Before the performance that got him back into the MVP race and pulled the white-hot Cavaliers into the No. 3 seed in the East, LeBron James was on the court early.
He got to Quicken Loans Arena at 5:30 p.m. for an 8 o’clock game, according to widespread reports. He was the only guy getting up shots two and a half hours before the game:
The Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors, the team with the best record in the NBA, 110-99. They’re now 18-3 since LeBron disappeared to Florida as part of a two-week break to rest his ailing knees and back.
LeBron scored a season-high 42 points and grabbed a season-high 11 rebounds.
It fit every definition of a statement game, both for the Cavs and LeBron. It was on national TV. It was against the best team in the league. It came after a month of dominance from the Cavaliers that only needed a signature win to cap it off.
Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beach Journal, one of the best Cavs writers, floated a theory after the game that LeBron’s performance was motivated by the popular consensus that Golden State’s Steph Curry is the frontrunner for MVP.
Lloyd described a panel in New York City during All-Star weekend where LeBron was awkwardly forced to say Curry was the MVP favourite:
At one point, a discussion about the MVP race surfaced. NBA TV’s Matt Winer, the event’s moderator, referred to James as a four-time MVP and to Curry as the favourite to win it this year. I wasn’t taking notes so I’m paraphrasing here, but James paused before offering a flimsy endorsement, agreeing with the idea Curry is the favourite to win. I remember thinking at the time, “There is absolutely no way he actually believes that.” His performance Thursday perhaps introduced his candidacy for a late run at a fifth trophy of his own.
LeBron lost the MVP race to Kevin Durant last year. He has been largely absent from the discussion this year, getting overshadowed by Curry, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook as the Cavs limped out to a disappointing start.
He’s still considered the best player in the world, but the NBA has a long history of holding the Best Player In The World to a higher standard than everyone else when it comes to the MVP race. Michael Jordan lost to Karl Malone in 1997. Kobe Bryant lost to Steve Nash in 2006.
It’s not enough for LeBron to simply match Curry and Harden’s numbers, he has to be transcendent.
“If you ask me, there’s no discussion about the MVP if he’s not involved in it,” Blatt told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin after the game.
The Cavaliers are only two games back of the No. 2 seed. That 19-20 start feels like a distant memory, and LeBron’s resurgence as the league’s most dominant force is a huge reason why.
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