LBJ, MVP

(Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Will the above letters spell LeBron James, Most Valuable Player?

After 29 games played out of this season’s 72 outings, the answer is a resounding Yes. 

The NBA’s MVP award is one of the sporting world’s most coveted. Given that the league’s 30 teams have a roster of 15 players each, that’s a total of 450 of the best ballplayers among the planet’s 7.7 billion inhabitants. And of that elite group, one will emerge brightest.

This 2021-2022 season, LBJ is the oddsmakers pick to win his 5th MVP crown. Thus far — including yesterday’s 30-point, 13-rebound win — he has averaged 25.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game. He doesn’t lead the NBA with those stats. But the MVP award was never purely about numbers. At times, it’s the intangibles that matter. Why LBJ for MVP?

First, LeBron is 36 years old. This matters. Longevity and consistency matter. Given that he was snubbed for the MVP plum last year (losing to Giannis), he might be the sentimental choice this season.

Second, LeBron leads the NBA with the Real Plus-Minus statistic. He’s No.1 followed by Steph Curry, CJ McCollum, Paul George and Joel Embiid. What’s “Real Plus-Minus (RPM)?” It’s the “+/-” number in the box score and it’s the net change in score (plus or minus) while the player is on the court. To me, this figure is very, very important.

Third reason: LeBron is shooting amazing three-pointers. As of today, he’s shooting 38.1% from beyond the arc. Only his 2012-13 season with Miami, when he averaged 40.6%, was higher. His career average is 34.5%. He does the “Logo Three by LeBron,” shooting near the half court line. His most famous shot was when he unleashed a no-look 3-pointer from the corner, winning a bet against Dennis Schroder.

Fourth, it’s this comment by coach Frank Vogel: “LeBron does it on both sides of the ball. That why he’s probably going to be this year’s MVP, carrying the load offensively and quarterbacking the defense. No. 1 defense in the league and taking these tough assignments and making these plays down the stretch.”

Fifth, the Lakers are en route to another title run. I know, I know, we’re not even halfway through the season. But with Montrezl, Caruso, Kuzma, THT, KCP and Gasol, it’s hard to see anyone stopping the Lakers, even with AD’s recent calf strain injury.

Which brings me to the question: On his 18th year, what motivates King James? 

LeBron wants to play with his son LeBron Raymone. Now 16 years old (and standing 6-foot-2), Bronny will graduate from high school in 2023. This means that the son can do what his dad did, move straight from HS to the NBA. It’s no secret that LeBron wants to play alongside Bronny. This father-and-son combo has never happened in the NBA. The closest was baseball when Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. played MLB in 1990 and 1991.

Reason # 2: Be the GOAT. Michael Jordan is the undisputed Greatest Of All Time. But if LBJ matches MJ’s six NBA crowns and he overtakes Kareem to become the all-time scorer, then I’d pick King James over Air Jordan.

Star Wars

Only LeBron James can call the U.S. president “U Bum” and be considered a hero. Voted by his peers as “The Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team,” only LBJ can manufacture a “3 in 1” deal: absorb the shocking loss of Kyrie Irving and emerge with three replacements: Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade.

D-Wade? Yes. It’s no secret that the former Miami Heat teammates are best friends. For four years while together in Florida, they made the trip to the Finals each season and won twice. Can D-Wade’s reported entry into the Cavs elevate this squad to rival Golden State? Absolutely.

What we’re seeing is the beauty and defect of the NBA. The strong become stronger while the weak turn powerless. There’s GSW. Has there ever been a stronger bunch in the league’s 71-year history than the formation of Steph, Klay, Draymon and Kevin? Probably not. I’d rank this gang higher than MJ-Pippen.

The NBA has 30 teams. The idea is to distribute the talent so no one team dominates completely. But we know the world doesn’t operate this way. Some have more money. Others have the clout of a Magic Johnson who can lure a Lonzo Ball.

The NBA has entered the era of the “Super Teams.” Of the 29 U.S. cities plus Toronto competing in the NBA, these “super teams” are a handful of squads whose roster includes at least three superstars. And unless you’ve assembled such All-Stars, you’re doomed.

This 2017-2018 season, the Oklahoma City Thunder has emerged as a super team. Joining the MVP Russell Westbrook is Paul George. And if that one-two punch isn’t potent enough, Carmelo Anthony leaves New York to form their Big 3.

The Houston Rockets is another. James Harden is joined by Chris Paul. How about the New Orleans Pelicans, with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis? My question is: Why the lopsided strength of the Western Conference? GSW, OKC, Houston, Spurs. And there’s the Minnesota Timberwolves with Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins.

The East? We might as well proclaim the Cavs as East Champs because of their lack of competition. It’s unfair and lopsided, this West vs. East pendulum.

As for LeBron and Wade, their bromance started in Miami and is continuing in Cleveland. But these two aren’t young; LeBron turns 33 in December and Wade celebrates his 36th birthday the month after.

“I would love to have D-Wade a part of this team,” James said of his 12-time All-Star best friend. “I think he brings another championship pedigree, championship DNA. He brings another playmaker to the team who can get guys involved, can make plays and also has a great basketball mind.”

Come October 17 when the NBA’s first regular season game kicks off and, perfectly-scripted, the Cavs face the Celtics, LeBron’s face will be smirking at Kyrie as if to say, I got Isaiah, Derrick and my man D-Wade to replace you, boy!

Fast forward to the 2018 NBA Finals, imagine a line-up featuring Curry, Thompson, Durant, Green and Iguodala against James, Rose, Wade, Thomas and Love. Like the intergalactic movie series, I can’t wait for this real-life Star Wars, Part 4.

Sure NBA champion

Let’s talk business. Regardless of the Final Four outcome (my heart goes for the Cavs as repeat champs but my mind says it’s the Warriors), there’s one sure winner in the NBA.

Founded 53 years ago by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, the company was originally named “Blue Ribbon Sports” until it was changed to “Nike” in 1971. It is the No. 1 most valuable sports brand on Earth and, last year, it grossed a colossal $32.4 billion. It’s logo — the swoosh, patterned after the wing of Nike, the goddess of victory — is the world’s most iconic, defeating Coca-Cola, Apple and McDonald’s. Chances are, when you look down at your feet or you open your closet or you attend a game of volleyball or football, a pair of shoes designed with a “check mark” is being worn.

With the NBA, the undisputed winner is Nike. Because while Steph Curry wears Under Armour, James Harden dons Adidas, Rajon Rondo and Klay Thompson wear the lesser-known brand Anta (from China), all the other superstars wear Nike.

KD, ‘Bron, Kyrie, Isiah “King of the Fourth” Thomas, Kevin Love, soon-to-be-announced MVP Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Blake Griffin, CP3 (Chris Paul), and Jimmy Butler all wear Nike or Nike/Jordan-branded footwear. Even three names (John Wall, Draymond Green, and J.R. Smith) who don’t have shoe endorsements wear the same Oregon-based brand.

In the Forbes article, “Nike Will Come Out On Top After The NBA Finals, Regardless Of Who Wins” by Daniel Kleinman published last May 17, the winning moves of Nike were explained.

Why, you ask, does Nike pay Durant an incredible $300 million for 10 years? It’s because of all those KD-labeled high-cuts that Nike will be selling in a decade. (Also, because of the fear of losing out to Under Armour, who was ready to $265M.) It’s also about the millions of eyeballs from Beijing to Bacolod to Berlin to Bangkok who’ll be watching the Warriors as Durant shoots a 3-pointer while wearing Nike.

The largest Nike deal of any kind appropriately belongs to LeBron James. In 2015, Nike awarded him with a sponsorship for life, the first time ever that they’ve agreed to such a lifelong deal. The cost: P25 billion. In dollars, that’s $500M that they’re paying LeBron, for him to never wear the Three Stripes or UA.

Expensive? Who says the best player is cheap? As the cliche goes, “You get what you play for.” And look at the dividends — I can imagine the thousands and thousands of $200 LeBron James 14 shoes that will sell this month.

So here’s the conclusion: Warriors or Cavs, Durant or James, the company named after the goodess of victory will claim victory.

James will win NBA MVP, but which one?

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I’m referring to the two best players with the same name: James Harden and LeBron James. (If they decide on a co-MVP, can you imagine a James-James winner?)

So, which James? First, let’s examine how the NBA votes on their Most Valuable Player. Every year since the 1955-56 season, the MVP award, named the “Maurice Podoloff Trophy,” in honor of the league’s first commissioner, is given to the best performing player of the regular season. A panel of sportswriters and broadcasters from the U.S. and Canada cast their votes. They submit five names, ranked from 1 to 5, with their top pick garnering 10 points. All the points are tallied and the highest-pointer wins basketball’s most coveted title.

In the history of the MVP awards, no player has won unanimously. Shaq (2000) and LeBron (2013) came very close, each receiving 120 of the 121 first-place votes.    All time, the record-holder is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won six. He’s followed by Michael Jordan and Bill Russell with five apiece. Wilt Chamberlain joins LeBron as four-time MVPs while Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Moses Malone own three.

LeBron has won four of the last six MVP crowns. His quest for a three-peat last year was thwarted by Kevin Durant, who amassed outstanding numbers last season: 32 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 5.5 APG. This year’s regular season ends on April 15 and the MVP awardee will be disclosed during the playoffs. So, will it be James or James?

Let’s discuss: Since LeBron moved from Florida to Ohio, he’s transformed the Cavs from being under-performers to Eastern Conference Finals contenders. As of yesterday, his averages per game are: 26 points, 5.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists. The biggest factor is what happens to the Cavs when he’s with (or without) them. In the 11 games that he missed this season, the Cavs scored 2-9; when he’s around, they win 70 percent of the time.

According to Greg Swartz, who wrote “The Case for LeBron James to Win NBA MVP Yet Again” in Bleacher Report last March 9: “It’s not just his 26.0 points, but rather James’ overall court vision and playmaking ability that stands out… There’s all the little things that don’t show up in stat sheets. James is always pointing out what he sees on the court to teammates. He shouts defensive assignments from the bench. He supports, encourages and even criticizes when necessary… James is once again the undisputed leader of the Cavaliers, with his every move dictating their success.”

His leadership, his numbers, his elevation of the Cavs to potential NBA champs — all guarantee that he’ll be a top MVP contender. But you know the disadvantage of LeBron? His name. His reputation. This thing called “voter fatigue.”

“Much like with Durant the year before and Derrick Rose in 2010-11, it’s arguably more exciting to see a first-year winner rather than someone who’s done it before,” said Swartz. “James certainly shouldn’t be penalized for this, however. The most valuable player should be a blind award based off who’s made the biggest difference for his team, regardless of past success.”

As for James Harden, the league’s second top-scorer with a 27.1 point average, Daryl Morey, the GM of the Houston Rockets, said it best: “Take James Harden off our team and we are nowhere.”

“Harden has suited up for every Rockets game this season,” wrote Jesus Gomez in “James Harden’s durability should make him the MVP favorite,” a recent SBNation.com article. “He leads the league in total minutes played and is second in minutes per game, averaging 36.6. In a year in which most of the league brightest stars have struggled staying on the court, Harden has been arguably the most durable elite player in the NBA. It has been huge for the Rockets to be able to rely on him so much with Howard missing 27 games already. When it comes to the ability to stay on the court for his team, Harden edges out every other MVP candidate.”

L. James or James H.? Neither. I’ll go for Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook — and the discussion continues in a future article.

The Hometown King leads the Cavs

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The Cleveland Cavaliers lost their very first game this ’14 season. Then, after winning the next one against Chicago, they proceeded to lose the next two. Four wins after that and with a commanding 5-3 scorecard, NBA fans worldwide proclaimed the Cavs as legitimate title contenders.

What happened next? They lost the next four clashes, against Denver, San Antonio, Washington and Toronto. By then, people panicked. Sporting an embarrassing 5-7 win-loss record, many criticized LeBron and Co. The man himself, No. 23, summarized their state in that Nov. 22 loss to the Toronto Raptors in one simple yet horrifying word: “Fragile.”

Well, well. How time flies when you’re having fun and winning. Those defeats and that “fragile” spirit seemed too long ago. After a November that zigzagged and twirled like a roller-coaster — similar to the ones found near Cleveland (in Ohio) that’s considered as “the roller coaster capital of the world,” Cedar Point — that up-and-down first month for the Cavs has been smooth of late.

The Cavs won their 8th straight yesterday. They now carry a 13-7 record, ranking fourth in the East (against 15 teams). The latest victim? The same battalion who defeated them in their last defeat, the Raptors — a previously 16-5 (scorecard) team that’s No.1 in the Eastern Conference. How big was that? Well, how big was that shot, a looping missile from beyond the 3-point line, with 48 seconds left in the game and the score tied 99-all, LeBron James firing one rocket at the top of the key to rupture the Raptors?

That was big. That was LeBron, the man who grew up in this state as a kid and returned home as an adult to pacify and appease all those whom he crucified when he left. The same 6-foot-8, 250-lb. giant who, after that 3-pointer, said to the crowd, “That’s what I came here for.”

He amassed 35 points in 42 minutes, including a monstrous double-clutch reverse dunk after he stole the ball in the 2nd quarter. The night before: the same royal performance before royalty. With Prince William and his beauteous wife Kate sandwiched between Jay-Z and Beyonce at ringside, LBJ scorched the New Jersey Nets, leading his Cavs to a 110-88 victory.

Now on his 12th NBA season, LeBron is not only experienced as a champion, with his two NBA rings and four MVP crowns, but he’s happiest back home.

“I know what LeBron is here for,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, after the Raptors game. “And I know why he’s here. Because he wants to be. So maybe that effort that you saw and maybe what he laid out there tonight for his team and for his fans sort of speaks to that.”

Thus far in the season’s 20 games — more like a First Quarter report for the Regular Season, which has 82 games — LeBron is averaging (per game) 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists.

If he’s Batman, his Robin (Kyrie Irving) is doing excellent work, averaging 20.8 PPG. If we add Kevin Love’s 17.4 points per game, these three average 63 points — about 61 percent of Cleveland’s average total (103.5) per outing.

“It’s fun,” said Irving. “It’s fun to be playing the way we’re playing right now, and it’s fun to be part of it.”

Is this a momentum shift? Will this continue until the playoffs? Has this team gelled?

Yes, yes, yes, but, no, let’s not get too cocky in behalf of the Cavs as the NBA season has three more quarters left. And, lest we forget, in this winning streak, they did not face a single Western Conference team; and we know how bombarded that section is with the league’s finest: Golden State, Memphis, Portland, Houston, LA (obviously, not the Lakers), San Antonio and Dallas — seven teams that have better win-loss scorecards than Cleveland.

But, for now, with the King performing in front of the Prince, with Kevin Love saying, “We just have a good energy about us right now,” with eight straight smiles after four straight frowns, Cleveland is happy that their son is back home.

The Homecoming King

Have you seen the Nike advertisement? It’s called “Together” and it aired the day when LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers played their first game this season. I won’t spoil the contents of this awe-inspiring black-and-white video but please, even if you’re a Kobe fan and you wear Adidas, watch it on YouTube.

Patience. That’s the key word for the Cavs. The hype of their inaugural Quicken Loans Arena game against the New York Knicks was too much to bear. Even for the Human Superman.

Remember when LeBron moved to the Miami Heat in 2010 and they were “assured” of an NBA crown in their first season, after teaming-up with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade? That team amassed a miserable 9-8 win-loss start. That’s as poor — considering the hype — a beginning as was expected.

With last Thursday’s opener, LeBron added to the frenzy when he declared the game, “Probably one of the biggest sporting events ever.” He was exaggerating. Obviously, this was nowhere near the Olympics Opening or Game 7 of a Lakers-Boston final or the possible Pacman-Money fight.

Over-emotional and over-excited, the Cavs lost to the Knicks, 95-90. But more than the defeat (it’s just one game out of the 82 that they’ll play in regular season; 41 each at home and away), that first game loss was awkward and difficult.

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I like what Cavs coach David Blatt said right after the disaster when he was asked if it was like a kick in the stomach. He said: “It was for me, for everybody — and that could be a good thing for all of us.”

For LeBron himself, an analyst dubbed that Game 1 as his “4th-worst home game ever,” counting the 507 home games that he’s played. His distasteful numbers included missing his first 8-of-9 shots; he had a total 5-for-15 shooting and committed eight turnovers.

The good news? He has nowhere to go but better. “It was one game,” said LeBron. “We have to learn from this. It’s great to have a game like this, especially this early on.”

Twenty four hours later when they landed in Chicago to play their upcoming Eastern Conference Finals rivals, the nightmare was erased; this time, with all the hysteria out of the way, LeBron played like the 4-time MVP that he is, scoring 36 points, including their first eight in OT.

Next up: a West Coast sojourn, starting with the Portland Trail Blazers this Wednesday morning (Phil. time).

What’s clear with this move by LeBron called “Decision 2.0” is this: it’s personal. More than the money and championships, he wanted to give back to the community that helped him grow. He hurt his fellow Ohio residents with the Miami transfer and, the good hearted man that he is, he wanted to make amends. “The roads, the buildings, the people,” said LeBron, “they helped raised me.”

In a USA Today Sports article entitled, “LeBron James’ homecoming bigger than basketball,” ace writer Nancy Armour narrates:

“Every athlete has a story of a community that helped him or her along the way, and every city has a favored athlete it considers one of its own. For James and northeast Ohio, however, it’s one in the same, the two as tightly intertwined as family.

“The people of Akron and Cleveland have been in the bleachers since James was not much older than his own sons are now, watching with pride as he grew and developed the skills that have made him one of the greatest players of all time. In return, they gave shelter and support to the boy with the young, single mother, making sure he never went astray and, as the spotlight grew, protecting him from those who didn’t have his best interests at heart.”

That’s why LeBron returned. To pay back. To say thanks. Strong-willed and bull-headed, LeBron is, at the same time, an emotional being who cares for and sympathizes with his neighbors.

Here’s my conclusion: This one is for keeps. I can’t imagine LeBron having to move out again and leave home. This is it. He’s here to stay. And the Clevelanders can’t be happier welcoming home their own son — even if he messes up in that first game.

Home is where the heart (not Heat) is

You cannot please everybody. That’s a fact of life. No matter how good you are or how sincere your intentions are, there will always be that one person — or 20.5 million Floridians — who’ll despise you. That’s life. “You can’t please everyone, nor should you seek to,” said actor Dylan Moran, “because then you won’t please anyone, least of all yourself.”

Agree. Pat Riley must be fuming bad. What happened to their four year ride, reaching The Finals all four seasons and winning twice?

Yes, but then LeBron James is The King. As today’s Jordan, his decision is honored. He is not only basketball’s best but this planet’s greatest athlete. And when you’re at the Mt. Everest of your game and only 29 years of age, you can do as you wish. The Chosen One chooses.

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After getting embarrassed by the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron must have looked at his pal Dwayne Wade’s 32-year-old banged-up body and concluded, “Man, he’s old.” This is a fact: If Miami Heat had remained with the same roster for next season, the result will be the same: they’ll get clobbered by Manu and Tony and Tim.

Stay with the old or gamble with the future? In “The Decision Part 2,” LeBron followed his heart. His heart had always resided in Ohio, where he was born. “Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” wrote LeBron in Sports Illustrated. “It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart.”

The King is coming home. Who’d have expected that? Given their success in Miami, wasn’t the logical move to at least try one or two more seasons before leaping? I’m sure LeBron pondered on that thought. The Heat and our fellow Pinoy Erik Spoelstra have been good to him and helped him purchase what couldn’t buy in Cleveland: two NBA rings. And, yes, while Miami cracked and wilted against the Spurs, surely with some tweaking and importing of new blood, they’d have the best chance next season, right?

Maybe. But that’s now forgotten. What’s important is that a decision has been reached and it’s an astonishing one. “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when,” added LeBron. “After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown.”

Though this issue isn’t about money, it’s not bad receiving extra: While he started with $4 million as a Cleveland rookie in 2003, James took a pay-cut when he flew south to Miami, pocketing $14.5 million in his first season. Obviously, big bucks — but for a giant of his stature, that’s small. Believe it or not, in his whole career James has never been his team’s highest-paid member. That will change starting this October with the Cavs when he pockets $22.2 million.

This story is also about forgiveness. One of the major stumbling blocks of his return was the animosity he received from the Cleveland fans, most notably the Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Four years ago when LeBron shocked his employer with his goodbye, Gilbert wrote a scornful letter, saying LeBron was a coward. LeBron never forgot that (justified) cruelty.

Now he has. In a secret meeting last Sunday, Gilbert was said to have told LeBron, “We had five great years together and one terrible night. I told him how sorry I was, expressed regret for how that night went and how I let all the emotion and passion for the situation carry me away. I told him I wish I had never done it, that I wish I could take it back.”

LeBron reciprocated, saying that he, too, was sorry for “The Decision” that aired on worldwide TV in 2010. And so, the two shook hands, probably hugged, and ‘Bron’s coming home.

Which means that Cedar Point, the “roller coaster capital of the world,” will have to fulfill its promise of a new ride: a roller-coaster named, “King James.”

I can’t wait for the roller-coaster ride called the NBA.

Cold-blooded Heat

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Unstoppable. Remorseless. A wipeout. Mortifying. How do you describe yesterday’s performance by Miami versus Indiana? How about “No match.” Yes, it was a mismatch. Leading 9-2 in the first minutes of Game 6, I thought the Pacers had a chance. They didn’t. It turns out, they were just given a few moments of bliss followed by endless minutes of agony. Have we seen a more dominant LeBron & Co.? Blowing away their tormentors by a whopping 37 points in the 3rd quarter? How’s that for a statement.

After scoring a measly seven points in Game 5, LeBron was MIA. Yes, “MIA” means Miami but it’s also “Missing In Action.” In Game 5, LeBron was embarrassed. Well, he embarrassed the Pacers the next game. How many times have we watched a completely boring 2nd half — when the outcome was so obvious … in the final game prior to the NBA Finals! Very few. That’s because very few teams in the history of this 68-year-old league are like Miami.

“Not satisfied with our performance… we can still play better,” said LeBron James. We’d understand if he uttered those 10 words after Game 5. But he said that right after the first half, when the score was 60-34. Leading by 26 points, he wasn’t happy. He wasn’t satisfied. And that’s the hallmark of all champions, from Jon Jones to Ronaldo to Usain: they’re relentless, forever looking to improve, always asking how they can do better. “Just what you expect from greatness,” said the NBA commentator (and former coach) Mark Jackson.

Attack, attack, attack. That’s what champions do. That’s how they respond. That’s the LeBron James mantra. It worked yesterday and the previous two years when they won the NBA rings; it will work for No. 6 as he aims not just for a three-peat but for that Ring No. 6 in a few years‘ time. He’s only 29 — at his prime. And “he’s not Michael” said the commentator, referring to His Airness, MJ. “He’s Michael and Magic.” I agree. This is the great thing about the greatness that we observe in LeBron. He’s unselfish. While he can penetrate and shoot every time he’s handed that ball, he always looks for the best way to score — an open teammate, a drive that draws the defendants like a magnet then he dishes out a zip of a pass. He’s got Magic’s height and passing talent coupled with Michael’s drive and jump-shooting and air-defying prowess.

As to Lance Stephenson? Ha-ha. Guess who has the last laugh? He tried to bully his way into a mind-games battle against LBJ. It failed. Sure, this soon-to-be-a-free-agent has the guts to shoot faraway three-pointers and is unafraid … but his antics against the Heat (including that painful slap on Norris Cole’s face) backfired.

LET’S GO HEAT! This was the constant chant that reverberated inside the Florida stadium. They’ll need it. Whoever Miami faces in the finals will have home-court advantage. If the Spurs win today (that’s no guarantee given the tremendous lift that tilts towards the home team), it will be a rematch of 2013. If OKC wins, it’s Game 7. Either way, we know who the favorites are. When you’ve arrived at The Finals for four straight years, experience is guiding your brain. It’s called, in lay man’s terms, confidence. You don’t panic when you’re in trouble. You stay calm. You attack.

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What’s dangerous about MIA is that they’ve got so many weapons, from Dwayne Wade’s playing Robin to the Batman that is LeBron, to Chris Bosh’s stellar offensive play of late, to Birdman’s return from his nest to grab rebounds and scare the opponents with his tattoos, to Ray Allen’s beyond-the-arc loopers — these are pellets of ammunition that Erik Spoelstra, our proud fellow Pinoy, can utilize to dismantle the opposing squad. Just ask Frank Vogel or Larry Bird.

I admit bias. After the era of the Los Angeles Lakers when I rooted for them against Kevin McHale and Robert Parish of the Boston Celtics … after the Chicago Bulls domination over the Pistons and human race’s reverence for Jordan … I’ve been cheering for the planet’s hottest five.

For MVP, can Durant dethrone King James?

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Basketball is not boxing. It’s not one-on-one. It’s five on five. But, for the race for the Most Valuable Player honors in the NBA, there’s a slugfest, mano-a-mano style, going on this 2014. It features two Nike endorsers. One stands 6-foot-9. The other is an inch shorter. One is lean, long-legged and loves shooting three-pointers; the other is Superman-like muscular, solid as a Veco post, and loves dunks that rock Miami.

It’s Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James. Who’ll win the MVP plum? A total of 121 votes will determine the MVP winner. This is decided by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who will cast votes when the NBA Regular Season ends mid-April. So there’s still one month to go… But there’s no doubt that the pick will carry either of two initials: KD or LBJ.

“I think Durant will be MVP this year,” said Greg Slaughter, in our exchange of text messages yesterday. “He has been playing better than he ever has in his career and had time to shine when Westbrook was out. Also, LeBron’s in the same situation when Steve Nash won MVPs and I think they want a new one.” Good points from the PBA’s No.1 vote getter. Added Greg on Cebu… “Can’t wait to go back!”

I also asked Harry Radaza, the basketball-playing councilor of Lapu-Lapu City, and he, too, picks the Oklahoma City forward, saying, “Tough choice. I would go for KD. More consistent and efficient.”

My pick? KD. Nobody this season has played better. Durant scored 42 points yesterday in OKC’s 106-98 victory over the hot Houston Rockets. If my computations are correct, he’s averaging a whopping 31.9 points per game. Add to that 7.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per outing. His field goal percentage is 50.9 percent and he makes 86.9 percent of his free throws. Those are astronomical, MVP-like numbers. Plus, his Oklahoma squad is the No. 2 ranked team in the league today, sporting a 47-17 win-loss record (compared to 44-17 for Miami).

It’s a done deal, right? We might as well award the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, named after the NBA’s first commissioner/president, to Durant The MVP, right? Almost. He’s close. But, like I said, there’s still one month to go before voting and there happens to be a 250-lb. giant, a four-time MVP recipient, who won’t back down and easily hand over the title like an easy assist. LeBron is LeBron is I-Won’t-Give-Up.

Last week, in leading Miami over Charlotte, LeBron scored a personal best 61 points behind these outlandish numbers: he made his first eight 3-point attempts; he scored 25 points in the third quarter; he shot 22-of-33 from the field. This fight isn’t over yet.

Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney said it perfectly: “Every passing week seems to bring new heat to the MVP race, which is shaping up to be a too-close-to-call verdict between LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The two are spiraling around and toward one another in a riveting display of one-upmanship, with a great performance from one motivating the other to similar heights.

“As a result, the balance of the award seems to shift on a weekly basis. If that waffling persists, James and Durant could be closing in on one of the tightest MVP races in recent memory, if not in NBA history.”

For now, though, the stats favor Durant. His 31.9 PPG average compared to James’ 27.0 is a huge gap – that’s almost five points more per game. And – and this is important – the public often wants to celebrate a new face. If KD wins, it will be his first taste of basketball’s highest accolade.

If, however, for some miraculous March and April, the Miami Heat No. 6 pulls off the award, it will be his 5th MVP, with only three others who’ve done the same or better: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (the leader with six MVPs) and Bill Russell and Michael Jordan, with five apiece. (Interestingly, Kobe Bryant only has one MVP.)

LeBron, Kobe and Mike Rama’s 96

Before I write about Mr. Bryant and Mr. James, let’s talk about a headline-grabbing news that should have been broadcasted in the Front Page instead of landing in these back pages.

“Mike Rama shoots 30 three-pointers, scores 96 points!”

Can you believe that? Well, better believe it because based on news reports and on the actual conversation my dad had with our Cebu City mayor, it’s true.

Thirty 3-pointers. That’s 90 points. Add six more points. That totals 96.

The game was held exactly a week ago when Team Rama played against the CIB Thunders at the basketball court of the Cebu City Police Office. The final score: 157-137; winner: Mayor Mike’s squad.

I’ve known the mayor to be a sharp-shooter, having played basketball with him a few years back. But beating Chester Cokaliong and besting Danny Green — wow, this is big, big news. And what a balanced way of scoring: the mayor shot 15 three-pointers per half.

I did speak to Mayor Mike last Thursday afternoon. He called to thank about an article I wrote about him and sports; he even added, “We should schedule that basketball game again between Team Rama and your family.”

Sure! I said. I had not read the “96 points” story at that point (I only knew about it later that night from my dad) and so I wasn’t able to congratulate him on the unbelievable feat.

Come to think of it, if Cebu City is in the Guinness books as having accomplished three world records — the largest dance class, the largest chess tournament, and the most number of fireworks in one minute — then this story should be the fourth: For who mayor in the world has scored as many points as ours?

LEBRON. He’s here. Well, not yet. Rumors, as told to me by my youngest brother Michael, circulated that LeBron James was spotted in Shangri-La Mactan. His friends, Mike said, vowed by the sighting. Impossible. If Mike Rama’s achievement last Sunday was amazing, this story of LeBron in Cebu was impossible. For who wouldn’t recognize a 6-foot-8, 250-lb. behemoth who owns the most recognizable face on Earth?

Forget this “LeBron’s in Cebu” story. But this story is true: Two days from now, LBJ will land in Manila. Just weeks after he propelled Miami to their 2nd straight NBA trophy, he arrives in the Land of Eric Spoelstra. Sayang. The two won’t be coming together. But, for sure, a big reason why the 4-time MVP is arriving is because of Spoelstra’s prodding: He wants to visit the roots of his head coach (whose mom hails from Laguna).

“Witness,” the ticket to see LeBron says. Organized by Nike, the swoosh company decided not to sell the tickets but to give them away, for free. No proof of purchase needed. Just line up and get your pass. And, sure enough, thousands lined up for the last-Wednesday-12-noon ticket distribution. Some stood on line as early as Monday night!

But not all were LeBron fans. Many were “entrepreneurs,” who, after a sleepless wait, sold their tickets for as much as P1,500/pass.

Basketball will achieve superstardom status this 2013. Here’s why. After the visit of Miami Heat’s No. 6, it will be the 27th FIBA Asia Championship from Aug. 1 to 11. I’ll be in Manila around this time (games are in MOA Arena) and I hope to catch our Gilas team in action.

Next, Kobe Bryant returns to Manila. After his visit here in 2011, the Lakers star will land at the N. Aquino airport on Aug. 12 — the day after the FIBA event finishes.

If that’s not enough NBA action, the most awaited is the Houston Rockets vs. Indiana Pacers pre-season game on Oct. 10, also at the MOA Arena. (Notice how SM’s brand-new coliseum has cornered most of the prized events; imagine if SM builds the same arena in the SRP?)

Finally — and these are just rumors — all these stories will be surpassed by this revelation if it does come true: the arrival of the greatest athlete who ever lived, Michael Jordan.

Yes, as circulated by Gatorade, they are negotiating for MJ to land in our shores. (Shangri-La?) Imagine if this happens! If it does, I know Mayor Mike’s 30 3-pointers is the top sports story in my book — but this Michael beats our Michael.