NBA quarter pole awards: Yes, LeBron is the MVP

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We are a quarter of the way into the NBA season, which is far too early to start talking about end of the season awards, playoffs or much of anything else.

I’m going to anyway.

Here are the awards in a few categories as we reach the quarter pole. We’ve got a long back stretch not to mention the final straightaway to go, but right now we’re starting to get a feel for the races (and some other random categories thrown in).

League MVP: LeBron James. A bunch of LeBron haters just read that then used my name in conjuction with some anatomically impossible acts, but it’s the truth — LeBron has been far and away the best player in the league so far. His PER is more than 8-points higher than the guy in second (Kobe Bryant, technically Manu Ginobili is closer but he has been out). Michael Jordan never had a PER this high for an entire season. He is averaging 29.7 points (on 56.4 percent shooting), 8.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists plus a couple of blocks per game. He is getting to the free throw line more, his post game is better, his shot selection is better, his midrange jumper is improved… and he was already the best player in the league. Kobe and Kevin Durant can battle it out for a distant second with a lot of ground to close.

Best team in the league: The Miami Heat. Yes, the Chicago Bulls have played better team defense and have a better record, plus with the addition of Richard Hamilton their offense is vastly improved. Miami has had injuries (Dwyane Wade is still out) but their new up-tempo offense, the addition of Norris Cole and Shane Battier, plus getting Mike Miller healthy means they are still the team to beat. Miami made the finals last year and are better this year. The Bulls and Thunder can make a serious run at them, but watching the Heat get some easy buckets with their new offense makes me think they are still the team holding up the trophy at the end of the year.

Who are the dark horse contenders: Denver in the West, Orlando in the East: Denver is playing fantastic team basketball — fast and good on offense, with impressive ball sharing and balance. If they bring back some of Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith after the Chinese season ends, they get that much better.

Orlando (despite the off night in Boston) has the best center in the game and has surrounded him with shooters. They run the pick-and-roll well and Ryan Anderson is a perfect fit in the offense (he is four, the guy you want to help off of to Dwight Howard, but he makes you pay for that with his threes). They play good defense and know who they are. If they keep Howard and can survive the rumor mill, they are the team that could threaten the big two in the East in the playoffs (but most likely they are out in the second round, then will Howard stay?).

Most fun team to watch: Minnesota Timberwolves. The Clippers are the obvious choice here — and with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, D’Andre Jordan and the rest they certainly are a good choice. But I find myself gravitating toward Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and the Timberwolves. They are a team getting better every game and that makes them fun to watch.

Most disappointing team: New York Knicks. I thought going into the season they were the third best team in the East, but not only are they losing they look ugly doing it. Carmelo Anthony is not a point forward and Mike D’Antoni has ill-fitting pieces for his system. They need Baron Davis, and I don’t love Baron Davis as a savior. And somebody start using Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler better in the pick-and-roll, they are beasts. Honorable mention to the Celtics and Lakers.

Rookie of the Year: Ricky Rubio. This is shaping up as a two point guard battle, with Kyrie Irving as the other guy. And certainly Rubio has more talent around him to work with, but he comes in a much more polished floor general and a guy who can command a game. Plus his shot is better than we expected at 37.1 percent from three (the mechanics are still a little odd and shot-put like, but fixable).

Sixth Man of the Year: James Harden. It’s not close. There are the Williamses — Lou in Philly and Mo with the Clippers — who are playing well, but the only way Harden loses this is if Scott Brooks sobers up and moves Harden to the starting lineup.

Coach of the Year: Doug Collins, Philadelphia. This is one where there are few good candidates — Nate McMillan in Portland, Frank Vogel in Indiana, George Karl in Denver — and it is really open. But I’ll go with Collins, who has given Philadelphia a system that has made them the story of the young season.

Thing we’ve not liked this season: Sloppy basketball. The lack of training camp, the condensed schedules leaving less practice time, conditioning, it has all led to much sloppier basketball then we saw in years past. It feels like preseason games far too many nights. It’s not pretty to watch. The blame goes on everyone — owners and players — because they wanted as much money as they could after the lockout and gave us this ugly schedule with ugly, sloppy games. It’s hard to watch at points.

Corey Maggette named Big3 MVP, Nancy Lieberman Coach of Year

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When you see Corey Maggette — even in a suit when he is at Staples Center to help do Clippers’ pregame/postgame analysis — your first thought is, “that man looks like he can still play.” The “gun show” is still something to behold.

Turns out, he can still play. Very well.

Maggette suited up in the Big3 this season (he was injured in his first game last weekend), is the captain that led Power to the championship game this Friday night, averaged 16.9 points (fourth in the league), 3.1 assists (fourth in the league), and for that was named league MVP on Tuesday. He earned the award for his leadership as much as his production, and with that he also was named the Big3’s Captain of the Year.

He just beat out David Hawkins of Tri-State for MVP, who averaged 16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.

Power dominated the awards, with coach Nancy Lieberman winning Coach of the Year (in her first year with the league), and Chris “Birdman” Anderson won Defensive Player of the Year behind his 1.4 blocks per game and owning of the paint.

The “Too Hard to Gaurd” award went to Al Harrington, who led the Big3 averaging 18 points per game for Trilogy (last year’s champion). The man can still get buckets.

Biggest Trash Talker award went to Gary Payton of 3 Headed Monsters. We all should have seen that coming.

4th Man of the Year went to Andre Emmet of 3’s Company. He has been the hottest player in the Big3 in recent weeks, averaging more than 20 points per game during the run, and if 3’s Company is going to upset Power in the championship game it will be because Emmet has another monster season.

The BIG Community Award went to Ricky Davis. Every Friday morning, in whatever city the Big3 was in that week, Davis (through the Ricky Davis Legacy Foundation) brought other players and coaches to visit homeless shelters and encampments throughout the city and deliver fresh produce and toiletries. It (along with the weekly youth programs the Big3 did weekly in each city) was a great bit of reaching out.

Just a reminder, the BIG3 championship night kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday night live on FOX, from Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. The championship game will see Power — led by Corey Maggette and Glen Big Baby Davis — taking on 3’s Company (led by Andre Emmett, the hottest player in the league right now) for the title.

Channing Frye says young Lakers may not “truly understand what it’s like to play with” LeBron

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Channing Frye is in a unique position. He has played with LeBron James for years and helped bring a title to Cleveland with him. However, at the deadline he was sent to the rebuilding Lakers as part of the Larry Nance/Jordan Clarkson deal, so he also has played with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and the rest of the young Lakers’ core.

Those experiences inform Frye’s opinions when Erik García Gundersen of the USA Today’s LeBron Wire asked him how smoothly LeBron would fit with the Lakers.

“I’ll tell you this: (the young Lakers are) arguably the most talented group in the NBA. And I mean talented in terms of experience, years playing in the Western Conference and they’re overall position.

I think the thing they’re going to come to and I think a lot of guys are going to have to deal with this. There’s who you expect to be and then who you are when you play with LeBron. It’s two different things. I don’t know if they truly understand what it’s like to play with him because there is no room for mistakes. Because in all actuality, he could do it himself. He could lead a team to 40 wins by himself. I think for all of them they’re going to have to have a reality check, not only them but the people around them. There’s going to say, not a growing period, but a humility.”

Chris Bosh, Kevin Love and a host of other guys would be very happy to explain just how much players need to adapt to playing with LeBron. The Lakers established a style of play and a pecking order last season, and this summer that got blown up. It’s not starting from scratch, but it’s going to be an adjustment — and it can’t take too long in an unforgiving Western Conference.

The other thing Frye notes: The Lakers now have a target on their back. Last season they were interesting, this season teams will circle this game on their schedule. The Lakers are going to get the other team’s best shot every night. LeBron is used to this, for Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and the rest it will again be an adjustment.

The Lakers are an interesting experiment this season. It’s a one-season thing, they will go hard at other stars next summer (or at the trade deadline) and the roster will get shaken up again next summer. That doesn’t make this season any easier on the Lakers, their players, or Luke Walton. LeBron’s too good to let it all come apart, but the Meme team’s dynamic will be fascinating.

Kobe Bryant “definitely” staying retired, not playing in Big3 next season

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When spoken words get transcribed — or just heard by people half-listening — context can be lost.

Take for example, the Big3 media conference call on Tuesday (which I was on). The executives of that league — co-founders Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz, plus Clyde Drexler and Amy Trask — have a fun, joking relationship that comes through when you speak to more than one of them at a time. They drop inside jokes, poke a little fun at each other, and sound more like you and your friends hanging out with a beer rather than some cold, staged PR event. It’s no secret Cube has tried to recruit Kobe Bryant for a while to the Big3, only to get shot down each time, and that led to this exchange when they were asked about Kobe coming to the league.

Ice Cube: “We have a list of people that we would love to see, I think the fans would love to see. The fans would love to see Kobe, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce. Anybody who still has the passion to play. We don’t want you if you don’t have the passion to play. If Kobe doesn’t have the passion to play at this level, then it’s better for him to watch on tv. If he has the passion, then here we are.”

Jeff Kwatinetz: “I did hear from a credible source that Kobe is going to be playing next year. That’s something, but it may be nothing.”

Ice Cube: “That would be amazing.”

Kwatinetz was joking with Ice Cube more than making a prediction, but that’s not how some read/heard it, the news got out on Twitter, and, well, Twitter is Twitter.

That forced Kobe’s marketing person to shoot the idea down publicly, just to be clear.

I’d like to say this is the kind of thing we see in the off-season when there are no games to write about, but we know better, this happens during the regular season, too.

Just to be clear, Kobe was probably as well prepared for life after basketball as anyone who has retired from the NBA, and he has moved on. He still works out with guys — Boston’s Jaylen Brown most recently — and does his video breakdown series for ESPN, but he’s got a lot of other things going on as well with his businesses. The man won an Oscar already, what more do you want? He has moved on.

Just a reminder, the BIG3 championship night kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday night live on FOX, from Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. The championship game will see Power — led by Corey Maggette and Glen Big Baby Davis — taking on 3’s Company (led by Andre Emmett, the hottest player in the league right now) for the title.

Zhou Qi’s China edges Jordan Clarkson’s Philippines at Asian Games

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) The Philippines was vastly improved with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson added to the team to face China at the Asian Games.

Just one problem.

Although the U.S.-born Clarkson led all scorers with 28 points, he had to sit out much of the fourth quarter with a cramp in his right thigh. That was the opening China needed, winning 82-80 in Tuesday’s Group D game.

Clarkson returned to play the last few minutes of the quarter, and the Philippines Paul Dalistan missed a 3-point shot with about five seconds left, which could have sealed an upset against the tournament favorites.

“After he cramped, Jordan couldn’t play his 100-percent best,” Philippines coach Joseller Guiao said. “But even without him in there we still played well.”

Despite the loss, Philippines should reach the quarterfinals with China heavily favored to beat Kazakhstan on Thursday.

Houston Rockets young center Zhou Qi led China with 25. The 2.17 meter (7-foot-1) blocked a half-dozen shots for the vastly taller Chinese. China’s other NBA player, Dallas Mavericks small forward Ding Yanyuhang, had seven points.

Clarkson, whose mother has Philippines heritage that earned him a passport, arrived in Jakarta just a few days ago after the NBA finally agreed to let him play.

He hit the third of three straight 3-point shots to tie the game at 55-55 late in the third quarter.

The Philippines led 78-75 late in the game, but couldn’t hold on with Clarkson unable to play at full speed.

“We have to keep moving on and hope we get to play them (China) again in the tournament,” said Philippines guard Gabriel Norwood.

Clarkson skipped post-game interviews, walking directly past reporters to get his leg treated.

“I don’t see this as a loss,” Guiao said. “We formed this team only two weeks ago, and Jordan just flew in five days ago. He was able to get into the flow quickly. We’re a lot better with Jordan Clarkson.”