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Slights -- both perceived and real -- drive NBA's MVP types

LeBron climbs to No. 2; Pelicans' Davis re-enters our mix, too

POSTED: Feb 6, 2015 9:57 AM ET

By Sekou Smith

BY Sekou Smith

NBA.com

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Stephen Curry still hasn't forgotten how his father's alma mater slighted him as a high school prospect.

They all have one.

All-Stars, Olympians, champions, MVPs and the like.

They've all been there at one time or another, doubted by someone.

For some it was as a youngster, when they didn't make a team or sat on the bench while someone else got all of the shine. Michael Jordan being cut from his high school team is the stuff of legend, a story that anyone who knows anything about basketball knows inside and out.

Nightly Notable: Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry explodes scoring 51 points hitting 10 triples, dishing out four assists, and grabbing four rebounds to lead the Warriors over the Mavericks.

Or perhaps it was when it came time for high school or college and they were overlooked for a prospect that, at the time, was bigger, better and appeared to have a brighter future. Reigning MVP Kevin Durant operated in Michael Beasley's shadow for years as the two rose up the ranks in the Washington, D.C. area as teenagers.

Sometimes they get all the way to the NBA level, say on Draft night, when the naysayers pick them apart. Those pundits insist there are limitations that will keep players like Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook -- All-Stars, MVP candidates and gold-medal winners with Team USA -- from cutting it in the league at certain positions. (For the record, they are two of the league's elite point guards now, outshining many who were projected above them coming into the league.)

The NBA, and pro sports in general, are filled with against-the-odds stories. The last two Super Bowl champion quarterbacks -- Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks -- serve as prime examples. Both were overlooked and underrated throughout their NFL journey. And look at them now.

Pundits will argue that predicting future stardom is an art and not necessarily a science, which is true in a general context. But there is no denying the motivational factor that is produced from doubt. Tell an athlete with a killer competitive nature that he can't do something, that he doesn't fit, that he's not good enough, and watch him do everything humanly possible to prove you wrong.

Game Changer: Stephen Curry

Take a look at the Top 5 game changing moments from the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry.

Curry, whose run atop the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder this season serves as the prime example, battled doubters from the start. The son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, many assumed he was drafting off of his father's name and reputation as a youngster. Yet Steph couldn't even get a scholarship offer from Dell's alma mater, Virginia Tech, a snub that has served the leading vote-getter for next week's All-Star Game in New York for years now.

"It sucked a little bit, for sure, cause you know, being that it's both my parents' alma mater," Curry said on "In-Depth with Graham Bensinger," an nationally-syndicated interview series that will air this weekend. "That was what I thought would be the end of that story. I think if I know my dad, he probably would ... maybe have some words with [former VaTech coach] Seth Greenberg. He still goes to Virginia Tech football games and supports and enjoys that whole process. But from a basketball standpoint, that was a tough, a tough process and that was something he is probably holding onto a little bit."

Like father, like son.

Steph Curry went on to a stellar career at Davidson and was the seventh pick in the 2009 Draft. He has since blossomed into one of the best players in the game, a superstar leading one of the best teams in the NBA.

But you can bet that snub way back when has fueled his fire along the way.

This week's KIA Race to the MVP Ladder:

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

(Last week: No. 1)

The Starters: Golden State Warriors Roundup

Who had the more impressive night: Curry or Klay? Why is their defense so good? How good do they look for not trading Klay Thompson to Minnesota for Kevin Love?

Curry can't help himself. The Warriors' baby-faced monster continues to ravage the competition in every way possible. His dazzling 51-point display in a win over the Dallas Mavericks is just the latest and most glaring example as to why he continues to top this list. Curry's work as a scorer/facilitator this season has been unmatched, even by some of the game's very best. In the "what have you done for me lately" department, no one has been better than Curry (30.4 points on 50 percent shooting and 45 percent from deep, 7.0 apg, 4.8 rpg and 2.2 turnovers per game in his last five games). The Warriors have the best winning percentage in the league heading into tonight's showdown with the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena (7:30 ET, League Pass). And Curry will get a chance to match wits with another All-Star point guard in Jeff Teague. Curry has been up to the challenge in every one of these marquee matchups (just ask Russell Westbrook) and will be eager to follow up that 50 spot he put on the Mavericks with another stellar effort.

2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

(Last week: No. 3)

Nightly Notable: LeBron James

Highlights from LeBron James as he scores 36 points, grabs 6 rebounds and dishes out 5 assists in the Cavs win.

All you need to understand about LeBron's game since his return from his rest and rehabilitation hiatus was on display in the Cavaliers' runaway win over the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday. He's got new additions J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov playing as well as they have at any time over the past two or three seasons. LeBron looks spry ... like the guy who had a limitless supply of energy during his first season in Miami, like he did before he'd ever hoisted a Larry O'Brien trophy. The Cavaliers, reluctant to buy in early on, are all in now, have won 12 straight games. LeBron knows it and so does coach David Blatt, whose hide has been saved by LeBron's revival (Blatt's done masterful work tweaking his defensive scheme and weathering these tough times). If this is about the impact one player can have on a team, absolutely no one spreads the wealth the way LeBron does when he's at his best.

3. James Harden, Houston Rockets

(Last week: No. 2)

Harden Feeling It

James Harden scores 27 points to help hand the Bulls' their third straight loss.

People still questioning the Rockets' championship timber clearly haven't been watching the way Harden and his crew have played without Dwight Howard in the mix. They handled the Chicago Bulls Wednesday behind Harden's 27 points. But more important has been Harden's leadership and guidance of a young team still figuring out what it means to be a contender. It's not just the scoring, which Harden can handle in his sleep. It's all of the intangibles he has developed to go with his otherworldly offensive arsenal. And how's this for showing off your complete game? Twenty-four times this season Harden has put a stat in every category of the box score. He'll try and make it 25 tonight at Toyota Center when the Milwaukee Bucks come calling. With Howard out for an extended period of time, expect to see more of this James Harden if the Rockets are going to maintain a top-three position in the Western Conference standings.

4. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

(Last week: No. 4)

Inside Stuff: Jeff Teague

Kristen Ledlow and All-Star point guard Jeff Teague of the streaking Atlanta Hawks take a trip to the Georgia Aquarium.

We'd follow the NBA's lead and put all five Hawks starters in this spot (or at least Teague and fellow All-Stars Paul Millsap and Al Horford), but it would be a complete stunt on our part. Truth is, they deserved something special for that perfect January they put together. Teague, however, keeps his lofty perch here by virtue of his fabulous consistency running the show for coach Mike Budenholzer's team-first crew. Teague, averaging 16.0 ppg and 8.6 apg in his last 10 games, will have his hands full tonight at Philips Arena with Golden State and Steph Curry in town for the first of their two showdowns this season. But he's been up to the task each and every time he's been faced with the task of dealing with another elite point guard. Teague is a deceptive athlete and rarely lauded for his defensive work. So it'll be interesting to see how he matches up with a wiz like Curry, who can attack a defender in a number of different ways.

5. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

(Last week: No. 6)

Marc Gasol: One Stat - One Play

NBA.com's John Schuhmann breaks down the Grizzlies' offense with Marc Gasol at the elbow.

With the Hawks' 19-game winning streak and now the Cavaliers' 12-game run, there's been little mention of Gasol's Grizzlies and the eight-game run they're on right now. Gasol (16.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 1.8 bpg) and Zach Randolph (19.3 ppg, 13.2 rpg and 2.6 apg) have been on a 10-game tear that has helped the Grizzlies fight their way back into that No. 2 spot in the Western Conference standings. This run has also served as a reminder to the rest of the playoff field in the Western Conference of exactly what they'll face come April. Few teams will be able to handle the grit-and-grind style of the Grizzlies' big men in a best-of-seven series, especially if both Gasol and Randolph are healthy and in a groove that started in January. Gasol has to be careful to not overdo it during what will be a wild All-Star Weekend in New York, where he and big brother, Pau, will make history as the first siblings to start opposite each other on that stage.

6. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

(Last week: No. 8)

Klay Thompson's Record Breaking 37-Point 3rd Quarter Performance

A look back at every point of Klay Thompson's record-breaking 3rd quarter performance in which he shot 13-13 FGs including 9- 9 from 3-point range.

Now that his Splash Bros counterpart has upped the ante with a 50-point barrage of his own, Thompson has to pick it up (he's averaging just 25.5. ppg on 53 percent shooting in his last 10 games). What better stage than tonight's game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. The matchup will mark just the second time in NBA history that two teams with winning percentages this high (.830 for the Warriors and .820 for the Hawks) have met this late in a season, the first time being coming in 1981 when the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics battled. Thompson, as competitive as any player in the league right now, was made for these sorts of moments. And if styles makes fights, so to speak, this one should be an absolute classic. It's also a rare night that Thompson gets the assignment to guard a shooter of his own ridiculously high caliber, but that's exactly what he'll see in the Hawks' Kyle Korver. Get your popcorn ready.

7. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

(Last week: No. 5)

GameTime: Damian Lillard

NBA TV's Steve Smith sits down with Damian Lillard to get into the mind of the explosive point guard.

Lillard has every right to use his All-Star snub as motivation for the remainder of this season. Not only did he miss out when the Western Conference coaches gave us their selections last week, he got another uppercut when DeMarcus Cousins was named the injury replacement for Kobe Bryant. He rebounded from two straight subpar (by his lofty standards, anyway) games with 25 points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals and a monster jam on Utah Jazz rim protector Rudy Gobert to help the Trail Blazers snap a three-game losing streak. The real measure of Lillard's game will be taken in the days and weeks after the All-Star snub story has subsided. With LaMarcus Aldridge opting to play through whatever pain is associated with that torn ligament in his thumb, Portland's dynamic duo will continue to push through the remainder of the regular season as one of the Western Conference's best teams. If they are indeed a true contender, we'll find out in the coming weeks.

8. John Wall, Washington Wizards

(Last week: No. 7)

Fan Night: John Wall

John Wall joins Ernie, Isiah and Chris on the studio court to discuss the state of the team and run through some plays.

Wall's Wizards have hit the skids lately, dropping five straight games after Thursday's loss in Charlotte. It's not Wall's fault, though. He's been gutting it out, playing through the pain of an Achilles strain and averaging 18.5 ppg, 10.5 apg, 5.5 rpg and 1.6 apg in his last 10 games. The Wizards are still in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, but they can not afford to continue to slump like this with the Cleveland Cavaliers surging and the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors still grinding away at the very top. The Wizards can ill afford to give Wall the one thing he probably needs most, which is a little rest. There is too much at stake in crucial days leading up to All-Star Weekend for the Wizards to work without their catalyst for even a brief period of time. So Wall will have to continue grinding and steal his rest where he can down the stretch of the season.

9. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

(Last week: No. 10)

Russell Westbrook Highlights

Russell Westbrook matches his career-high with 45 points in the Thunder's win over the Pelicans.

Westbrook continues to shine when the Thunder hit the floor without the services of reigning MVP Kevin Durant (sore toe). Westbrook posted the first 45-point, five-rebound, five-assist game in the league this season in Wednesday's win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Coincidentally, Durant is the last man to record such a game, doing it three times last season during his MVP campaign. Westbrook's not on that same track right now, not with the Thunder still scrapping and clawing to get into the playoff mix. Wherever the Thunder end up this season, Westbrook will have earned his place among the league's elite with a season filled with superhuman performances. Without one of these double-digit win streaks that seem to be going around the league, they might not be able to catch up and solidify a spot in time.

10. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

(Last week: Not ranked)

Nightly Notable - Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis goes off for 32 points and grabs 10 boards in the Pelicans victory against the Sixers.

The Pelicans are 7-3 in their last 10 games and doing everything they can to make the chase for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference as drama filled as possible. None of it would be possible without the work of Davis, whose spectacular season continues to amaze. He's been a one-man wrecking crew for much of this season but is getting a major boost these days from Tyreke Evans and other members of the supporting cast in the Big Easy. Davis, however, is the man who makes the Pelicans go. His last seven games -- 26.6 ppg on 51 percent shooting, 10.4 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 2.1 spg and 2.0 apg -- is indicative of the sort of all-around impact Davis has. Forecasts of him as the future of the game and the brightest young star the league has to offer are not off base. Davis is still a relative pup, when you consider his age (21) and the fact that he's only scratched the surface of what he will become if he continues on his current trajectory.

The next five: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors; LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers; Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks; Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers; Monta Ellis, Dallas Mavericks

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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