MIAMI (AP) - There has never been a unanimous MVP in the history of the NBA. Not Wilt Chamberlain, not Bill Russell, not Shaquille O’Neal, not Michael Jordan.
LeBron James might soon change that.
At least, the Miami Heat believe he should.
After finally winning that first NBA title last June, James was better than ever in his first year as a champion. He led the league in field goals, despite being seventh in shots attempted. He established career-bests in shooting percentage, 3-point percentage, rebounds per game and double-doubles _ and did it all while taking fewer shots per game than at any point in his 10-year career.
So those are just a few of the many reasons why the Heat are overwhelming favorites to win it all once again in these playoffs, which open this weekend. Miami will meet Milwaukee in a first-round series starting Sunday night.
“Numbers aren’t why I play this game of basketball,” James said. “Numbers have never been why I play the game. That’s not how I was taught to play the game.”
James has said he plays for only one thing _ titles.
“He came off one of the more historical MVP seasons with a championship. Most people, the human condition would have been to relax and say, `OK, that’s the pinnacle,’” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But instead, he wanted to push and find another barrier. And that’s why we don’t want to, he doesn’t want to, put a ceiling on how far he can go. … He’s a player that could conceivably continue to get better.”
James shot 56.5 percent this season and made 103 3-pointers _ no one in league history has ever shot so well and made so many shots in a season from beyond the arc. In the metric known as PAR, that being an acronym for points, assists and rebounds per game, James led the league by for the fifth time in six seasons. He led the league in field goals, but was only seventh in shots attempted. He could have missed 348 more shots and still finished with a better shooting percentage than scoring champion Carmelo Anthony.
“It’s a historic regular season,” said Heat forward Shane Battier, who believes James should be the unanimous MVP. “We may never see numbers like this and performance like this _ on both ends _ like we saw this year.”
James‘ final numbers: 26.8 points, 8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Since the league began charting steals four decades ago, only Jordan and Larry Bird have put up similar numbers in a season.
“I’ve been playing this game for a long, long time,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “I’ve seen a lot of players. I’ve played in Europe, played in a lot of different places and hands-down he’s the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do on the basketball court.”
The Heat were 61-15 with James in the lineup this season, going 21-10 when he took 19 shots or more, and 40-5 _ a significantly better record _ when he took no more than 18 attempts. When he had at least eight assists, they were darn close to unbeatable, going 28-3 in those contests.
And he nearly put up a perfect shooting game along the way this season, going 13 for 14 in a win over Charlotte. The one miss was a layup, and it appeared he was fouled.
“Greatness always looks for something to get better,” said Doug Collins, who coached Philadelphia this season. “I had the great fortune of being around Michael Jordan and he always came back a better player. … And that’s what LeBron has done, the way he’s shooting the ball, over 40 percent from 3, 56 percent from the field. You get him in the open court, you can’t stop him. Not only that, but he’s the best defensive player in the league at his position.”