LeBron for MVP, Rockets for MVT?

Look, I know I’ve been harping on this for awhile, but how could LeBron James NOT be the MVP.

Yes, Kobe Bryant has the Lakers atop the Western Conference, but he’s got Lamar Odom, a half-season of Pau Gasol and a half-season of Andrew Bynum.

Yes, Chris Paul has been outstanding, but as good as he’s been, he doesn’t even lead the league in assists (that would be the worst 2-time MVP ever, Steve Nash).

LeBron leads the league in scoring (because he has to for the Cavs to win), also chips in 8 boards and 7.4 assists per game. The only guys to put up numbers like that are MJ and Oscar, which is incredible company.

More importantly in the MVP race, without LeBron, I’m not sure the Cavs would be a playoff team, even in the dreadful Eastern Conference, even after making their big trade. Ben Wallace and Joe Smith weren’t going anywhere with the Bulls. Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West weren’t going anywhere with the Sonics. But stick them with LeBron and suddenly they’re key pieces in what could be an NBA Finals team.

Speaking of teams that could be NBA Finals teams, how about the Rockets? They’ve now won 18 straight. With 3 more wins (very possible, as their next 3 games are against terrible Eastern Conference foes) they’ll have the 2nd-longest win streak in NBA history -- they need to win 16 more to have sole possession of the longest streak. Now, is Houston a potential NBA champ? I don’t think so, but let’s take a look at the previous teams that won at least 18 straight:

1969-70 Knicks: won 18 straight
This team was led by Willis Reed and Walt Frazier, who both averaged better than 20 points. Coach Red Holzman led a group with 5 future Hall-of-Famers, and they beat the Lakers in the Finals in 7 games.

1981-82 Celtics: won 18 straight
They had the Big Three (original edition). They had Cedric Maxwell, Tiny Archibald and a deep bench. They went 63-19 in the regular season, before losing a hard-fought 7-game series to the Dr. J/Andrew Toney 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

1995-96 Bulls: won 18 straight
The greatest team ever. Given that they won 72 games, it’s hard to believe their longest win streak was “only” 18 games. But they had a 13-game win streak just before the 18-game streak, separated by a 6-point loss at Indiana. If they’d won that Pacers game, their streak would have been 32 games heading into Denver (where the 18-game streak ended). This team obviously won the title.

1999-00 Lakers: won 19 straight
Now we get into the longer streaks. The Kobe/Shaq Lakers came together in the first year of the Phil Jackson era, and just dominated the league. In addition to this 19-game streak in February and March, they also won 16 straight in Dec./Jan. and 11 straight immediately following the 19-game streak. They nearly lost to the Blazers in the conference Finals, but had the huge comeback in Game 7 and went on to win the title.

1970-71 Bucks: won 20 straight
This was the longest win streak in NBA history for a season (breaking the record the ‘69-70 Knicks set a year earlier). A team with Kareem and Oscar? That just doesn’t seem fair. Kareem averaged 31 and 16, while Oscar averaged 19 and 8 assists. In addition to the 20-game streak, they ripped off a 16-gamer right after starting the season 1-1. They went 12-2 in the postseason, including an NBA Finals sweep.

1971-72 Lakers: won 33 straight
This streak is just absurd. The Lakers, who lost to the Bucks in the West Finals the season before, were 6-3 when longtime star Elgin Baylor retired. So how did L.A. respond to the loss of a legend? They won 33 straight games! It’s not like Baylor’s retirement left them short-handed. They still had Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich pouring in the points. They went on to win a then-record 69 games (amazingly, their 33-game streak was their only streak of more than 8 games) and they won the title. Two interesting notes: Bill Sharman was in his first year coaching the team, having come over from the ABA, and future Lakers coach Pat Riley was on the team, providing depth off the bench.

Are this year’s Rockets as good as any of these teams? Probably not. But let’s enjoy this streak while we can.