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No disrespect to his individual success, but the lame-duck Sonics are irrelevant, just the way owner Clay Bennett intended in order to turn off the fans and grease his reptilian slide to Oklahoma City. So, who cares?

Transitory Spur Luis Scola (28 on April 20, and vastly experienced in Europe and Argentina) surprisingly got off to a slow start with the Rockets. Once he stopped deferring to McGrady, he came on strong, averaging 10 points, 6.2 rebounds and 51.4 percent from the field. Nevertheless, Gregg Popovich remains a genius.

MOST IMPROVED (amassing stats for a licensed loser earns a disqualification) — Hedo Turkoglu is averaging a career-high 19.6 points and 4.9 assists, as well as 5.9 rebounds and flushing 40 percent of his treys. Coaches should have voted him to the All-Star game. They can't deny he has become the league's most versatile European.

Rajon Rondo is averaging one "Tommy (Heinsohn hustle) Point." That says it all. His growth has been dramatic, forceful and inclusive. It's nice to have title-tested Sam Cassell in reserve just in case Rondo is overcome by playoff pressure, but it best be brief. The Celtics cannot do without their precocious point guard's defense, infiltration, speed, 10.5 points, 5.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 49-percent field-goal shooting.

Mike Dunleavy's scoring average has gone from 12.8 to 18.8, a 45-percent leap. His assists (3.4) are up 35 percent. His FG (.475) and 3-point (.422) and free-throw percentage (.842) are career highs. Before this season, he played in 399 games and produced a single 30-point-plus performance. This season he has manufactured nine and has been above 20 points 27 times.

SIXTH MAN — Manu Ginobili is averaging a Spur-high 19.6 points along with 4.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds. Only in America can someone who starts less than El Duque (Orlando Hernandez) receive such an honor. No one else is close.

DEFENSE — Kevin Garnett's commanding and demanding presence transformed the Celtics into the league's co-stingiest at 90.28 (tied with the Pistons), nine fewer than last season, while limiting opponents to .419 field goal percentage.

Marcus Camby is first in blocks (3.58), second in boards (13.3) and leads the league in being the only one back.

FIRST TEAM (no sub-.500's) — Kobe, Paul, LeBron, Garnett, Tim Duncan.

SECOND TEAM — Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki.

THIRD TEAM — Allen Iverson, Paul Pierce, Carlos Boozer, Tracy McGrady, the Pistons' starting five.

THE HOT PLATE WILLIAMS "Are You Gonna Finish That?" AWARD goes to Jerome James for another svelte season. Henceforth we shall refer to James as "Carpe Per Diem" . . . as in "Seize the Meal Money."


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 14, 2008

News » West winner should determine MVP


West winner should determine MVP


West winner should determine MVP
With yet another irregular season coming to an end next Wednesday, I sense no better time to publish how I plan to fill in my blank ballots for the NBA's annual awards.

MVP — I can go with either Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul and have done so repeatedly over the last few weeks on NBATV. Because I cannot make up my mind, I'm choosing whichever player takes his team higher in the Western Conference.

First or second, Kobe is well worth the price of admission or staying up until 1 a.m. on the East Coast 95 percent of the time, as long as you don't mind his man scoring nearly as many as he does. His stats and perfect attendance are sensational (28.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists) considering he didn't allow a tumultuously negative offseason (of his own design) affect his game.

At the same time, he is not solely responsible for the Lakers' soaring in the standings. Yes, he makes teammates better, but they deserve a lot of credit, too, for improving (Andrew Bynum, a prime example) on their own, and the incoming player (Pau Gasol) made Kobe better. Furthermore, if Bryant wasn't setting up perimeter shooters and drivers for dunks, Lamar Odom is almost as capable. Contrary to popular distortion Kobe does not deserve this honor based on Lifetime Achievement, but strictly on this simonized season. Only once in 11 previous seasons (eight spent alongside Shaquille O'Neal) was he so much as a legitimate candidate, and Steve Nash simply outdid him.

Paul, on the other hand, is responsible for just about every thought and deed leading to a Hornets basket — his own, a team top 21.2 points, and teammates, 11.5 dimes, an inhuman 4.6-to-1 assist-turnover ratio. That adds up to nearly 44 points per game, five more than Kobe. Plus, Paul is the NBA's steal leader. Who knew Wake Forest would be such a hotbed after Tim Duncan, Muggsy Bogues, Len Chappell and Billy Packer left town?

LeBron James has far less help on the Cavaliers than the above two co-favorites, so it probably is unfair I have got him third. I can't imagine Bryant or Paul leading them to a better (43-36) record, just as I can imagine LBJ suing teammates for non-support. I don't want to say the Cavs' confidence is waning, but I hear they've voted former teammate Larry Hughes a full share of playoff blame.

COACH (teams flaunting legit MVP aspirants aren't eligible in my mind) — Rick Adelman's Rockets defied logic by winning 22 games in row, 14 after Yao Ming, the team's leading scorer, rebounder, shot blocker and free-throw shooter, went down for the count. Pat Riley would have reported straight to surgery. Adelman regrouped, adjusted the system to fit the available players, and guided (the persistently wounded) Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier and a huddle of hand-me-downs, no-names, leftovers and castoffs to 54 victories.

Nobody expected Maurice Cheeks to survive this season. Most figured he would be dismissed a month or two after team president Billy King. The disrespected young Sixers were a consensus pick to end up in last place in the Atlantic Division. Yet they regained the support of their fans, got over .500, made the playoffs, and Cheeks earned a mid-year extension.

Nate McMillian's Blazers were the first-half feel-good story, winning 13 straight at one juncture despite not having the services of Greg Oden for a single possession. An injury to James Jones and a death in Brandon Roy's family terminated the team's fantasy run, but it nonetheless far exceeded expectations. The rapid development of its kiddy core is directly linked to McMillian's demand for discipline, selflessness and brain power.

ROOKIE — Hawks center Al Horford is the lone frosh in the first five (scoring, 10.1 and rebounding, 9.6) whose team is primed to play past next week. Kevin Durant is the leading plebe (20 ppg) by far.

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