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics (41-15)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
4537.810.94.512.22.40.2.506.323.544
Last Week's Rank - --
Similar to Ginobili, someone merits attention for the Celtics' record. Boston fans hope that Rondo's blip at Denver (five points, eight assists) was just that rather than some swoon triggered by the trade of his best bud Kendrick Perkins.

10. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns (28-27)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5333.316.83.611.30.70.0.523.406.918
Last Week's Rank - --
This is the first edition of the Race all season in which the Suns have been above .500 -- an unofficial cutoff for consideration (with few exceptions) -- as the weekly votes were tallied. Gotta love his spot in the "180 Club" (52.3 FG pct., 40.6 3FG pct., 91.8 FT pct.).

Dropping out: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City (No. 8 last week); Chris Paul, New Orleans (No. 9), and Carmelo Anthony, Denver/New York (No. 10).

Honorable mention: Paul; Westbrook; Anthony; LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland; Jason Kidd, Dallas.

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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