- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- The worst-kept secret among NBA award recipients will be formally revealed Sunday when Miami Heat star LeBron James is named Most Valuable Player for the fourth time, league sources confirmed Friday.
James has been voted MVP for the second straight season and for the fourth time in the past five years. He'll join Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain with at least four MVP awards.
The only suspense remaining is in the final tally and how far James distanced himself in the voting from the other candidates this season, who include Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Heat are scheduling an awards presentation Sunday, and James also will be presented the MVP trophy by NBA commissioner David Stern at AmericanAirlines Arena at the start of their second-round series next week in Miami.
The Heat, who have been idle for a week, swept their first-round playoff series against Milwaukee and will face either Chicago or Brooklyn in the conference semifinals, starting Monday. The Bulls and Nets play Game 7 of their first-round series Saturday in Brooklyn.
James has said for weeks that he would be honored to be mentioned alongside Jordan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and Russell in MVP recognition. But James said Friday that he's more focused on the playoffs and helping the Heat defend their title.
"He's earned it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Friday's practice. "He's having an even more historic season than he's had the last two years. Most people probably didn't think he could go to a higher level after last season, yet he reinvented himself to show that he could. Our pinch-ourselves moment was when we signed him. But since we've had him, we don't take him for granted."
James averaged 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals and one block in 76 games in his 10th season in the league. He shot career-best percentages from the field (.565) and 3-point range (.406) and ranked in the top 10 in scoring, assists, steals and field-goal percentage among those who played in at least 70 games this season.
Last week, James finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting for the second time since 2009. He led the Heat to a franchise-best 66-16 finish, which included the best home record in team history and a 27-game winning streak that was the second-longest in NBA history, behind the 33-game streak set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
Heat center Chris Bosh said that after the season James has had, he can't imagine his teammate being anything other than a unanimous selection on the 120 first-place ballots submitted by media members and NBA broadcast analysts.
"I don't know who else you'd vote for -- no offense to nobody else, with all due respect," Bosh said in support of James. "But that's just how good he's played this year."
Abdul-Jabbar leads all players as a six-time MVP, and Russell is the only other to win the award four times in five years.
James, 28, will be the youngest in NBA history to hoist his fourth trophy, although Abdul-Jabbar won five by the age of 30.
"Anytime I'm mentioned with the greatest players to play the game, it's a wow factor," James said. "I grew up and studied those guys, watched those guys. A few of them were my inspiration."
In a span of 12 months, James has won the 2011-12 season MVP, was named Finals MVP after leading the Heat past the Thunder, and now another season MVP.
After improving his low-post game last season and become a far more efficient shooter this season, James is already committed to working on the next phase of his game.
"My free throw shooting," James said Friday, referring to his 75.3 percent success rate. "I want to -- I need to shoot in the 80s. That's my next goal. And then, just continue to do what I've been doing the last couple of years. But my free throw shooting is what I really want to zone in on."
8dEthan Sherwood Strauss