Sunday's showdown of the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls wasn't just a statement game for Miami, it was LeBron James shouting out a resounding declaration that he is the front-runner for this year's NBA MVP award.
A two-time MVP winner, James destroyed the Bulls' elite defense with 35 points on 12-of-23 shooting with 11 rebounds to propel the Heat to a 97-93 win. Chicago gives up 87 points a game, but King James scored almost at will with his superior speed, positioning and cutting abilities.
James not only was the most impressive player on the court, but he outperformed reigning MVP Derrick Rose convincingly. While Rose had 34 points and six rebounds and assists, the Bulls' superstar shot 11-of-28 from the field while missing two free throws and the game-winning bucket in the final seconds.
King James made sure his presence was felt immediately, as he bolted to a quick 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first quarter. Playing efficiently in an up-tempo offense, James had two alley-oop slams from Dwyane Wade, including soaring over Bulls backup John Lucas III for this posterizing dunk.
Not only did LBJ score, but he also dished out five assists, adding fluid ball movement to the Heat's attack. For example, LeBron led a two-on-one fast break against Rose and alley-ooped to Wade for a thunderous slam.
Another demonstration of James' hardwood skills came when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went with a small lineup with LBJ at the 4-position. James utilized his speed and driving abilities to overwhelm Bulls power forward Taj Gibson, who is a solid defender. Spoelstra should think about having James play more in the 4-spot to exploit mismatches.
Defensively, James helped hold Bulls small forward Ronnie Brewer to 10 points. His top defensive play consisted of authoritatively blocking a Rose fourth-quarter shot across the court.
Arguably James' top performance this season, the King jumped ahead of Rose, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant in the MVP race.
Bryant is having a great year by scoring 30 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists on 45.5 percent shooting with a torn ligament in his wrist. A point against Bryant's candidacy is the Lakers' poor start.
Durant is leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA's best record with 26.3 points per game, but James is a better passer and defender.
Rose has become a better facilitator and a more efficient shooter, but he has missed some time with turf toe while scoring less than last season (21.9 points opposed to 25.0).
James is not only having a monstrous season, but the NBA's top talent is putting up better numbers than his two MVP years.
2008-09 28.4 points 7.6 rebounds 7.3 assists 1.7 steals 48.9 percent shooting 31.70 efficiency
2009-10 29.7 points 7.3 rebounds 8.6 assists 1.6 steals 50.3 percent shooting 31.10 efficiency
2011-12 29.2 points 8.0 rebounds 7.1 assists 1.9 steals 54.9 percent shooting 33.45 efficiency
Improving his post-up game with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon during the offseason, James is the NBA's third-most efficient shooter, which is incredible for a small forward making over 19 attempts per game.
Another reason why James should win the MVP is his play when Wade has been injured. LeBron has led the Heat to a 7-1 record while averaging 29.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 2.1 steals on 45.7 percent shooting.
Schooling Rose and the Bulls' stellar defense not only reaffirmed King James as the NBA's premier player, but also foreshadows James reclaiming his MVP Award at season's end.
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