MVP: LeBron James, Miami

A three-time winner already, he’s such a predictable pick…and such a right one again this season. He’s part point guard, part shooting guard/small forward, part big man, not to mention a versatile defender whose work gets overlooked in that department and a stunningly efficient 56-percent shooter from the field.

Contenders: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers; Carmelo Anthony, New York; James Harden, Houston.

Top sixth man: Jarrett Jack, Golden State

J.R. Smith probably is the favorite for his late-season surge and Jamal Crawford gets a lot of pub, but let’s go with an underrated, multi-dimensional pick. Steph Curry, David Lee and Klay Thompson get all the credit, but the Warriors wouldn’t be where they are — the playoffs — without this guy off the bench.

Contenders: Smith, New York; Crawford, L.A. Lakers; Ryan Anderson, New Orleans; Manu Ginobili, San Antonio.

Most improved: Paul George, Indiana

Sorry, Wolves fans, I gotta do it. The guy the Wolves would have been in position to pick if they were willing to trade Jonny Flynn for the 2010 draft’s 10th pick has blossomed into a bona-fide star. He’ll play shooting guard at 6-10 and is turning into a hellacious defender as well.

Contenders: Larry Sanders, Milwaukee; Nikola Vukevic, Orlando; Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia; Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans.

Top rookie: Damian Lillard, Portland

This contest was over almost before it started, due to Anthony Davis’ season-starting injuries. Lillard was near unstoppable in games against the Wolves, and against just about everybody else. Even Kobe Bryant gushed last week over a guy who sure looks like your classic scoring point guard.

Contenders: Bradley Beal, Washington; Davis, New Orleans.

Top defender: Tony Allen, Memphis

So many shot blockers get consideration (see the list of contenders below), but let’s go off the board for a shooting guard, underrated even after all these years. He’s a tenacious perimeter defender in a perimeter-oriented league.

Contenders: Sanders; Joakim Noah, Chicago; Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City; Tim Duncan, San Antonio; Marc Gasol, Memphis; Roy Hibbert, Indiana; Avery Bradley, Boston.

Coach of the Year: George Karl, Denver

He claims he doesn’t want it because the winner often gets fired a year or two later, but there’s no denying the job done by a guy who has won more 1,100 games but never has won this award. He’s knitted a collection of players with nary a superstar into a team aimed at winning more games than any Nuggets team since they played in the ABA.

Contenders: Tom Thibodeau, Chicago; Erik Spoelstra, Miami; Gregg Popovich, San Antonio; Kevin McHale, Houston.

Executive of the Year: Daryl Morey, Houston

The stats geek hired a coach who can barely turn on a computer and then last offseason completely rebuilt a team that will make the playoffs. He fashioned creative contracts to sign free agents Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, landed the star he sought in a trade that brought James Harden from Oklahoma City and has done so much acquiring other pieces that you almost forget he drafted Royce White.

Contender: Masai Ujiri, Denver.


F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; F LeBron James, Miami; C Tim Duncan, San Antonio; G Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers; G Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers


Do you believe in ...?

The Los Angeles Clippers are headed toward the playoffs as Pacific Division champs for the first time after beating the hometown rival Lakers last week for that distinction.

“It means a lot, it means we’re heading in the right direction,” said Clippers guard Chris Paul, whose team swept the season series from the Lakers for the first time since Donald Sterling bought the team in 1981. “There was no cake, no champagne popping or anything like that in the locker room. We understand that this is something small compared to the big picture.”

Streak busters

Last month, the injury-depleted Chicago Bulls ended Miami’s 27-game winning streak — second longest in NBA history — at home.

Last week, they ended New York’s 13-game winning streak at home on a night when the Knicks played without Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire, Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin while the Bulls remain without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

This time, it took overtime, and a 118-111 decision to sweep the Knicks 4-0 in the season series.
“They can have it,” Knicks star Carmelo Anthony told reporters afterward. “They can have the regular season.”

Melo chimes in

The Bulls are heading toward the playoffs with that streak-busting momentum, but don’t expect Rose to be back with them.

Rose has been cleared to play for weeks, but still doesn’t have the confidence in his surgically repaired knee to do so.

“I wish y’all would stop rushing Derrick, please,” Anthony said before Thursday’s loss to the Bulls. “If he can’t compete at a high level, then what’s a couple more months going to do? I don’t think he should come back, and that’s just my opinion. … I feel bad for him because I know he’s got to deal with that question every day. And nobody on the outside really knows what he’s really going through, what his body is going through.”
Monday: 7 p.m. vs. Utah (Ch. 29)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. at San Antonio (Ch. 29)

Player to watch:
Danny Green, San Antonio

Knowing San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs may very well be in full-rest mode for the playoffs rather than fighting Oklahoma City for the West’s top spot by the season’s final day.


« No, I don’t, but that’s what I’m wondering. »
— Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor when asked late in an injury-ravaged season if he believes in curses.