That LeBron didn't finish in the top three of MVP voting was a surprise, but it wasn't completely out of left field — James might have been the first player in NBA history to average 26 points, 8.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists, and have an effective field goal percentage above 55 (James was at 59), but The King was clearly going at half speed in the second half of the year.
But LeBron has been going at full speed this postseason, and he hasn't been taking it easy on the Boston Celtics in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, both embarrassingly lopsided Cavaliers victories.
Friday, LeBron led the Cavs to one of the most dominant postseason wins in recent NBA memory (and we've been a few one-sided games this postseason), a 130-86 obliteration in which the Cavs led by as many as 50.
Again, while the Celtics might have the No. 1 overall pick, it's important to remind you that they were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
In Friday's contest, LeBron was 12-of-18 from the field (4-of-6 from 3), scored 30 points, pulled down four rebounds, dished out seven assists, and had four steals, three blocks, one turnover and a foul.
He was a plus-46 in the game and had a net rating of 70.5.
The MVP is a regular season award. We can't forget that. And in a regular season in which a player averaged a triple-double and another set a new standard for offensive creation, LeBron, even with an incredible offensive season, didn't stack up.
James was clearly going through the motions for many regular games — the Cavs underachieved in the regular season. Voters remembered that when ballots were due.
In that moment, many seemed to think that Cleveland was broken. It turned out the Cavs were just bored.
Why did LeBron need to try in the second half of the year? Who needs to fight for home-court advantage when you're going to sweep your competition anyway?
And frankly, it's better to not have home-court advantage — you get to celebrate winning the Eastern Conference title at home.
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But it's hard to reconcile the fact that LeBron, who might be having the best postseason in NBA history (though it must be noted that there are still at least six games to go) and had a record-setting regular season, isn't even a finalist to win MVP.
Again, James had no claim to win MVP this year. Not with the level of competition, and not with the lackadaisical performances he put on the court in the regular season.
Those half-speed efforts were calculated, though — he was saving his energy for this postseason.
Clearly, that was the right play.
Greg M. CooperGreg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Regardless of whether James was a finalist for MVP this year or not, we all know that he's the best player in the world.
He's proving it again this postseason.
Remember how many people tried to kneecap his greatness? Those people have switched from arguing that he's not that good to saying that he's not as good as Michael Jordan. That's a hell of an uptick.
[For all of the critical things I have written about the Cavs — I've never questioned James' greatness. He's the best player in NBA history, in my opinion (and I grew up in Chicago in the Jordan era...)]
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No matter what happens in the NBA Finals, it's clear — LeBron is the real MVP.
If James Harden, who choked in Games 5 and 6 of the Rockets' Western Conference semifinal loss to the Spurs, wins the MVP award on June 26, we'll know deep down that LeBron deserved it.
If Russell Westbrook, who led his team to one playoff win, claims it, we'll know that if James played with that kind of reckless abandon for a season, his stats would have blown far past the OKC guard's numbers. Could you imagine?
Ultimately, while the award is yet to be announced, the voting has been over for weeks and we can vote only on the results we had at the time — the time when LeBron was sandbagging.
The MVP might be a regular-season award, but in his 14th year in the league, LeBron chose to prioritize the postseason awards.
He made the right decision, no matter what the awards ceremony in June might say.