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RACE TO THE MVP
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Kobe scored 24 points in the Lakers' 94-88 loss to the Heat on Thursday.
Mike Ehrmann/NBAE via Getty Images

Bryant's postgame shooting session mostly a therapeutic one

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Mar 11 2011 12:21PM

Kobe Bryant spent much of Thursday evening trying, and mostly failing, to shoot the lights out in Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena.

Then he spent a chunk of the wee hours insisting that those lights be kept on.

At an hour when only the four-legged variety of gym rats should have been scurrying about the Miami Heat's home floor, shooting and shooting some more in the gaping arena bowl long emptied of fans. He had gone 8-of-21 in the Video Los Angeles Lakers' 94-88 loss to the Heat in a much-anticipated marquee game -- first 4-of-4, then 4-of-17. So after a postgame simmer and shower, Bryant donned sweats and went back on the court, determined to go a million-for-a-gazillion -- or something like that.

The Lakers' always-shooting guard kept a crew of Miami ball boys around to feed him the ball, who were sneaking peaks at their watches and mentally spending the large tips that Bryant surely would be giving them. This seemed to be less about practice than it was about therapy for the manner in which Bryant faltered down the stretch; he turned over the ball twice and jacked up two 3-pointers -- one from about five feet beyond the arc -- that missed.

Word filtered back to the folks in the media workroom who were chronicling the end of the Lakers' eight-game winning streak as well as Miami's five-game losing streak. Bryant quickly became a trending topic as Thursday turned into Friday among the assembled writers:

@HowardBeckNYT: Kobe Bryant just left the AmericanAirlines Arena court, at midnight. After shooting for an hour. Kobe in a nutshell.

Naturally, the Twitterati pounced:

@mdotbrown: Pau [Gasol] should've came out there and practiced standing by the basket.

@thefarmerjones: [Kobe's] going to be doing pilates on the tarmac of Miami Int'l airport at 4 a.m. Media welcome to watch. #kobe

@russbengtson: After he finishes lifting, Kobe's gonna go jut his lower jaw out in a mirror for a couple of hours

Finally, long after Bryant had stopped shooting (a moment for which Kobe critics often pine):

@EthanJSkolnick: It's clear, from listening to sports radio on ride home, that Kobe succeeded in changing conversation from Heat win to his own work ethic.

Or ego, which probably is as inextricable from Bryant as a great player and perennial Most Valuable Player candidate as that work ethic. After working up his second sweat of the night -- or first of the morning -- the Lakers' star said: "It's my job. This is what you're supposed to do if you're not feeling comfortable with something and you feel like you can tweak some things."

Most MVP candidates put in long hours. Few of them do so in such a dramatic, high-profile way, with crews still packing up from a TNT broadcast and writers available to rush into the tunnels for a glimpse of this mad, driven genius. Chalk that up, perhaps, to Bryant's Hollywood influences.

Fortunately, The Race didn't allow its conversation to be changed entirely by Bryant's Dracula schedule. It still keeps its pressing topics in proper order, 1 through 5, as the serious contenders for MVP look to have solidified into a starting five. And that number is a worthwhile cut-off, given that the actual MVP ballot offers only five slots for names. The rest here at the The Race are helpful to monitor rises and falls, but ultimately they are honorary spots.

Here's where the conversation stands at the moment:

1. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (45-18)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6237.724.54.38.11.10.7.442.336.841
Last Week's Rank - 1
A 4-0 record as Chicago pushed past the three-quarter pole of its schedule and the potential loss of forward Carlos Boozer (ankle sprain) for several games again have bolstered Rose's MVP case. The number-crunchers dissect his efficiency, but that's missing the forest for the trees that this guy attacks and beats inside.

2. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (41-24)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6237.023.013.91.31.22.3.599.000.588
Last Week's Rank - 3
Howard's team went 0-1 without him, losing at home to Portland. Traditionally an MVP candidate's case gets stronger in such circumstances, but The Race doesn't dole out brownie points when the absence is self-induced. Enough with the technicals, Superman. There is no T in MVP.

3. LeBron James, Miami Heat (44-21)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6338.626.27.67.11.50.6.496.335.753
Last Week's Rank - 2
Some might have expected a steeper drop here, given the Heat's discombobulation and how true MVPs don't allow their team to reach such distraught points. James' status as the league's most coveted player and his weekly stats (25.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg and 7.5 apg) cushion the fall necessitated by Miami's 3-6 record since All-Star Weekend.

4. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (47-18)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5634.123.06.62.50.50.7.528.426.880
Last Week's Rank - 4
Model of consistency, well-oiled (55.1 percent) shooting machine in the Mavericks' 3-2 week. Nine rebounds in the breezy home victory over New York muzzled Rick Carlisle's shot at his team ("soft") for the moment.

5. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers (46-20)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6633.825.15.24.81.10.1.458.325.829
Last Week's Rank - 6
The committee, upon further review, considered last week's drop to sixth an overcorrection and overreaction to a mailbox swamped by the Kobe dislikers ("hater" is a banned word here). Bryant didn't fare well at Miami, but he had hit eight of his 18 three-pointers for the week until those last two bummers near South Beach.

6. Kevin Durant, OKC Thunder (40-23)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
5939.528.27.32.81.11.0.463.348.875
Last Week's Rank - 5
As Durant gets more help from guard Russell Westbrook -- who picked up his fifth Western Conference Player of the Week award -- it takes a little shine off the smooth forward's MVP case. Here's some good news though: If Durant maintains his current 28.2 scoring pace, No. 2 LeBron James would have to average 35.6 ppg over the Heat's final 17 to pass him for the scoring title.

7. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat (44-21)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6137.325.56.74.41.41.0.498.305.735
Last Week's Rank - 7
It is not small feat to crack The Race's Top 10 as the second candidate on a team. Miami followers have been duking it out all season over the merits of James vs. Wade. The committee thinks they have bigger things about which to fret.

8. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers (37-27)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6439.922.48.82.11.11.2.498.222.786
Last Week's Rank - 9
Aldridge helped the Blazers to one of the most challenging victories of the season Tuesday: Beating the Heat in Miami when there actually was pressure on foes not to lose to the sputtering superstars. Portland's back-to-back success in Florida turned some Race heads, too.

9. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs (52-12)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6232.217.13.06.61.30.0.521.354.782
Last Week's Rank - --
We might as well have designated this spot as "San Antonio guy" and do the same thing, "Boston guy" with the next one. It's looking more and more as if the teams with the best record in the West and East, respectively, won't have obvious MVP candidates. The heavy lifting gets divvied up in both places, with Parker getting a slight edge this week over Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan.

10. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics (46-16)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6234.919.15.13.21.00.6.502.382.855
Last Week's Rank - --
The Celtics are Spurs East, in the sense of splitting MVP chores among multiple players. Pierce shot an efficient 22-of-38 for the week while so much newness swirled around him, Rondo, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Allen, meanwhile, was 10-of-18 from the arc and Rondo had 10 steals with 33 assists in three games.

Dropping out: Manu Ginobili (No. 8 last week), Rajon Rondo (No. 10).

Honorable mention: Carmelo Anthony, New York; Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers; Chris Paul, New Orleans; Zach Randolph, Memphis; Amar'e Stoudemire, New York; 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.

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