LeBron James won the regular-season MVP award in nearly unanimous fashion, but his grasp on the same honor in the NBA Finals is a bit more tenuous.
In order for James to add to his trophy case, a few things have to happen first. Most obviously, the Miami Heat actually have to go on to win the title. Jerry West won the very first finals MVP award in 1969, despite being on the losing team. Since then, no other player has managed to lose in the finals but still win the trophy.
Knocking off the San Antonio Spurs is a dicey proposition at best. The Heat haven't shown the ability to bring their best effort consistently, and the Spurs have proven to be a worthy opponent. In fact, if the Heat continue the streak established over their past 11 playoff games of alternating wins and losses, the Spurs will take Games 5 and 7 en route to a title.
There are plenty of variables down the road in this series that could determine whether James snags a second consecutive NBA Finals MVP award. But what's incredible is that right now, he's probably the front-runner.
It shouldn't be surprising that the best player on the planet is currently playing better than anyone else in the finals, but because James hasn't been living up to his own standards, it's been easy to overlook the fact that he's been exceeding those set for everyone else.
For example, 50 points over a three-game span in the finals would seem like a decent stretch for most players. For James, it was his worst showing in a long time.
In the scoring department, James' average of 20.8 points per game easily surpasses San Antonio's top point-producer, Danny Green, who has posted 16.5 points per game. You read that right, by the way. Danny Green leads the Spurs in scoring.
No player in the series can match James' 12 rebounds per game, either. Tim Duncan's 11 pulls per contest comes closest.
James hasn't quite made it a clean sweep of the the three major offensive categories, though. His 6.5 assists per game trails Tony Parker's finals-leading figure of 7.0. Even LBJ can't win 'em all, I guess.
Defense is harder to quantify in such a short four-game span, but even a casual viewer has to be impressed with the way James has been handling a number of different matchups and rarely losing his focus despite being charged with so much offensive responsibility.
Speaking of casual viewing, highlights and memorable moments tend to count for just as much in the race for the finals MVP as raw statistics do. Fortunately for James, he's got plenty of those so far, too.
In Game 1, he notched one of the more quietly stunning triple-doubles in memory when he scored 18 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and handed out 10 assists. It was a ho-hum game by James' standards, but more than that, it proved that we've all officially become desensitized to his ridiculous stat lines.
Then there was his huge block on Tiago Splitter, easily the signature moment of the series thus far.
Get. It. Out.
Most recently, James followed up one of his poorest performances—a confused, hesitant effort in Game 3—with one of his best. In the Heat's 109-93 Game 4 win, he scored 33 points on 15-of-25 shooting while pulling down 11 rebounds, registering four assists, blocking two shots and swiping a pair of steals.
If there are points available for bounce-back efforts, James earned some in Game 4.
Perhaps the best argument for James' candidacy as the "so far" MVP of the finals is the sheer volume of minutes he's been playing. LBJ is the only player averaging more than 40 minutes per game in the series.
In fact, no other player on either team has even topped the 35-minutes-per-game mark. Considering that the Heat rely on James as their leader on both ends, his ability to stay on the floor as much as he does is immensely valuable.
As good as James has been, he's still deserving of a few knocks.
For one thing, his shooting percentages have dipped appreciably as compared to the ones he posted in the regular season. After hitting nearly 57 percent of his shots during the year, James' accuracy has dipped to just under 46 percent. And after knocking down a career-high 40.6 percent from three, he's hitting only 26.7 percent in the finals.
In addition, he showed some real vulnerability in Game 3. The Spurs dared him to beat them from the mid-range area by giving him a massive cushion, but James couldn't decide what to do with the space. He hesitated, pounded the dribble and when he did shoot, he was clearly out of rhythm.
Great players shouldn't succumb to ploys like that, but the Spurs clearly flummoxed James—for a game, anyway.
What's most bothersome about James' performance in the finals is that he hasn't yet imposed his will like so many fans expect. After seeing him destroy the Boston Celtics in an epic Game 6 takeover in last year's Eastern Conference Finals, everyone wants to see him flip that switch again.
Having seen the very best of James, everything else somehow seems disappointing. That's unfair, right?
It's incredible to think that James is in the midst of one of the worst stretches he's endured in months, but he's still probably been the best player in these finals. It's official: He's spoiled us.
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