LOS ANGELES — Of the several factors apparently ruining LeBron James’ bid for a fifth MVP this season, one reared its head here Saturday night when the Cavs rested him from a 30-point loss to the Clippers.
Most valuable players typically don’t miss games.
To be fair, it was not James’ choice to sit the Cavs’ 108-78 loss to the Clippers. He was, in fact, upset about it. The organization’s deep thinkers made the call, knowing that Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were going to be held out, too.
But when it comes to the NBA and its MVPs, this kind of thing doesn’t happen.
James has missed six games this season. Only one — because of a case of strep throat in late February — was for anything other than “rest.”
The last player to miss six games and still win MVP was, well, James, in 2012-13 for the Miami Heat. Dating back to 1967, however, the league’s MVP has averaged nearly 80 games a season (out of 82).
In 2000-01, Allen Iverson won the award with Philadelphia despite missing 11 games. Since, the league’s 15 award winners averaged just 2.6 missed games per year.
I looked at this issue two seasons ago, when James was on his way to missing a career-high 13 games (mostly to injury). The theme was true then and now. Stephen Curry, who won the last two MVPs, missed two and three games in his two award-winning seasons, respectively.
And this year’s two front runners — Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook — have not missed a game for their respective teams.
Media members pick the NBA MVP. They could overlook James’ missed games, or override them, if you will, and hand him the award. He would tie Michael Jordan and Bill Russell for second all time if that happened, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to.
In a survey of NBA media last week by the Washington Post, James was fourth in MVP voting, behind Harden, Westbrook, and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard. He’s finished third in each of the last two seasons.
James is averaging 26 points, up nearly a point from the last two seasons, as well as career highs in rebounds (8.4 per game) and assists (8.9). He is second in the league in minutes (37.5 per game). The Cavs have lost all six of the games he’s missed, which makes them 45-17 when he’s on the court.
James is having an MVP-caliber season, save for the number of games he’s missed. He’ll almost surely miss even more — at least two — as the Cavs try to preserve him for what they hope is a seventh consecutive Finals run. No player has done this in 50 years.
Even if James played a few more regular-season games here and there, he probably still wouldn’t win MVP. Westbrook’s averaging a triple-double for a team that lost Kevin Durant; Harden is dominating for a Rockets team that is making real noise in the West.
But, historically speaking, these nights off are a death knell for James’ MVP chances.