LeBron James said he isn’t motivated by winning an MVP, but he is motivated to prove he’s the best in the game. So what we have here is a matter of semantics.
“It’s not even debatable,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s having that type of season.”
And in case anyone thought otherwise — looking at you, Charles Barkley — LeBron put it all on display Friday night on national television in a 113-103 win over the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the 53-win Bucks.
LeBron had 37 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds but more importantly made sure everyone see him take on the challenge of defending Giannis, one of the toughest players in the league to defend, after Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Anthony Davis got into early foul trouble.
“For him to take on that assignment and still do what he did offensively?” Vogel said, “Just an incredible performance.”
Head to head this season, LeBron has defended Giannis for a total of 7:33 of game time according to NBA tracking data. Giannis has 10 points on 2 of 10 shooting and 1 for 6 from three. He did draw four fouls and is 5 for 6 from the line.
Giannis finished the game with 32 points and 11 rebounds, but he also left Staples Center a little banged up with a sore knee after an awkward fall. He also took a shot to the face in the game. This clash of the titans could be a preview of an NBA Finals matchup.
And the so-called #WashedKing, which was LeBron’s hashtag of choice before the season began, would love to face yet another young star coming for his throne.
But no king is complete without his court. The Lakers clinched a playoff spot for the first time in seven years with the win. Last season, LeBron alone wasn’t enough to end the drought, but the offseason addition of Davis has made this team an instant contender. Giannis has an all-star in Khris Middleton, but he pales in comparison to having AD as a sidekick.
That’s why some feel what Giannis is doing again this season, with the Bucks challenging for a 70-win finish, more impressive and more MVP worthy.
Barkley found it appalling that there was a growing sentiment among the national media — broadcast and print — that LeBron should be in the MVP conversation.
Lakers teammates who see him on a daily basis disagree.
“He’s the MVP,” Kyle Kuzma said. “He shows it every night.”
LeBron claims he doesn’t care. He said winning an MVP “never motivated me.” He said, “To be the best to ever play in the game has motivated me and has resulted in me being league MVP a couple of times.”
At the age of 35, it could happen again.
A third coaching in-season coaching change was made when the Nets announced that they have mutually parted ways with Kenny Atkinson. It came as a shock to most who follow the NBA and yet it wasn’t entirely surprising.
The Nets (28-34) had been slipping a bit after the All-Star break, but just won two of their last three games. They sit seventh in the pillow fight that is the Eastern Conference playoff race and are five games up from any threat of falling out of the top 8.
Oh and did we forget to mention Kyrie Irving is out for the season after opting for shoulder surgery? He played just 20 games this season. Kevin Durant is playing three-on-three and is talking about playing in the Olympics come August, but it was already determined that he would not be available at all this season.
So with Spencer Dinwiddie and his team-worst 112 Defensive Rating and Caris LeVert (and a bunch of others Irving conspicuously once left off his list of players the Nets have to build with), Atkinson was pushing Brooklyn to a second consecutive playoff berth for the first time in 13 years.
The keyword here is “pushing”. Following a four game losing streak, Atkinson took advantage of a two-day break between games and held a rugged practice. “You’ve got to get a little uncomfortable when you’re not doing well,” he explained.
He felt like the team needed it. A week later, the team let him know they didn’t want any more of it.
Irving is only around the team at home games. He doesn’t travel. Durant the same. Atkinson had wanted them around the group at home and on the road to provide a presence to the team as they made their final push toward the playoffs without them on the court. Both can claim they have no blood on their hands because they’re not around.
But with Kyrie’s history, especially after what happened in Boston (and how the Celtics look and sound today), all eyes are on him.
Kyrie wanted to come to the Nets, he said, because he was grew up a Nets fan and said he was caught up in how much fun the team had last season, when reclamation project D’Angelo Russell was leading them to a surprising playoff berth. Let’s also not forget that when KD signed with the Nets, he said he went to YouTube to watch Atkinson media addresses and “I really liked his approach to his craft as coach. And that’s what drew me in pretty quickly.”
So what changed then? Everyone I know around the NBA always nod at these moments and repeat the mantra, “It’s a player-driven league.”
If Kyrie and KD wanted Atkinson to stay, he’d still be the coach.
It’s hard to believe that it was 12 years ago this June that the Knicks made Danilo Gallinari the 6th overall pick in the draft. Gallo, who is now 31, has had quite the NBA journey, which included an entire 2013-14 season lost due to a knee injury. But he’s having one of his best all-around seasons of his career as he heads into free agency this summer. This is the final year of a three-year contract he signed with the Clippers, with a salary of $22.6 million this season.
For that price, he’s a bargain in today’s market. Gallo is averaging 19.2 points per game while shooting 41% from three-point range. When he came into the league as a 19-year-old rookie out of Italy, the game was just starting to see the arrival of the stretch-4 player. At 6-10, Gallinari is now the prototype for what every NBA team wants: size, smarts and shooting.
Doc Rivers, who coached Gallinari with the Clippers, raved about the staying power of Gallo’s game.
“It’s funny, everywhere he goes, he just keeps playing, keeps scoring.” And Doc marveled at how he does this without much fanfare. In over a decade of seasons, he’s never been an all-star. Yet he’s averaged 16.2 points per game for his career. He’s 241 points away from 10,000 for his career.
“He’s a quiet assassin.” is how Doc put it.
He’s been through some injuries during the prime years of his career, but at 31, he actually seems to be playing his best basketball. It will be interesting to see what kind of value he has on the open market this summer.
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