LeBron James is the MVP ... right?

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LeBron James is the MVP ... right?

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Whenever LeBron James gets asked about the NBA MVP award, he seems to answer carefully, as if to avoid any suggestion that he's campaigning for his third trophy. In fairness, James doesn't have to do much lobbying. Everyone else in the Miami Heat locker room takes care of that. And they say the James-for-MVP movement should be going strong. Not only did the Heat win a marquee game on Wednesday night -- they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 98-93 -- but James won a head-to-head matchup against the player who is generally considered to be his top competition in the MVP race. He finished with 34 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, while Kevin Durant had his 30-point night also marked by a career-worst nine turnovers. "Every night I go out on the court, I try to play like the MVP for our team," James told the reporters surrounding his locker after the game. "I've always said that. ... It doesn't matter to me. For us, we got better tonight as a team. And I was the MVP for our team and just trying to lead those guys, lead us to a victory. That's what it's all about." James might have been considered a lock for the MVP award a month ago, when he and the Heat were both rolling along. But just about everything after the All-Star break has been a grind for Miami, which gets Thursday off -- James said he would be looking for the city's best massage -- and plays host to Memphis on Friday. Scoring is down by nearly nine points a game. The Heat aren't shooting as well, teams are shooting a better percentage against them, and that's all happened while James has dealt with injury woes like a dislocated left ring finger, an achy elbow and the aftereffects of banging his head on the court in a hard fall against Phoenix last month. On Wednesday, James twisted his ankle falling over a videographer, winced and grabbed his back after some inadvertent contact with a referee, took what he thought was excessive contact twice while attempting dunks -- getting pulled down by Russell Westbrook from behind on one of those, a play James later described as "scary" and "dangerous" -- and gritted his teeth after his finger started bothering him again down the stretch. And even shooting 37 percent, Miami still won. "I think he's the best two-way player in this league," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He does it in a night-in, night-out basis and he does it in a way where most teams would not ask a player to shoulder that type of responsibility. But the fact remains: He must play at an MVP level at both ends of the court for us. We've talked about him playing like a defensive player of the year, to defend all five positions, while at the same time playing four positions offensively." James' two biggest plays against the Thunder may be ones that don't show up in the box score. Oklahoma City had two possessions in the final 4 minutes where it had shots for a one-point lead. James snuffed out both. He ran Westbrook down and blocked a layup with 3:49 left -- ironically, it was at the same spot on the court where Westbrook grabbed him around the left shoulder and right side of his waist and sent him sprawling to the floor two quarters earlier -- to preserve a 92-91 Heat edge. Then with 1:30 remaining, the score then 94-93, Durant backed James down on the low post and tried a turnaround. James contested it well, so well that not only did Durant miss, but his shot bounced off the top of the backboard. Oklahoma City didn't score again, and James and the Heat were soon enjoying their payback win. On March 25, James was held to 17 and the Heat lost at Oklahoma City 103-87. "A great player," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of James after Wednesday's game. "You're not going to hold down a great player often. He missed some shots the first time we played them and we made him take some tough ones. He was feeling good. His jump shot was falling and he was getting some buckets in transition." It's not a stretch to say that James wants his third MVP in four seasons, and in what probably is no surprise either, Durant acknowledged before the game that he would like to win the award. Durant thinks it's too early to have the conversation -- and when it is time, he indicated he'd be like James, saying he'd rather not tout his own merits. "I can't worry about that," Durant said when asked about his own MVP candidacy. "If you worry about that type of stuff, that's when you take your focus off the game, start doing stuff that you don't want to do on the floor. I can't worry about that. It's not in my control. All I can control is how hard I work, how hard I play, and whatever else falls in line after that, we'll see." The Heat say they saw plenty on Wednesday. "Two MVP candidates, you have to want that matchup," Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. "LeBron accepted the challenge and that's what we expect him to do as our leader and our MVP candidate. You have to step up to the plate and that's what he did."

Giardi: Butler's offseason may cut deep, but it's time for him to battle back

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Giardi: Butler's offseason may cut deep, but it's time for him to battle back

This hasn’t been easy for Malcolm Butler. None of it. He’s never been given anything. Hell, at times he’s pissed his future away. But with a tenacity that reminds you of a certain 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Butler has fought his way back, into college, into the pros and, in 2015 and 2016, into the upper echelon of NFL cornerbacks. He’s a two-time Super Bowl champ, making arguably the most memorable play in the history of that game.

He should be drinking in the adulation, savoring an incredible start to his career and a very lucrative future. Instead, he’s in both professional and Patriots purgatory. Free agency beckons but there’s a season to play, and as this is the only professional team he’s known, a burning desire to be recognized as an important piece, not just in the present, but the future of this organization as well.
 
One of his closest friends on the team, Dion Lewis, calls Butler a warrior. “The game means so much to him.”

Another teammate, fellow defensive back Devin McCourty said of Butler, “This is what he does. He competes.”

Duron Harmon insists that the 27-year-old corner has been the same guy he’s always been. Actually, they all say that. But clearly, the coaching staff sees something different, leading to Butler’s demotion Sunday in New Orleans. 
 
Bill Belichick has been short when talking about Butler dating all the way back to the spring. That hasn’t changed now that the games count. He’s dismissed past performance. All that matters is how you’re playing now. Butler has not established that same level. Why? There is no easy answer.
 
The lack of a new contract cuts deeply. The unsettling offseason -- was he going to be a Saint? -- left quite a mark as well. But Butler came back to Foxboro with purpose, reporting for voluntary workouts. He was hell-bent on proving to all -- Belichick included -- that he was still the lead dog, not Stephon Gillmore, despite the $31 million dollars in guaranteed money the organization forked over to the former Buffalo Bill.
 
That strategy worked for a time. Butler was one of the Pats best players in training camp, right up until the joint practices with the Texans midway through August. What happened? Butler doesn’t know. But one mistake became two. His play in the preseason game with Houston was poor. His confidence suffered. He started pressing. That didn’t help. Butler was just as bad at Detroit. The kid that had always answered a knockdown with one of his own, instead wobbled to his feet. The inconsistencies were evident in practice but the "he's-Malcolm-he'll-fix-it" thought process that teammates echoed didn’t prove true, at least not entirely.
 
According to Eric Rowe, the cornerbacks were informed of the role change at the beginning of last week. But other teammates said they didn’t realize Butler wasn’t starting until the walkthrough Saturday. The ensuing fallout wasn’t surprising -- HE’S MALCOLM BUTLER, SUPER BOWL HERO, DAMMIT -- but the worry around the team has been justified because Butler takes things to heart. His swagger comes from the game. That was stripped away prior to the game against the Saints, and even at the beginning of this week, leading into the Texans game. Butler had to get his head right. If his meeting with the media Thursday is an indication, he has.

But the proof is in the play. Butler has always known that. And while his play didn’t warrant a role reduction, another message has been sent by the powers that be in Foxboro. What happens next is all on Butler. His future depends on it.

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Patriots place Vincent Valentine on IR, promote Geneo Grissom

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Patriots place Vincent Valentine on IR, promote Geneo Grissom

FOXBORO -- Anyone hoping to see Vincent Valentine make his season debut got some bad news Friday. 

Valentine, who has been inactive for both of the Patriots' first two games with a knee injury, was placed on injured reserve. ESPN's Field Yates was first to report the news.

With Valentine on IR, Geneo Grissom was added to the roster from the practice squad. ESPN's Mike Reiss had that one first:

Valentine, whom the Pats chose 96th overall in 2016, has not been practicing with the team as he's dealt with the knee injury.

A third-round pick of the Pats in 2015, Grissom was released by the team in September and signed to the practice squad a day later.