Examining the NBA's MVP race


Examining the NBA's MVP race

There's still time left and things could always change as teams make a playoff push, but at this stage of the season, the race for the league's MVP award has been narrowed down to a handful of players. Due to an injury-plagued campaign, Derrick Rose isn't in the mix to repeat - -though Bulls fans can take solace in the squad having the NBA's best record and Rose can always hope for another prestigious award: NBA Finals MVP -- but at this late juncture of the regular season, here's a look at five players who have made a case to take home the league's top individual honor.

Kobe Bryant, Lakers: 28.2 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game

For all of the talk about Bryant getting older, the shooting guard continues to excel and has maintained a stranglehold on the NBA's scoring lead this season. While the Lakers might not be the threat to win a title they've been in the past, don't attribute the drop-off to Bryant, who's been as good as he's ever been. Without former mainstays Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher, not to mention a new coach in Mike Brown and Pau Gasol having a down year -- although center Andrew Bynum has raised his game to another level -- Bryant has adjusted and put the team on his back to ensure they're still a force to be reckoned with.

Kevin Durant, Thunder: 27.7 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game

The two-time reigning NBA scoring champion is actually second in that category this season, but that shouldn't take away from his brilliance. Durant has made considerable strides as a shot-creator, ballhandler and defender while leading the Thunder to the West's best record. Much has been made of his chemistry with All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook -- speaking of, Westbrook is also having a tremendous individual season -- but Durant is clearly Oklahoma City's go-to scorer in the clutch and the primary reason many believe the Thunder will reach the NBA Finals.

LeBron James, Heat: 26.5 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game, 6.5 assists per game

For all of the criticism James receives in some circles -- including Chicago -- his near-nightly domination can't be ignored. James has developed into a remarkably complete, two-way player and his emerging post-up game has given him yet another element to torment opponents. While his struggles in the clutch and the Heat's bouts with inconsistency give ammunition to those who aren't fans of his style, his individual success shouldn't be downplayed, particularly with fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh missing time due to injury.

Kevin Love, Timberwolves: 26.6 points per game, 13.9 rebounds per game

The league's Most Improved Player a year ago made another quantum leap in his game this season, becoming one of the NBA's top scoring threat, as well as being considered the game's top power forward in the minds of many observers. Love was the league's rebounding champion last season -- he currently ranks second to the Magic's Dwight Howard in that category -- but he's expanded his game further, as evidenced by winning the All-Star weekend three-point shootout. With rookie sensation Ricky Rubio out for the season, Love has put the Timberwolves on his back and surprisingly has them in playoff contention for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era in Minnesota.

Chris Paul, Clippers: 19.4 points per game, 8.8 assists per game, 2.4 steals per game

The only member of the quintet not to lead his team in scoring -- though he's not far behind Blake Griffin -- Paul is third in the league in assists and ranks second in steals. His trade to the Clippers, which spawned the infamous "Lob City" moniker has done more than create highlights; Paul has made the perennially-moribund franchise relevant. Arguably the league's best pure playmaker, Paul instantly transformed the Clippers into a Western Conference contender, but with Griffin and other weapons also attracting attention, it's hard to say he stands out more than the other names on this list.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'


Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

High School Lites had five matchups between top-25 teams on Friday night as the Public League Playoff semifinals and big matchups in the CSL South, Catholic League Blue and SouthWest Suburban Blue took shape.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Palatine's Eduardo Orozco

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Maine West girls basketball


No. 1 Simeon holds off No. 4 Whitney Young

No. 2 Orr gets revenge on No. 3 Curie

No. 9 New Trier takes down No. 6 Evanston

No. 8 Fenwick handles No. 10 Loyola Academy

No. 23 Homewood-Flossmoor rallies past No. 18 Bolingbrook

Oswego East upsets No. 20 Joliet Central

Andrew shuts down Thornridge

Sandburg tops Lockport in OT

Richards runs by Shepard

Maine West captures second straight girls basketball regional title