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.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - Ex­cerpts from wash­ing­ton­post.com/wiz­ardsin­sider

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.”

Sec­ond-half pre­dic­tions

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.

ELSA/GETTY IM­AGES

With a re­fo­cused Carmelo An­thony, the Knicks have risen to the elite ranks in the East­ern Con­fer­ence.

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