Tag:LeBron James
Posted on: February 24, 2012 1:39 am
Edited on: February 24, 2012 1:48 am
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Report Card: Sanity reigns


The Heat&nbsp''s defense swarmed the Knicks on Thursday in a win. (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore 

Each night, Eye on Basketball brings you what you need to know about the games of the NBA. From great performances to terrible clock management the report card evaluates and eviscerates the good, the bad, and the ugly from the night that was.

Notable Games: 
Miami 102 New York 88
Oklahoma City 100 Lakers 85

Heat's Defense Miami trapped on the pick and roll, attacked Jeremy Lin at halfcourt on his dribble, contested at the rim with Joel Athony, and made Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire disappear. Individually they are impressive. Collectively they are dominant.
LeBron James His 7-16 shooting percentage is the only thing keeping him from an A. Because James sets the bar just that high. 20 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals, 2 blocks. That's pretty absurd. His defensive work and ability to run the break and control the pace of the game was complete. Another MVP performance.
Joel Anthony How do you only get six boards as a starting center, score no points and get an A? Five blocks, and constantly limit every single baseline and wing penetration. Anthony was outmatched in terms of talent, as he usually is, and played brilliantly, as he has for most of this season.
Chris Bosh The only member of the Big 3 for Miami with a good shooting night, Bosh just kept plugging filling in baseline jumpers and at one point, shook Tyson Chandler something fierce with a step back jumper. Bosh continues a great season he gets no credit for.
Jeremy Lin Yes, he was tired. Yes, it was one of the best defenses in the league. And yes, everyone gets an off nigh. But Lin must cut down on his turnovers. This is not a usage issue. Four turnovers, five turnovers, sure. Lin had six in the first half, eight total, and that just kills everything New York does well with him. Lin did his best, but the bar has been raised for Lin and he couldn't reach it against the best competition he's had.
Amar'e Stoudemire If anyone sees Amar'e Stoudemire, please let us know. He hasn't been seen since the first half against Miami.
Carmelo Anthony Anthony looked good in the first half, moving the ball and moving without it. Then in the second half he faded, going more and more to isolation, and draining the Knicks offense. He had very little choice as the Knicks offense was drowning itself in a pool of its own vomit. But there's still not a measure of total comfort for Melo.
Miami's point guards Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers took it right to Lin and converted turnovers into points, managed the offense, and hit shots. Cole's aggressiveness continues to impress.
Kobe Bryant Twenty four points on twenty four shots. Kobe System. You're welcome.
James Harden It's not every night you get to beat up Kobe Bryant's shooting percentage, talk trash to him, steal from him and then outrun him in transition, and get the win. Harden was brilliant defensively, which isn't commonplace, Thursday night. Staring down Bryant and not backing down gets bonus points.
Kevin Durant 33 points on 22 shots, 6 assist, 3 steals and just 2 turnovers. The model of efficiency and tough shot after tough shot. You know, same ol' same ol' for KD.
Kendrick Perkins Perkins has not been great at times the past two seasons, but Andrew Bynum brings out the best in him. Perkins made some big plays and played the kind of tough defense he's known for. His follow dunk in the fourth quarter Thursday was a statement late that the game was over.
Pau Gasoly Another game, another disappearing act for the most controversial Laker of this era.
Russell Westbrook Westbrook didn't shoot well. He wasn't creating tons of assists, but he made a lot of plays like the one in the fourth quarter where he beat two Lakers to the ball, corralled it with one hand, kicked the break off blowing past two more Lakers, then dished a perfect laser pass to a cutting Harden for the dunk. Westbrook remains, as always, underrated.


E FOR EFFORT
DeJuan Blair (28 points, 12 rebounds, 0 turnovers)
Andre Miller (20 points on 10 shots, 7 assists, 2 turnovers)
Jannero Pargo (15 points in less than 20 minutes)
Posted on: February 23, 2012 10:41 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 10:49 pm
 

Linsanity meets LeBrontology in Heat win

LeBron James lead the Heat to a win over Jeremy Lin and the Knicks. (Getty Images)
By Matt Moore 

Magic and momentum can take you far in this world. Things happen in sports that defy logic and reason. They happen all the time in the NBA. The 8th seed Warriors with no discernible defense knocking off one of the best regular season teams of the decade in Dallas. The Nuggets toppling the Sonics in the 90's. Sundiata Gaines hitting a game winner. In football, Tim Tebow knocked off the Steelers. It only took injuries to half of Pittsburgh's team to pull it off. Sometimes the story is greater than the facts.

But eventually, there's science. Cold, hard, science.

On Thursday night, Linsanity got a cold dose of LeBrontology, as Miami downed New York 102-88.

It wasn't primarily James doing the damage, it was the Heat's suffocating team defense. It was Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier attacking Jeremy Lin's dribble, it was Wade, Chris Bosh, Chalmers, and Battier on offense. But James was the tip of the spear at both ends, and putting on another MVP performance in a big game setting with 20 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals,, and 2 blocks. Want proof this game mattered to James? 40 minutes, before the All-Star break. He contained Lin, forced him into traps, and the Heat took away Lin's right, then took away his dribble, and always, always, always started the break with one of their athletic wings streaking in for the finish.

It was a blitzkrieg, it was a bum rush, it was a stampede by Miami, and the Knicks were left trampled underfoot.

By the end of the game any hope of Lin turning on one of the furious comebacks he's created this year fell by the wayside, instead the Knicks reverted to B.L. (Before Lin) thinking, with Carmelo Anthony isolating for contested jumpers, the rhythm destroyed for New York. It was an impressive win, but far from a blowout.

The Knicks had things going for them, and in reality, this game represents well where the two teams are. The Knicks are dangerous, now. When Anthony is slashing to the basket, when Amar'e Stoudemire is taking advantage of opportunities, when Tyson Chandler is a force at the rim, and on any other night when Lin is able to create scoring opportunities, the Knicks have what it takes to make a playoff run and run to the second round. That they were over-matched is not indicative of the degree of this team's flaws, less than a week in with this complete roster.

The fact that Miami slammed the door so emphatically in the second half is.

The Big 3 scored 67 points, the bench gave them 27. But it was their game plan that shows what this team can do when it's in gear. The formula is simple. Turn the opponent over, run, run, run it down their throat. Rinse, lather, repeat. There will come a time when the Heat offense again looks pathetic, stagnant, pedestrian. But the Knicks caught them at a time when they are at their very best. This Heat team smothers your possession, dissects your ball movement, then punishes you with their speed and athleticism. I call it the Flying Death Machine for a reason. That New York hung in says a lot about their talent level.

Lin was sloppy, running into defenders, desperate to try and create space, contained on the drive and deterred from his sweet spots. The Heat can talk all they want about not adjusting their game to their opponent, but this was a concerted effort to cut the Knicks' mythological head clean off. With Lin buried, the Knicks offense was fine, for a while, but eventually it caught up. That may be the most impressive piece of the Heat's performance. Amar'e Stoudemire hurt the Heat in the first half. They made him vanish in the second half. The perimeter shooting killed them throughout the game, but eventually the Heat started anticipating the passes. They gave up a lot of size inside, but the bigger the game became, the better Joel Anthony (5 blocks) played.

And there was James, at it all, running and swiping and cutting and shooting. The Knicks were within ten under two-minutes. Lin turnover. Outlet pass. LeBron James emphatic dunk. The end.

Lin will adjust and get better, the Knicks will be fine. But this game showed itself to be another example of what we already knew.

The Miami Heat play above the rim, and a step above everyone else in the NBA right now. They are faster, stronger, better right now. 

It's science.
Posted on: February 23, 2012 8:25 pm
 

Lin's turnovers a problem for Knicks vs. Heat

By Matt Moore 

We told you that the Heat could create turnovers against Jeremy Lin and you saw it in the first half. After the first 24, Miami leads 5-47, as Jeremy Lin has six turnovers, and LeBron James has five steals (though not all are off Lin). Both Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers have done an excellent job of containing and pressuring Lin, while the rest of the Heat have attacked his dribble. Amar'e Stoudemire also has six turnovers, but has 11 points and 3 boards to go with it. Lin on the other hand has just 2 points and 2 assists.

It's a breakneck pace with the Heat running out in transition. LeBron James has 8 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals, and 2 turnovers. The defense for both teams has been very good despite the high shooting percentages.

Lin has to calm down and run the offense, and not force the issue. Mental and physical exhaustion have to be playing a part, but six turnovers in a single half is just too much. Steve Novak has nine points off the bench. A second quarter run gave the Knicks the lead briefly, but the Heat came right back by pushing the tempo again with Lin in the game. It's been a game of fast pace and big plays with huge blocks and dunks on both ends.
Posted on: February 23, 2012 4:15 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 4:28 pm
 

Knicks vs. Heat headlines: LeBron vs. Jeremy Lin


By Matt Moore
 

Okay, I'm going to use one pun here for this Knicks-Heat game Thursday night, and then we're going to go through the rest of it without a single one, not even Linsanity. But I have to get this one out there, OK?

This is Nuclear Lin-ter.

The unbelievable story of Jeremy Lin rolls into Miami at 7 p.m. EST Thursday night, and it's not out of this world to say that this is the biggest matchup of the season. The Knicks, 7-2 in the Jeremy Lin era (3-2 in their last five) take on the Heat on a seven-game winning streak, all by double-digits. The unheard-of phenomenon against the superstar monolith. It's David vs. Goliath, only Davis is armed to the teeth this time, with Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, and J.R. Smith. It is the story that's captivated the minds and hearts of the sports world vs. one of the truly most hated, yet incredibly awesome in terms of ability teams in the history of sports.

This is going to be fun.

With that, here are your Knicks vs. Heat Storylines.

A Question of Fit

The superstar teams have not come together seamlessly. There have been hiccups, problems, issues, complications, struggles and downright disasters. Last year's Heat team was a mess of athletic dynamos running into each other at times, and simply standing around ball-watching others. Things are different this season. The Heat have become a much more fluid offense, but there are still times when the hesitation presents itself and the defense can stifle the Heat into looking like four-year-olds playing four-square. Meanwhile, the Knicks were disastrous without Lin. Carmelo Anthony, point forward, was an era that lasted approximately five games before Mike D'Antoni realized that wouldn't work. Is Lin the engine that can make this go? In two games with Anthony back, the Knicks are 1-1. Anthony hasn't put up big numbers, neither has Lin. But the offense has been efficient and balanced. This game is a chance for each side to present its best offering as to how they've come to fit together. The Heat can demonstrate the pieces have assembled into the Flying Death Machine they've been this season. The Knicks can show they have the engine to make the parts work with a legit point guard.

Because if neither team fits well together last night, the other might run away with the game.

Guarding Jeremy Lin

LeBron James has already said he will guard Lin for portions of the evening, and that's no surprise. What will be worth watching is how Lin adjusts. James is a monster perimeter defender because, well, he's the size of a truck and has the lateral quickness to stay with absolutely anyone. Lin, on the other hand, does a terrific job at two things, forcing the split of the double-team (though that's where most of his turnovers come from), and managing that set in terms of when to pass and when to finish. He can force the pass sometimes, but in general he has a good sense of the set.

He's running up against a big problem in James, though. According to Synergy Sports, James forces a turnover on the pick-and-roll ball handler 23.1 percent of the time, which is extremely high. Think of how shooting 45 percent in any set is pretty decent, now imagine out of ten possessions, the player turns it over twice, and hits just three of the remaining shots (James holds those shooters to 40 percent shooting). With Lin's turnovers coming mostly out of the pick-and-roll as ball handler (26 percent of the time in a small sample size), this could be rough. Great defenses like Dallas' have struggled with containing Lin when he splits that double-team, but again, this is Miami. This is really the crux of the battle right here. The Miami shooters can contain the perimeter threats with their rotations, but the biggest offensive set threat happens if Lin gets loose out of that double. That will force the Heat to adjust which opens up things for Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. No pressure, J.

Rivalry Renewed

This isn't going to get the press of the other stars, but does anyone else realize this is Tyson Chandler facing the same Heat team he annihilated in the Finals? Chandler's ability to convert offensive rebounds is going to be key in this game. Likewise, the Heat need to get him in foul trouble early. Chandler can be neutralized which puts capable but not-standout Jared Jeffries in to battle Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem, matchups the Heat would much prefer. Chandler can crush teams if he gets going in the pick and roll or on tap backs. This is the biggest game of Chandler's season to date with the Knicks. He put the Mavericks into the list of champions over this team last year. How he dominates the glass will go a long way into deciding this game.

One-on-One-on-One-on-One

Oddly enough, the same sets which give Miami and New York their worst performances may be necessary tonight. I've railed on the Heat for going Isolation too much as I do with nearly every NBA team, and the rest of the world has done the same to the Knicks, especially Carmelo Anthony. But the Heat's pick-and-roll defense is so good, their rotations so well-executed, that the best answer for them may simply be to let Anthony and Stoudemire do work one-on-one. Getting the Heat away from playing on a string takes away their biggest defensive strength outside of sheer athleticism. And for the Heat, the Knicks' defense is better this year despite having mostly the same players as a terrible one last season. The reason is systemic, not individual, and the best way to answer that is to isolate those poor defenders, Anthony and Stoudemire (and Fields) and try and blow past them.

In short, going hero ball is actually not a bad plan tonight.

The Indescribable

This is one of those moments. You know, the ones that form the tapestry of a season. The Heat are bagged on about not closing out games against elite competition, and Jeremy Lin has been as clutch as it comes in the fourth quarter. Carmelo Anthony has been accused of not being able to fit in an offense. The Heat crowd is typically terrible. Amar'e Stoudemire and Chris Bosh both have their demons. Both teams will blow off this game. It's one game in a regular season going by in a blur. But this game means something. The Lin phenomenon has taken the world by storm. Can it beat the best combination of talent in the NBA? Can the Heat finally step up and answer their critics resoundingly in a key moment?

This one's going to be fun.
Posted on: February 22, 2012 5:38 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 8:26 pm
 

LeBron James and a question of taste

LeBron James likes his steak cut and dry. Can he really be the alpha-dog? (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore 

On Tuesday, the blog Cleveland Frowns posted an interview with a server at XO, a Cleveland steakhouse regarding LeBron James. It described his eating behaviors, including the infamous stories about his tipping habits, among other things. There's the usual stuff about James acting like one of the most pampered people on earth, because, well, he's a guy who has "Chosen One" on his back, makes $16 million a year and calls himself King. You kind of have to prepare yourself for some stuff. 

But this? I was not prepared for this (emphasis mine):  
(S)he also told us that LeBron liked to drink apple martinis, which comes as no surprise because apple martinis are delicious, and if you had a job where you could take a four-hour nap every day to sleep off the sugar hangover, you would drink them, too. Relatedly, LeBron would ask his servers to have his steak (well done) already cut up for him, which corroborates a report by a (former?) server at Johnny’s who once told Grzegorek that LeBron would order his spaghetti cut up as well, and also of course enhances the credibility of our source.
via “LeBron liked me because I didn’t put up with his crap” — Exclusive Interview with Former XO Steakhouse Server Who Frequently Waited on the NBA Superstar.

Wait, what? 

Look, I can forgive the appletinis (easy on the tini). I'm not expecting everyone to drink whiskey, scotch or gin (I suppose technically you could make a gin appletini, but I don't consider that real gin). It's a little ridiculous, but the man dunks on Kevin Garnett, I'm willing to let that slide. 

But well-done? 

Cut up for him?

I'm sorry, that's where I draw the line.

And listen, a bunch of stats-loving geeks are going to try and talk to you about food poisoning statistics and eating efficiency. But anyone who's ever actually eaten a steak at the professional level knows that's all nonsense. Real steak-eaters don't think of things like that. And they know that if you're ordering anything above medium-rare, you're essentially saying "please burn all the flavor out of this $35 piece of meat."

Having it cut up for you? What are you, Carlos Boozer? You worried about injury? Pick up your knife and cut your own steak like a man. The last time someone cut up a steak for me, I was six, and it was my mother. Part of the joy of eating a finely cooked steak is slicing into that meat. You know what having someone else do it is? It's the steak version of passing to someone else in the clutch with the clock running down. You're just trying to avoid the moment. I can understand if it's steak frites on the menu. That's like having Wade wide open under the basket screaming for the ball. But otherwise, he's just shrinking from the moment again.

See, this is why LeBron James can never win a championship.

Sure, he can appreciate fine foods and have great cakes delivered for his birthday parties. But when it's clutch time, when it's steak time, he's telling the chef to murder its taste and then having it cut up for him . Michael Jordan never had a steak cut up for him. Kobe probably kills and butchers his own cow. Derrick Rose may accidentally stab the waiter, his date, and the table sixteen times, but by God, he cuts his own and does it with style!This is what separates LeBron from everyone else. Just another example of why he'll never live up to the hype. 

(If for some reason you cannot read through the blinding absurdity of this post, it is not meant to be serious. LeBron can eat his steak however he wants. )

(But for real, LeBron, you need to order that sucker medium-rare.)
Posted on: February 22, 2012 3:27 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 3:35 pm
 

LeBron says he'll guard Lin some Thursday

Posted by Royce Young



Thursday could be the ultimate test for Jeremy Lin. Not because his Knicks will be taking on Miami Heat. But individually, because LeBron James, one of the best on-ball defenders in the game, says he'll likely guard Lin some.

"I know I'm going to end up guarding Lin at some point," LeBron told reporters Wednesday.

LeBron, as I'm sure you recall, switched to guard Derrick Rose for lage parts of the Eastern Conference Finals and essentially locked down the MVP. And while Jeremy Lin has had quite the start to his time in New York, he's not Derrick Rose.

And if LeBron's not guarding Lin, it will likely be Dwyane Wade. You know, just another elite defender. The Heat are one of the best teams in the league at creating turnovers and guess what, Jeremy Lin turns it over a lot. If there was ever a measuring bar to really see where Linsanity is at, Thursday's game against the Heat will be it.

LeBron also talked about Linsanity in general, saying “I never watch Harvard basketball. I never watch Harvard.’’ LeBron did tell reporters that he watched Lin against John Wall in the 2010 Summer League though. He's one of many too as that YouTube highlight video has some 1.2 million views. LeBron said he thinks people should celebrate the fact Lin is a good player and not just stick on him being Asian-American.

“I think it’s taken away from it, obviously,” he said.

LeBron on Lin being on a second straight week of Sports Illustrated: "Make sure he doesn’t take that for granted and get those covers and frame them and put them in his house.” LeBron would know. He's been on many an SI cover, starting in high school.

Worlds of hype will collide in South Beach Thursday with Linsanity meeting the Heat. It'll be a challenge for the Knicks, as they're still meshing since adding Carmelo Anthony along with the fact the Heat are really darn good. And for Lin, he's going to have to deal with looking across at King James defending him, which I'm sure is something he wasn't expecting to happen this season.

Via Fox Sports Florida
Posted on: February 20, 2012 2:43 pm
 

Video: Lebron makes a kid cry

Posted by Royce Young



LeBron James has built a pretty solid reputation for dunking on children. Now he's taking it up a notch. He's just making them cry.

In the Heat's win over the Magic Sunday, LeBron tried to challenge a corner 3-pointer and ended up crashing into two young fans sitting in the first row. One of them, he hit hard enough to make him cry. LeBron went over at the next break and checked on the two little guys, who were both just fine.

But if either one of them sign up for a LeBron basketball camp in the near future, you know they're getting dunked on.
Category: NBA
Posted on: February 20, 2012 12:42 pm
Edited on: February 20, 2012 1:05 pm
 

Eye on Basketball Midseason Awards

LeBron James is having one of the best seasons of his career and is the midseason NBA MVP. (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore
 

The 2012 NBA All-Star break begins this week as this season continues to fly by on a shortened lockout schedule. Already we've seen an incredible year, even in the midst of some ugly, ugly, ugly basketball. The Heat look better than ever, the Bulls are still dominant through injury, the Sixers are impressively complete. The Dwight Howard saga drags on. The Lakers and Celtics are struggling to find their dominant gear. The Thunder are blistering offensively, the Timberwolves surprising and of course, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lin all the time. 

With that, here are the 2012 NBA Midseason Awards, based on where we stand on February 20th, 2012. 

Eastern Conference Most Valuable Player: LeBron James


When CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyel wrote that LeBron was different this year, he was spot-on. James has talked about how he spent the summer re-discovering his love of basketball, getting away from all the criticism, and getting back to the person he wants to be. He and the Heat have admitted that the resounding backlash to "The Decision" played a large part in their mental approach to last season. In short, James is not comfortable being bitter, angry, resentful. He's at his best when driven by a simple love of the game. That's the dichotomy with James. He is inarguably the single most arrogant and out-of-touch player in the Association, and yet he does possess a genuine love of basketball. It's always playing at his home. It's something he lights up when he gets to talk about instead of storylines. Basketball came easily to James athletically, but it's also something he works obsessively at. History teaches that you have to hate your opponent, have to be driven by anger and resentment. James is simply not built that way. In reality, he may be too goofy, too fun-loving to ever reach the kind of iconic play that is necessary to be considered one of the best, to have the killer instinct that so many criticize him for lacking, which he himself has admitted he may lack.

None of this changes the fact that there are only three things which can stop James from earning his third MVP this season, should he continue to play as he has for the first half of the year. The first is largely the same reason he failed to win it last season: vengeance. Voters showed their disapproval of James by not truly considering him for the award. Whether it was a distaste for the arrogance of James' approach to leaving Cleveland on national television, a disgust at the preseason championship comments at the presser with the smoke and fireworks, or disappointment with James seeking to team up with two great players instead of winning on his own (an element neither Carmelo Anthony nor Chris Paul have received criticism for), James was shut out, when by most measures, he simply played better than Derrick Rose. Rose was a phenomenal player last season and a wonderful story, well-worthy of the award. However, James was better. Those sentiments have cooled this season, but if voters decide to maintain their teeth-grinding disapproval of James, that could cost him. The second is simple injury. James has only missed a small handful of games, but that can always derail a player's path. And the third is the most likely impediment: minutes.

The Heat did not take the tactic of prioritizing homecourt last season. It wouldn't have mattered, the Bulls were simply better in every way during the course of the regular season. But the Heat were clearly more focused on being healthy for the playoffs than capturing homecourt. And it's likely to be the same this year. The Heat have managed to handle the compact schedule well, outside of some Dwyane Wade bumps and bruises as to be expected. But when March rolls around, this team will start looking for rest, and that means James could sit out several games. The Heat will happily trade in April wins, provided they have a top four seed, for rest. James could lose momentum in that case as he watches from the sideline and another worthy candidate pushes his way to the finish line.

What makes James worthy of the award this year? Pick one. The Heat are the best team in the East, and you may claim that Dwyane Wade is still the focal point of the offense, metrics be damned, and that's fine, but James' overall work on both ends of the floor still takes the notch. Without resorting to statistics, you see James take over games as if he's a one-man army. He's seemingly everywhere, interrupting passes, working in the post, snatching rebounds, blocking shots, lobbing to Wade, dishing to Chalmers, attacking the rim over and over again. It's awe-inspiring basketball. You don't need metrics to see he's the best player in the game this season. This is all factoring in the fact he's taken a step back defensively. He's turned it on the past five or six games, but this hasn't been a season of his usual defensive dominance... and he's still been this good overall.

But if you want them, they bear it out as well. James is enjoying a career high (tied) in points per 36 minutes, rebounds per game and 36 minutes, field goal percentage, True Shooting percentage (factoring 3-point shooting and free throws), and of course PER. The confusion with PER most often is that it somehow measures value, that it establishes how good a player is. Instead, it's just what it's defined as. Player Efficiency Rating. It establishes who produces the most per minute, considering how many possessions they use in doing so. And right now, James is doing the most of any player in history in that department.



So that's fun.

James may not win MVP this year, for a variety of reasons. But there is absolutely no question at this season's halfway mark, that he's the best player in the league, and most valuable.

Western Conference Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant

If you prefer the classic mold of the MVP, AKA a scoring machine, Kevin Durant fits pretty well. He's a jump-shooter shooting 52 percent from the field. Think about that. The league average is 36 percent. Durant is hitting 15 more shots for every 100 attempts from the hardest place on the floor to knock them down. That's ridiculous. That's just absurd. He is the best pure-scoring machine in the league. Kobe Bryant may topple him for the scoring crown, but he'll need five to six more attempts to do so. The cherry on Durant's Sunday has to be his 51-point explosion Sunday night. He managed 51 points on 28 shots.

And really quietly, Durant's become an elite defender. He's allowing just 26 percent from the field in ISO situations according to Synergy Sports. Defense was a huge weakness in Durant's game over the past few seasons and he's really hit his stride this season. The Thunder aren't even that great defensively, Durant has just been individually incredible.

For him to catch James, he would need for the Thunder to continue their impressive winning percentage. He would need to top the league in scoring, and for his impressive uptick in rebounding rates to continue. It's a tall order, but there's no question he's within range. Durant has become the most impressive offensive force in the league.

He is 23 years of age.

Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving

Ricky Rubio is dazzling. He's a phenom. He changes the course of games and wows you with the eyes. No rookie has impressed more than Rubio, who has silenced all his critics, of which I was very much one, regarding his ability translate his game to the NBA level. Rubio is honestly poetry in motion, and the feel he has for the game is joy-inspiring more than awe-inspiring. It is such a fluid and spectacular range of abilities, it makes the Timberwolves so much fun to watch.

And Kyre Irving is a better player.

It's not really close.

Get past the fact that Irving has been shooting at historic levels, that his overall production is in line with some of the all-time greats in this league in their first years. Irving has a mastery of the game that Rubio does not, even after so many more years of playing professionally. Irving can run an offense more completely and calmly, and is a superb crunch time scorer (Rubio is brilliant in that area in his own right). But if you want numbers, it's simple. Rubio's a 38 percent shooter. Irving is a 48 percent shooter. You can talk about how you would prefer your point guard pass than score, but Irving's numbers are truncated by a lack of talent on the Cavaliers, while Rubio has Kevin Love, Michael Beasley (a scorer for all his faults), an emerging Nikolai Pekovic and Derrick Williams.

Rubio would be a fine choice. He's the most exciting rookie. Maybe even the most impactful rookie.

Kyrie Irving is the Rookie of the Year, halfway through. This one will be tight to the finish.

Defensive Player of the Year: Andre Iguodala

I know. It's always Dwight Howard! It has to be Dwight Howard! But here's the thing. Howard's effort hasn't been as consistent this season. Whether it's the trade talk, the lockout schedule effect, coaching, whatever, it hasn't been there. His rebound rate is there, it's the highest of his career. He actually is allowing fewer points per possession than he did last year, but if we consider the lockout effects on all shooting percentages, Howard has slipped from the 96th percentile to the 77th percentile in rank on points per possession. Howard is maybe the most impactful defensive player in the league. But his performance hasn't been worthy of the award this year.

Iguodala, on the other hand, is the star defender on the league's best defense (Philly is tops in defensive efficiency, points per 100 possessions), and is most often given the toughest assignment night in and night out in this league. He is tasked with stopping the best perimeter threat on offense each game, and in doing so, has limited opponents to 35 percent shooting. He is able to body up larger opponents, stick with smaller ones, switch, shift, deter, block, steal, cajole, harass and otherwise make his opponent's life miserable and has done so for the majority of the season.

A close second on this list is Luol Deng, who actually has better marks via Synergy. But a combination of Deng's missed time due to injury, and the Bulls' reliance on help defense under Tom Thibodeau's system barely, and I mean barely, gives Iguodala the edge here. Dwight Howard will wind up winning this award, but ask yourself, is it more difficult to shut down perimeter elite scorers in this league or to stop the awful, horrible batch of big men currently roaming the lanes?

6th Man of the Year: James Harden

Harden should be starting. By any and all accounts, he is a much better player than Thabo Seofolosha, or Daequan Cook, or whoever you want to start at two-guard for the best offense in the land. Harden should be the starter, he plays starters minutes, he finishes like a starter, he's close with the starters, he's a star in his own right. And yet, he's much better off the bench. He provides the Thunder with not only a scorer off the pine, but an offensive creator, maybe his best asset. Harden can run the offense, he facilitates, and can make a play go even off-ball. He's a capable if not excellent defender, and his decision making and effort is often times the difference in close wins and losses for OKC.

This award has been wrapped up for a good long time.

Coach of the Year: Doug Collins

The Philadelphia 76ers have the third seed in the East as of this writing, with signature wins over the Lakers, Bulls, Magic, and just about everyone not from South Beach. Doug Collins has managed to turn a team without a central star, without an Isolation scoring threat, without a dominant big man or an all-world point guard (no offense to the brilliant Jrue Holiday) into a powerhouse that overwhelms teams with defense, savvy, bench scoring, team play, and fortitude.

The players genuinely love to play for Collins and he's gotten through to them to a man. Spencer Hawes is playing well, for crying out loud. Elton Brand is producing. Iguodala is having the best overall season of his career by the eye test. They have the best defense, the best bench, the best record in a tough division. Collins has done an incredible job and is every bit deserving of this award as much for his process as the results it has garnered.

Most Improved Player: Jeremy Lin

What were you expecting? Usually second-year players are exempt in my eyes. They're supposed to develop and improve in their second season. But Lin is a special case. Lost in the Linsanity and all the great storylines surround him is the fact he has talked a lot about what the D-League did for him. This league too often doesn't allow players to develop, simply shreds them through and only the strong survive. Lin is a testament to the idea that players can develop, can improve, can learn this game and get better to the point of success. He's improved the most simply by making himself relevant, let alone raising New York from the dead for 15 percent of the season.
 
 
 
 
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