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The best: LeBron, Lillard, Hollins and more


Miami star, Portland rookie deserve unanimous selection

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: PATRICK COTE - Miami Heat forward LeBron James just kept going strong this season, surpassing Oklahoma City Thunder standout Kevin Durant in the race for NBA most valuable player, says Portland Tribune columnist Kerry Eggers.With the NBA’s postseason almost upon us, let’s take a look back at what has happened over the past six months and pay tribute with some regular-season awards:

• Most Valuable Player: 1. LeBron James, Miami; 2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; 3. Carmelo Anthony, New York.

My midseason winner was Durant by a nose over James. There is really no choice but to flip them in the final analysis.

There has never been a unanimous MVP in NBA history (the closest was Shaquille O’Neal, who got 120 of 121 votes with the Lakers in 2000). It ought to happen this season. With due respect to Durant, James cannot be denied after one of the most remarkable seasons ever.

The numbers — 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists; .565 from the field, .406 from 3-point range, .753 from the line — are spectacular. James is also the runaway winner in player efficiency rating at 31.68, followed by Durant at 28.30, Chris Paul at 26.31 and Anthony at 24.83.

Throw in James’ role in Miami’s league-best record and 27-game win streak in February and March, along with the leadership and intangibles he has displayed, it’s an easy call.

In most seasons, Durant would be the winner. Prior to the season, Portland’s Nicolas Batum said a personal goal was to be a “50/40/90” player — that is, shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point territory and 90 percent from the line.

Batum didn’t come close (43, 37, 85), but Durant became the eighth player in history to achieve the feat, going 51, 42 and 91. He joins Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Steve Kerr and Jose Calderon in the select club.

I’ve never considered Anthony a superstar who makes teammates better, but anybody who saw the Knicks play without him in a 105-90 loss at Portland on March 14 understands the effect he has had on their success this season. Paul is right there, too, leading the league in assist/turnover ratio and steals and ranked second in assists.

• Rookie: 1. Damian Lillard, Portland. 2; Anthony Davis, New Orleans; 3. Bradley Beal, Washington.

I picked Lillard at midseason. Absolutely no reason to change now. If there is any justice, he’ll become the fourth unanimous ROY in history, joining Ralph Sampson (1983-84), David Robinson (1989-90) and Blake Griffin (2010-11).

Lillard — one of the few players to be named a conference rookie of the month in each of his first five months — was poised to become the fourth rookie ever to average 19 points and six assists, following Oscar Robertson (1960-61), Damon Stoudamire (1995-96) and Allen Iverson (1996-97). Lillard also set a franchise record in 3-point shots made, showing his durability by playing in all 82 games.

Not bad for a kid out of Weber State. Makes the Blazers look smart for taking him with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft and leaves Charlotte (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, No. 2) and especially Sacramento (Thomas Robinson, No. 5) wanting in the scouting department.

• Coach: 1. Lionel Hollins, Memphis; 2. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago; 3. George Karl, Denver.

There are plenty of deserving candidates, including the redoubtable Gregg Popovich of San Antonio, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, New York’s Mike Woodson, Indiana’s Frank Vogel and Golden State’s Mark Jackson, the latter my midseason winner.

Hollins has been rather unappreciated, steering the Grizzlies to a 55-win season entering their final game despite losing arguably his best player — Rudy Gay — to a midseason trade with Toronto based largely on scaling back on payroll. Hollins is a mixture of old-school taskmaster and players’ coach, and he has his club playing some of the best defense in the league.

• Defensive Player: 1. Joakim Noah, Chicago; 2. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City; 3. Larry Sanders, Milwaukee.

Noah noses out Ibaka, my midseason winner, and beats a host of other strong defenders including OKC’s Russell Westbrook, Indiana’s Paul George, Memphis’ Marc Gasol and San Antonio’s ageless Tim Duncan. I didn’t much care for Noah earlier in his career, but he has won me over with his hustle, smarts and attention to detail at the defensive end.

• Most Improved Player: 1. Larry Sanders, Milwaukee; 2. Paul George, Indiana; 3. Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans.

I tabbed Batum at midseason, but he petered out, then got hurt in the second half of the campaign.

A year ago, you probably knew Larry Sanders only through Garry Shandling’s old HBO comedy show by the same name.

The other Larry Sanders averaged 3.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.5 points while shooting .457 from the field and .474 from the line in 12.4 minutes in his second NBA season with the Bucks in 2011-12.

This season, Sanders jumped onto the scene as a premier defender, leading the NBA in blocked shots at 2.8 per game. He improved everywhere else, too, averaging 9.8 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting .506 from the field and .618 from the line.

George has gone from role player to star in a year, averaging 17.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists after posting numbers of 12.1, 5.6 and 2.4 in 2011-12. Vasquez has become a legitimate NBA point guard, averaging 13.9 points and 9.0 assists, up from 8.9 points and 5.4 assists a year ago.

• Sixth Man: 1. Jarrett Jack, Golden State; 2. J.R. Smith, New York; 3. Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City.

The midseason pick was the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, who has continued to perform well for one of the NBA’s better teams. But I can’t ignore the impact Jack has had on a Golden State team that had won 46 games going into the final night of play.

The former Trail Blazer has averaged 12.9 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds while shooting .450 from the field, .406 from 3-point land and .846 from the line and playing nearly 30 minutes a game.

Smith has had a huge role in the Knicks’ success and Martin has made the departure of James Harden more palatable in OKC.

Some special awards:

• Dumb quote: Brooklyn’s Reggie Evans, on defending the likes of LeBron James: “Our team is defending the Miami Heat. If our team has to defend one person, LeBron isn’t going to score nothing. LeBron is no different than Joe Johnson or Andray Blatche.”

• Colorful quote: Chris “Birdman” Andersen, after being signed to a 10-day contract by the Heat: “I was told about the code of conduct around here. I went into Pat Riley’s office and asked if it was cool if I could wear my headband, because I sweat a lot. He was like ‘Yeah,’ because he didn’t want me perspiring on his nice floor.”

• Poignant quote: Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, after a critical noncall near the end of a 100-97 loss at Golden State, which followed by two days a critical noncall near the end of a 106-104 loss at Portland: “I don’t know what you want to call it. Unlucky? Whatever you want to call it. Screwed? It happened.”

• Inane tweets: Houston rookie Royce White, taken with the 16th pick in the first round and diagnosed with anxiety disorder, suspended after initially refusing assignment to the D-League: “What’s suspending me supposed to do? I’ve been away from the team for a month and a half. Guess we want to give it a title to shift responsibility.” And: “Threat, Fines, Suspension won’t deter me. I won’t accept illogical health decision, I will keep asking for safety & health.”

• Wasted draft pick: One guess.

• Keep on chucking: Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday, who shot 2 for 24 against Charlotte, second-worst ever for a player with 20 attempts or more, behind only Mike Newlin (1 for 22, 1973).

• Too much bling: Miami’s Chris Bosh, who was fleeced of $340,000 worth of watches, handbags and jewelry from his Miami Beach home while he and his wife were out celebrating his 29th birthday.

• No pay for bling: San Antonio’s DeJuan Blair, ordered to pay more than $53,000 to a jewelry store that gave him merchandise on credit more than three years ago, including a diamond watch and diamond ring. Dishonorable mention: New York’s Smith, ordered to pay $48,100 to a jewelry company for merchandise given on credit three years ago, including a diamond chain and two Black Jesus pendants.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers