Time For A Pop Quiz
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Jan. 22, 2008 -- With the NBA season at the midway point, it is time for a quick quiz to see if you have been paying attention.

Does Miami’s Shaquille O'Neal, who had diagnostic tests performed on his left hip Tuesday, deserve a spot as a reserve on the Eastern Conference All-Star Team.
A) Yes, he is still a huge fan favorite.
B) No, he is a shell of the dominant player that he used to be.
C) There are tons of other centers in the East putting up similar numbers.
D) None of the above.

The correct answer is C). Shaq has been slowed by injury this season, so it would probably be a good idea for him to use the league’s biggest showcase as a chance to rest. Besides, Cleveland’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas (13.3 points, 9.6 rebounds), Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut (13.4 and 9.1) and Charlotte’s Emeka Okafor (13.0 and 10.1) each deserve to be rewarded for their consistent play this season.

How many legitimate contenders are there this season for the MVP?
A) Six.
B) The Race to the MVP list 20 names, so obviously there are 20 candidates.
C) It’s still early in the season so everyone is a contender.
D) Two, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

The correct answer is A). At the midpoint, six players have emerged as the favorites. Bryant, who is considered the league’s most talented player, has the Lakers playing great ball. James is having the most spectacular individual season. Kevin Garnett has transformed the Celtics from afterthoughts to title contenders. Also, you can’t count out what Chris Paul (Hornets), Dwight Howard (Magic) and Steve Nash (Suns) have done for their respective clubs this season.

What has been the biggest surprise of the season as far as teams are concerned so far?
A) The Blazers.
B) The Heat.
C) The Hornets.
D) All of the above.

The correct answer is D). Obviously, the Blazers, who are the youngest team in the league, have to be considered when discussing surprises. Last year’s cellar dwellers have emerged as a team that no one wants to face in the postseason and appear to have a nucleus in place that will make them title contenders in a couple of years. With Chris Paul leading the way, the Hornets have the second best record in the talent-heavy Western Conference. Who knew? The Heat are also the correct answer to this question because nobody could have predicted that a team with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade and coached by Pat Riley would lose 14 games in a row and have a record of 8-32.

Line of the Week
Dwyane Wade, Heat
Loss vs. Cavs, January 21
42 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds

Which center has developed faster than expected?
A) Chris Kaman, Clippers.
B) Andrew Bynum, Lakers.
C) Dwight Howard, Magic.
D) All of the above.

The correct answer is D). Howard, the former No. 1 pick, had shown signs of being a superstar and this year he has fulfilled his potential. It is scary to think that he can improve on his numbers of 22 points, 15 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. He is only 22 years old. In just his third season, Bynum was averaging a double-double of 13.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game on 63.6 percent shooting from the field. He is expected to be out until mid-March after dislocating his kneecap and suffering a bone bruise. Kaman is averaging seven more points and six more rebounds a game this season compared to last year. Nobody could have predicted that he would have season averages of 17.4 points and 13.7 rebounds.

  • E-mail your feedback or talk about it in the R2MVP open forum.

    Biggest drop of the week: Chauncey Billups, Pistons (-3).
    Biggest rise of the week: Chris Bosh, Raptors (+4).

    Race to the MVP - The Top 10
    1. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers | Team Record: 27-12
    27.4 5.8 5.1 2.1 0.4 .446 .849
  • Last Week's Rank - 1
    After moving Bryant to the top spot following his 44-shot, 48-point performance against the Sonics, I received numerous e-mails from KB24 haters saying that I was rewarding a ball hog. Where are those complainers at now, following Monday's seven-shot, 11-assist masterpiece against the Nuggets? Bryant does whatever it takes to get the Lakers a 'W' in the win column.

  • 2. Kevin Garnett, Boston | Team Record: 33-6
    19.3 9.8 3.8 1.4 1.4 .544 .797
  • Last Week's Rank - 2
    After a brief slide, Garnett and Co. have won three in a row to get back on track. KG had one of his best all-around games of the season on MLK Day, posting 20 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in a victory over the Knicks.

  • 3. LeBron James, Cleveland | Team Record: 22-18
    29.7 7.6 7.4 2.0 1.1 .481 .702
  • Last Week's Rank - 6
    The Cavs are a season-best four games above .500 so the only knock against James (Cleveland's record) no longer exists. With the exception of opening night (10 points, 2-for-11 shooting) and the game against the Pistons at the end of November when he got hurt, he hasn't had a poor performance. Can he possibly play at an Oscar Robertson level all season? Stay tuned.

  • 4. Chris Paul, New Orleans | Team Record: 28-12
    21.1 3.8 10.4 2.7 0.0 .489 .884
  • Last Week's Rank - 3
    The Hornets have won eight out of nine. The one game they lost during this recent hot streak was the only time that Paul failed to reach double figures in assists. As if we needed it, but that is more proof that as Paul goes, so do the Hornets.

  • 5. Dwight Howard, Orlando | Team Record: 26-17
    22.1 15.0 1.5 1.0 2.6 .594 .600
  • Last Week's Rank - 4
    I thought Howard had the most impressive dunk at last year's contest when he caught a bounce pass from Jameer Nelson, slammed the ball with one hand while placing a sticker with his face on it 12-feet, six-inches high on the backboard with the other hand. That wasn't enough to get him a victory, but I can't wait to see what he does for an encore.

  • 6. Steve Nash, Phoenix | Team Record: 29-12
    16.9 3.5 12.1 0.7 0.1 .513 .903
  • Last Week's Rank - 5
    Where are the Jason Kidd supporters? In my last mailbag, I said that I would take Kidd over Nash this season. That generated hundreds of e-mails from people telling me I was crazy, because although they both are excellent playmakers, there isn't another point guard in the league who can shoot from the floor or the line like Nash. Meanwhile, not one person e-mailed in to tell me they agreed with me ...

  • 7. Allen Iverson, Denver | Team Record: 24-16
    27.0 2.9 6.9 2.0 0.2 .460 .816
  • Last Week's Rank - 8
    In the Nuggets' game against the Lakers on Monday, Carmelo Anthony suffered a sprained ankle. If Anthony misses any time, that will mean even more shots for Iverson, who is averaging over 29 points in the month of January.

  • 8. Paul Pierce, Boston | Team Record: 33-6
    20.4 5.5 4.9 1.4 0.4 .445 .814
  • Last Week's Rank - 7
    Offensively, Pierce has cooled off to start 2008. He ended 2007 by scoring at least 33 points in two of the Celtics final three games, but he has only topped the 20-point mark in two out of 10 games in January.

  • 9. Brandon Roy, Portland | Team Record: 25-16
    19.3 4.5 5.7 0.9 0.2 .456 .791
  • Last Week's Rank - 10
    Roy's statistics may not be as impressive as some of the other candidates, but the MVP is about more than just numbers. He is the unquestioned leader for the Blazers, who at the midway point in the season are in first place in the Northwest Division with a surprising record of 25-16.

  • 10. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas | Team Record: 27-13
    22.1 8.5 3.8 0.7 0.9 .483 .862
  • Last Week's Rank - 9
    Nowitzki, who is averaging over 23 points per game in January, has shook loose to score at least 20 points in 10 straight contest for the Mavericks.
  • On the Outside Looking In (averages - last week's rank)
    11. Baron Davis (GSW): 22.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 8.1 APG - (11)
    12. Caron Butler (WAS): 21.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 4.4 APG - (12)
    13. Chris Bosh (TOR): 22.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.2 APG - (17)
    14. Tim Duncan (SAS): 18.8 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 3.0 APG - (13)
    15. Carlos Boozer (UTA): 22.5 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 2.8 APG - (14)
    16. Carmelo Anthony (DEN): 25.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 3.4 APG - (15)
    17. Amare Stoudemire (PHX): 22.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.2 APG - (18)
    18. Yao Ming (HOU): 22.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 2.4 APG - (20)
    19. Chauncey Billups (DET): 17.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 7.1 APG - (16)
    20. Jason Kidd (NJN): 11.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG. 10.7 APG - (19)
  • Dropped out: None.

  • Running the Floor

    Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony get all of the headlines in Denver, but Marcus Camby may be the real MVP of the squad. The underappreciated center does all of the dirty work on the defensive end of the floor, allowing A.I. and Melo to concentrate on wreaking havoc offensively. His stat line from the Jazz game Thursday was just silly ... eight points, 24 rebounds and 11 blocked shots. The league hasn't seen a performance on that level in almost 15 years when Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal was establishing himself as the most dominant player in the game. On Nov. 20, 1993, Shaq erupted for 24 points, 28 rebounds and rejected 15 shots against the Nets. Sometimes I forget just how good The Diesel was.