MIAMI - LeBron James matches up against point guards at times, centers at other times, and has been known to guard players from both positions in the same game.
That's why the Miami Heat think he will eventually win the NBA's defensive player of the year award.
It just won't happen this season.
James was second to Memphis' Marc Gasol in the balloting released by the NBA on Wednesday. He's the overwhelming favorite to win what would be his fourth MVP in the last five seasons — but he won't complete the rare DPOY-MVP double, previously pulled off by only Michael Jordan in 1988 and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994.PHOTOS: LeBron in action
"I would like to see him one day be considered for, and achieve, the defensive player of the year," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday, before his team boarded a plane for Milwaukee and Thursday night's Game 3 of the teams' Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, which Miami leads 2-0. "I think he's deserving every year. Possibly, in the eyes of other people, maybe you take for granted his impact defensively."
In the last five seasons, James has finished second, fourth, ninth, fourth and now second again in the defensive balloting.
This year's race was particularly wide open, with Gasol appearing on just 60 of the 121 ballots cast and James getting listed as first, second or third on 47 ballots — meaning 61 percent of broadcasters and sportswriters who voted didn't even have him in the top three this season.
James finished this season with 129 steals and 67 blocked shots — the only player in the league to post that many in each category.
"Certain people have certain things they can't do," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "LeBron can do everything."
Spoelstra said one of the many reasons why the Heat wanted to land James so badly three years ago was his commitment to playing on both ends of the court.
He points to the way James was coached in his high school and AAU days and how that built a strong defensive base in his game, and also lauded Mike Brown — who coached James in Cleveland, and whose return as coach of the Cavaliers became official on Wednesday — for instilling more of a defensive background into James' repertoire.
In Miami, James' defensive play has found even another gear, Spoelstra said.
"He guards with us (point guard) through (center), every single night," Spoelstra said. "He knows it. He accepts that challenge. And then in the fourth quarter it's whoever the biggest threat against us, that's who he's guarding."
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