Three Things to Know: MVP showdown between Harden, Giannis won by Eric Bledsoe

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) MVP showdown between James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, won by Eric Bledsoe. And Bucks. Chris Paul is right: No self-respecting MVP voter should base his or her decision on the winner of a season-long award on what happens in one game.

Because if you did that for this game Eric Bledsoe is your MVP.

In a much-hyped showdown of elite teams led by the front running MVP candidates James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe was the best player on the court. The Milwaukee guard scored 23 points on the night — 16 in a critical third-quarter run when the Bucks pulled away — leading Milwaukee to a 108-94 win over Houston.

For the record, The MVP candidates had good if unspectacular nights. Antetokounmpo finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, while Harden had 23 points.

However, Harden’s 23 came on 9-for-26 shooting and just 1-of-9 from three. Bledsoe’s hounding defense was part of that. As he did the first time these teams met in January, Bledsoe parked himself on Harden’s left shoulder and gave him an open driving lane to the rim (where Brook Lopez or Antetokounmpo waited to try to block or alter the shot). What that does is take away the step-back three (specifically the preferred step back to the left) that has fueled Harden’s run this season. What Bledsoe and the Bucks also did well was not foul, Harden attempted only five free throws in a game where the referees let the teams play a little. (There were Rockets fans complaining about that on Twitter, to which I would say welcome to playoff basketball.)

There are two takeaways from this game. One is that Chris Paul’s crossover is still nasty.

The more important takeaway is the Bucks have a better team than the Rockets.

That was evident when the sides met in January, another Milwaukee victory. Antetokounmpo and his team can win a game with defense. Also, the Greek Freak has help with not just scoring but also playmaking duties, plus the system Mike Budenholzer installed in Milwaukee leads to buckets when well executed. Harden’s workload and burden with these Rockets are insane, while Antetokounmpo can trust teammates such as All-Star Khris Middleton (or even a good shooting night from Pat Connaughton, who had 14) to step up in the clutch.

How MVP voters factor all of that into their decision is the more challenging question.

2) Orlando moves into playoff position with a win over Miami. Look at the playoff chase at the bottom of the East, where 2.5 games separate the six seed Nets and the 10 seed Hornets

Orlando took a big step toward securing one of those playoff spots by knocking off Miami on Tuesday, with Nikola Vucevic’s 24 points (and 16 rebounds) leading every Magic starter in double-figure scoring.

That win — on a back-to-back for the Magic no less — moved Orlando into the eight seed (and the final playoff spot), half a game ahead of Miami. Because of Orlando’s softer schedule the rest of the way, fivethirtyeight.com’s projection model gives the Magic an 80 percent chance of making the postseason (it has Orlando and Brooklyn tied at 40-42 for the final two playoff spots).

Charlotte, however, will not go away. Led by Kemba Walker — 38 points, 11 in overtime — the Hornets came from behind to beat the defenseless (at least on the road for some reason) San Antonio Spurs, 125-116 in overtime.

That’s four straight wins for Charlotte, which is projected to have just an 18 percent chance of making the playoffs, but this team has defied the odds all season. In a tightly bunched East, anything can happen.

3) Chris Bosh gives an emotional speech as his jersey is retired in Miami. In Toronto, Chris Bosh was The Man. He was scoring 24 points a game, was the focal point of the team’s offense, was the marketing face of the franchise, and he was an All-Star.

He gave all that up to win.

Bosh came to Miami with LeBron James to join Dwayne Wade, and it was Bosh more than the others who had to make sacrifices. He radically changed his game. That final season in Toronto Bosh got 35 percent of his shot attempts around the rim and took one three about every three games. However, Miami needed floor spacing around the slashers in LeBon and Wade, so Bosh worked on his game to become a good three-point shooter. Bosh worked on his defense to become one of the best pick-and-roll stopping big men in the game. He did what it took to win, to bring two championships to Miami.

Tuesday night, Miami rewarded him by retiring his jersey. Bosh, always a class act, was clearly moved and gave a thoughtful and touching speech.

Blood clots in his legs ended Bosh’s career prematurely, and that was understandably hard to deal with for him. Bosh has finally come to peace with that, he has moved on to other things in his life and focused on his family.

It’s good to see the 11-time All-Star recognized. It was well deserved.