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Five players most likely to win the MVP Award

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Last season, we entered the year with a wide-open MVP race that could have gone a lot of directions, but in the end Russell Westbrook and James Harden had put up such ridiculous numbers they stood out at the top (although Kawhi Leonard was lurking).

This season, we are back to that wide open race — the tectonic shifts in players moving to teams with other superstars this summer has changed the race. Here are the five guys that have the best shot at winning the award.

1) LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s a four-time MVP — and finished in the top three in voting for eight straight seasons until he was fourth in 2017 — who has been so consistently dominant his biggest challenge is we have become accustomed to his greatness. He averaged 26.4 points per game, 8.6 rebounds, and 8.7 assists last season and it was greeted with a shrug. However, with Kyrie Irving traded to Boston and Isaiah Thomas likely a spectator until January, James will have to carry more of a load during the regular season. If the Cavaliers continue to be the dominant force in the East (as is likely), James will get the credit, and that could propel him to MVP No. 5.

2) Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder. He is the reigning MVP and earned it with a historic season becoming only the second player to average a triple-double for the season — 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game. The addition of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to the Thunder roster will mean Westbrook’s counting stats will decline, but if he can lead this team to a No. 2 or 3 seed in the West with at least 57 wins, and he can show true leadership making sacrifices and getting everyone involved, he could pick up a back-to-back MVP win as well.

3) Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs. He led a 61-win Spurs team last season averaging 25.5 points per game, but his legitimate case for MVP was that he was the best defender of anyone in the group (and the Spurs had the best defense in the NBA). He doesn’t tout himself for the award (or for anything), but if he puts up similar numbers again and the Spurs are right there with the Thunder and Rockets for the two seed in the West, Leonard again will be in the mix to win the award. The one question has become will he be healthy enough, after he sat out all of the preseason with a chronic quad issue.

4) Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors. He is a former MVP, the Finals MVP from last season, and the best player — sorry Stephen Curry — on what should be the most dominant team in the NBA this season. The MVP award has often gone to the best player on the best team, which has Durant as the favorite among the Las Vegas oddsmakers. He averaged 25.1 points and 8.3 rebounds a game last season, and likely will have numbers close to that. The one thing that could hold him back is voters fatigued with the Warriors winning everything and looking for a narrative they find more interesting.

5) Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks. He burst into NBA superstardom last season when they put the ball in his hands, made him the defacto point guard, and he responded with 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. He led the Bucks in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. There is almost nothing he can’t do on the court, and he only continues to improve. The key for him is not his jump shot (which is slowly improving), but rather will the Bucks take another step forward — this has been a “two steps up, one step back” team for a few years now. If the Bucks are stagnant or worse this season, it is bad news for Antetokounmpo’s MVP hopes (and maybe Jason Kidd’s job). However, if the Bucks move up the ladder in the East and are winning 50+ games, the Greek Freak will move into serious MVP consideration.

Just missing this list: James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving.

The Warriors’ championship rings have 31 diamonds in them (VIDEO)

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Tuesday night meant the return of NBA basketball, and of course what we all wanted to see: the Golden State Warriors.

In the second game of the evening, the Warriors squared off against the Houston Rockets. Before the teams tipped, the Warriors received their championship rings in front of their hometown crowd at Oracle Arena.

Wearing special Nike hoodies with the phrase “The Champions” on the back, the Warriors received their rings to a standing ovation.

Perhaps the best part of the ceremony was finding out the official gemstone count in the rings. According to Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver, the rings have 31 diamonds in them.

Via Twitter:

Hmm. 31.

3-1.

3-1 lead.

Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.

Report: Cavaliers ditched Kyrie Irving tribute video idea vs. Celtics

AP
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It was the first game for Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving back in Cleveland against the Cavaliers on Tuesday night. Irving spent the first six years of his career in Cleveland before being traded to the Celtics over the summer.

Of course, there was no love lost between the two teams nor between Cavaliers fans and Irving. Boston won the opening tip which Irving gathered, prompting a round of boos from the audience at The Q.

Perhaps more interesting was that the Cavaliers had a tribute video lined up for Irving but decided not to run it.

According to multiple reports, the video was set to run during a floating point in the game, but the operations folks in Cleveland never found the right time.

Another report from Cleveland.com has said that the aforementioned video had set off a few Cavaliers players.

Via Cleveland.com:

According to team spokesman Tad Carper, multiple Cavs officials, including majority owner Dan Gilbert, chose not to show the video because “we were expecting to run it at a floating opportunity based on the right moment, and we felt that moment never presented itself.”

Carper said the decision to cancel the video was not “directly” tied to the gruesome ankle injury to Celtics guard Gordon Hayward with 6:50 left in the first quarter, either.

A source with direct knowledge of Cavs’ players thinking told cleveland.com that several inside the Cleveland locker room were upset Monday upon hearing that a video was planned.

The video would have upset some inside the Cleveland locker room? I wonder which ones.

Already a question, Celtics’ depth issues tested by Hayward injury

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Tonight’s game story was probably always going to be about the Boston Celtics’ wing depth. It still is, I guess, but it reads a lot different now that Gordon Hayward is likely out for the season with a fractured tibia and dislocated left ankle.

Hayward, the biggest free agent prize this offseason, signed with the Celtics over the summer as the team moved in a new direction with Kylie Irving. In doing so, the Celtics leveraged a bit of their wing depth by sending Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons.

Tuesday’s opening ceremony was supposed to give us a better idea of how the Celtics depth would fare against the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart are slated to be a big part of the Boston playoff hopes this year. So too is Marcus Morris once he returns from a knee injury. Of course, that was when we were sure that Hayward would be anchoring the small forward position.

Now, Hayward is out for an undetermined period of time after suffering a catastrophic injury on that fateful alley-oop attempt against LeBron James. With Hayward went Boston’s hopes of a win as the opening matchup of the series went to the Cavaliers, 102–90, albeit with a bit of late excitement as a Irving took the potential game-tying shot as time expired with James guarding him.

Via Twitter:

So here we are, where we originally anticipated to start but with one less star player accounted for. While the Celtics mounted an impressive third quarter comeback, we still don’t have answers to our questions on the Boston depth chart.

It’s true that we saw some impressive play on Tuesday from the guys that were expected to complement Hayward on the way. Brown led the team with 25 points on 11-of-23 shooting in 40 minutes. Likewise, Smart showed some flashes of defensive brilliance even as he went 0-of-4 from 3-point range. Tatum, always expected to contribute the least in his first season, scored 14 points while grabbing 10 rebounds, an impressive double-double in his opening NBA game.

But this still doesn’t account for the fact that the Celtics were outplayed on the wing. The combination of Crowder and JR Smith for Cleveland proved to be too much for Boston to handle when put on the same floor with James. That is to say nothing of Kevin Love‘s performance, which undoubtedly benefited from the defensive rotational differences for the Celtics with Hayward out.

The Cavaliers outflanked Boston on Tuesday despite starting guards Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade combining for 22 points on 24 shots. Crowder himself shot just 3-of-10 from the field, although his contributions elsewhere were obvious. The Cavaliers were able to punch out Boston even as they suffered from subpar performances from major players. No doubt with more time together both sides will solidify, but now without Hayward the young players on the Celtics will have to do much more.

It will be easier for the likes of Crowder, Wade, and Rose to mold around the best player in the NBA than it is for Boston to find a rotation that gets them into the playoffs. And while one game in October won’t tell the story of the season, we had to get a hint of what the Celtics’ young players would look like against top competition. We still got that, and if there is an upside here for Celtics fans it’s that the development of those young players appears to have sparked a flame that should grow all season.

Make no bones about it, the Celtics still have some good players that should be able to shield the younger ones — especially Tatum — from having to shoulder too much of the load. That’s the kind of thing that can stunt the growth of a player. But that doesn’t mean that Celtics fans can’t be disappointed. It was always going to be a stretch to topple the Cavaliers and LeBron in the East, and without Hayward it will be impossible.

From Kyrie Irving to Jae Crowder, no love lost between Celtics and Cavs

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The first night of the NBA is here. Now you can stop pretending that you are going to win your NFL fantasy league and pay attention to something important.

Tuesday night’s opening matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics was of course one of intrigue for many reasons. The teams have new rosters after a trade involving Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, and Jae Crowder, just to name a few.

The NBA likes to open its seasons with matchups like this, and the crowd at The Q in Cleveland did not disappoint when they saw Irving once more.

There did not appear to be bad blood on the court between LeBron James and Irving, and the two exchanged a friendly fist bump as is customary before the tip.

Via Instagram:

Of course, Cavaliers fans did not hold back once the Celtics won the tip off and Kyrie handled the ball for the first time.

There was also myriad technical fouls, including one on Irving after a timeout and one on Al Horford for clapping at Crowder. The latter gave us this gem:

Is an absolute bummer that the Celtics will be without Gordon Hayward as he recovers from a broken left ankle. But, at least there will be some bad blood remaining between these teams to entertain us over the course of the regular season.