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Our NBA MVP predictions for 2018


Last season saw Russell Westbrook and James Harden put up such ridiculous numbers that it turned a deep pool of quality MVP candidates into a two-man race (which Westbrook won). Then this summer they both got help — Harden is now paired with Chris Paul, Westbrook with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Adding that kind of talent will cut into their numbers (even if it’s best for the team).

All this throws the 2018 MVP race wide open. Here are our staff picks.

Kurt Helin: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Things just set up for LeBron to win this award for the fifth time. In recent years it seems we’ve become complacent to his greatness — the man averaged 26-8-8 last season, played great defense, and we shrugged. This season, with Kyrie Irving gone and Isaiah Thomas out until January, the spotlight on LeBron will be brighter. Combine that with Westbrook and Harden getting superstars to go next to them, Kevin Durant being on a flat-out loaded team that wins a lot (same with Stephen Curry), and LeBron seems the favorite. (Either LeBron or that two-way player down in San Antonio seem the frontrunners, and I like Giannis Antetokounmpo as a dark horse, but the Bucks need to win more). I think this just sets up for LeBron to pick up award No. 5, the only question is how bad he wants it.

Dan Feldman: Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)

Leonard is the safe choice, an elite player who’s not playing with another. The Spurs are always an excellent regular-season team, and Leonard dominates both ends of the floor. Kevin Durant (Stephen Curry), Curry (Durant), Russell Westbrook (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) and James Harden (Chris Paul) all must share the spotlight. LeBron James lost his highest-usage co-star and gained motivation to show out this regular season, but 82 games is a long time to sustain peak performance. I’ll go with the 26-year-old over the 32-year-old who has played in the last seven Finals.

Dane Carbaugh: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

The Eastern Conference didn’t do itself any favors this offseason with many stars heading West. LeBron James has always beaten up on his conference opponents, but this season will be different. There’s less Kyrie Irving to go around, and Kevin Love is playing the 5. James is slated to go back to the role he played on offense for the Miami Heat, one in which he excels as a wing creator and point forward.

That’s not a huge departure from how he has played with the Cavaliers in the past, but we are talking about small tolerances here. The margin between LeBron, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and James Harden is so razor thin that something like a simple change in style could make all the difference.

The main challengers in the East still have to go through Cleveland, and there are some serious doubts for each of those teams. Are the Celtics deep enough? Can the Raptors be less Raptors-y? If LeBron can dominate his conference opponents yet again, I think the MVP goes to him one more time.

Wild night in Miami: Heat top Nuggets 149-141 in 2 OTs

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MIAMI (AP) — They broke the stat system. That’s how good Miami and Denver were – even modern technology couldn’t keep up with the Heat and Nuggets.

For 48 minutes, they went back and forth.

And one overtime wouldn’t decide it, either.

Finally, after three hours, the Heat said enough. James Johnson scored a career-high 31 points, Kelly Olynyk added 30 off the bench and Miami set a franchise single-game scoring record by beating the Nuggets 149-141 in double overtime on Monday night.

“There didn’t deserve to be a loser,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Guys probably really enjoyed playing in a game like this.”

His guys did, anyway. Olynyk became the second reserve in Heat history to score 30. Wayne Ellington had 23 points, and the Heat made 20 3-pointers – second-most in franchise history.

All that comes with a serious disclaimer. There was no official boxscore after the game, because the system crashed in the first overtime and crews were scrambling to determine official numbers long after the final buzzer. What mattered most was the score – one that moved Miami (38-33) into seventh in the Eastern Conference and left the Nuggets two games back of the last Western Conference spot.

“They just executed,” Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said. “They got some, I think, fluke plays and a little luck and they’re at home, you know. Momentum shifted a little bit.”

Miami’s point total was also an NBA season high. Houston and Oklahoma City each scored 148 in games earlier this season.

Nikola Jokic had 34 points and 14 rebounds for Denver (38-33), while Wilson Chandler added 26 for the Nuggets. Jamal Murray scored 23 and Will Barton finished with 22 for Denver.

“There’s no stats. The stat machine blew up I guess,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But the only stat I cared about tonight is that I’m proud of the way we competed, I’m proud of the way we executed, I’m proud of the fact that we gave ourselves a chance.”

Neither team was at full strength. For Miami, Dwyane Wade (left hamstring strain) missed his fourth consecutive game, and Hassan Whiteside (left hip pain) sat out his fifth straight contest. Denver was without leading scorer Gary Harris, sidelined again by a strained right knee that could keep him out several more days.

Denver led 16-5 after 3 1/2 minutes, and that was the only double-digit lead by either side for about the next three hours. It was airtight until the very final moments, almost to an absurd degree.

After one quarter, Denver led by one.

Halftime, Miami led by one.

After three, Miami still by one.

After regulation, tied.

After one overtime, still tied.

“That’s as playoffs as it comes,” Olynyk said.

Back and forth they went all night, two teams who played a one-point game at Denver back in November – that one not being decided until Dion Waiters‘ missed jumper as time expired sealed the Nuggets’ win. This one had even more fireworks, with the Heat missing shots at the end of regulation and the first overtime before finding a way in the second OT.

Olynyk and James Johnson had all 13 Miami points in the first overtime.

“We didn’t exactly want it to be like this,” said Ellington, who rattled home a 3-pointer to start the second OT and put Miami ahead for good. “But these are the types of games that show your character.”


LeBron James’ triple-double lifts Cavaliers past Bucks

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 40 points as part of his third triple-double in four games and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 124-117 on Monday night as coach Tyronn Lue began his leave of absence to address health issues.

Lue said Monday in a statement he been dealing with chest pains and loss of sleep, and that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is. Associate head coach Larry Drew will run the team in Lue’s absence.

James scored 17 points in the third quarter and finished with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 16th triple-double this season and 71st of his career.

The four-time MVP took over in the third beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers. After not getting a foul called on a third attempt, he finished Cleveland’s next possession with a massive dunk. He was fouled attempting another dunk and made both free throws the following time down.

Milwaukee cut a 17-point lead to 117-109, but James drove the length of the floor for a dunk with just over a minute left.

Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love returned after missing six weeks because of a broken left hand and scored 18 points in 25 minutes. He sparked a 10-0 run in the second quarter with two 3-pointers

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 37 points and went 11 for 11 at the foul line for Milwaukee, which is seventh in the Eastern Conference. Khris Middleton had 30 points, making 11 of 16 from the field.

Milwaukee guard Jason Terry was given a Flagrant-1 foul for hitting Ante Zizic in the face with an open hand while the rookie center was putting up a shot in the lane. Zizic made both free throws, helping spark a run that built a double-figure lead.

Lue, 40, led Cleveland to the 2016 NBA championship after taking over for David Blatt midway through that season.

The Cavaliers (41-29) are third in the Eastern Conference and have endured roster shake-ups, injuries and other distractions as they try to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight time.

No timetable has been given for when Lue will return. He missed the second half Saturday, the second time this season he left a game because he wasn’t feeling well. Lue also sat out a game against Chicago at home in December.


Pelicans rookie Frank Jackson has another surgery, will miss entire season now

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Pelicans say rookie guard Frank Jackson won’t make his NBA debut this season after having follow-up surgery to remove residual scar tissue from earlier right foot operations.

The Pelicans say Jackson also received an injection in his foot.

The club says a specialist in New York handled Jackson’s latest procedure.

The Pelicans acquired the 6-foot-4 Jackson through a draft-night trade with the Charlotte Hornets, who selected the former Duke player with the first pick of the second round last summer.

Following the draft, the Pelicans signed Jackson to a three-year contract at the NBA minimum with two years guaranteed, but Jackson needed a second foot surgery last summer to address a setback following his initial surgery last May.

Jackson spent one season at Duke, averaging 10.9 points.


Giannis Antetokounmpo turns bad pass into ridiculous alley-oop (VIDEO)

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That is just not fair.

Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe threw an alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo that was off the mark — high and behind him — but it just doesn’t matter. The Greek Freak gets up and throws it down.

It’s early, but it’s going to be hard to beat that one for dunk of the night.