Still king: LeBron James will win top award again, but plenty of others had MVP-like seasons
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
It's down to the final days of the NBA's regular season and the races are still intriguing.
The races for second place, that is.
The races for first place? Not so much.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have wrapped up the best record in the association, and the Los Angeles Lakers will finish with the top mark in West.
And Cleveland's LeBron James will win his second straight Most Valuable Player Award. That's a simple fact. He's been the best player on the best team all year and he will come close to being a unanimous choice as the league's MVP.
But the races for second are still fascinating.
Four teams, of course, are still in the running for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
And there are a handful of players who could finish second — to King James — when the MVP votes are tabulated.
Here's a look at the résumés of the top 10 MVP candidates:
LeBron James, Cleveland
James is the only player on the Cavs who earned All-Star recognition this year, and yet his team has coasted to the best record in the league by such a wide margin that Mike Brown has chosen to rest him — rather than risk injury — down the stretch.
LeBron, who is just 25 years old, seems to just keep getting better. He scored an average of 29.7 points with 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game this season and became the first player 6-foot-8 or taller to average that many assists per game since Magic Johnson.
The big surprise would be if anyone doesn't pick him No. 1 on their MVP ballots.
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
The best player on the second-best team and the 2008 MVP would have given James another run for his money if he hadn't been beaten up all season. Bryant, in fact, could fall all the way to fifth in the MVP voting, thanks to breakout years by a couple of younger players.
Still, Kobe remains a superstar and continues to be the most loved/hated player in the game. He averaged 27.1 points, five assists and 5.4 rebounds per game, and he is the undisputed leader on the defending NBA championship team.
Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
Orlando is still in a battle with the Lakers for the second-best record in the league, and Howard is a big reason why. The 6-11 center is the best big man in the game right now and could well finish second in the MVP voting. He will likely earn the league's Defensive Player of the Year Award thanks to his averages of 2.7 blocked shots and 13.7 rebounds per game. He's also improved his offensive skill set and has averaged 18.4 points on 61 percent shooting from the field.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder managed only 23 wins a year ago. This season, OKC has 49 wins and counting. Scott Brooks will win the Coach of the Year honors for the turnaround, but everyone knows that Durant's development was a bigger factor in that amazing improvement.
Durant, who won't turn 22 until September, will likely win an MVP award — or two or three — before his career is over. This season, after averaging 30 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists, he'll have to be content with a top-five finish in the voting.
Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets
Anthony was a major candidate for the league's top individual award early in the season, but he and the Nuggets have slowed down a bit and he got passed up by a few people. Still, Anthony has had an outstanding season with a 28.4 scoring average to go along with 6.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for a team that is still in contention for the West's second seed.
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