Currently, Paul George is not your NBA MVP. LeBron James is playing one less minute per game than Paul, but he still has him licked in points (25.3 to 23.8), rebounds (6.8 to 5.8), assists (6.5 to 3.5) while shooting – holy cow – 59.8 percent from the floor. If LeBron James does not win every MVP from now until 2016 or so, then something will have gone very, very wrong for him.
The fact that we’re considering Paul George as a sound runner-up to the greatest player of his generation, though, speaks volumes. George won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award last year while actually not improving all that much – his per-minute stats went up a bit, but basically he just played far more minutes in Danny Granger’s absence while watching his efficiency numbers suffer along the way. George may not have deserved that award, but the turn he’s taken in 2013-14 more than makes up for it.
George is the NBA’s most improved player this year, he’s putting up fantastic numbers this season (along with two steals a game) to pair alongside his typically stellar defense on the wing for Indiana. The Pacers are once again the NBA’s top defensive team, and George has discovered a role in the offense that at times eluded him last year even as he won the MIP – Paul is able to create his own shot efficiently, and consistently.
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Kyrie Irving nearly brought the Cleveland Cavaliers back against the West-best Portland Trail Blazers by himself. Unfortunately for him, Damian Lillard answered by adding to his rapidly growing late-game resume.
With 7.1 seconds on the clock and the Cavs and Blazers tied at 116-116, Lillard took the inbounds pass from Nicolas Batum, faced off against the defending Alonzo Gee, and pulled up from 30 feet. He buried it, notching his second game-winner in as many games after Sunday's overtime winner against the Detroit Pistons .
Irving got one last chance to send the game to overtime, but his three-pointer hit the back iron as time expired to seal Portland's 119-116 road win . Lillard finished Tuesday's game with a remarkable 36 points, eight three-pointers, 10 assists, and eight rebounds, becoming the first player to reach those totals since then-rookie Jason Kidd in April 1995.
However, Lillard's late-game heroics were almost outdone by those of Irving. With the Cavs down 114-108 with 1:34 remaining, Irving scored nine points in 61 seconds to bring his team within two points. After a LaMarcus Aldridge miss with 17 seconds on the clock, every person at Quicken Loans Arena knew that Irving would get the ball. So, naturally, he took Batum off the dribble, drew three defenders, and dumped off a perfect blind pass to Anderson Varejao for an easy game-tying lay-up.
Lillard, however, ensured that he would be the story of the game. Join us after the jump for some more information on his growing reputation as one of the NBA's best closers.
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A look around the league and the Web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out.
C : Cowbell Kingdom . James Ham on Isaiah Thomas' triumphant post- trade return to the Sacramento Kings' starting lineup, which has seen him shoot the lights out and average 23 points and 7.3 assists in four games , with Mike Malone's team going 2-2: “I’ve been ready for this moment since I came into this league. That’s what I work so hard for in the summers. I want to be (one of those) guards that I see on each and every team playing 40 minutes a night.”
PF : Bleacher Report . Jared Dubin breaks down the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop attack that's making the Phoenix Suns an incredibly tough cover for the defenses they're facing and arguably the biggest surprise (in a positive way, at least) of the NBA season thus far.
SF : The Point Forward . Rob Mahoney also likes what he's seen from the Suns through the first 23 games, but notes one reason to pump the brakes a bit: "In total, [Eric] Bledsoe — who may be the face of the franchise going forward — has not yet been successful in leading lineups without [Goran] Dragic’s aid. At the same time, he’s both more productive (as one would expect) and more efficient (as one likely wouldn’t) with Dragic out of the game."
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