By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James has someone in mind for the MVP award this season.
This is a season where prohibitive MVP favorite James Harden has done phenomenal things with NBA-leading Houston, where reigning MVP Russell Westbrook has been fantastic again for Oklahoma City, and where Anthony Davis has found a new stratosphere to take his game, especially after New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins.
James raves about them all. But …
“I would vote for me,” James told The Associated Press. “The body of work, how I’m doing it, what’s been happening with our team all year long, how we’ve got so many injuries and things of that nature, guys in and out, to be able to still keep this thing afloat, I definitely would vote me.”
It’s not an unreasonable take.
His numbers this season compare favorably — or exceed — the five-season run between 2008-09 and 2012-13 where he won the MVP award four times. His averages then: 27.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.3 assists on 52 percent shooting while playing 38 minutes per game.
This season’s numbers: 27.4 points, 9.1 assists and 8.6 rebounds on 55 percent shooting.
They are MVP-worthy, without question.
“He’s continued to prove everybody wrong and find new levels,” said Miami guard Dwyane Wade, James’ longtime friend and two-time former teammate. “In his 15th season, to be 33 years of age and to be playing the way he’s playing, as consistent as he’s playing, that is as impressive as anything that anybody has ever done.”
Averaging 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds is an NBA rarity.
Oscar Robertson had numbers like those five times, in five consecutive seasons from 1960-61 through 1964-65 (he won his lone MVP award in the 1963-64 season). No one posted averages like that again until last year, when Harden and Westbrook both pulled it off.
Robertson, Harden and Westbrook were all twentysomethings when they had those numbers.
James is in position to join them, at 33. A fifth MVP wouldn’t define him. He’s long been a Hall of Fame lock, but believes this one would be earned.
“At this point in my career, I’m just trying to break the mold, break the narrative of guys in their 15th year. … I’m trying to do things that have never been done before,” James said. “It’s crazy because I’m not setting out to do it. It’s just kind of happening organically. I’m just training my body and training my mind and going out and playing and seeing what happens.”
The Cavaliers are in the mix to finish as high as No. 3 in the Eastern Conference, despite having 21 different players on the roster, 24 different starting lineups and counting, a slew of injuries, even with head coach Tyronn Lue falling ill and missing games.
The season has been rocky. James says he’s been at his best anyway.
“I’ve said it,” James said. “Obviously, I’ve had some unbelievable seasons before, but I’ve said it: This is the best I can go, just from a complete basketball player standpoint.”
Time will tell if MVP voters agree.
The Heat got stuck in Indianapolis on Sunday night, losing in overtime to the Pacers and then being unable to get home because of plane difficulties.
They made the best of the situation.
A quick call to the Capital Grille in Indianapolis — where the manager initially didn’t believe that the Miami Heat, travel party of 51, were on the way — set up dinner for everyone, and hotel rooms were secured while everyone dined. The restaurant was in shutting-down mode for the night, then scrambled to get the staff needed to deal with that many diners arriving all at once.
The team wound up flying out Monday morning.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Some of the games to watch over the next seven days:
— Boston at Utah, Wednesday: The game that was slated to be Gordon Hayward’s return to Salt Lake City still matters plenty to both teams.
— Milwaukee at Golden State, Thursday: The Warriors think this is the game where they’ll get Kevin Durant back in the lineup after a rib injury.
— New Orleans at Cleveland, Friday: Notable for one reason in particular: Larry Drew coaches the Cavs, son Larry Drew II plays for the Pelicans.
— Toronto at Boston, Saturday: The Raptors are trying to lock up the No. 1 seed in the East, and the Celtics are the only team still in their way.
— Houston at San Antonio, Sunday: One of 13 games on Sunday’s NBA schedule, before everybody gets Monday off for the NCAA championship.
— Indiana at Denver, Tuesday: The Pacers are in and now thinking about seeding, while the Nuggets are merely trying to stay in the West chase.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
Kemba Walker, Charlotte: His 46-point effort on March 22 was against tanking Memphis, but it still should be remembered for at least a couple of reasons. One, he needed only 28 minutes to score like that. And two, he became just the third player in NBA history to make at least 10 3-pointers and 10 free throws in the same game. The others? Kyrie Irving in 2015, and Joe Dumars in 1994.
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