Love a legitimate MVP candidate

718536.jpg

Love a legitimate MVP candidate

MINNEAPOLIS Every year, there are clear-cut favorites for the NBA's MVP race.

This year, you have the likes of defending league MVP Derrick Rose of Chicago, Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City, Miami's LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, in the mix.

But as the season progresses, there's usually one player who comes out of nowhere and enters the MVP conversation.

Minnesota's Kevin Love is that player.

The numbers he's putting up this year - 26.3 points and 13.9 rebounds per game - aren't just good.

They are the kind of numbers we haven't seen in decades.

The last player to finish a season with that many points and that many rebounds per game was Moses Malone in 1982, which just so happened to be one of the years in which Malone was named league MVP.

But there's one difference between what Malone did and what Love is doing now.

That team Malone played for, went to the postseason.

The Timberwolves (25-27) are currently 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"The window's closing," said Love, referring to the Timberwolves' postseason hopes. "So we definitely have to try and win a large majority of these games."

As much as Love would love the focus for Friday's game to be on the Timberwolves and their chances at making the playoffs, it was another Kevin - Garnett, the former Minnesota star - whose return had the place buzzing.

With Love's play catapulting him to young superstar status, the comparisons abound between him and Garnett, the last young superstar in the Twin Cities.

You can count Love among those who grew up a fan of Kevin Garnett when he played in Minnesota.

"I was a jersey owner of Garnett back in the day," Love admitted. "Him and Tim Duncan those type of guys; those are guys I looked up to when I was very young; guys still in this league I'm fortunate enough to play against. It's a dream come true for me, but at the end of the day I know I have to come out and help my team win a basketball game by any means."

Aside from having the same first name, Love doesn't believe there's a lot in common with his game and Garnett's style of play.

"It's really an unfair comparison," Love said. "He's a once-in-a-lifetime type player. If I can do some of the things he did for this franchise, it would be nice. But more than anything, I want to win. And he brought a lot of winning years to this franchise. More than anything, hopefully I can emulate that."

Curran: Relentless Patriots proving that living well is the best revenge

Curran: Relentless Patriots proving that living well is the best revenge

FOXBORO -- There's a clock on the wall in the weight room at Tom Brady's house.

When the Patriots lost to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game last January, Brady's father told me his son set the clock to count away the days, hours, minutes and seconds until Super Bowl 51. That clock has just 13 days left on it now. It won't require a sad resetting this week.

Brady won't be around to see it hit zeroes. He'll be in Texas playing in his record seventh Super Bowl. As planned.

PATRIOTS 33, STEELERS 9

HERE THEY COME, ROGER

The Patriots are the last team the NFL apparatus wanted to see in Houston and now the boogeyman's at their door, proving that living well is the best revenge.

Nowhere to run to, Roger. Nowhere to hide. The rules apply to everyone and there's a rule that we all learn sooner or later is very true. What goes around comes around. We all have it coming, kid.

We imagine Brady is clearing his throat for the delicious last laugh, but he's said it a hundred different ways in the past four months: Vengeance and vindication aren't driving him. That's wasted energy. Poison.

He's focused on what's immediately in front of him while reminding himself time's fleeting. The best way for him to help his team during his four-game exile in September was to work out relentlessly, which he did so that when he returned he was as good as he's ever been.

And in his absence, his team understood the best way to honor him while he was gone was to take care of business. Which they did beginning September 12 in Arizona when, instead of playing rudderless football without their on-field leader, they began a 3-1 run with a combination of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.

"Yeah, well we never dwell on that," Bill Belichick began when I asked him Sunday night about the obstacles the team's had in front of it beginning in September and through the rest of the season. "We take the hand that we're dealt and play the cards . . .

"You referenced the beginning of the year, but it's been true in every game, really," Belichick added. "It's a credit to those guys. It's a credit to the depth on our team and the way that those guys prepare. They work hard. They don't know if they're going to get an opportunity or not and then when it finally comes and they do get it, they're usually ready to take advantage of it and help the team win. That's why we're where we are. We have a special team, a special group of guys that really work hard. They deserve the success that they've had. I mean, it's hard to win 16 games in this league. You've got to give a lot of credit to the players and the job they've done all year week after week. It's tough, but they come in and grind it out. They sit in these seats for hours, and hours, and hours, and prepare, and prepare, and go out there and lay it on the line every week. Again, it's a good group of men."

Beginning in the offseason with the trade of Chandler Jones to the start of the season with the Brady suspension to the stunning trade of Jamie Collins, the loss of Rob Gronkowski and a defense that was scoffed at on a weekly basis, the Patriots have weathered all of it to get to this point.

"One More" is the marketing slogan this team's had affixed to it.

"Bend Don't Break" is much more apt. Because they never did.

It's a phrase that's been framed as a slight by when used to describe the New England defense this season but safety Duron Harmon had a different interpretation.

"I don't know. I kind of like it," he said. "It just shows the type of toughness and mental toughness we have. Even when the situation might seem terrible or might seem bad, we have enough mental toughness to come out and make a positive out of it."

Harmon and Patrick Chung hauled down Steelers tight end Jesse James inches short of a touchdown just before halftime. The Patriots defense held after that, forcing Pittsburgh to settle for a deflating field goal. Instead of a 17-13 lead at halftime, the Pats led 17-9.

"Right then and there, a lot of people are thinking that's seven points, but that's a four-point turnover basically," said Harmon. "Just hold them to three and that really helped us with the momentum going into [halftime]."

When one considers all the collateral damage of Deflategate and the fortunes of the antagonists and protagonists since, it's . . . well, it's telling.

The Colts canned tattletale GM Ryan Grigson on Saturday and are in disarray. The Ravens missed the playoffs again. Owners who fingerwagged and wanted to see the Patriots brought to heel like John Mara, Bob McNair, Jerry Jones and Jerry Richardson have teams that were either bounced from the playoffs or didn't even make them.

And the Patriots are headed to Houston anyway. Despite all their best efforts.

"I think it's a great story, but I think right now our focus is got to go out to Houston in a couple of weeks and try to win it," said Devin McCourty when asked about the revenge angle. "I think that makes the story even better."