Storyline: MVP Race

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“LeBron does so much and sometimes you’re just like, ‘But we’ve seen this from LeBron; we haven’t seen this from (Russell) Westbrook’,” Jefferson said. “…You get complacent with excellence, and they’ve seen it so long, they’ve seen him make everyone around him better, they’ve seen him go to the Finals six straight years … LeBron is the beacon of consistency, and it’s like, (do we need) nobody to have a great year in order to look at his numbers — 25, 8 and 8, shooting 50 percent, 40 percent from three? “People have nothing else to talk about so they make stuff up,” he concluded.

Stephen Curry has won the past two MVP awards. Russell Westbrook doesn’t care much for his opinion on the current race. On Thursday, Westbrook shrugged off the Warriors guard’s suggestion that the Rockets’ James Harden probably will win the award. Curry said on “The Dan Patrick Show” on Monday that if he had to choose an MVP this week he’d likely choose Harden. “I don’t care,” Westbrook said at the Thunder’s shootaround. “It doesn’t matter what he says. Who is he?”

With no disrespect to the Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas and the Washington Wizards’ John Wall, most agree that this is a four-player race. Yet as was revealed in a survey by USA TODAY Sports of 32 league executives, this race is as unclear as it is compelling. The executives requested anonymity because of competitive reasons, and participants did not include members of the Thunder, Rockets, Spurs and Cavs and the Los Angeles Lakers’ new general manager, Rob Pelinka, because he was Harden’s agent until a few weeks ago.

For Portland to challenge the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers among others in the West, Lillard must take his game to an MVP level. “I think I’m playing pretty well,” Lillard said. “Obviously, being probably my own biggest critic, I feel like there are a lot of things I could do much better. I feel like I can defend much better, just to help the team with our perimeter defense. A lot of times we’re giving up penetration or trailing in pick-and-roll situations and causing problems for our bigs to contest shots and the rim and then their man is getting offensive rebounds. Being a better playmaker, coming back and helping rebound more, things like that. But I think I’m having a pretty good season so far, it’s still early. “As far as the MVP, I mentioned it because that’s really a goal of mine. I don’t go in to every game saying, ‘I want to me MVP.’ I’ve got to do what’s best for the team and we’ve got to win games if that’s going to be anywhere close to being a possibility. I try to focus on anything I can do to give us our best chance to win.”

But the odds of James reaching that number aren’t as high as they could be, at least according to online sportsbook Bovada. In the odds released Monday, a little more than one month before Cleveland’s first practice, James is listed as third most likely to take home the prestigious award, at 5/1. The reigning NBA Finals MVP trails Oklahoma City point guard — and favorite — Russell Westbrook (2/1) as well as Golden State’s back-to-back recipient Stephen Curry, who is listed at 4/1 despite the arrival of free agent Kevin Durant this off-season, which will likely lead to a decrease in production.

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said Warriors point guard Stephen Curry is “well on his way to earning his second MVP.” Malone was the Warriors’ lead assistant from 2011-13, and he noted Curry’s dedication and work ethic even back then. “It’s not surprising at all, because of the kind of young man that Steph is and his dedication to the game,” Malone said before Sunday’s game between the Nuggets and Warriors. “You go back a long time ago to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and they always came back as improved players. They always added something to their games.

Blake Griffin has already done so much in the league, and he’s only 26. Where do you think his game goes from here? Redick: “He’s a very unique player, in terms of his ability to get to the rim, make midrange shots, handle the ball, pass out of double-teams, pass in transition and make reads on the fly. It seems like he’s taken a step forward in his game every year, so where he’s going to go? I have no idea. He’s a top-5 player, MVP level? Yeah, probably at some point in his career he’ll win an MVP and he’ll go down as one of the greatest power forwards ever. And if he wins, that certainly will happen.”

Curry didn’t so much as revisit the topic as search for reasons why Harden did. “I don’t know,” Curry said. “Different guys find different ways of motivating themselves. I’ve never been one to just . . . I’m obviously confident in what I do, and I know he’s confident in what he does. It might come out in a different way. “I try not to do a lot of talking, especially (regarding) things that have passed. Obviously, you’ve got to motivate yourself and I’m sure he’s motivated this year to do some special things. I’m the same way.”

John Wall: “I want to be in the MVP conversation and give myself a shot at being the MVP. That means I need to play well, help my teammates play well, get those guys shots and lead my team to wins. I definitely want to be an All-Star starter again. I want to be All-NBA First Team. I want to be on the All-Defensive First Team; I was All-Defensive Second Team last year. I think I was snubbed from the All-NBA Third Team last year, but I just use that as motivation for this year to try to get better. Another individual goal is definitely leading the league in assists this year. There are a lot of things I want to do, but those are some of the main ones.”
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March 22, 2017 | 8:02 pm EDT Update
Brad Stevens and Al Horford were both asked about rest in the NBA’s busy schedule. “The schedule’s intense,” Horford said. “The schedule’s intense. It’s always been like that, but I just think it’s just about finding ways to make the schedule more friendly, especially to a lot of these teams that have to travel and get on these crazy road trips and things like that. It’s something we’ll have to figure out.”
Jordan played in all 82 games nine times and had two other times when he played at least 80 games. In Ewing’s 17 NBA seasons, he played every game three times and appeared in at least 80 games three other times. “It’s easy for me because I’m working for an owner who doesn’t believe in (resting healthy players),’’ Clifford said of Jordan. “I also have an associate head coach who would kill me if I started doing that. The climate in this league has changed. This is 17 years (in the NBA) for me, but 17 years ago, nobody would have thought about sitting out of a game.’’