LeBron James is the MVP ... right?

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LeBron James is the MVP ... right?

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Whenever LeBron James gets asked about the NBA MVP award, he seems to answer carefully, as if to avoid any suggestion that he's campaigning for his third trophy. In fairness, James doesn't have to do much lobbying. Everyone else in the Miami Heat locker room takes care of that. And they say the James-for-MVP movement should be going strong. Not only did the Heat win a marquee game on Wednesday night -- they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 98-93 -- but James won a head-to-head matchup against the player who is generally considered to be his top competition in the MVP race. He finished with 34 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, while Kevin Durant had his 30-point night also marked by a career-worst nine turnovers. "Every night I go out on the court, I try to play like the MVP for our team," James told the reporters surrounding his locker after the game. "I've always said that. ... It doesn't matter to me. For us, we got better tonight as a team. And I was the MVP for our team and just trying to lead those guys, lead us to a victory. That's what it's all about." James might have been considered a lock for the MVP award a month ago, when he and the Heat were both rolling along. But just about everything after the All-Star break has been a grind for Miami, which gets Thursday off -- James said he would be looking for the city's best massage -- and plays host to Memphis on Friday. Scoring is down by nearly nine points a game. The Heat aren't shooting as well, teams are shooting a better percentage against them, and that's all happened while James has dealt with injury woes like a dislocated left ring finger, an achy elbow and the aftereffects of banging his head on the court in a hard fall against Phoenix last month. On Wednesday, James twisted his ankle falling over a videographer, winced and grabbed his back after some inadvertent contact with a referee, took what he thought was excessive contact twice while attempting dunks -- getting pulled down by Russell Westbrook from behind on one of those, a play James later described as "scary" and "dangerous" -- and gritted his teeth after his finger started bothering him again down the stretch. And even shooting 37 percent, Miami still won. "I think he's the best two-way player in this league," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He does it in a night-in, night-out basis and he does it in a way where most teams would not ask a player to shoulder that type of responsibility. But the fact remains: He must play at an MVP level at both ends of the court for us. We've talked about him playing like a defensive player of the year, to defend all five positions, while at the same time playing four positions offensively." James' two biggest plays against the Thunder may be ones that don't show up in the box score. Oklahoma City had two possessions in the final 4 minutes where it had shots for a one-point lead. James snuffed out both. He ran Westbrook down and blocked a layup with 3:49 left -- ironically, it was at the same spot on the court where Westbrook grabbed him around the left shoulder and right side of his waist and sent him sprawling to the floor two quarters earlier -- to preserve a 92-91 Heat edge. Then with 1:30 remaining, the score then 94-93, Durant backed James down on the low post and tried a turnaround. James contested it well, so well that not only did Durant miss, but his shot bounced off the top of the backboard. Oklahoma City didn't score again, and James and the Heat were soon enjoying their payback win. On March 25, James was held to 17 and the Heat lost at Oklahoma City 103-87. "A great player," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of James after Wednesday's game. "You're not going to hold down a great player often. He missed some shots the first time we played them and we made him take some tough ones. He was feeling good. His jump shot was falling and he was getting some buckets in transition." It's not a stretch to say that James wants his third MVP in four seasons, and in what probably is no surprise either, Durant acknowledged before the game that he would like to win the award. Durant thinks it's too early to have the conversation -- and when it is time, he indicated he'd be like James, saying he'd rather not tout his own merits. "I can't worry about that," Durant said when asked about his own MVP candidacy. "If you worry about that type of stuff, that's when you take your focus off the game, start doing stuff that you don't want to do on the floor. I can't worry about that. It's not in my control. All I can control is how hard I work, how hard I play, and whatever else falls in line after that, we'll see." The Heat say they saw plenty on Wednesday. "Two MVP candidates, you have to want that matchup," Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. "LeBron accepted the challenge and that's what we expect him to do as our leader and our MVP candidate. You have to step up to the plate and that's what he did."

Fultz a perfect fit, but do Kings have assets required to trade up?

Fultz a perfect fit, but do Kings have assets required to trade up?

It’s lonely at the top, which is where Markelle Fultz sits on almost every 2017 NBA Draft board. The Brooklyn Nets should be set for the next decade with a big time scoring point guard. Instead, it’s the Boston Celtics who have no choice but to take Fultz with the No. 1 overall selection after a savvy trade that sent veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets for a stack of picks and players back in 2013.

Fultz can do it all. He’s deadly from the outside, he can take you off the bounce and he has elite passing skills to boot. In a draft packed with star potential, specifically at the point guard position, the freshman from Washington stands out well above the rest.  

It would take a major shake up at the top for Fultz not to have his name called first on draft night, but there are plenty of very talented players sitting on the board behind him. Here is a deeper look at the potential top overall selection.

The Positives:
Fultz has tremendous size, length and athleticism for an NBA point guard. He measured in at 6-foot-5, 195-pounds with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and has a frame built to take on muscle. At just 19-years-old, he is already well defined physically and has plenty of room to grow and get stronger.

A crafty, high-end scorer, Fultz changes speed and direction well and has an advanced Euro-step for a young player. He averaged 23.2 points in 35.7 minutes a night for the Huskies while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three. He can score from all three levels, finish well above the rim and play through contact.

In his lone season in college, Fultz showed that he is not only a legitimate scoring threat, but he is a willing passer and an unselfish teammate. While Lonzo Ball is considered the true pass first point guard of the draft, Fultz had a higher assist rate (35.5 to 31.5) and lower turnover rate (13.4 to 18.2) than the star guard from UCLA.

Fultz rebounds well for his position, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game at Washington. He also has potential as a defender, posting 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks, although he is a work in progress on that end of the floor.

Known as a high-character kid and tireless worker off the court, Fultz has the entire package. He can also play the lead or shooting guard spot, which will come in handy if the Celtics decide to pair him with All-Star Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt.

The Negatives:
9-16 is a concern. Great college players should be able to will their team to victory, even if the talent around them is suspect. Washington was certainly worse off without Fultz down the stretch, losing their last six while he sat with a knee injury.

Shot selection and sloppy ball handling was also an issue this season. In Fultz’ defense, he played with a group that lacked overall talent and those issues might eventually disappear when he’s added to a roster that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.  

Fultz is a quality chase down defender, but he fell asleep on plenty of plays or didn’t show a consistent fight on the defensive end. Lack of focus allowed for plenty of back cuts. He also showed an inconsistent effort fighting through screens.

He’s a work in progress on the defensive end, like most young players coming into the league. Most of these issues can easily be coached out of him at the next level.

Projection:
Fultz has an advanced feel and tons of room to expand his game. On the court, he resembles another former Husky in Brandon Roy. Fultz is much further along than Roy was at the same age, but possesses both the ability to score from anywhere on the court, as well as rebound and set up his teammates.  

It’s hard to imagine the Celtics passing on Fultz with the top overall selection, but if they do, teams will scramble trying to move up to select him. He would fit perfectly in the Kings starting backcourt alongside sophomore Buddy Hield, but Sacramento lacks the assets to move from five to one, Fultz’ likely landing spot.

 

Early offense, six strong from Cueto lift Giants past Braves in finale

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USATSI

Early offense, six strong from Cueto lift Giants past Braves in finale

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- Johnny Cueto pitched six strong innings and Brandon Crawford drove in three runs as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Atlanta Braves 7-1 on Sunday.

Cueto (5-4) bounced back from his roughest stretch as a Giant. The two-time All-Star was 0-3 with a 4.33 ERA in his previous four starts.

The Giants won their third straight home series and posted their 11th victory in 18 games overall.

Crawford's two-run single highlighted a four-run second against R.A. Dickey (3-4) that made it 6-0.

The Giants scored their first run in the first inning on a passed ball by Kurt Suzuki, who was handling Dickey's knuckleballs.

Eduardo Nunez and Gorkys Hernandez each had two hits for the Giants. Joe Panik tripled to start the second-inning burst.

Matt Kemp had three hits for Atlanta. But the Braves couldn't get much going against Cueto, who allowed one run on six hits and a walk. Cueto struck out eight, including five in a row at one point.

Dickey allowed a season-high seven runs (six earned) on six hits and five walks.

Giants catcher Buster Posey was 0 for 2 with two walks. He hasn't struck out in 55 consecutive plate appearances.

TRAINER'S ROOM:
Braves: 2B Brandon Phillips left the game in the top of the fifth for pinch-hitter Jace Peterson. Phillips fouled a ball off his foot in his last at-bat in the third.

Giants: LHP Madison Bumgarner will start his throwing program on Friday, manager Bruce Bochy said. Bumgarner will start out playing catch and make five rehab starts. The 2014 World Series MVP suffered a separated left shoulder in a dirt biking accident. "The progress is happening," Bochy said. "I think he sees light at the end of the tunnel." . Slumping rookie INF Christian Arroyo was out of the lineup on Sunday and his playing status appears uncertain. Arroyo, who turns 22 on Tuesday, is 0 for 19 in his last five games. "I'll talk to him, about what his situation is," Bochy said. "I'm definitely planning on giving him a couple of days" off.

UP NEXT:
Braves: RHP Julio Teheran will make his first career start against the Angels in Anaheim on Monday. Teheran is 3-9 with a 5.63 ERA in 15 career interleague starts.

Giants: LHP Matt Moore will face the Nationals for the second time in his career. He was with Tampa Bay when he gave up two runs in five innings against Washington in 2012.