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Monday, March 2, 2009
Updated: March 3, 11:33 AM ET

By Maurice Brooks
ESPN.com

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Teammates Help King Rise Higher In This Rivalry

Every couple of days I get an e-mail from John, a former colleague and Heat fan who loves to point out how Dwyane Wade belongs in front of the Lakers' Kobe Bryant and the Cavs' LeBron James in the MVP race.

And every couple of days, I normally respond something like this:

"Yes, I saw how great Wade played last night, but Miami is still only three games above .500, while Bryant and James are not only having great individual seasons, but they are also the best players on the two best teams in the league."

Don't get it twisted, Wade has most of the credentials necessary to bring home the Maurice Podoloff Trophy at the end of the season. But as the Cavaliers' 107-100 win over the Heat showed Monday, no matter how brilliantly he performs, he can't elevate Miami to the level needed for him to pass Bryant and James in the MVP pecking order.

Imagine getting in a fight and just as you are starting to get the upper hand on your opponent, all of his/her friends jump in. Your friends are there, too, but instead of helping you, they go MIA (no pun intended).

That is what the second half of the Heat and Cavs reminded me of. Wade was beating James down statistically through three periods, and then Mo Williams joined the fray in the fourth. Next thing you know, it was Wade and the Heat who were getting pummeled.

Wade was at his all-over-the-court best, scoring 15 points in the third quarter, including the last seven, as Miami took a six-point advantage and appeared headed toward the upset victory.

The fourth quarter got off to a good start for the home team, too, as Wade made one of his career-high seven steals and sprinted the length of the court for a reverse dunk to push the lead to 11 with just under eight minutes left to play.

Who knew that would be the last Heat highlight?

That's when the Cavaliers' Mike Brown, who is one of the candidates with the Heat's Erik Spoelstra for Coach of the Year honors, turned the tide. He made the wise decision to trap Wade every time he touched the ball, resulting in turnovers and missed shots by the Heat, and easy scoring opportunities for the Cavs.

With Wade, who finished with 41 points, no longer in attack mode because of the Cleveland double-teams, the Heat watched their 91-80 advantage turn into a 92-91 deficit in the blink of an eye.

Miami turned the ball over four times and missed 15 of its final 17 shots over the last 5:30.

Meanwhile, James who led all scorers with 42 points, including a ridiculous 6-of-7 on 3-pointers, and Williams, dominated the last stanza. James, who also had eight rebounds and four assists, scored 12 points in the fourth, while Williams shook loose for 17 of his 30 points.

Talk about having someone there to watch your back.

Williams jump-started the game-changing 12-0 run by the Cavaliers with a pair of 3-pointers as the young Heat began to falter down the stretch. In a strange sequence of events, Miami rookie guard Mario Chalmers thought he was granted a timeout and heaved the ball off the backboard from just inside half court. The officials hadn't awarded Chalmers the timeout, the Cavs continued to play and the result was another Williams 3-pointer.

As if James needed more help, center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was there to gobble up every errant shot, finishing with 15 rebounds, while scoring 12 points.

And thanks to the aid of his friends, James is the leading MVP candidate. The Cavaliers are 47-12 -- the first time in franchise history they are a whopping 35 games over .500.

At 31-28, Wade's Heat have more than doubled their win total from last season, when they went 15-67. That is quite an accomplishment for a team with a first-year coach and a pair of rookies playing crucial roles. But will it be enough to earn Wade the MVP?

No, but I'm sure that won't stop John from trying to convince me otherwise.

Maurice Brooks is an NBA editor for ESPN.com who writes the "Awards Watch" feature.

Dimes past: Feb. 21-22 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | Feb. 28-March 1 | March 1 | 2

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Spurs' Fate Rests On Ginobili's Health

By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Trying to blend the now-you-see-him, now-you-don't Manu Ginobili with his abundance of new teammates is a serious concern to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. We know this because Popovich even admitted the thought has crossed his mind.

There's a lot of stuff Pop pretends not to care about.

On whether his team will be ready for the playoffs: "I don't give it any thought, because it's a waste of time. They'll either be there or they won't, they'll be healthy or they won't be. We'll be ready or we won't."

On whether Ginobili is recovering well from the stress reaction in his right fibula: "I assume so. I don't pay any attention to him."

On whether it will be hard for the team's newcomers to adjust to Ginobili:

"That's actually something we thought about," Popovich said. "Matt Bonner and George Hill and Roger Mason ... they don't have a great feel for him. It's difficult anyway, because of the way he plays. When he comes back in, I think that's going to be somewhat of an adjustment for us. And I do think about that."

The Spurs have always been about building, oh so slowly, toward a crescendo in time for the playoffs. It's tough to do that in fits and spurts, which is what they've had from Ginobili this season. He missed the first 12 games of the season while recovering from surgery on his left ankle. He's missed the past eight games with the right leg injury. The only update Popovich provided is that Thursday will mark the two-week milestone for a recovery that was projected to be two to three weeks.

Even though Tim Duncan is still good for 20 and 10 on a nightly basis, and Tony Parker is still difficult to keep out of the lane and Bonner has made almost half of his 3-point attempts and Mason has turned out to be a clutch shooter, they'll still ride or die with Ginobili on the offensive end.

Ginobili "is a player who definitely wins X number of games a year in some way shape or form that no one can anticipate ahead of time," Popovich said. "It may be an offensive board or a steal, a three-point play or a drive to the bucket or a variety of things. We don't have that athleticism that he gives us, that wild card."

The Spurs might have more depth if they add Drew Gooden, who was bought out of his contract by the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Gooden would be eligible to be signed by the Spurs after clearing waivers on Wednesday.

The 6-foot-10 Gooden would give the Spurs the additional big man they have sought, in addition to a player who has been a consistent double-digit scorer throughout his career. But with only 23 games remaining, he'd have to learn the Spurs' system, and they'd have to learn his ways.

And he still wouldn't be the same as having a healthy Ginobili, who's looking like more of a wild card than ever.

J.A. Adande is an ESPN.com senior writer and the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." Click here to e-mail J.A.

3
Westbrook In Good Rookie Company

By Elias Sports Bureau

Russell Westbrook had a triple-double in Oklahoma City's win over Dallas, becoming the first NBA rookie to earn a triple-double since Chris Paul had two in the 2005-06 season. Only two other rookies in Oklahoma City/Seattle franchise history had triple-doubles: Art Harris in 1968-69 and Gary Payton in 1990-91.

David West had 30 points and 10 rebounds for New Orleans in its victory over Philadelphia. West has had at least 28 points and 10 rebounds in each of his last four games, the first player in Hornets history to do that.

Josh Smith missed his first two free-throw attempts before making one in Atlanta's win over Washington. Smith had missed 10 consecutive free-throw attempts, matching New Jersey's Josh Boone for the longest such streak this season.

• The Spurs have won 11 consecutive games against the Clippers, the third-longest current team-vs.-team winning streak in the NBA. The Spurs have won 13 straight against the Nets and the Pistons have won 12 in a row against the Clippers.

4

Extreme Behavior

By Andrew Ayres
ESPN.com


MONDAY'S BEST
LeBron James, Cavs: His highness drains 6-of-7 3-pointers, not to mention all 10 free throws en route to 42 points in the win over the Heat. Whew. Now grab a throne and rest up, Bron.

MONDAY'S WORST
The Clippers: Now that was a total team effort in a 106-78 home loss to the Spurs. The Clippers, who have lost 11 straight against San Antonio, could be coming on strong for the season's worst NBA record.


QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"We don't want each other to have bragging rights. We definitely go at it when we play each other."

-- LeBron James, on going up against Dwyane Wade

See Monday's daily leaders

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Biggest Euro Of Night

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Thunder center Nenad Krstic scores on Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki. Krstic had 26 points as the Thunder won 96-87.

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The King vs. Flash

When the NBA's top two scorers met Monday in Miami, the runner-up, LeBron James (28.3 points per game) was coming off his highest-scoring month of the season (30.7 in February), and the leader, Dwyane Wade (29.0) was coming off the highest-scoring month of his NBA career (30.9 in February).

Here's how they shape up all-time.

LBJ Vs. Wade: Head-to-Head, NBA career
James Wade
Wins   9
PPG 29.4 27.3
APG  7.5   6.5
RPG 5.4   5.3
40-pt games 4 4

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Checking Pistons' I.D.

By John Hollinger
ESPN.com


Fresh off my dismissal of them on Friday, the Pistons suddenly seem rejuvenated with their weekend road wins over Boston and Orlando. Detroit nearly doubled its playoff odds in one weekend by pulling out two wins from games that, on paper, looked to be near-certain defeats. As of Monday morning, Detroit projects to finish in a dead heat with Philadelphia and Miami for the No. 5 seed.

Obviously, the most interesting part of this equation is the absence of Allen Iverson from both victories, as the other Pistons seemed to seamlessly revert to their playing style of a season ago in his absence. Detroit apparently will bring him off the bench the remainder of the season, and given the glaring disparity in its record with Richard Hamilton as a starter versus when he comes off the bench, that's the only reasonable move left at this point.

I should hasten to point out, however, that this says as much about the Pistons as it does about Iverson. He's a terrible fit as long as they want to grind out wins in the half court and essentially play exactly the same way they did with Chauncey Billups at the point, and Tuesday's meeting in Denver should only underscore that point. The Nuggets adjusted their playing style completely when Billups arrived; the Pistons didn't change at all.

To see the four other Insider Gems, click here.

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Leaderboard + Scoreboard

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