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NBA MVP race takes disappointing turn

Sports fans always want to see the very best players compete. There is a reason why the attendances in the top leagues in football often triple the crowd numbers at lower league matches. You always want to watch the best of the best. You want to see world class players make history.

Football fans swarm to see stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo compete to be labelled the best in the world. Tennis fans always get excited about Federer v Nadal, who for years battled for the #1 seed. At the Masters at Augusta, fans gather to see top players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as they add to their impressive legacies.

It is no different in basketball.

NBA fans have been given a real treat this season as we’ve sat back and watched an enthralling MVP race centred around two of the best to ever play the game; LA Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Miami Heat‘s Lebron James. James and Bryant have lit it up on the court all year, separating themselves from everyone else as the elite ballers in the NBA.

MVP is a two man race between Miami's LeBron James (#6) and LA Lakers' Kobe Bryant (#24)

MVP is a two man race between Miami’s LeBron James (#6) and LA Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (#24).

Kobe is shooting .469 on field goals, tied for his highest mark ever in a sixteen year career. His 5.8 assists per game is the 3rd highest average of his career and his 27.5 ppg is good for second in the NBA, and is higher than his 25.5 career average.

LeBron is shooting a career best .557 on field goals, and is also posting a career best on rebounds (8.1 pg). His 7.1 apg is the highest of any non-point guard in the NBA, and is good for 10th overall.

The two superstars were named players of the month for February. From official NBA site:

“James paced the NBA in scoring (29.7 ppg), tied for the highest field goal percentage (.641), and ranked ninth in both assists (7.8 apg) and steals (1.85 spg). He also averaged a team-high 7.5 rebounds. James scored at least 30 points and shot at least 60 percent from the floor in an NBA-record six straight games (Feb. 3-12). He scored at least 20 points in 12 games, including 11 games with at least 25 points, eight games with 30-or-more points, and one 40-point effort.

Bryant guided Los Angeles to a 9-4 month, pacing the team in points with 23.9 ppg and assists with 6.6 apg, while adding 6.7 rpg. Bryant closed the month with four games (three victories) of at least 29 points, including a 40-point effort — his fifth this season — on 15-of-23 shooting in the Lakers’ 111-107 win over Portland Feb. 22. He recorded three games of at least 30 points, giving him 24 for the season, which ties Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant for the most such games in 2012-13.”

February was special for both players, but in reality the two have been consistently excellent all year.

James is probably the favourite to take his 4th MVP trophy after a stellar campaign that is highlighted by 4 Player of the Month awards and the Heat’s franchise record 20 win streak (and counting). However, with the Lakers’ recent push towards the playoffs, tipping over .500 pct for the first time all season, Kobe has come back into it, putting in outstanding performances particularly in February.

The two superstars seem locked in a battle to be the best; a battle that is getting closer all the time. LeBron outshines everyone on the court every game, slamming down jams and helping El Heat seem near unbeatable. But Kobe has carried the Lakers on his back through a difficult season and pushed them over the .500 mark almost on his own. It is a race you don’t want to take your eyes away from.

But sometimes in sports, things don’t end in the exciting way you thought they would. Sometimes, you’re left feeling like a bouncy castle at the end of the birthday party; thoroughly deflated.

All NBA fans should feel this way after a disappointing turn of events on Wednesday night. In a game against the Atlanta Hawks, Bryant misfired on a potential game-tying jump shot along the baseline and came down on the foot of Hawks defender Dahntay Jones. Kobe’s ankle turned on Jones’ foot, and the MVP Race turned with it.

Man Down: Lakers players gather around Kobe after the Shooting Guard sprained his ankle in a loss to the Hawks on Wednesday

Man Down: Lakers players gather around Kobe after the Shooting Guard sprained his ankle in a loss to the Hawks on Wednesday.

Kobe was pretty upset with Jones after the game, tweeting this:

Jones responded by talking to ESPN to defend himself:

“The play I don’t think was dirty, because all I was trying to do was contest a jump shot. Yes it was a fadeaway, but when you deal with shooters or high-profile scorers you have to try to get as close to them as possible to contest jump shots.”

Whether Jones was playing dirty or not is a question for another day; the fact remains that Kobe is out for an ‘indefinite’ period of time and the race to the NBA MVP title just got pretty one sided. He is listed as questionable for Friday’s game against the Pacers and might not return for quite some time.

This is a bitter blow for “the Black Mamba”. Obviously his first concern is reaching the playoffs, something the Lakers were struggling to do even when Bryant was healthy. With Kobe out of the line-up, it is now in even more serious jeopardy.

However, the veteran Guard was putting in one of his best statistical seasons and had a real shot at taking the MVP crown. He’s got to be disappointed about the effect the injury might have on his chances of this, too. At the ripe age of 34, the 15 time All-Star won’t have too many more chances to add to his solitary MVP award, which he won in 2008. (For a brilliant look at Kobe’s legacy, Sportskeeda’s Hoopistani documented Bryant’s exceptional achievements in a must-read article for every basketball enthusiast).

This is also a big blow to the fans of the game. We thought we’d be watching Kobe and LeBron light up the court all the way to the playoffs, with our eyes glued and our hearts pumping, waiting to see what each man will do next.

Instead, NBA fans just took a collective sigh, gave a cursory shrug of the shoulders and are left hoping that Bryant can get back on the court fast.

Steve Nash and Dwight Howard might just salvage the Lakers’ season (although they probably can’t), but to non-Lakers fans that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we want the opportunity of seeing Kobe vs James play out in its spectacular entirety, and it will really be a shame if Bryant can’t get back on the court in time to make that happen.

For now, let’s just keep our fingers crossed that this is only a minor blip in an otherwise fascinating race to be the NBAs greatest player.

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