|Chris Paul Chris Paul is our new leader for MVP. (Getty Images)|
In this week's Baseline Awards, we touch on the Lakers' defensive issues, how great Kyrie Irving is, the Blazers' surprising play, and have a new leader for MVP.
The "Wildcard Weekend" award for things that are awesome.
Kyrie Irving's handle: The kid is just ridiculous. Check this out.
Andre Iguodala's toughness: Iguodala went through a shooting slump this month that was out of sorts even for him, and he had turnovers to boot. I noticed he was wearing a wrap on his wrist, but there was no official listing from the team regarding an injury. (Nuggets color commentator Scott Hastings did say Iguodala had an injury, but I missed it.) Iguodala told me this week that he sprained his wrist but was just playing through it. The injury was nothing major. Iguodala's no hero, but it should be noted that he was playing through an injury that a lot of guys would miss time for.
The Warriors-Clippers bad blood: Watching these two embarrass one another days apart was fun, as both teams ran it up at home vs. the other one. It sets up a contentious relationship between the two top teams in the Pacific, both playoff teams, who suddenly have a little bit of a rivalry going. The Warriors' bench was unnecessarily outrageous in their victory, which in part led to the Clippers' highlight reel up 40 on Saturday. The antics alone make these games worth watching -- even the blowouts.
Houston Rockets' off-ball movement: The Rockets might have the best offense in the league, and it plays at a blistering pace. While a lot of its sets are simply James Harden isolations, the off-ball movement from their perimeter players creates havoc on rotations, which help Harden get a lane to the rim. And if the defenders stay home to help, it creates open looks for their bevy of shooters, including Carlos Delfino, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson. On one possession, three of their perimeter shooters rotated five-plus times after the initial playset, including a nice use of a ball screen to create a corner 3. Some great work going on offensively in Houston, which led to a 4-0 week for the Rox.
Portland Trail Blazers: Just getting it done. Despite a horrible bench and a starting rotation that gets shakier the further you go, Portland went 3-1 this week with big wins over Memphis and New York. They're playing fundamental basketball on both sides and just out-executing teams to make up for the talent differential.
The Celtics' "turnaround": It had to come at some point, and it would appear that the loss to the Kings by 20 was rock-bottom. They were more competitive against Memphis, then started to turn it into wins against playoff teams in the East in Atlanta and Indiana. We'll see if they can sustain this and if they've really turned the corner on such a horrible start.
Interim Coaches: P.J. Carlesimo has the Nets hot, while Bernie Bickerstaff held the best record for a Lakers coach this season. Quick, everyone! Fire your coach!
Jameer Nelson: Nelson has been en fuego this week, averaging 31 points on 53 percent shooting. When people ask how the Magic are so competitive, their youngsters and Jacque Vaughn get a lot of credit, but Nelson's ability to fill in possessions with smart shooting has been a key, too. People forget the guy was an All-Star once.
DeMarcus Cousins: Has responded to all of the drama with a stellar week. How about 25 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks per game as the Kings showed their best basketball of the season? The real question is, did Cousins turn a corner, or is he showing off for trade partners?
The chances of Rudy Gay being traded: This thought shot up dramatically over the weekend as multiple reports indicated the Grizzlies want to get under the luxury tax and Gay's the easiest way to do that. The term "salary dump" is being referenced in regards to the Grizzlies' third-best player, which is going to kill his value. If this is the way that new ownership wants to start off, by making a pure money liquidation of a team with legitimate title aspirations, that's going to be disappointing.
Chicken noodle soup: Having been sick for what feels like eternity, I can only say that nothing in this world is better than those comforts. I even know how much better the higher-end soups are, but I keep going for the simple red-and-white can version. It's the "Kevin Garnett pick and pop" of my sickness offense.
Damian Lillard's spacing: Lillard has great understanding of the spacing coming off the pick and roll. He rarely gets surprised by coverage. And when teams play back on him, he's blistering them with his two-dribble-off-the-pick jumper. He's the runaway favorite for ROY.
The "BCS Championship" award for things that need a little work
Los Angeles Lakers: Everything. It is bad.
Royce White: Suspended for basically not working per his contract and demanding things of the Rockets that no employer would be receptive to. The kid just doesn't seem to get that his condition is grounds for understanding and compromise, not capitulation and a forfeit of organizational control. And he's ruining the chances of the next player with anxiety disorder to come through the draft.
An actual Clippers-Warriors series: It seems like a good idea but, in reality, these games have been blowouts. You can just imagine a similar first-round series that seems like it will be close and competitive but is actually just blowouts with a lot of bad blood. Disliking each other doesn't make for good basketball.
The ROY Race: This class, so heralded, has been awful. Lillard is fantastic, Anthony Davis is very good, Andre Drummond is great but needs more minutes, Harrison Barnes and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have both been above replacement-player level.
Grizzlies' offense: We thought this thing was fixed. Instead, it seems as ruined as it was in previous years. Put simply, when the game gets late, Lionel Hollins has Mike Conley run 12 seconds off the clock, then give it to Gay for what is always a pull-up shot, often against mulitple defenders Their shooters have regressed and, this once again looks like a team without the weapons needed to go deep in the playoffs.
The Mavericks' attitudes: Mark Cuban's unhappy but defiant. Dirk Nowitzki's not happy. The whole team seems frustrated. The Mavericks have been so good at assembling talent over the years, but they've hit a major iceberg in trying to figure out how to get younger going forward. The future is uncertain for the normally solid Mavs.
The Spurs showing up for a big game, any big game: Gregg Popovich is so obsessed with not getting his players tired or hurt that he has avoided several major contests this year. They had the Grizzlies game after they no-showed Miami, but this team seems reticent to give an ounce of ground to win a big game. At some point, that will be important for a team to learn, and you wonder if it does the role players a disservice to constantly have "eh, whatever" nights against the good teams.
Dwight Howard's defense: Back problems, mental frustrations, whatever. Howard is not rotating as he needs to. Even in a game in which he finished with 26 rebounds, Howard's slides to get to the right spot were either lazy or nonexistent. That's why, time and time again, Ty Lawson was able to punish the Lakers at the rim on Sunday night. Howard has to do more for this team defensively, whether he thinks that's fair or not.
1. Chris Paul, Clippers: Call him Point God.
2. Kevin Durant, Thunder: His game is still getting better in big leaps; so scary.
3. LeBron James, Heat: The most fearsome player in the league when he takes over.
4. Carmelo Anthony, Knicks: The improvement in his consistency really leads to think he has made a leap mentally.
5. Tony Parker, Spurs: Such incredible control of maybe the league's best offense.
Rookie Of the Year
1. Damian Lillard, Blazers: Runaway winner right now.
2. Alexey Shved, Timberwolves: You laugh, but Shved has been big for the Wolves this season.
3. Anthony Davis, Hornets: Needs more time, but a healthy Eric Gordon paves the way for more opportunities.
4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats: Has all the physical tools you want in a rookie.
5. Andre Drummond, Pistons: NEEDS MORE MINUTES
6th Man of the Year
1. Jarrett Jack, Warriors: His ability to balance the team when Steph Curry is out is a huge reason the Warriors have been so good.
2. Jamal Crawford, Clippers: The most prolific bench pure scorer of the past four years?
3. Kevin Martin, Thunder: 46 percent from 3? That's pretty good.
4. Carl Landry, Warriors: His rotations and work cutting off perimeter penetration on pick and rolls has been underrated.
5. Ray Allen, Heat: Defense is really what keeps him from a top-three spot.
Defensive Player Of the Year
1. Tony Allen, Grizzlies: Allen's defense attacks like it's offense.
2. Andre Iguodala, Nuggets: Stunningly good at cutting off sets and disrupting plays.
3. Andrei Kirilenko, Timberwolves: Forces drives into the wrong angle, then capitalizes on them.
4. Nick Collison, Thunder: A big defender who can handle the switch on the guard.
5. Tyson Chandler, Knicks: Watching his traps and hedges is watching how defense is meant to be played by a modern big.
Most Improved Player
1. Jrue Holiday, Sixers: Has a firm lock on this and has been worthy of an All-Star nod in a tough Eastern Conference for point guards.
2. Corey Brewer, Nuggets: Is he still uneven? A bit. Is his shot still a work in progress? Yes. But Brewer is a huge difference maker on a playoff team, and his erratic defense has become calculated gambling.
3. Nicolas Batum, Blazers: Living up to every penny of his new contract.
4. Greivis Vasquez, Hornets: Has evolved into an acutal starting point guard.
5. Larry Sanders, Bucks: Who would have thought he'd establish himself as the Bucks' best big?
Coach of the Year
1. Mark Jackson, Warriors: No one expected this from the Warriors, not even their owners.
2. Mike Woodson, Knicks: Winning when things go bad is a sign of a well-coached team.
3. Larry Drew, Hawks: Getting great balance from the whole roster.
4. Scott Brooks, Thunder: At some point, you have to credit him for keeping this team together through major change.
5. Vinny Del Negro, Clippers: We know. We don't get it, either.