The All-Star break is finally here, and NBA teams have played somewhere in the range of 53 (Kings) and 58 (Hornets) games.
That doesn't exactly make this All-Star break the midway point of an 82-game season. But that won't stop me from handing out some midseason awards today. In my opinion, my picks are fairly easy front-runners for these league awards, and it will take special performances after the break by other players and coaches to wrestle the honors away from them.
Most Valuable Player at the break — Derrick Rose, Bulls: I wrote about Rose being deserving of the league's MVP award at this point in the season last week. I think he solidified his status with 42 points, eight assists and five rebounds in a 109-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night.
"Wow, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after the defeat. "Wow. He was something. We scored 99 points and shot 49 percent and (made) seven 3's, so you think you should have a pretty good chance to win, but he negated that. So he did a (heck) of a job."
Rose has been nothing short of sensational. He breaks defenses down without the benefit of a consistent outside shooter (sorry, Kyle Korver fans). He has carried his team through tough times and injuries to Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.
Best coach at the break — Gregg Popovich, Spurs: Wow might have been Pop's favorite word the other night, and wow does an accurate job of describing his coaching this season. No one expected the veteran Spurs to dominate like they have, and with a record of 46-10 they are one of the feel-good stories of the season.
Best rookie at the break — Blake Griffin, Clippers: If the Spurs are the feel-good story of the season, Griffin is simply the fun story of the year. Just turn on SportsCenter the night after a Clippers game and you're likely to see Griffin dunking on somebody.
But what's sometimes lost in the midst of the ferocious dunks is that Griffin is having a great year. He averages a double-double with 24.1 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. Maybe his greatest accomplishment is making the Clippers relevant again.
All Griffin is missing is a nickname. With all due respect to Dominique Wilkins, how about The Human Highlight Reel II?
Best defensive player at the break — Dwight Howard, Magic: Orlando made a few executive decisions, revamping its roster with offensive-oriented players such as Jason Richardson earlier this season. But the Magic are still a solid defensive team, ranked fifth in the league in points allowed per game, and Howard is the anchor for it.
Howard has won the award the last two seasons, and if he continues playing how he is he deserves to make it a three-peat.
Best Sixth Man at the break — Jason Terry, Mavericks: Perhaps no individual award means as much to a player as the Sixth Man does to Terry. This is what he told ESPN in regards to winning it this season:
"I put a stranglehold back on that Sixth Man title, and hopefully pretty soon people will start talking about how (I'm) the best sixth man in the business again," Terry said. "Look what I've been able to do in the month of February."
While I'm dying to know if the (I'm) replaces a third-person reference made by Terry, there is no denying his importance to the surging Mavs. He is the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 15.9 points per game. Terry won the Sixth Man award two seasons ago.
Remember when it was one of the biggest games of the early season when the Mavs played the Jazz here in December? I know, seems like 10 years ago. Dallas was 14-4 and the Jazz were 15-5 after winning seven straight games. I asked Terry a few questions after he scored 12 points and made some key baskets. He was a cool dude, which is always nice and helpful for reporters.
Most Improved Player at the break — LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers: During the franchise-changing week when the Jazz hosted the Bulls and Jerry Sloan resigned, I watched Portland face Chicago in the Bulls' final game before coming to Utah.
What struck me most about that game — even more than thinking the Jazz never should have let Wesley Matthews leave — was Aldridge's dominance. He had 42 points and eight rebounds, and destroyed Boozer and anyone else the Bulls tried to throw at him.
Aldridge is averaging 22.3 points per game this season, more than five points better than his career average.
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