LeBron James wins MVP awards. It’s just what he does.
Being crowned as the league’s premier player has become an annual event for the King, as four of the last five Most Valuable Player trophies have been engraved with his name.
James is putting up mind-numbing numbers this season—about 26 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to be exact. And his PER ranks second in the NBA, right behind Kevin Durant—the only player capable of dethroning the almighty LBJ.
KD is pretty familiar with coming in second. The 25-year-old scoring machine has finished behind James in three of the past four MVP races and fell to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals.
Clearly fed up with being a perennial runner-up, Durant has his sights set on the 2014 MVP award and another trip to the Finals.
Durant is ahead of the pack right now, but James is coming for his trophy.
And the King is going to win it.
Stay efficient, weather the storm
As of February 7, James was shooting a career-best 57.7 percent from the field.
Kevin McHale is the one player in the history of the NBA to score 25 points a night while shooting 60 percent from the field. But after 2014, he might have some company.
While he’s been ridiculously efficient, James hasn’t been steady from the three-point line. Last season, he hit over 40 percent of his attempts from downtown, a step up from this season’s 36.5 mark.
James has never been a three-point assassin, but he’s gradually become a better perimeter shooter. And as the season unfolds and Dwyane Wade becomes a more consistent factor in the lineup, James’ three-point percentage could rise.
Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley pointed out that “only once before in the three-point era (1979-80 and on) has a player posted at least 26 points, six rebounds and six assists while shooting at least 55 percent from the field—James himself last season.”
Durant’s performance in January was the stuff of legends. Per ESPN Stats, the Durantula dropped close to 36 points a night on nearly 55 percent shooting. He had a 12-game stretch with at least 30 points, which included a 54-point performance against the Golden State Warriors.
It was absolutely magical, and one of the most unforgettable months of basketball in recent memory. But it won’t last. It can’t—here’s where Russell Westbrook comes in.
KD’s partner in crime likes to shoot—quite a bit, actually. In fact, Westbrook, a superstar in his own right, put up over 100 more field-goal attempts than Durant last season.
According to Yahoo! Sports, the electric point guard, who last played on Christmas Day, could return from arthroscopic knee surgery as early as February 20.
With Westbrook, the Thunder are a better team. But Durant’s aggressive pursuit of his first MVP award will hit a speed bump once OKC’s other superstar returns to the court.
James doesn’t need to do anything crazy here. If he continues to put up dominant numbers with increasing efficiency, the King will be right back at the top of the MVP race as Durant comes back down to Earth.
Make a statement
Last year, it was Miami’s 27-game winning streak that served as James’ MVP statement. In order to capture his fifth trophy, LBJ is going to have to make a similar mark on this season.
In other words, James needs to do something special—something that will make people reflect on 2014 and say, “Oh, that was the year LeBron (fill in the blank).”
Durant’s performance in January has, thus far, defined the 2014 NBA season. And James needs to do something about it.
Maybe it’s another winning streak, though that’s less likely thanks to D-Wade’s unreliable health. Perhaps it’ll be an offensive explosion, similar to Carmelo Anthony’s 62-point performance for the New York Knicks.
Or better yet, maybe James’ defining moment could be shutting down Durant on February 20, the tentative target date of Westbrook’s return. KD erupted for 33 points en route to a 112-95 victory over the reigning champs on January 29, the only meeting between the two this year.
It’s tough to give a whole lot of merit to head-to-head matchups when determining things such as the Most Valuable Player. But James can’t let Durant, the MVP front-runner, get the better of him twice in a season.
James will have plenty of opportunities to leave a permanent mark on the 2013-14 season, and he’s got to take advantage of that in order to engrave another trophy with his name.
Fully immerse himself in the chase
Standing at 6'8" and weighing in at 250 pounds, James is a freak athlete. But on the court, he makes the game look so easy.
And oftentimes throughout his career, his sheer greatness has been enough to garner all kinds of accolades, including MVP titles. This season, not so much.
LBJ is still the best basketball player in the world, but players like Durant, and even Anthony, have catapulted themselves into James’ realm of greatness.
And the King knows it. James even admits that he gets envious of his rivals’ workload.
“I get jealous sometimes when I look over at KD and he's like 16-for-32 (from the field) and then 14-for-34. ... Man," James told ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh.
LBJ went on: "But there are games where I have it going, and then at the end of the game, I'm like, damn, I shot just 12-for-16? Why don't I get up at least six or seven more? I definitely notice it."
And of course, there was Melo’s epic, record-breaking performance against the Charlotte Bobcats on January 24. James had a great reaction to that, too.
It’s not that Durant and Anthony are necessarily better than James. They’ve just got more (regular-season) motivation. Both are ringless and have their sights locked on reaching the Finals and consequently carry a chip on their shoulder.
If James wanted to average 30 points a game, he probably could. But he doesn’t want scoring titles, he wants to win. And to add another MVP to his collection, James must have that same desire in chasing the award.
Ridiculous athleticism, a bottomless set of skills with and without the ball, pure love of the game—none of these things are going to be enough. Not this season.
Durant is coming for the crown, and maybe that doesn’t bother LBJ. Who knows? Perhaps he’d even be glad to see one of his closest friends get a piece of the hardware.
But if James truly puts his mind, body and soul into winning an impressive fifth MVP award, it’ll be his.