MIAMI — It happens fairly regularly at games in Miami, a moment when LeBron James gets serenaded by chants of "M-V-P" from the Heat crowd.
Dwyane Wade thinks those fans are only getting it half right.
James is a leading candidate to be the league's MVP this season, an award that would be his for the third time in four years. He's on pace to become one of the top 50 scorers in NBA history by early April, and is the only player in the league ranked among the top 25 in points, steals, rebounds and assists per game this season.
But Wade thinks James shouldn't just be in the MVP conversation — he's advocating him for defensive player of the year as well.
"The guy guards any position and does it every night," Wade said of James, who plays inside and on the perimeter at the offensive end. "I think he should be in the discussion for that."
Case in point, the way the Heat closed out the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.
There were times down the stretch where James would be matched up against Josh Smith — a strong forward, roughly James' size — and times when he found himself guarding speedy Hawks guard Jannero Pargo. That's been a trend for as long as anyone can remember with James, who has even had some late-game success when guarding reigning MVP Derrick Rose of Chicago, a point guard.
Asked if he'd rather win MVP again or defensive player of the year for the first time, James paused and thought for several seconds before answering.
"It would mean a lot to be considered defensive player of the year — a lot," James said. "I know how much I've put into it and I know I don't get the 15 rebounds a game, the 13 rebounds a game, I don't get the 3.5 blocks per game as well and I know that plays a big part in defensive player of the year. For me, I take just as much pride on defense as I do on offense. And that's every night."
Getting James to say even that much about any postseason award takes a bit of doing. Whenever Wade tries to engage James in MVP talk, it's usually a one-sided conversation.
Even among friends, James doesn't want to say much.
"He won't talk about it," Wade said. "I bring it up and he says, 'I don't really care.' But I want him to get it. I've never played with someone who's won MVP before. I want him to get it. I want to be at the press conference. I want to be there."
His wish might come true.
James and the Heat are 30-9 this season, and he entered Thursday ranked third in the NBA in scoring (27.7), ninth in steals (1.8) and 14th in assists (6.7). Using the formula known as PAR — points, assists and rebounds — James is having the best statistical season of anyone in the league, his nightly average of 42.8 better than Kevin Love (41.2), Kobe Bryant (39.3) and Kevin Durant (39.3).
But is James a lock to win? Wade isn't sure.
"It all depends who's looking and it all depends on what you're looking at," Wade said. "I think when you're looking at a complete player, it's not a race. When you're looking at highlights and points, then it's a race. ... Obviously, I believe he's MVP right now. He's a complete player. He does it every night. He deserves it."
Especially lately, that's true.
James has been doing things the league hasn't seen in decades — or maybe ever.
There have been two games this season in which a player has posted at least 35 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and no turnovers. James has both — on consecutive nights earlier this month, no less. According to STATS LLC, there have only been 11 other such games in the last 25 seasons. And when adding in his five steals to a 38-point, 11-rebound, six-assist, no-turnover night at Portland on March 1, that's a game that hadn't been duplicated since individual turnovers began being charted in 1977.
"For me, every time I step on the court I try to be the MVP for our team and that means doing it on both sides of the floor," James said. "I try not to take (any) possessions off. But when I hear the MVP talk, I really don't want anything to do with it. I kind of let that take care of itself. If I'm having an MVP season ... I don't have to make the case. I'll just let my game do the talking."
Still, James said he still finds it "humbling" to hear about where his stat lines rank in history.
"I always remind myself, less than 10 years ago I was just a little kid from Akron, I was 200 pounds, 215 pounds, 205 pounds, and struggling to get a meal and just playing the game for fun," James said. "I'm happy I'm able to do that now."
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