Two Cents: NBA Regular Season Reaches Halfway Point (2/16/05)

(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)

Now that the NBA’s marathon regular season has reached its halfway point, I thought it would be a good idea to review my preseason prognostications and further gauge how much of an idiot I am.

Regular readers of our print edition will be quick to point out that the idiot in question proved his idiocy, by putting a different date on each of the five pages that made up the sports section last Friday. All I can say in my defense is, whiplash is more than just a Metallica song, and it affects more than just your neck.

As far as my predictions go, some were right, some were wrong, and some must have been made after intense brainwashing by the Romulans – “There are four lights!”.

Now, get out your red pen and let’s get to circling.

Rookie of the Year: Dwight Howard. I picked Orlando’s high schooler to follow in LeBron’s footsteps for the best newcomer. Howard is having a solid year, but the talk is that the award is Emeka Okafor’s to lose.

Their stats are similar – Howard 10.3ppg, 9.8 reb, 1.6 blk, .495 FG%, .665 FT%; compared to Okafor’s 14.9ppg, 11 reb, 1.5 blk, .450 FG%, .570 FT% – but Okafor has a slight edge in scoring because he’s taken 258 more shots than Howard and played a total of 58 more minutes.

So, if Howard got the shots and minutes Okafor is getting, his numbers would probably be better. Plus, Howard has an extra advantage for being born on my birthday.

Coach of the Year: Paul Silas. When I made this selection, I mentioned how Silas would demand his players play the right way and get his hodge-podge of young and unproven talent to mesh with LeBron. He has done that and more. Cleveland is currently tied with Washington for the second-best record in the East.

I know what you’re thinking, with King James on your team, you’re bound to get better. You’re right – and more on ‘Bron’Bron later – but outside of James and a broken down Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who else do they have?

Washington’s Eddie Jordan is doing a fantastic job, but he has Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes, Antawn Jamison, Juan Dixon and a roster full of quality players suiting up for him.

The only other coach that should be considered is Mike Fratello in Mempho, who has gone 14-3 in the last 17 games.

Sixth Man of the Year: Shane Battier. I picked Battier probably because he is a Grizzly and he embodies everything that is good with professional basketball. Come to think of it, that is exactly why I picked him.

The problem is he isn’t locked into coming off the bench. Depending on the mood of the Czar, he could start and play all game, or come off the bench for 20 minutes. So, it’s safe to say I was wrong, and I have no idea as to who else is worthy of Shane’s award.

Defensive Player of the Year: Ron Artest. Here’s one I wish I had back, but how was I to know that a cup of beer would be the reason I got this pick wrong? If I could have it over, I would pick David Stern for this award because he may have been the only person in the league capable of stopping the Pacers (keep reading).

Most Improved Team: Chicago Bulls. (By the way, when I did these the first time, I was using song titles for the categories. I decided to skip that, because I was tired of hearing all the Patti LaBelle and Ralph Macchio jokes.) After their 0-9 start, I felt like I knew as much about basketball as I did about the political climate in Khakistan.

But now I feel vindicated because the Bulls have become the first team in league history to reach .500 after starting 0-8. Scott Skiles is as gritty a coach as he was a competitor, and maybe Chicago will prove that going with kids that were good in college isn’t so dumb after all.

Comeback Player of the Year: Gerald Wallace. I picked Wallace based on the flashes of incredible athleticism he displayed while in Sacramento, and because he would be on the floor constantly for the expansion Bobcats. He has increased his scoring average from just under three points a game to 10.6 and is also averaging 5.5 rebounds per game.

But he isn’t consistent enough yet to claim this award. The honor should probably go to Jamaal Tinsley, the point guard from Indiana who stepped up his game after everyone was suspended and has improved his scoring output from 9.8 to 16.8 per game.

He also hands out 6.7 assists per and pilfers 2.2 possessions per game. If Indiana advances deep into the playoffs, look no further than Tinsley’s performance during their roughest stretch of the season.

Biggest disappointment: Los Angeles Lakers. I might have been wrong on this, but I’m not sure yet. If the playoffs started today, the Lake Show would be the last team in.

They are 23-19, which is probably better than expected considering Kobe’s injury and selfishness. The real letdown of the season has to be Houston, who is fighting for playoff contention despite adding Tracy McGrady and his prolific scoring.

Biggest loser: Charlotte. The jury is still out on this one also. I said the Bobcats might only win 10 games this year, and currently they sit at 9-32. The only other teams with worse records are Atlanta (another team I mentioned) and New Orleans, who may also deserve to be in the category above this one.

Biggest surprise:  Trailblazers staying out of trouble. Looks like there will be no surprises for the Jail Blazers. Example: Darius Miles almost made Maurice Cheeks resign over Miles’ inability to take criticism and perform to the level at which he is being paid.

Looks like those head knocks he gives himself after big plays isn’t pounding enough sense into his thick skull.

All-NBA: Shaq; Duncan; KG; T-Mac and A.I. (Don’t you just love how I dropped all those nicknames like I’m tight with all those guys?) I think the only ones I’m wrong about are McGrady and Iverson.

Right now, I would swap T-Mac for LeBron and Iverson for Steve Nash. Both James and Nash are the first legitimate MVP candidates at guard since a bald fellow that used to stick his tongue out. I think that should qualify them for first team over a couple of shot hogs.

NBA Champ: Pacers. Before the nasty brawl against the Pistons, Indiana was handing the World Champs a beating on their own home floor. If they had been kept intact, I would still say they were a favorite, but Stern – the Eastern Conference’s best defender – suspended their championship hopes after the pandemonium at the Palace.

Without Artest, I think they will have trouble getting to the Eastern Finals, much less past the Miami Heat.

So, there they are, my picks and I’m sticking with them. I’ll probably be wrong on at least all of them, but I won’t change them – until the end of the season.

Categories: Basketball, sports

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