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LAKERS FYI

MVP debate begins but doesn't end with LeBron James

The Cavaliers star is the clear favorite for the award, but there is at least one other name in the discussion: Kobe Bryant.

March 15, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

With one month left in the regular season, the debate is in full swing: Kobe Bryant or LeBron James for MVP?

The Lakers' 11-time All-Star won the award for the first time last season, but the Cleveland Cavaliers forward has been racking up superb stats while his team runs stride for stride with the Lakers for the league's best record.

James, in his sixth season, has never won the award.

TNT analysts took a look at the most-valuable-player candidates, also briefly considering Miami guard Dwyane Wade, before selecting James unanimously over Bryant.

"I would have to go with LeBron because I don't think he has as much [surrounding] talent as the Lakers have," Kenny Smith said. "The MVP of the league if we ended the season right now is LeBron James."

Chris Webber chose James but offered a somewhat conflicted response: "I have to go with 'The King' [James], but Kobe is the best."

And from Charles Barkley: "I'm going with LeBron James. I love Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. But this year so far . . . it's LeBron James."

Wade has been posting fantastic numbers for the Heat, but Miami's 36-29 record will cost him too many votes, Barkley said.

"Kobe Bryant has been the best player for a while," he said. "We did not award him with the MVP until his team had the best record or one of the best. Dwyane is having a fabulous year, but you can't change the criteria. It'll be LeBron or Kobe because their teams will have better records. We reward winning."

James is averaging 28.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists a game for the Cavaliers (52-13), who are 2 1/2 games ahead of Boston in the Eastern Conference.

Bryant is averaging 28 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists for the Lakers (52-13), who are eight games ahead of San Antonio in the West.

Defensively, James also has the better stats. He is averaging 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocked shots a game. Bryant is averaging 1.3 steals and 0.5 blocks. James is averaging about a minute more per game than Bryant.

Two months ago, Bryant seemed irritated by talk of which player would win the MVP award, telling reporters to "leave me alone on that stuff" after saying James should win it.

But after a 23-point effort Thursday against San Antonio, Bryant seemed to warm up to the concept of another MVP trophy.

"That's all I'm here for, is to help us win. If the MVP comes with that, man, that's great," he said.

The MVP will be chosen by about 125 media members and is typically announced between the first and second rounds of the NBA playoffs.

See you soon?

The Lakers play Dallas this afternoon in a possible preview of a first-round playoff matchup.

The Mavericks (40-26), currently eighth in the Western Conference, had won three straight games before losing Friday at Golden State, though Lakers Coach Phil Jackson thought they had been inspired since a public castigation by team owner Marc Cuban.

"Cuban jacked them up or something a couple weeks ago, didn't he?" Jackson said. "They look like a team that's determined and playing very well."

Cuban was unhappy after the Mavericks lost to the punchless Oklahoma City Thunder, 96-87, on March 2.

"If each player can't take the personal initiative to make every game important and play like it, I don't see them being here next season," Cuban told reporters in Texas a day after the game.

"The ball won't always bounce the way we want it to, but every player can control their level of effort. I don't care what their contract is. I would rather turn over the roster 100% than subject fans to another game like [that] night."

The Lakers haven't played the Mavericks since beating them twice in November, each time by seven points.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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