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Thursday, April 25, 2013
LeBron upset at finishing second

By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com

MILWAUKEE -- LeBron James isn't happy with finishing second in voting for the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award for the second time in his decorated career.

"It sucks," James said Thursday as he prepared for Game 3 of the Miami Heat's first-round playoff series against Milwaukee. "It definitely sucks, though, finishing second. Who wants to finish second?"

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol beat out James for the award after receiving 212 points and 30 first-place votes among a panel of media members and analysts. James finished with 149 points and 14 first-place votes.

James stopped short of criticizing Gasol's defensive merits, but the Heat star said he probably put together the best defensive effort of his career this season.

James It sucks. It definitely sucks, though, finishing second. Who wants to finish second?

-- LeBron James on finishing second for Defensive Player of Year

James averaged career highs in defensive rebounds (6.8) and overall rebounds (8.0), along with 1.7 steals and 1 block per game. But his defensive impact is measured more than the versatility that has seen James defend all five positions at times during the past three seasons with the Heat.

Gasol averaged 7.8 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and one steal for a Grizzlies defense that allowed a league-low 88.7 points per game. The biggest case on Gasol's behalf was that Memphis was 6.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Gasol was on the floor.

James believes his defensive talent is unique.

"I guard everybody on the floor," James said while sitting at his locker in Milwaukee. "I don't know if it's one player in NBA history that's guarded 1 (point guards) through 5 (centers). It's over with now, but it's cool."

The variety of defensive assignments have taken somewhat of a toll on James. But he said he's never complained or turned down a matchup if the team needed his services. Against Milwaukee, James is likely to defend point guard Brandon Jennings at one stage, and later help in the paint on center Larry Sanders.

"I have to know all the likes and dislikes, pros and cons, of each and every player in this league because at some point, I'm going to be matched up with them," James said. "It's a challenge for me mentally and physically."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has also campaigned on James' behalf for more consideration as one of the league's top defensive players. Even before Gasol was officially announced as the award winner, Spoelstra said he would like to see James break through soon as the winner.

"I think he's deserving every year," Spoelstra said earlier this week. "Possibly in the eyes of other people, they take him for granted, his impact defensively. He guards 1 through 5 every night and he knows and accepts the challenge. In the fourth quarter, whoever the biggest threat is, that's who he's guarding."

James' comments about finishing second were eerily similar to statements made by Kevin Durant during an interview for a Sports Illustrated cover story this week.

Durant finished second to James in MVP voting last season, and James is expected to beat him out again to win his fourth MVP award when results are announced in May.

Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder also lost to James and the Heat in five games in the NBA Finals last season.

"I've been second my whole life," Durant told Sports Illustrated. "I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft, I've been second in MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I'm tired of being second. I'm not going to settle for that. I'm done with it."

James, who also finished second in defensive player of the year voting in 2009 behind Dwight Howard, smiled Thursday as he said he was aware of Durant's comments. But James declined to respond, other than to say his overall game has improved this season.

"It's just about consistency," James said. "It's just being there for my teammates every time I'm on the floor, and being a leader every time I'm on the floor or off the floor."