LeBron turns in MVP performance in Heat’s blowout win over Thunder

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Throughout the first half of this season, Kevin Durant has widely been discussed as the player most deserving of receiving the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

While Durant has been largely spectacular, those championing his cause may have neglected to consider one simple fact: LeBron James hasn’t exactly gotten worse, and in fact, may still be far and away the league’s best player.

James asserted himself against Durant’s Thunder from the opening tip on Thursday, scoring 16 of his 33 points in a blistering first quarter on Durant’s home floor that left little doubt as to where the MVP should ultimately reside. Miami cruised to a 103-81 victory, as James continued a personal assault that has now lasted four straight games.

LeBron finished with 33 points on 22 shots, to go along with seven rebounds, three assists and four steals. But it was that first quarter performance that knocked the Thunder on their heels, and struck doubt into their hearts.

When James puts forth maximum effort, it’s a scary site for opponents that is essentially impossible to stop. In this one, he scored his team’s first 12 points, and was active on the defensive end at the same time, creating steals that led to run-outs in transition.

It was really no different than what we’ve seen from James since the two contests before the All-Star break, where he’s clearly stepped up his game in order to help his team prepare for the postseason with a second half push. He scored 37 and 36 respectively in Phoenix and Golden State, before following up those efforts with a 42-point outing in Dallas immediately after the All-Star break.

The first quarter in Oklahoma City, however, was meant to make a statement.

James has heard all season long that Durant was the MVP, and there was no better time than in OKC on national television to let everyone know he wasn’t ready to concede that distinction. There’s no other way to explain the way he dominated from the jump, and was so visibly upset when a long three-point attempt — his sixth shot of the game — was the first of the night that he saw rim out.

LeBron wanted this one, or at the very least, he wanted to make sure he performed at his highest level if his team was going to end up with a loss. But his highest level almost makes that an impossibility.

Durant was fine in finishing with 28 points, and Russell Westbrook returned from injury to chip in a rusty 16 on 4-of-12 shooting. But when LeBron is this locked in, the only thing that can stop him is injury, and even then, he’ll still likely end up scoring.

James took a shot to the face that left him bloodied with under six minutes remaining, but managed to finish the dunk on the play where the contact occurred nonetheless.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were spectacular for the Heat as well, and that’s been the strength of this Miami team through back-to-back championship seasons. But it all started with LeBron, and his dominating first quarter effort that had MVP written all over it.

Kobe Bryant on race for Podoloff Trophy: “We might see our first co-MVPs this year”

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The race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook for the 2017 NBA MVP has narrowed to a two-man race toward the end of the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder star is averaging at triple-double this year, and the Houston Rockets guard is doing things nobody has ever done on a basketball court before.

It’s a tough decision to decide between them, so much so that even former Los Angeles Lakers great and 2008 NBA MVP Kobe Bryant can’t do it.

Speaking on ESPN on Sunday, Bryant said he thought the league might have to just bite the bullet on Westbrook vs. Harden.

“We might see our first co-MVPs this year,” said Bryant.

That would be a huge step for the league, but I’m not entirely sure they would do it. There have been co-NBA All-Star Game MVPs in years past, but never league MVP.

Still, can you decide between Russ and Harden? The Mamba can’t.

Watch Rockets C Nene lead the break, eurostep past Enes Kanter (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets center Nene is from Brazil, but on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder the South American native went full euro.

On a fastbreak possession, Nene took on Thunder big man Enes Kanter near the rim and absolutely shook him with a nasty eurostep.

The play was so good that it forced Oklahoma City to call a timeout as James Harden and the rest of the Rockets bench met Nene on the court to celebrate.

Kobe Bryant says he didn’t even have NBA League Pass until a month ago (VIDEO)

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What has retired all-time NBA great Kobe Bryant been doing with his time? A little of this, a little of that. Apparently that doesn’t include watching non-national NBA games.

Speaking with ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Michael Smith on SC6, Bryant revealed that he went to go watch a little NBA while he was getting a workout in at his house and realized he didn’t have the NBA package hooked up on his cable.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know if I totally buy this. On one hand, Kobe is a busy guy and he did spend two decades living and breathing the NBA night in and night out. I would expect that after all that time he might want some kind of relief.

Then again, to think that Kobe doesn’t have multiple assistants that would have handled that sort of thing already is sort of silly. The only benefit here is Kobe trying to sell that he’s just relaxing and not paying attention to the league too much, which is hilarious.

Kobe, we all know who you are by now. You’re watching the league, man. You’re Kobe. We get it. You didn’t suddenly turn into The Dude.

Let’s just hope Kobe’s League Pass works right off the bat. We all know how much of a hassle it can be.

Damian Lillard dismisses playoff expectations as pressure, says it insults regular people

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The Portland Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season thus far. The team is just 34-38 before their game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, and they’re battling it out for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with the Denver Nuggets.

This comes as after expectations rose greatly following the 2015-16 campaign which saw the Blazers finish 44-38, good enough for the No. 5 spot in the West.

Portland has looked better after trading Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, but it might be too little too late. Meanwhile, team leader Damian Lillard isn’t bowing to the idea that last season’s good fortune raised the bar so much that it put undue pressure on his team.

Speaking with Sporting News, Lillard said he thinks the idea is really more about pressure vs. challenges.

Via SN:

Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong — there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.

Look at the Wizards, they were kind of on the same wave as us. Didn’t even make the playoffs while we did. Now this year they’re the second-best team in the East. The adversity made them better. It can make us better, too. What I come from and my background made me who I am. As comfortable as I am with the good times, I’m also comfortable in adversity. Yeah, I might feel some type of way when somebody comes for me or says my name. But when it’s all said and done, it ain’t gonna rock me.

This is interesting to hear an NBA player say out loud. One, because I’m not sure I entirely believe it. You can have pressure without it having to be something that threatens your overall wellbeing.

Then again, maybe we’re arguing linguistics here. There’s definitely a different emotion from, say, trying to make sure you make rent and aren’t evicted to the street vs. trying to make the NBA playoffs. If one emotion is being defined as pressure, it makes sense to call the other a challenge.

It’s also interesting to hear an NBA player speak in those kinds of terms. There are a few guys around the league who seem to be relatively grounded and give out quotes like this from time-to-time. The absurdity of the NBA — playing games, making millions, and having folks worship you — would easily bend reality for most of us.

In any case, the challenge of making the playoffs for Portland is not going to be an easy one to overcome. Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Lakers, the Trail Blazers are a game behind Denver for the final spot.

Portland will face Denver on Tuesday, March 28 in perhaps their most important game of the season.