Week 16
By Maurice Brooks
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SECAUCUS, N.J., Feb. 20, 2007 -- The break is over. It's time to get back to work.

The extravaganza that is the NBA's All-Star Weekend is in the books and now it is time to get serious about who the contenders and pretenders are in the Race to the MVP.

With just about 30 games remaining for each of the top candidates, the stretch run will go a long way in determining who wins the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

While the Race to the MVP Top 10 and Close But No Cigar sections highlight the top 20 players, there are only two ballers at this point in the season with a realistic shot at winning the league's highest individual award.

The Contenders

Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
Remember people, this is the MVP, not the player of the year award.

Being the best player on the best team in the league goes a long way into figuring out the not-so-perfect formula for who is MVP. With that being said, it is hard to argue against Nowitzki.

  • He makes and takes every big shot for Dallas
  • His numbers are awesome across the board
  • His name can be found near the top of the efficency ratings
  • He is the unquestioned leader for his squad

    If Dallas keeps up the pace and Nowitzki continues to light it up, the award is his to lose.

    Steve Nash, Suns
    Enough already Steve. You've proven your point.

    Nash's impact on the Suns has been front and center the past two weeks.

    With the two-time MVP sporting designer clothes instead of his uniform because of a sore right shoulder, Phoenix went out and lost three straight games. Over the past three seasons, the Suns are 151-49 when he plays and 4-12 when he doesn't. This season they are just 2-4 without him.

    Critics said that Nash is a product of the Suns wide-open system. That couldn't be any further from the truth. Nash is the system.

    Last I checked, the Suns still trot two All-Stars, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, on to the court each night. That should be good enough to beat the Hawks and Bulls at home and the Sonics on the road.

    Without Nash, it wasn't.

    Nash is due to return to the lineup against the Clippers tonight. That is a good thing. He has some catching up to do.

    Line of the Week
    Kobe Bryant (West All-Stars)
    February 18 vs. East All-Stars
    31 points, six assists, six steals
    Named All-Star Game MVP

    Rest of the Field

    The other five top candidates each have minor flaws.

    Gilbert Arenas, Wizards
    His shooting percentage is terrible, he plays in the East and his own coach recently questioned his leadership.

    Kobe Bryant, Lakers
    After a fantastic start to the season, the Lakers have forgotten how to win, dropping five straight and seven of 10.

    LeBron James, Cavaliers
    Although his team is doing well, James hasn't been the same player since injuring his big toe a few weeks ago.

    Dwyane Wade, Heat
    Numbers wise, D-Wade deserves to be mentioned next to Nowitzki and Nash. Problem is, the Heat didn't start winning again until Shaquille O'Neal returned to the lineup.

    Tracy McGrady, Rockets
    He has done all that has been expected of him and then some. What happens to his stats when Yao returns and will his cranky back force him to miss any more time this season?

    Here are the player rankings for the season through Feb. 19.

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    Race to the MVP - Overall Player Rankings
    1. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
    25.3 9.4 3.3 0.8 0.8 .501 .901
  • Last Week's Rank - 1
    Even though he didn't successfully defend his title in the Three-Point Shootout, Dirk still had a nice showing placing third. He scored just nine points in the All-Star Game but as usual with Dirk, his team won.

  • 2. Steve Nash, Phoenix
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
    19.3 3.3 11.8 0.7 0.1 .536 .882
  • Last Week's Rank - 2
    My co-worker Dave McMenamin had some good news from Vegas for Suns fans: "Steve Nash is practicing as hard or harder than any of the healthy Western Conference players as Suns' assistant coach Alvin Gentry feeds him for 3-pointer after 3-pointer in between drills for the healthy All-Stars."

  • 3. Gilbert Arenas, Washington
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
    28.8 4.7 6.1 1.9 0.1 .419 .837
  • Last Week's Rank - 3
    Arenas was made for All-Star Weekend. From his outstanding showing at the Three-Point Shootout, to posting eight points and four assists as a starter to the East, to his well-written All-Star blog to his trampoline dunk, Agent Zero was the man.

  • 4. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
    28.8 5.6 5.5 1.4 0.4 .468 .869
  • Last Week's Rank - 4
    Is there a more popular player in the game? Kobe was everywhere in Vegas. He participated in the Skills Challenge, was a judge for the Slam Dunk competition and took home MVP honors at the All-Star Game.

  • 5. LeBron James, Cleveland
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
    26.4 6.9 5.9 1.6 0.7 .472 .686
  • Last Week's Rank - 5
    LeBron stumbled along during the Skills Challenge on Saturday but he was the best player on the floor (28 points, six assists and six rebounds) for the East in the All-Star Game.

  • 6. Dwyane Wade, Miami
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
    28.8 4.8 7.8 2.1 1.3 .495 .818
  • Last Week's Rank - 6
    D-Wade had 10 points and six assists in the All-Star Game and successfully defended his title in the Skills Challege against a field that included Chris Paul, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

  • 7. Tracy McGrady, Houston
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
    23.9 5.4 6.1 1.2 0.5 .443 .685
  • Last Week's Rank - 7
    More proof that T-Mac is capable of doing whatever his team needs. He handed out a game-high 11 assists in the West victory.

  • 8. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
    22.4 12.6 4.5 1.4 1.8 .477 .835
  • Last Week's Rank - 8
    KG played the fewest minutes (14) out of everyone in the game. That was all the time he needed to post seven points, six rebounds and four assists.

  • 9. Tim Duncan, San Antonio
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
    20.4 10.7 3.5 0.7 2.3 .529 .652
  • Last Week's Rank - 9
    The nine-time All-Star got the start at forward and finished with four points, five rebounds and four assists.

  • 10. Chris Bosh, Toronto
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
    23.3 10.7 2.4 0.4 1.2 .505 .757
  • Last Week's Rank - 10
    Typical Bosh: He went 5-for-7 from the floor to finish with 11 points and also pulled down seven rebounds.
  • Close But No Cigar (season averages - last week's rank)
    11. Dwight Howard (ORL): 17.6 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 1.7 BPG - (11)
    12. Caron Butler (WAS): 20.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG. 3.9 APG - (13)
    13. Carmelo Anthony (DEN): 30.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.4 APG - (14)
    14. Josh Howard (DAL): 19.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG - (15)
    15. Deron Williams (UTA): 17.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 9.2 APG - (17)
    16. Jermaine O'Neal (IND): 19.8 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 3.0 BPG - (18)
    17. Zach Randolph (POR): 24.0 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.9 APG - (16)
    18. Shawn Marion (PHX): 17.9 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 2.2 SPG - (12)
    19. Chauncey Billups (DET): 17.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 7.6 APG - (20)
    20. Mehmet Okur (UTA): 18.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.0 APG - (NR)
  • Dropped out: Jason Kidd, Nets.

  • Running the Floor

    Lee
    As a Sixers fan, I can't stand the Knicks. Still, I was more than impressed by the performance of David Lee at the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam. He went 14-for-14 from the floor on the way to a 30-point, 11-rebound MVP performance in the Sophomore's 155-114 win over the Rookies.
    Maybe it has something to do with Sir Charles being my favorite athlete ever but my No. 1 All-Star Weekend moment was the made-for-television race being Charles Barkley and Dick Bavetta. Tell me you didn't laugh when Barkley, who was running backwards at the time, tumbled over the finish line or when Bavetta, in a last-chance try for victory, dove. The image of Bavetta standing there with blood trickling down his knee was priceless.