The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotational curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.
The changing dynamics of the Most Valuable Player race.
One doesn't need to look or listen too closely to see the MVP race taking a dramatic turn in Kevin Durant's favor; the Oklahoma City Thunder thrive and the Miami Heat have begun to falter, putting Durant in a very natural position to succeed in the current narrative power vacuum. The Thunder, for the moment, are the story, and therefore, so is Durant.
Aware MVP voters can track these narrative shifts throughout the NBA season, but with so many ignorant of the effect a good story can have on their ballot, an examination of process is in order—as it is every year.
At present, there's often a line drawn between who should win MVP and who will; that very idea all but assumes the worst in terms of voter frenzy, and rightfully so. We've seen too many MVPs crowned who simply aren't the league's top player, and though there are objections aplenty to the voting selections and theory alike, those coronals cast in recency and golden boy anecdotes are no less legitimate in the record books than all that came before it.
The MVP process has always been a bit silly, and since we lack the power to change it, the best we can do is come to a better understanding of why the conversation takes the turns that it does. It's indisputable that James's and Durant's stocks are trending in opposite directions, and both are perfectly reasonable candidates.
But as is the case with everything in this game, the final determination of the league's most valuable pales in comparison to the justification behind it; the point isn't that one player is or isn't the MVP, but that authority—whether by volume or vote—isn't reason alone to disregard argumentative foundation.
There still needs to be a case made, and vague recollections of a few big performances or game-winners don't exactly fit the bill.
All of that said: Isn't there some incredible poetry to the fact that Durant may well win his first MVP because Russell Westbrook is playing his best basketball of his season?
John Lucas III, child of the spotlight.
This is getting ridiculous. John Lucas III has been quite valuable for the Bulls this year as a minute-sopper behind C.J. Watson, but he's crafted an incredibly misleading on-court persona for the national TV audience; Lucas has dropped 19 or more points just four times this season, and three have come in games broadcast on either ABC, ESPN or TNT.
The only exception was his 46-minute, 28-shot foray as the Bulls' only healthy point guard in a January game against the Wizards, which while delightfully weird in its own way, qualifies as a very unique performance in the context of Lucas's season.
Lucas isn't a bad player by means, but by showing up for "big games," in front of such a substantial viewership, he could very well tap into some of the same magic that gave Rajon Rondo a standing well beyond his production.
The two are clearly in entirely different classes, but Rondo's incredible successes in Sunday matinees and postseason showcases granted him a place in terms of league-wide repute that he may not have legitimately deserved. Lucas could certainly go the same way on a smaller scale.
In fact, if you sit in the quiet and really listen, you can almost make out a distant pundit indiscriminately singing his praises.
The Portland Trail Blazers, and the little big problem with tanking.
If anyone can rightfully figure out what is going on in Portland these days, I'm sure even the Blazers themselves would love to know. Since jettisoning Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby at the trade deadline in order to escape their previous mediocrity, Portland has gone 5-5—functionally achieving the same result in an entirely different way.
It's fantastic that the Blazers are still fighting following their roster's detonation, but their noble efforts don't seem to jive all that well with the message from Portland's mess of a front office. The Blazers didn't give away Camby for kicks after all, just as they didn't cash in on Wallace's value merely because it sounded like a good time.
There was a goal there, however convoluted it was in the grander sense of the franchise's direction, and these kinds of single-game triumphs fly directly in the face of it.
Tanking is such a simple idea in theory, but fans often give teams far too much credit for operating as a monolith. Too often, the owner, general manager, coach and players of a particular team are on entirely different pages, and although the GM-less Blazers are in particular disarray, their new mediocrity is one irrelevant of structural deficiency.
Coaches can't rightfully tell players to take losses, and interim coaches getting their first real shot at the league aren't all that inclined to down games for the sake of a pick. Natural motivations are pulling Portland in completely opposite directions, but with a roster that's flawed but competent, what else is there to do?