Miami Heat's LeBron James dribbles the ball in the first half of their NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks in Miami

First half of NBA season awards, second half predictions


So much for the little rest stop in Orlando. It was fun.

The breakneck pace of the NBA’s condensed post-lockout season picks up again Tuesday night. The pedal goes to the metal and we head for the playoffs.

Before the engines fully rev up again, we’re going to take stock. But rather than just give you some midseason awards, we’ll give you some thoughts on if these players and teams can keep it up.

MVP: LeBron James, Miami Heat
In the second half: LeBron should be able to keep up his pace because what he’s done — 27.1 points per game on 54.7 percent shooting with 8 rebounds and 6 assists per game — is not happening just because he’s simply on a hot streak. He’s matured his game, he’s getting better looks in transition with the Heat’s up-tempo offense and because he’s traded in some threes for shots in the post. If he does falter a little, Kevin Durant is there to scoop up the pieces, with Tony Parker, Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose lurking.

Top Team in East: Miami Heat
In the second half: The East is a two team race, Miami and Chicago. The Bulls may have the better record right now but the Heat have been the better side of late. If both teams are fully healthy, I think the Heat are the better squad, but the gap is so narrow that nagging little injuries, a hot bench player, just about anything can swing that series. The Eastern Conference Finals are going to be epic.

Top Team in West: Oklahoma City Thunder
In the second half: The Thunder are one of the true elite teams, one of the NBA’s contenders. Yet, there are moments you wonder about OKC and their end-of-game execution, their play that seems to go a bit too isolation, there is a feeling among some scouts in the league they can be stopped. Except nobody has really done it. Who in the West can really best them? San Antonio? Dallas? The Lakers? None of them without making a trade. The Clippers may be the most likely, but they strike me as OKC a year ago, a team learning to win. The Thunder likely will come out of the West and they will push anyone in the East in the finals.

Most Disappointing Team: Boston Celtics
In the second half: You knew that the condensed schedule would be hard on the Celtics older legs (as we expected and have seen with the Lakers and for stretches the Mavericks and Spurs). But in Boston, it’s not just the losses (or 15-16 record), it’s how the losses are happening that gives you feeling they held on too long and there is no way to salvage this short term. Rajon Rondo seems more testy than normal (throwing the ball at the ref? Really?). The defense is still good but come the playoffs will that be enough? Danny Ainge may make a big move, if he can find one he likes.

Biggest surprise player: Jeremy Lin, New York Knicks
In the second half: Lin may not keep dropping 20 a night consistently, but he doesn’t have to — he has to learn to mesh with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire and now J.R. Smith. If he can, the Knicks could be the third best team in the NBA entering the playoffs (not by record, but by how they are playing). But Deron Williams said over the weekend that other point guards are seeing the hype around Lin and they are gearing up for him. It’s something to watch.

Coach of the year: Doug Collins, Philadelphia 76ers
In the second half: The Sixers started out playing fantastic team ball — good defense and a balanced offense. But that has fallen off since Spencer Hawes got hurt, he is the guy who made their offense work because he moved the ball side-to-side quickly. The ball gets stuck now and they are easier to defend. And Hawes is going to be out at least another couple of weeks. My guess is the Sixers slip and we can move Gregg Popovich into the coach of the year spot — he has the Spurs playing fantastic ball this season, as he did last year. He deserves it.

Kings pick up option on G Ben McLemore

Ben McLemore, Rodney Hood
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento have picked up the 2016-17 option on guard Ben McLemore‘s contract.

General manager Vlade Divac announced the move Saturday.

McLemore was Sacramento’s first-round pick in 2013. He averaged 12.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season.

Paul George reiterates “I don’t know if I’m cut out for a four spot”

Paul George

In the Pacers first exhibition game of the season Saturday against the Pelicans, Paul George started at the power forward spot and looked healthy — that should be the big takeaway. He also showed off his offensive game in the first quarter, eventually finishing the night with 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He forced some shots in the second half and had some defensive challenges, but it was a solid outing for a first preseason game.

George did not see it that way, and that will end up being the big takeaway.

He complained about playing power forward during training camp and given the chance after this one game he did it again, as reported by Candace Buckner of the Indy Star.

“I don’t know if I’m cut out for a four spot,” George said after the Pacers’ 110-105 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, a game in which he started matched up against 6-foot-11 All-Star Anthony Davis.

“I don’t know if this is my position. We’ll sit and watch tape and I’m sure I’ll talk with coach (Frank Vogel). I’ll talk with Larry (Bird) as well to get both their inputs on how the first game went but…I’m still not comfortable with it regardless of the situation. It’s still something I have to adjust to or maybe not. Or maybe it’s something we can go away from.”

George sees himself as a wing, where he has played his entire career. He doesn’t like defending traditional fours, as a scorer he doesn’t like expending all that energy defending pick-and-rolls and banging with bigger bodies. He’s been clear about that.

He still needs to be open to the idea. How much time George gets at the four on any given night should depend on the matchup — and Anthony Davis is about as rough a matchup as he is going to see. Davis scored 18 points in 15 minutes, and the Pelicans controlled the paint against the small-ball Pacers. George had a hard time defending Davis — welcome to a rather large club, PG. That said, George scored 12 points in the first quarter mostly with Davis on him, he pulled the big out in space and got what he wanted.

Back to the matchups point, George will struggle defensively against the best fours in the game (most of whom are in the West). But what about the nights in the East when George would be matched up on Thaddeus Young from Brooklyn, Jared Sullinger (or David Lee, or whoever) from Boston, or Aaron Gordon with the Magic, or Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks when they play small? There are a lot of lineups the Pacers will see where George at the four makes sense.

The Pacers are transitioning from a plodding and defensive-minded squad to a more up-tempo style, and that’s going to take time— a lot more than one preseason game. However, if George is throwing cold water on the plan after this one effort, it might take a lot longer and be a lot bumpier to make that transition than we pictured.