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Our NBA MVP predictions for 2018

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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.

Kyrie Irving, any regrets about using profanity toward fan? “Hell no.”

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Fans yelling obscenities at NBA players and trying to goad them into a response — always while camera phones are recording — has become a thing. DeMarcus Cousins will be paying $25,000 for responding to a fan cursing at him in Memphis.

Kyrie Irving is likely going to get fined for an incident Friday night after the Celtics knocked off the Sixers in Philadephia. It made the rounds on social media Friday night, with a fan yelling at Irving as he leaves the court “Kyrie, where’s LeBron?” and Irving responding with a crude phrase. Here is the exchange as Irving leaves the court (NOTE: The language is NSFW, if offended don’t watch the video).

Saturday Irving was asked about the incident, and he admitted he should have bit his tongue, but he has no regrets, as reported by A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“Hell no,” Irving said (when asked if he had regrets). “Man enough to record it on video, that’s on him. I’m glad he got his ad name out there, and his five seconds of fame and it’s gone viral. That’s the social media platform we live on.

Irving added, “I take full responsibility for what I said. You move on.”

Irving also addressed the bigger issue, something Cousins discussed when talking about his fine. Via Chris Forsberg at ESPN.

“At the end of the day, we’re human. It’s in heat of the moment and frustrations arise, we were at halftime, we were down by 4, in an environment, a season-opener in Philly. Being with a young team like we have here and staying composed, handling that before we go in the locker room and addressing what we have to do in the locker room and going out and handling business and getting the W, that’s really the only thing that matters to me.

“It’s up to the league at this point. But, like I said, I’m going to take full responsibility for what I said. I don’t have any regrets for it.”

Irving is going to get fined. The league has issues with its players cursing at fans. Understandably.

That said, the league may need to step back on consider situations like this. If fans are taunting players, at what point should a player be able to respond to the fan? Should arena security (at the request of the officials, or maybe a player) intervene? Players should not be asked to bite their tongue no matter what is said, and even if a fan paid for a ticket it doesn’t give them the right to cross any line. As more fans seem to go after their 15 minutes of social media fame baiting players, the league may need to reconsider where it draws its lines.

Reports: Pelicans to sign Jameer Nelson with Rondo out

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With Rajon Rondo out 4-6 weeks with a sports hernia, the New Orleans Pelicans were looking for a solid backup point guard.

This week, to make room to sign Richard Jefferson, the Denver Nuggets waived veteran Jameer Nelson.

While other teams such as the Rockets were calling, the Pelicans and Nelson have reached a deal, reports both Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports added this.

Nelson, in his 14th NBA season, became the top free agent on the market and received interest from contenders such as the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder and several other franchises that hoped to add the respected and accomplished veteran. But for Nelson, the Pelicans represent an opportunity to play significant minutes and provide leadership.

The Pelicans had a full roster of 15 players, they could have waited until next Tuesday and gotten a disabled player exception to add a 16th player, but they decided to go with something more permanent.

Jrue Holiday starts at the point for the Pelicans but with Rondo out — he was supposed to start next to Holiday — there is no depth at the position. The Pelicans can have Nelson step in and get minutes from the first time he steps on the court.

Nelson is still a solid pick-and-roll point guard, but what he brings to the table the Pelicans need more is shooting — he shot 38.8 percent from three last season and is a good spot up player. He can penetrate and make plays off handoffs as well, but it’s his shooting on a team that needs it that will be most valued.

The Pelicans have started the season 0-2 with losses to Memphis and Golden State. They take on the Lakers in Los Angeles Sunday night.

DeMarcus Cousins fined $25,000 for cursing at fan

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Near the end of New Orleans’ season-opening loss in Memphis, DeMarcus Cousins started getting into a war of words with a female Grizzlies fan, an exchange where allegedly “F-bombs” were dropped in both directions.

That’s going to cost Cousins.

Saturday the league announced that the Pelicans’ center has been fined $25,000 for “directing inappropriate language towards a fan.”

Cousins got a technical foul during this exchange, and that has been rescinded.

Cousins has averaged 31 points and 10 rebounds a game through two games this season, but it hasn’t been enough as New Orleans has started the season 0-2.

It’s not about the shoes: Kevin Durant loses his, blocks two shots anyway

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Shoes? Kevin Durant don’t need no stinkin’ shoes.

Early in the second quarter of the Warriors win in New Orleans Friday, Durant came out of his shoes on a layup in the lane. He then picked up his shoe, carried it to the other end, flipped it to the bench, and played defense without it, and while he got moved out of the way allowing an offensive rebound for the Pelicans he then proceeded to block Tony Allen twice at the rim.

Durant — after deciding to play the rest of the game in shoes — had seven blocks on the night, to go with 22 points.