Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 5

Race to MVP still has five players in the running

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Derrick Rose is not your MVP.

Not yet anyway. Dwight Howard is still making his case, while LeBron James’ candidacy is limping like the Heat the last five games. But that could turn around.

Right now, we don’t know who the MVP is. Which is a good thing. A real race down the stretch is a lot more fun than a runaway.

If the MVP race were a horse race, they would have just entered the top of the stretch. Like most horse races, now is when someone will separate themselves from the pack. (Sure, some seasons you have Secretariat at the Belmont, but this is not one of those.) Nobody has earned the MVP trophy yet. They have just put themselves in position to win it.

Five players must be put on an MVP ballot. While we don’t get one of those ballots, this would be our choices as of today. But this could be jumbled in any order in the next five weeks. Somebody needs to separate themselves from the pack. (You can vote for who you think should be MVP at NBC’s MVP fan ranker right here.)

1) Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic. The knock for years on Howard was he didn’t have enough post moves, that he was a one-trick pony. If you hear anyone say that now, you know they have not been watching the NBA this season — he is developed a series of trusted moves including a Tim Duncanesque bank shot. He was already the Defensive Player of the Year two seasons running, a disruptive force in the paint and defending the pick-and-roll. He remains one of the game’s best rebounders. He is having the best season of his career.

What do I look for in my MVP? A player who efficiently pushes himself to a new level and pulls his team to new heights with him. Howard has been very efficient this season and has pushed himself to new levels. I’ll also argue he is pulling the most out of this Magic roster (a roster that is likely to let him down in the playoffs, but that’s another topic). The Magic may be a disappointment, but that is not on Howard. His offensive usage percentage is at his career high but his shooting percentages have not seriously dipped. To me, right now, this is the guy.

2) LeBron James, Miami Heat. Yes, I’ve seen the last five games. That’s why he’s second — I had James on top of this list 10 days ago. Despite those recent games, he has stepped over from Cleveland to Miami and yet has maintained an immense level of efficiency — he is using 30 percent of his team’s possessions when he is on the floor (fourth highest in the league) and yet has an eFG% higher than anyone else in the top 20. He leads the league in PER.

It’s a matter of pushing and pulling his team. He’s proven he is still the best individual player in the league, but can he get his team over the hump in the final weeks of the season? That is his test.

3) Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls. He is your current front runner, if the MVP vote were today he would win. And while I said in January I didn’t think he was an MVP, he has certainly proven he is a legit candidate. In a world where we want a player to push himself and pull his team to new heights, Rose has done that better than anyone this season. He also has pushed himself — he is getting to the line more the second half of this season, and he has a three-point shot you have to respect now.

But he is still not efficient enough for my taste to be MVP. He’s 12th in the league in PER, with a true shooting percentage (which counts threes and free throws) just a hair above the league average. He also is not the key part of the reason the Bulls are contenders — their defense. I’m just not all the way there on him. But he is a legit candidacy, if he wins it is not a travesty. He’s just not my guy.

4) Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks. The big German is having his best season in years (probably since the 06-07 team that won 67 games). He is very efficient — he is shooting a career best 53 percent at age 32. He is the hub of all things the Mavs do on offense, accounting for him opens up lanes for Jason Kidd and Jason Terry and a host of other Jasons. What’s more, Dallas is certainly performing better as a team than we expected. He’s not a great defender, but he’s better than he gets credit for. He lacks the wow factor of Rose or the spectacular plays of James, in part because we’ve grown complacent watching Nowitzki do his thing for so many years. But he should be in the MVP conversation.

5) Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers. I think he has to be in the conversation, although if you want to replace him with Kevin Durant I’m not going argue much. (I had lobbied for Chris Paul for the first half of the season, but he has fallen off.) I put Kobe in because the Lakers are the better team, and nobody pushes his team to excel harder than Kobe. Except he didn’t this season until recently, the Lakers clearly coasted for a while. That’s a strike. Still, think of it this way: Kobe won the MVP in 07-08 with a PER of 24.2, this season he has a PER of 24.2. His shooting numbers are down a little from that season but his assist numbers are up. Look, he’s still one of the game’s elite and should be in the conversation. Kobe probably couldn’t care less if he is in this conversation so long as he is in the Finals MVP conversation.

Kevin Love says there will always be stories about his fit with Cavs, he doesn’t care

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love gets photographed during the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Independence, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
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If anyone in the NBA should have a thick skin when it comes to talk of player conflicts and trade rumors, it should be Kevin Love. Those stories have been like a cartoon cloud following his every step since he landed in Cleveland.

And he doesn’t give a… you know.

The Cavaliers just won a title with Love playing a key role, and yet the cloud still follows him. Love was asked about the stories of his fit with his team after practice Friday (video below, if you’re easily offended by language don’t hit play).

“I love this team. There will always be stories. I don’t think they’ll ever leave. Frankly, I don’t really give a s—.”

It’s amazing what winning can do. If the Cavaliers had not come back from 3-1 down in the Finals, the consensus around the league was that Cleveland would have made significant roster changes last summer and Love likely would have been the big name out the door. In some parallel universe that happened.

But not in this one — Love has a ring. And he’s still a Cavalier. And he doesn’t care what his critics think of that.

Chris Bosh: “I guess my career in Miami is done. My career is not done.”

WESTWOOD, CA - JULY 14:  NBA player Chris Bosh attends the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Awards 2016 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on July 14, 2016 in Westwood, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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Pat Riley has said he is not working to bring Chris Bosh back to the Miami Heat roster. After blood work with a preseason physical showed signs of the blood clotting issues that ended Bosh’s last two seasons early, the Heat will not clear him to play.

Bosh wants and intends to play.

His latest video at The Uninterrupted shows Bosh getting the news of what Riley said (at media day) and his reaction to it.

“Got the news. I was in disbelief for a couple seconds, then I threw my phone down and I stormed out the room… But I’m glad I didn’t break my phone. I wanted to break it, but I didn’t….

“I guess my career in Miami is done. My career is not done. I did not expect that at all…. That does not mean my NBA career is over. There are 29 other teams, it’s a whole league. One team does not make up the opinion of everything.”

Bosh also fired a couple shots at Riley and Heat management.

“I didn’t see my career in Miami ending like this. I didn’t get a call or a test or anything like that…

“I want to tell everyone in Miami this is not how I planned it to be. They don’t want to hear Dwyane (Wade) is gone. They don’t want to hear, ‘oh yea, Chris is never going to play for the Miami Heat again.’ People don’t want to hear that. I just feel for the fans. I wanted to give them more, I wanted to give them something better. Because they deserve better than what they’re getting right now.”

The next question is where the Bosh saga goes from here — there are no easy answers.

The Heat will look to trade Bosh, but that is a longshot. What other team is so desperate as to give up quality assets so they can take on the three-years, $75.8 million remaining on a contract of a player who may never be cleared by the league to play, and if he does play may not be able to finish seasons? Would the NBA even approve a trade if its doctors think some team is ignoring serious medical issues just to land an All-Star level player?

Can the two sides reach a buyout? Only if Bosh agrees to a ridiculously small share of the $75 million he is owed, because that money would still be on the Heat’s books. Miami would love to be able to waive Bosh then in February apply to have his salary wiped off its books. The problem there for the Heat is that if Bosh does come back and plays 25 or more games for any other team over the course of his career, that entire $75 million goes right back on the Heat books and kills their cap space.

Expect the NBA and players union to be part of whatever negotiations may take place here.

About the only things we know for sure is Bosh wants to play again, and that will not happen in Miami. That bridge has been burned.

Ben Simmons rolls ankle in practice, likely out for preseason opener next Tuesday

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons poses for a photographer during media day at the NBA basketball team's practice facility, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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If you’ve been impatiently waiting to see No. 1 pick Ben Simmons in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform, you likely will have to wait a little longer.

Simmons rolled his ankle at practice Friday, reports Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com. While not considered serious, the Sixers took Simmons in to have an MRI and get a better look at what happened. They also may rest him next week when the Sixers first take the court, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Cautious is the right move by the Sixers here. Ankles, once sprained and the ligaments are stretched out, are easy to re-injure if not fully healed. The last thing the Sixers want is for this to be a running issue Simmons’ rookie season.

Sorry fans, but maybe you at least get to see Joel Embiid.

Watch the 50 best long-distance shots of last season (video)

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There’s something majestic about the ball floating through the air on a long shot headed toward the rim, especially when it splashes through the net.

Enjoy the top 50 of those baskets from last season.