Harden falls to No. 3; Blazers' Aldridge enters our Top 5
POSTED: Mar 13, 2015 10:23 AM ET
LeBron James' play, leadership and savvy have changed the Cavaliers from NBA afterthought to legit contenders.
You've had enough of the seemingly never-ending praise for him.
He's already got four MVP trophies.
Let someone else touch it, feel it. Let someone else bask in the glow of the NBA's biggest individual award.
But how do you ignore the colossal impact LeBron James has wherever he goes? How do you dismiss a player whose mere presence can change a franchise's culture and direction? Is that not the definition of the most valuable player in the NBA (or in any other league or sport)?
Simply put, you don't ignore it.
You don't do him the disservice of trivializing the transcendent qualities of what James brings by becoming desensitized to his otherworldly talents (the way we have to others who came before him ... Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant were all victims).
The rumblings about voter fatigue and the need for a fresh face has reached our doorstep. And we're not buying it. Not today, tomorrow or anytime soon.
And not after watching him lift the Cavaliers up the last month and push them right back into the championship conversation after a rocky start to this season with Kyrie Irving (more on him in a second) and Kevin Love in tow as the latest members of his "Big Three" brigade.
Before his rehabilitation hiatus, the Cavaliers fell short of the championship matrix -- being in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency -- that has become the standard in the past decade-plus. Cleveland ranked 4th and 21st, respectively, in those categories at that time.
Since his return, they rank 1st and 12th and they have two of the game's great equalizers in both Irving and James.
Kyrie Irving's Big Night
Kyrie Irving explodes for a career-high 57 points (on 20 for 32 shooting), with seven triples and five assists to lead Cleveland over San Antonio in overtime.
Even on a night when Kyrie went completely crazy, dropping a NBA-season-high and career-best 57 points in an instant classic overtime win over the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs on their home floor, LeBron's impact on the game and in a larger sense this Cavaliers' season, remains undeniable.
A year ago this time, LeBron and the Miami Heat were way their way to their fourth straight trip to The Finals. Kyrie and the Cavaliers, on the other hand, weren't doing anything that would cause the basketball world to take notice. They weren't even an NBA afterthought. They were just another lottery-bound crew playing out the string of the season.
His place in history already locked in, James reveled in Irving topping his own franchise scoring record of 56 points. He was the man who passed to Irving for the game-tying 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime and then, James took his turn delivering daggers to close out OT (he and Irving combined to score the Cavaliers' final 27 points).
LeBron is comfortable enough in his own skin to get out of the way and watch Kyrie work, a quality not every player of his ilk over the years has had in his arsenal.
James' penchant to defer to teammates and make the right play in critical moments drew criticism in his early NBA years. That trait should no doubt be viewed as a strength now.
In fact, it's the sort of thing you'd want the best player on the planet to have on speed dial.
It's certainly the sort of thing that strengthens ones case for MVP, provided there is a cure for voter fatigue.
This week's KIA Race to the MVP Ladder:
Stephen Curry's Greatest Daggers
See why Stephen Curry is nicknamed the "baby-faced assassin" with his greatest shots in the clutch.
What goes up always comes down. And in Curry's case, two games earlier this week illustrated the up and down of an elite shooter. Curry shot the cover off of the ball in Monday's win over Phoenix, draining 14 of his 24 shots from the floor (.583) and sick 7-for-13 (538) from deep en route to a 36-point, six-rebound, five-assist, four-steal masterpiece. Two days later in a win over Detroit, Curry couldn't find his mark. He shot 4-for-15 from the floor, just 1-for-7 from beyond the 3-point line on his way to a nine-point effort, his first game in single digits since November 21. Curry did finish the game with 11 assists and just three turnovers, and it always helps to have another All-Star scorer like Klay Thompson to pick up the slack.
A younger Curry might not have managed the game the same way if his shot wasn't falling. It's a testament to the growth in his game that he's able to work the way he does on his all-around game the way he does and not rise and fall with his shot every night. Even more interesting will be his response to a tough shooting night when he takes the floor in Denver tonight against the Nuggets.
LeBron's Clutch Triple
As overtime winds down, LeBron James hits a timely 3-pointer to extend the Cavaliers' lead over the Spurs.
It's not often we get to watch LeBron work against a near-physical equal who can match him step-for-step on both ends of the floor. But the San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard did it again Thursday night in Cleveland's showdown against the Spurs in San Antonio. Leonard actually brings out the best in LeBron, forcing him to steer clear of his bad habits ("he falls in love with his jumper," as TNT's Charles Barkley pointed out repeatedly during the broadcast). But sometimes bad habits aren't such a bad thing (see LeBron's finish in overtime -- courtesy of a monster night from Kyrie Irving, who put on his own show against the champs).
The Cavaliers' league-best 23-5 record since Jan. 15 is largely a result of LeBron deciding he'd had enough of the nonsense and making sure Clevelad made its push now, not later. He got the rest he needed, came back with his battery recharged and the Cavaliers have been a totally different team since then. The new additions have played a significant role in the team's transformation and Kyrie is an unreal scorer. But everything in Cleveland begins and ends with LeBron.
Inside The NBA: Harden vs. LeBron
The Bleacher Report crew break down the rivalry between LeBron James and James Harden.
Harden and the Rockets were not at their best in Thursday's blowout loss to the Utah Jazz. Pair this performance with Wednesday's loss in Portland and it's clear Harden and the Rockets need to crank it up in a major way against the Clippers Sunday in Los Angeles to salvage this road road trip. Harden's supporting cast has to deliver -- and soon -- against the other elite teams in the Western Conference playoff chase.
As the intensity continues to rise in the final weeks of the season, the immense burden Harden has carried will get heavier as teams focus on stopping him. Rudy Gobert dominated the Rockets inside Thursday night and, until Dwight Howard comes back, the Rockets will remain vulnerable in the middle. That puts extra pressure on Harden on the perimeter and also limits the work he can do in creating for himself and others around the rim. Howard is expected back in two weeks. Harden needs him to do more than just show up in uniform. He needs him at his best as soon as possible because the Rockets are 6-9 when he scores less than 20 points, something he's done in back-to-back games.
GameTime: Russell Westbrook
The GameTime crew takes a look at Russell Westbrook's surging production, and what it means for the Thunder's playoff hopes.
The indomitable Westbrook, the man who has single-handedly reshaped the MVP race on his own in recent weeks, was just one rebound and three assists shy of a quadruple double in Wednesday's blowout home loss to Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers. Westbrook finished with 24 points, 10 turnovers, nine rebounds and seven assists, showing off the yin and yang of his game. Of course, one bad showing does not sully a 10-game run since the All-Star Game that has seen Westbrook average 33.3 points, 11 assists and 10.1 rebounds.
No one will dispute that Westbrook has been the single most sensational player in basketball these past few weeks. But it hasn't translated into wins for the Thunder, or at least not enough wins to keep them entrenched in the Western Conference playoff picture. As of this morning they are in ninth place, behind New Orleans, and on the outside looking in at the postseason promised land. There's no doubt Westbrook has done his part. But he and the Thunder will benefit from the return of the reigning MVP, Kevin Durant, who is expected to come back to the lineup sometime in the next two weeks.
Rockets vs. Blazers
LaMarcus Aldridge scores 26 points, grabs 14 points to help the Trail Blazers stop a late Rockets rally and go on to win 105-100.
Aldridge always seems to be at his best in the biggest games. dialing it up time after time when the Trail Blazers need it. He worked the Houston Rockets over for 26 points and 14 rebounds after burning the Dallas Mavericks (17 and 12) and Los Angeles Clippers (29 and nine) in a similar fashion last week in back-to-back wins over Western Conference playoff-bound teams.
The appreciation for what Aldridge does nightly is there from the purists who recognize the merits of a stretch-4 whose shooting range doesn't necessarily extend beyond the 3-point line. Aldridge remains one of the league's most effective big men without having the added advantage of piling up points at the free throw line (he averages just 5.1 free throw attempts), where he's shooting an impressive 87 percent this season. Aldridge is a technician who just happens to have the ideal pick-and-roll partner: All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. Their chemistry has never been better and the Trail Blazers will need them at their best down the stretch if they want to hold on to one of the West's top three seeds.
6. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks (5)
7. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (7)
8. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (10)
9. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (9)
10. Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls (8)
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