The Miami Heat continue to roll through the regular season but, with their dismantling of the rest of the league comes a new, unique challenge for the team: dueling MVP candidates who are also teammates.
Lebron James and Dwyane Wade have played astoundingly well in the past month – so well in fact that the Heat have won 18 out of 19 games and 11 straight on the road. On Christmas Day, in one of the biggest regular season showdowns in recent years, they dismantled the champion Lakers and thoroughly embarrassed Kobe Bryant.
The largest part of the winning tear? Lebron and DWade finding completely unique ways to coexist…and dominate. Against the Lakers Lebron was fired up and ready to go from the opening tipand the Heat showed what they were capable of as a team. Last night against Charlotte however, Lebron and DWade showed what they are capable of on their own.
Lebron – 38 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists
Wade – 31 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists
The Heat’s two signature players combined for 69 points, 20 rebounds and 9 assists – add in Chris Bosh’s mostly forgettable (due to foul trouble and LBJ / DWade takeover) 11 points and 4 rebounds and the big three threw down 80 points and 24 rebounds. Charlotte scored 82 points total. The Big Three essentially outscored an entire professional basketball team. Astounding. Right now, the Heat are dicing up the competition with more efficiency and regularity than Miami’s other slash and dash artist, Dexter Morgan:
Naturally, with Lebron and Wade playing so well together, some have begun to track their duel MVP candidate stats. As Miami writer Chris Perkins writes “…why not throw James and Wade into the MVP mix? You always give consideration to the best players on the best teams”. For the Heat this statement clearly has more than one meaning when your team’s best player is definitely “best players”.
How does one possibly attempt to seperate Wade and James?
The short answer: not easily. The NBA did not even try to sort it out when they made James and Wade co-players of the month for December. There is little doubt the two have taken their respective and combined game to another level in the last month. For one thing – they are much more comfortable on the court together and that makes defending them a tricky proposition. Currently they are fifth and sixth in the league in scoring average (both ahead of Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose…and just a hair behind Kobe Bryant) and they play on the same team. Think about that for one second in this context: Kobe Bryant is 3rd in the league in scoring – his next closest teammate, Pau Gasol (on the supposedly balanced Lakers), is in 27th place.
How is that for sharing the ball?
Lebron and DWade have clearly figured out how to coexist on the basketball court and that has been reflected in some recent MVP predictions as credit must be given where credit is due. The “consensus”: Lebron will win his third MVP award this season. Are they giving it to the right player? Lebron is a walking triple double and his versatility is incredible but in the month of December, Wade has ascended to a place few other players have. His play has been unbelievable and he has been virtually unstoppable. A few people (like Michael Wilbon) have suggested that Wade is the new NBA alpha dog and that having Lebron on his team has unlocked his ceiling, as clearly he just continues to ascend.
Wait one second though…
Sure, Wade is one of the top three guys in the league…
At this point in the season, the league breaks down for me like this:
5) Kevin Durant – Difficult pick because of the emergence of Russell Westbrook, who is challenging his authority on his own team. Durant still seems to be a year or two from complete dominance as the draining summer spent playing for Team USA has hampered his usual all-around style.
4) Dirk Nowitzki – Absolutely dominating right now and has the Mavs positioned to make a deep run in the playoffs, even with a soft bench. Shooting the lights out night after night.
3) Derrick Rose – Only one word can describe his play right now: amazing. He is the heart and soul of the Bull’s return to prominance and he plays like it every single night.
2) Dwyane Wade – Destroying teams right now, absolutely unstoppable when he drives for the basket.
1) Lebron James – If I had to pick one player to build a team around, it is Lebron. The biggest reason? He is shooting well, and not just on his dunks and layups, with his jumper from 15 – 20 feet. Watch the highlights from the Golden State game or against the Bobcats – at one point he is pushed, steps back and hits a rainbow three with a defender in his grill. Sure he still dunks the ball a ton, but Lebron with a jump shot to go along with his 7.3 assists per game? Truly terrifying.
Key Omissions – Kobe Bryant (not playing well right now and dragging the Lakers down with his typical “me-first” attitude), Deron Williams (almost there), Kevin Love (a rebounding machine), Dwight Howard (play has fallen off as of late), Carmelo Anthony (mired in trade trouble), Amare Stoudemire (should probably have been on the list), Russell Westbrook (one more year and he could leapfrog Durant), Blake Griffin (will be on the list in a couple of years – maybe topping it).
Why Lebron over Wade or Wade over Lebron?
In the opinion of ESPN’s Mike Wilbon: “LeBron is a better all-around basketball player. But if you ask me who I want in the final two minutes of a game, my answer is D-Wade. And that’s precisely what makes Miami so damn good. And why there might not be anybody in the league who can beat them.”
Yet it almost seems like while we are giving Wade his just due, we are short-changing Lebron (and vice-versa). For one thing Lebron is so effortless in his dominance that at times we neglect to remember just how difficult the things he does are. In addition, Lebron has always made his teammates better – he draws so much attention and creates so well that it is a natural by-product that his teammates get great scoring opportunities. With so much attention focused on James, Wade has been able to join him on an ever rising plateau. How high can the two teammates go? When you throw Chris Bosh into the mix they are an incredibly tough team to beat, especially now that they are firing on nearly all cylinders. Miami is in an envious and unique position in the basketball world because of their duel alpha-dog MVP candidates.
Have any other teams faced a similar situation? Sure, but never with two players in their absolute primes (in the NBA anyways…):
1) LA Lakers 2003 – 2005: This team featured MVP worthy performances by both Kobe and Shaq (in 2003 they finished 3rd and 5th in voting), but neither won the award while both were at their combined Laker peak.
2) Chicago Bulls 1996 – MJ won the award, Scottie Pippen finished 5th. This may be the closest we ever come to a modern parallel to this situation. However, in this case, there was little doubt as to who was the alpha dog on that team. While Jordan was willing to share – it was his team, bottom line.
3) Edmonton Oilers 1980’s – Wayne Gretzky dominated hockey and won a slew of MVP awards; yet Mark Messier was at times just as deserving (including winning a Conn Smyth trophy for Playoff MVP during their first run to the Cup). Two alpha dogs on one team in their primes, but again – Gretzky was better…until the Oilers became Messier’s team when Gretz was traded to the Kings and the Oilers still won the 1990 Stanley Cup.
4) Vancouver Canucks 2010 / 2011 – My local team features last year’s MVP Henrik Sedin and his twin brother Daniel, either of which could take the award this year (if not for Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos). If only one could differenciate himself from the other…
At this point in the season it is impossible to pin the MVP award on any player, let alone decide between Wade and James. The final tally may come down to one simple question: who is more valuable to the Miami Heat? The answer is not as simple as the question because at times it will be Wade and at others it will be Lebron – at others still it will be Chris Bosh. What is clear is that when Wade and James each score thirty points in a game they will be impossible to beat and we may see it happen with increasing frequency.
For me, though, there is larger question: was Miami a title contender before Lebron made his decision? The realistic answer was that no, they were not. Now, because of a single, villainous act – they are and Lebron is the major reason. He has transformed the team frommaking the playoffs to title contender. Miami is currently the team to beat and few teams have found a way to do it now that Lebron and Wade are playing so well together.
At the end of the season I hope the NBA decides to do then what it did in December…
Co – MVP’s?
What do you think? Who would you vote for MVP – Lebron or DWade or neither?