Fire In the Sky

The MVP race is not really a race at all and hasn’t been since LeBron secured his second or third straight player of the month award. LeBron could go scoreless, reboundless, and assistless for the remainder of the season and still win this MVP. The competition really isn’t even competitive.

So what about the rest of the “candidates”? Someone has to end up with the second most votes for MVP, although the voting should be unanimous.

Dwight Howard has been overlooked despite being in the spotlight on arguably on of the top 3 teams in the league. He has as much impact defensively that all the other candidates have offensively (which is why LeBron’s improved intensity on defense has completely separated him from the rest of the pack). He changes the flight paths of more shots than gravity during some stretches of games.

And this argument that he isn’t “serious” about winning because he sends his blocked shots into the 10th row instead of tipping the ball to himself or a teammate to start the fast break needs to end. Sure, the Russell technique would be ideal, but that argument relegates Howard’s efforts as more flash than meaningful.

Those blocks must be intimidating, how could they not be? He is sending a message that driving into the lane for points and possibly a free throw attempt isn’t going to just happen. He is showing that he is willing and capable of deflating the ball in order that his opponent doesn’t score.

And his offense has improved. At this point of the season, every nationally televised game has one of the analysts raving about Howard’s improved offensive technique courtesy of Mr. Ewing. Does he travel when starting his running skyhook? Maybe, but that isn’t a call that a ref should make. His offensive dominance is still reliant on offensive rebounds converted into dunks and his bulk simply eschewing opponents out of the way en route to an uncontested score.

And he wont garner the votes, possibly in his career, until he develops enough of an offensive game to score 25+ points and continues his defensive determination, especially playing against guys like LeBron and Durant who will be near the 30 point mark every year.

And what about Durant? His offensive numbers, I should say scoring average, are very impressive. Coming into this year, everyone knew Durant would score and would indeed have to if the Thunder wanted to hover around .500 for the season. Nobody dreamt, at least outside of OKC, that the Thunder would be this good this fast.

And much if not all of the credit belong to Durant. This may seem unfair towards a much-improved Russell Westbrook and the continued hustle of Green among a host of others continuing the improvement of the Thunder. But, considering Durant is often the first and only scoring option on a team that is susceptible to prolonged droughts.

He is at times impossible to stop offensively, employing the Nowitzki knack of having such a high release on his shot that it is unfeasible to block. He has unlimited range on his shots and has incredible handle for a guy who is a lanky 6’10”. There are drawbacks, as there are with any player, well, almost any player. He isn’t a great or even good defensive player. He isn’t an avid rebounder and doesn’t possess Magic’s eye or flair for passing. He isn’t an all-around player, but what he does is beyond impressive, especially considering his age and the talent surrounding him.

Durant’s Western Conference foe Kobe Bryant was in early discussions for MVP this season, only a season removed from his own MVP-winning season. However, his injury coupled with the wealth of talent surrounding Bryant derailed any chance of another MVP this season. His numbers have been very good, but not MVP worthy.

The formula for selecting an MVP is not in Kobe’s favor. Yes, one of the key ingredients is being on one of if not the best team in the league and Kobe certainly has that. But the other candidates have good to great teams as well and are performing better. While his numbers are slightly down, the fact that he is performing only slightly down with a broken finger on his shooting hand is worthy of some consideration.

That tidbit is ridiculous. Normal people sprain a finger and they can’t lift anything heavier than a pillow for an extended resting period. Kobe is playing with excruciating pain. I know that all players play through tremendous a great deal of pain, but nobody plays through more better than Kobe does seemingly every year.

Kobe may be aging, but a fellow veteran is also playing out west, possibly playing even more impressive than the Mamba. That man is Steve Nash. The argument could be made that this is Nash’s best year to date.

He is no longer playing under guru Mike D’Antoni, now playing for under hyped Alvin Gentry and still posting phenomenal numbers. Gentry may not be getting a lot of talk for Coach of the Year, but he is worthy of at least minimal consideration. Some people may have had Phoenix in the playoffs at the start of the year, but not as a possible 2 seed in the West.

But this is about Nash, who is posting numbers that rival his statistics during his reign as two-time MVP. He is leading a team, along with a revived Stoudemire in the second half, to an age-defying season. He is an unbelievable athlete, fighting an increasingly bad back while also battling the effects of age on his body that already takes a beating.

His scoring is impeccable; clutch can be an understatement with Nash. His passing and vision go beyond hyperbole. What he has done while helping to lead Phoenix to one of the best records in the game and elevating their play to the highest level is simply unbelievable. Stoudemire has been great, phenomenal even, but other than him the team is a lot of very good role players.

While Miami doesn’t have the Suns’ record or depth of talent, they do have Dwyane Wade. Wade was my preseason pick for MVP, and even I can admit when I have made a mistake. However, Wade has made the Heat into a legitimate threat in the East despite having little more than a shell of the former Jermaine O’Neal, an underutilized Michael Beasley, and a spotty Quentin Richardson.

He does more heavy lifting than any player in the league. Offensively, he is truly a combo guard, often taking care of handling the basketball for lengthy stretches of time. His defense, as with LeBron, has picked up since the Olympics (more of a rediscovery than enlightenment).

His speed and quickness have certainly revived since his shoulder injury that seems forever ago. Despite all of this, he simply just isn’t having as good of a season as LeBron is. And that is true about all of the contenders, they just aren’t as good as LeBron and their season isn’t on par with his. Let me put it this way: it was a bit of a shock that some player other than LeBron walked away with the player of the month honors for March (Wade for those who were curious).

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