Gotta like Mike.

The end of the regular season means it's time to vote for the most valuable player, along with other awards.The nod for MVP should go to Michael Jordan over last year's winner, Karl Malone.

And to repeat a line used last year when making the same choice: If the Mailman wants what Michael has, it's up to him to take it away.

Malone had the chance in last year's NBA Finals, and we all know what happened. Jordan was a champion and the obvious better player; Malone succumbed to the pressure.

Granted, this season's award shouldn't have anything to do with last season's. But in trying to decide who's the most valuable, one has to remember what happened last June when the championship was on the line.

Lest we all forget:

- In Game 1, Malone missed two free throws with 9.2 seconds left that could have given Utah a three-point lead. Jordan then hit a jumper at the buzzer for the one-point win.

- In Game 5, Malone had as many baskets (one) as airballs in the second half, then selfishly refused to commit his sixth foul when the Jazz needed to stop the clock with under 10 seconds left. Scottie Pippen dribbled around him, fed Luc Longley for a dunk and the Bulls went ahead 3-2 in the series.

- In Game 6, Malone shot 8-for-15 from the foul line as the Bulls clinched the championship, 90-86.

Malone's history of failing in the clutch, especially from the foul line, is the one factor he'll have to overcome to be considered more valuable than Jordan.

Yes, Malone might be having a better year than he had in 1996-97, but the bottom line is this: When it comes time for someone to be the most valuable player when his team really needs it, the choice is Jordan over Malone until it's proven otherwise.

Other award choices:

- COACH OF THE YEAR: Phil Jackson, Bulls. Look what this man has had to deal with: An owner and a general manager who are forcing him out the door; a superstar in Michael Jordan who has linked his retirement to the coach staying; another star in Scottie Pippen who missed the first 35 games and has vowed to leave town; injuries to Luc Longley and Steve Kerr; and the exiling of Jason Caffey. And we haven't even mentioned Dennis Rodman. Jackson has had his "normal" starting lineup together for only 15 games, yet the Bulls may finish with the best record in the league.

Runner-ups: Jerry Sloan, Jazz; Danny Ainge, Suns; Larry Bird (and Dick Harter), Pacers; Jeff Van Gundy, Knicks.

- ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Tim Duncan, Spurs. Already one of the top 10 players in the league, Duncan will soon be among the top 5 or top 3. A 7-footer who can do everything except pass out of the double-team (which he'll learn), Duncan may be most underappreciated for his ability to bank shots in off the backboard.

Runner-ups: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cavaliers, Keith Van Horn, Nets; Brevin Knight, Cavaliers; Ron Mercer, Celtics.

- MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Alan Henderson, Hawks. Has made Christian Laettner the Wally Pipp of Atlanta. Henderson took Laettner's starting spot one night in March when Laettner wasn't feeling well and has held the spot ever since.

Runner-ups: Adam Keefe, Jazz; Charles Outlaw, Magic; Jalen Rose, Pacers; Jaren Jackson, Spurs; Steve Nash, Suns.

- SIXTH MAN AWARD: Danny Manning, Suns. Until going down recently with a season-ending knee injury, Manning was one of the main reasons why the Suns have quietly improved to 30 games above .500.

Runner-ups: Tracy Murray, Wizards; Dale Ellis, SuperSonics, Eldridge Recasner, Hawks; Derek Strong, Magic; Howard Eisley, Jazz.

- DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tim Duncan, Spurs. Leads his team in blocked shots, which is no small feat when you have David Robinson as a teammate. Guards everyone from big men to point guards.

Runner-ups: Gary Payton, Sonics; Dikembe Mutombo, Hawks; Robinson, Spurs; Charles Oakley, Knicks.

- ALL-NBA TEAM: First Team: Jordan, Payton, Shaquille O'Neal, Malone, Grant Hill. Second Team: Allen Iverson, Mitch Richmond, Robinson, Duncan, Vin Baker. Third Team: Stephon Marbury, Reggie Miller, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shawn Kemp, Antoine Walker.

- EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Wayne Embry, Cavaliers. Not only acquired Kemp, but made him happy, too. Drafted Knight, Derek Anderson and Cedric Henderson, all of whom contributed mightily, and made the playoffs as a No. 6 seed despite changing his entire starting lineup.

Runners-up: Wally Walker, SuperSonics; Brian Colangelo, Suns; Ernie Grunfeld, Knicks.

- ALL-INTERVIEW TEAM: Baker, Jayson Williams, P.J. Brown, Steve Kerr, Kobe Bryant.

- ALL-NON-INTERVIEW TEAM: Duncan, Patrick Ewing, Latrell Sprewell, Larry Johnson, John Feerick.