LeBron James seemed to downplay his feelings about last season’s MVP results after his Los Angeles Lakers defeated Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. This was a far cry from what transpired when asked about it last year.
Despite leading L.A. to the best record in the West while topping the NBA in assists in 2019-20, James received 16 of 101 first-place votes, as the award went to Antetokounmpo for the second consecutive season.
🤣🤣16 out of 101 🗳! Ok cool! I got y’all.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 19, 2020
At the time, James didn’t hide his displeasure towards the voting tally.
“Not saying that the winner wasn’t deserving of the MVP … But that pissed me off,” he said. “And I finished second a lot in my career, either from a championship, and now four times as an MVP. … I never came into this league to be MVP or to be a champion. I’ve always just wanted to get better and better every single day, and those things will take care of itself. But some things is just out of my hand and some things you can’t control.”
Antetokounmpo averaged 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 5.6 assists in 2019-20, and also beat out James teammate’, Anthony Davis, to earn Defensive Player of the Year honors.
“I’m not going to sit up here and talk about what the criteria should be or what it is,” James added. “Sometimes it’s the best player on the best team. Sometimes it’s the guy with the best season statistically. … Giannis had a hell of a season, I can definitely say that.”
Of course, James earned a championship ring and Finals MVP — the two pieces of hardware that Antetokounmpo covets the most.
In Thursday’s showdown at the Fiserv Forum, James let his game do the talking. Both stars brought playoff-level energy to the matchup, but it was the 36-year-old who showed why, on any given night, he remains the best — and most valuable — basketball player on the planet, no matter who the MVP trophy belongs to in any given season.
Besides two meetings at the rim, James bested Antetokounmpo throughout L.A.’s 113-106 win. He was aggressive from the jump, and eclipsed 30 points for the first time this season. Overall, the four-time MVP finished with 34 points on 13-of-25 shooting, adding eight assists and six rebounds. His defense was staunch and focused, especially when locked in one-on-one battles against Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
Like the rest of his team, James’s jumper was money throughout the evening. He nailed six of his 10 three-point attempts, and his favorite reverse-pivot fadeaway was working, too.
His approach marked a notable contrast from his previous performance. On Monday, he scored just 19 points on 6-of-16 shooting in the Lakers’ historic collapse to the Golden State Warriors and missed a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.
On Thursday, from nearly the same spot, James sunk a deep dagger to put the Lakers up by eight with one-minute remaining. He celebrated before the ball splashed through the net, hoisting three fingers in the air and turning to face the Lakers bench (a recent theme). A two-handed dunk with 15.5 seconds left further cemented the victory.
LeBron James puts the Bucks to sleep 💦pic.twitter.com/WS3fne8IXB
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) January 22, 2021
Antetokounmpo was productive (25 points, 11-17 FG, 12 rebounds), but seemed a bit over-hyped for the high-profile opportunity to prove last year’s MVP voters right. He set a regrettable career-high with nine turnovers and got away with multiple charges on reckless forays into the paint. He fouled out in the final minute.
Davis added 18 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks. Once again, the Lakers got a major boost from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who hit seven of 10 threes for a season-high 23 points.
James chalked up his and his team’s motivated efforts to the sloppy outing on Monday, rather than lingering bitterness over last season’s MVP vote.
“It’s never been about individual. It’s all about the team success,” James said in his postgame remarks. “That’s what it’s all about. … I just think that we didn’t like the way we finished the game off against Golden State.”
Davis also chose to focus on the present.
“That was last season,” he said about the MVP and DPOY voting. “Honestly, no one had brought that up or talk about it. … Our motivation was not to lose on the road tonight.”
Maybe so, but the Lakers’ star duo certainly played like they had something to prove against the back-to-back MVP – on both sides of the ball (even if their coach wasn’t particularly impressed.)
Certainly, the MVP award was on the mind of Jared Dudley after his teammate’s dominance.
— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) January 22, 2021
The win moved the defending champions to a league-best 12-4 and continued the team’s franchise-record eight-game road winning streak to start the season. The Lakers will next face the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on Saturday for the second test of the seven-game, 12-day road swing.
Notably, James’s squads are now 16-5 against Antetokounmpo’s Bucks.