The NBA has crowned a slam-dunk champ, a 3-pointer shooter, a skills master and Team Chuck this weekend. Now for the really important stuff, the Daily Herald midseason NBA awards:
Most valuable player: LeBron James, Heat
At this point, after leading Miami on a seven-game winning streak while averaging 32 points and shooting 69 percent from the field, James has another MVP award locked up.
Kevin Durant is keeping the pressure on, though, averaging 29.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 52 percent. Durant's going to win an MVP soon, just probably not this season.
Some have suggested Chris Paul, Tony Parker or Carmelo Anthony for the MVP race, but no one is hanging with James and Durant these days.
Coach of the year: George Karl, Nuggets
Karl has never won this award and as one of the all-time great interview subjects, he will be an easy sell for media voters. And it's well-deserved if Denver can keep up its current pace of fifth place in the West and rising.
Others in contention are New York's Mike Woodson, Memphis' Lionel Hollins, Golden State's Mark Jackson and maybe Tom Thibodeau if the Bulls stay strong without Derrick Rose.
Defensive player of the year: Larry Sanders, Bucks
This one's going to be very subjective, with Dwight Howard struggling with a bad back and torn labrum for the Lakers and New York's Tyson Chandler very unlikely to win a second year in a row.
The NBA, on it's new advanced stats website, has a category for defensive rating. Based on that, top candidates would be San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard, Indiana's Paul George and Memphis' Tony Allen.
Joakim Noah has gotten some support and could be a contender, based on the Bulls' reputation as a strong defensive team. Coach Tom Thibodeau recently called Luol Deng the league's best defender, and LeBron James always is a worthy candidate.
The call here is Sanders in a still wide-open race. The Bulls experienced firsthand Jan. 9 how the league's blocked-shot leader can shut down the paint.
Rookie of the year: Damian Lillard, Blazers
This one isn't even close right now, with Lillard averaging 18.3 points, well ahead of Cleveland's Dion Waiters (14.2 ppg) in the rookie scoring race. No. 1 pick Anthony Davis, with 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, has been pretty good, but he's in second place.
Sixth man: J.R. Smith, Knicks
This is shaping up as a three-man race between Smith, the Clippers' Jamal Crawford and Oklahoma City's Kevin Martin. Smith's 16.2 points off the bench, plus a few game-winning shots, takes the award.
Most improved player: Paul George, Pacers
This always is a tough one to pick, with too much credit going to second-year players who should show rapid improvement. George, in his third year, has done a nice job as a go-to scorer, something Indiana sorely needed.
Do we still have to pick a center, or are three front-line players sufficient? Chris Paul and Tony Parker are the guards, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are no-brainers. If the fifth man can be any front-line player, New York's Carmelo Anthony is the guy.
If it has to be a center, good luck. Brook Lopez? Chris Bosh? Al Jefferson? Joakim Noah? Tyson Chandler? If a ballot suddenly appeared on my computer screen, I'd probably go with Bosh.
The second team is the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Houston's James Harden, the Clippers' Blake Griffin, Indiana's Paul George and Golden State's David Lee. No center required.
Team to beat:
Miami is clearly on top after coasting to a win Thursday in Oklahoma City. Overall, though, the West is stronger, with San Antonio, the Thunder, Clippers, Memphis and Denver all ahead of the East's second contenders, New York and Indiana.
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