62nd NBA All-Star Game
With the NBA All-Star Game upon us, The Post’s Michael Lee hands out some first-half awards, and makes some second-half predictions.
8 p.m. at Houston, TNT
First half in review,
Biggest surprise: New York Knicks The post-Patrick Ewing era in New York hasn’t exactly engendered much good favor from Knicks fans, who have remained loyal despite Stephon Marbury, Isiah Thomas, lottery seasons and early playoff exits. After losing to Miami in five games as a No. 7 seed last postseason, the Knicks didn’t exactly make many bold roster moves and started the season with Amare Stoudemire on the shelf because of left knee surgery. But with Carmelo Anthony getting some slight MVP consideration and Coach Mike Woodson developing a style of play dependent upon solid defense and proficiency from beyond the three-point line, the Knicks have moved up the ranks in the Eastern Conference and are currently second behind defending champion Miami.
Biggest disappointment: Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant is not willing to cede anything, even though age and declining athleticism have knocked him from his perch. As he closes in on the conclusion of his career, Bryant has become more blunt and defiant than ever. But no matter what Bryant does (he currently ranks third in scoring at age 34) or says, the circus has returned in full force. Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss fired Mike Brown after five games and bypassed Phil Jackson to hire Mike D’Antoni. Bryant’s relationship with Dwight Howard has been more heavily scrutinized than Chris Brown and Rihanna. And on a much more serious note, team owner Jerry Buss, who brought 10 championships to Los Angeles, has recently been hospitalized, reportedly with an undisclosed form of cancer.
Exciting trend: The three-ball era Teams that live by the three-point- er used to suffer an unsightly death of long rebounds and easy transition baskets for the opposition when those long-distance shots didn’t fall. But in the modern NBA, the three-point shot is the weapon of choice for teams that hope to go on big runs or make up large deficits. NBA teams are averaging about 40 combined three-point attempts per game. And of the 17 teams averaging at least 19 threepointers per game, 11 currently occupy playoff positions. Golden State, Oklahoma City, Miami, San Antonio, Atlanta and New York are shooting better than 38 percent from beyond the arc and all are no worse than second in their respective divisions.
Discouraging trend: Injured point guards Ten months after buckling to the ground with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in left knee, Derrick Rose has yet to play a game this season for the Chicago Bulls and has left many pondering his return. A healthy Rose could elevate an already competitive Bulls team into a contender. But the former league MVP recently stunned many when he declared that if his knee doesn’t heal properly that he doesn’t “mind missing this year.” The Boston Celtics already know they won’t have Rajon Rondo for the rest of the season after he tore his right ACL in Atlanta. The Wizards’ John Wall returned after missing 33 games with a stress injury in his left knee and immediately provided hope and disappointment of what could’ve been, with Washington going 10-8 with him after a 5-28 start without him. Ricky Rubio has been slow to fully recover from his torn ACL, contributing to the Timberwolves’ woes, and the Brooklyn Nets’ Deron Williams has played all year with bone spurs in his left ankle that may eventually require surgery.
Most outstanding player: LeBron James Kevin Durant is in the midst of his finest season, poised to win his fourth consecutive scoring title and making improvements in nearly every statistical category to become a more complete player. All of that is good enough to give him a firm, unwavering grasp on his position as the second-best player in the league. Since winning his third most valuable player award, first NBA championship, an NBA Finals MVP and a second Olympic gold medal, LeBron James is no longer chasing his contemporaries; he has his eyes set on playing the perfect game, on transcending the hype and truly being an all-time great. Already an unstoppable force when attacking the rim, James has become a more lethal jump shooter and an effective playmaker and scorer in the low post. James simply is operating on a different plane than the rest of the league.
Most unappreciated player: Tony Parker The San Antonio Spurs’ regular season accomplishments often get diminished because the franchise hasn’t advanced to the NBA Finals since winning the last of four championships in 2007. And Tony Parker’s status as an elite point guard is often overlooked because he plays alongside a oncein-a-generation big man in Tim Duncan and a whirling dervish in Manu Ginobili. But the Spurs have stayed atop the standings for most of the season despite the extended absences of Duncan and Ginobili because Parker is performing at what Coach Gregg Popovich described as “beyond all-star level.”
Durant will become the sixth player in NBA history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the three-point line and 90 percent from the foul line.
James will join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history with at least four MVP awards.
The Los Angeles Lakers will make the playoffs.
Michael Jordan will win whatever the opposite of the Larry O’Brien trophy is for the second straight year after the Charlotte Bobcats again finish with the NBA’s worst record.
Damien Lillard will become the fifth point guard in the past eight seasons to be named NBA rookie of the year.
Oklahoma City will defeat Miami to win the NBA Finals.
With a refocused Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks have risen to the elite ranks in the Eastern Conference.