LeBron James gets first-place MVP vote from Cavaliers beat writer

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Is Stephen Curry or James Harden the NBA MVP?

It appears to be a two-man race at this point, the Warriors and Rockets guards near locks to finish 1-2 in the voting.

LeBron James said he’d vote for himself, though – and at least one actual voter agrees.

Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

Trying to wade through the NBA’s postseason awards ballot is both an honor and a welcomed burden. You want to do your best to get it right by your standards, even if sometimes you’re the lone voice in the field.

As a voter I spend all year taking notes, watching as many games as my schedule allows (on League Pass on off nights) and chatting with other players, coaches and front office folks on their views of who belongs where. Toward the end of the season I begin asking players for their opinion

Here is my full ballot, as submitted to the accounting firm Ernst & Young this weekend, along with a brief explanation of why I voted the way I did.

MVP

LeBron James, James Harden, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis

Maybe I’m the only writer in the country who doesn’t get swept up in the Curry/Harden debate and votes LeBron No. 1. That’s fine. I’m ready for whatever scrutiny comes with it. I laid out a couple of weeks ago why I believe James is still the MVP of this league and I’m not wavering now.

He lifted an entire franchise and region with his return. He took a team going on its third coach in as many years, with the worst overall record the past four years, a dysfunctional locker room and a hands-on owner and (eventually) steadied it all. Not to mention Kyrie Irving’s development playing alongside him.

My vote for James has nothing to do with working for his hometown paper. No other player in the league could’ve convinced Kevin Love to agree to a trade to Cleveland. No other player in the league could’ve pulled the Cavs from where they were to where they are. He is truly the league’s most valuable player.

Harden and Curry have both been fabulous as well. Harden earns extra points for improving defensively and carrying the Rockets while Dwight Howard was injured and doing it in the ultra competitive Western Conference. Westbrook’s effort in Oklahoma City has been Herculean at times without Kevin Durant, and Anthony Davis is the future of this league. His place on this list is only going to keep rising.

First of all, kudos to Lloyd for posting an explanation of his ballot. Award votes became public last year – an excellent move – but voters were under no obligation to explain their rationale. In a profession where we constantly ask people to explain themselves, journalists should be transparent ourselves. So, I salute Lloyd for doing that.

And I don’t doubt the sincerity of his desire to get this right. Not everyone puts in so much time considering their award votes, to the detriment of the process. It’s clear Lloyd does.

But I just don’t understand this: “My vote for James has nothing to do with working for his hometown.”

How can Lloyd say that with such certainty?

We all have biases, conscious and subconscious. I find it impossible to believe Lloyd would view the MVP race the same way if he weren’t covering LeBron and the Cavaliers daily. We’re all shaped by our experiences, and seeing LeBron up close so frequently leaves an impression. Same with Curry and writers in Oakland and Harden and writers in Houston.

As far as Lloyd’s explanation, I’m unconvinced Curry or Harden couldn’t lift the Cavaliers in a similar way. Just because they’re not from Cleveland and didn’t choose to, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t.

If Lloyd wants to cast the best ballot possible – and I believe he does – he should acknowledge that covering the Cavaliers colors his opinion. Then, he should grapple with the difficult follow-up question: How?

I’m not totally convinced Lloyd’s choice is wrong. I wouldn’t pick LeBron, but he belongs in the running. Lloyd could deeply consider how covering LeBron daily affects his opinion and still reach the same conclusion.

But when he dismisses that dilemma by stating unequivocally, “My vote for James has nothing to do with working for his hometown,” it’s hard to chalk this up as anything more than hometown bias – even if it’s unintentional hometown bias.

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

Three things to know: Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks in 76ers win

The 76ers went 3-1 with Joel Embiid sidelined by a left mid-foot sprain, but they are so much more a dangerous team with him.

Embiid scored the 76ers’ final 11 points of the game against the Hawks, including the go-ahead 10-foot jumper with 18.6 seconds left, to cap a 30-point night and lift the Sixers past the Hawks 104-101.

Embiid was making critical defensive plays down the stretch as well.

Embiid finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks. That’s five straight 30+ point games for Embiid, who picked up right where he left off before the injury.

Well, not exactly pick up at the start as Embiid was 1-of-7 shooting to open the game, and he wasn’t the only Sixers rusty at the start. Embiid seemed focused on sharing the ball early but settled into an offensive balance as the game went on. Philly was saved by a solid defensive night.

The 76ers continue to pick up wins with James Harden and Tyrese Maxey out, which is a good sign going forward.

That’s three-straight losses for the Hawks, a loss that stings because they should have been able to dominate the shorthanded 76ers backcourt and get the win.

2) Karl-Anthony Towns goes down with concerning leg injury

Let’s hope the optimistic report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is right and this isn’t as severe as it looked. Because it looked bad.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony simply was pushing off to run back upcourt when he fell to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf.

Towns was helped back to the locker room and did not return, with the Timberwolves officially saying he was out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A calf strain would be the best possible outcome. An MRI Monday will tell us more.

Towns’ stats are down this season as he adjusts to the odd fit of playing next to Rudy Gobert, but he is still averaging 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.

The Wizards got a monster night from Kristaps Porzingis — a career-high 41 points — on their way to a 142-127 victory. When Porzingis is on this Washington team is tough to beat.

3) Big shots fall at Lakers’ game

Two big shots defined the night at the crypto.com arena Monday.

First, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 with a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

The second one hurt the Lakers more. Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

The Lakers got lost in the scramble. On the initial action, Russell Westbrook doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner, which left the screen setter Myles Turner open at the top for a clean look at a 3 — but he was short and came off the front of the rim. Tyrese Haliburton out-hustled everyone to the rebound and tried to create his own shot but saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West.

The Lakers had won 5-of-6 against a soft part of the schedule but that is about to change and over the next few weeks we will get a sense of where this 7-12 team really stands.