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Anthony Davis? Luka Doncic? Our predictions for NBA MVP, Rookie of the Year

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It’s time for us to say things we will look back on and regret in just a few short months.

With the NBA season just a little more than a week away, the NBA writing staff here at NBC Sports have put together our predictions for MVP and Rookie of the Year (the top three in each). We will likely forget these within 24 hours, but no doubt you readers will remind us how wrong we were down the line.

Let’s get to it:

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Kurt Helin1. Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans); 2. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers); 3. James Harden (Houston Rockets)

This is the year Davis, already a top-five NBA player, stays healthy and puts up MVP-level statistics, and does so on a team that will be in the playoff hunt, keeping it in the eyes of voters. That will earn him his first MVP, whether it’s enough to keep him in New Orleans long term is another discussion. Beyond Davis, it’s hard not to lean toward the top vote getters from last year, especially LeBron who will be on a team that will need him to carry a big load in the deep West.

Dan Feldman: 1. James Harden (Houston Rockets); 2. Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans); 3. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)

Harden won MVP last year and finished a fairly close second two of the previous three years. He is almost always in the mix for this award, and people seem to be overlooking him in the race this season. Davis and Antetokounmpo are fresh names, and voters sometimes reward that. Of course, if LeBron James — the NBA’s best player — cares about chasing this award, he’ll be in the thick of the race. But getting these Lakers to a record that impresses voters won’t be easy.

Dane Delgado: 1. James Harden (Houston Rockets); 2. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers); 3. Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors)

I really want to pick Kevin Durant here, because he might actually be the most dominant player in the league even if his value to the Golden State Warriors is obviously less than absolute. I think if the Rockets can build on last season, Harden will continue to be the reason why. Any guy who leads a team who can slow or derail the juggernaut in the Bay Area is going to get a lot of repeat votes.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin1. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks); 2. Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns); 3. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies)

Three years from now I’m not convinced Doncic will be the best player in this class — I think that will be Jackson in Memphis — but he’s the most NBA ready and he’s going to get the touches needed to put up numbers. Ayton will get touches in Phoenix this season, if they can figure out the point guard situation. This is a deep class and other players could get in the mix (keep an eye on Marvin Bagley Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander).

Dan Feldman: 1. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks); 2. Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns); 3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Los Angeles Clippers)

Doncic and Ayton have tools and roles to flourish early. There’s enough Doncic hype coming out of Dallas already that I gave the edge to him. The third spot was throwing darts.

Dane Delgado: 1. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks); 2. Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns); 3. Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks)

Luka Doncic is going to get something the other rookies won’t get this season, and that’s unfiltered praise for being a poster boy for the modern NBA. A big tweener forward who handles the rock, shoots, and passes like every game is an AAU All-Star event is going to make the collective NBA social sphere lose its mind each and every night. Ayton might end up having a higher ceiling, but this year Doncic is going to be all over your Twitter feed.

Kawhi Leonard dunks on Luka Doncic, scores 36 to spark Clippers win

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DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks brought back one big man but lost another Tuesday night, and in the end, they couldn’t rein in the reigning Finals MVP.

Kawhi Leonard scored 36 points, Landry Shamet hit two clutch 3-pointers late and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-107 Tuesday night for their fourth straight win.

Leonard also had the dunk of the night going right over Luka Doncic.

Dallas ended a four-game winning streak, and more importantly, lost a key piece in center Dwight Powell just as they welcomed back Kristaps Porzingis.

Powell went down to a non-contact, right Achilles tendon injury in the first quarter, and though he will have an MRI on Wednesday, the team is fearing a worst-case scenario.

“Guys like him define the culture we want here,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “It doesn’t get much tougher than this, if it ends up being what we fear it might.”

Luka Doncic had 36 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for Dallas. He scored 24 points in the second half to help rally the Mavericks after they trailed by double digits from late in the second quarter through most of the third.

Shamet helped the Clippers seize the game late in the fourth quarter. His 3 from the left wing to give Los Angeles a 100-98 lead with 2:48 to play. Montrezl Harrell added two free throws, then Shamet sank another 3 from straight-on to put the Clippers up by seven. He finished with 18 points.

“We just kind of found a way to win,” Shamet said. “We’d loved to keep that lead the whole game, but that’s not how it’s going to be. It’s a long season. We got to find different ways how to win like we did tonight.”

Leonard added 11 in the fourth quarter, including his only 3 of the game with 1:15 left, which put the Clippers up 108-100.

But Dallas rallied, as Doncic hit a 3 and Maxi Kleber a dunk. After a Clippers turnover, Tim Hardaway Jr.‘s potential tying 3 spun around and out. JaMychal Green missed two free throws for LA, but then Doncic missed two – the second intentionally – and Leonard sealed it with two free throws.

 

Pelicans reportedly “really pulled back in trade talks” to focus on playoff push

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Three-and-a-half games.

Despite an injury-riddled 17-27 first half of the season, the New Orleans Pelicans are just three-and-a-half games out of the playoffs in a surprisingly soft bottom of the Western Conference.

Combine that with the team going 11-5 in their last 16 games, plus getting Zion Williamson in the lineup starting Wednesday, and the Pelicans have gone from sellers at the trade deadline to a team standing pat and planning to make a playoff push, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Around the G-League showcase just before Christmas (when league executives gathered in Las Vegas) there was a lot of buzz about the Pelicans trading point guard Jrue Holiday or big man Derrick Favors to help with their rebuild around Williamson. However, the recent hot streak and the emergence of Brandon Ingram as an All-Star level player has the Pelicans reconsidering their plans.

Memphis sits in the eighth seed in the West and has played well of late (8-2 in its last 10) behind the emergence of Ja Morant. However, New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoneix, and Sacramento have all shown flashes in recent weeks and could make a run at the final playoff spot in the conference (or higher if some team fades from the pack). Every one of those teams is trying to decide whether to make trades for young players/picks at the deadline or make a playoff push (Portland is the one team that could do both because they will get Jusuf Nurkick, Zach Collins, and CJ McCollum back from injury).

David Griffin, the man with the hammer inside the Pelicans organization, has until the Feb. 6 trade deadline to decide whether to go for the playoffs or make trades looking for guys on Zion’s timeline. How the team looks in the next couple of weeks with Williamson back will play a big factor in that call.

Dallas’ Dwight Powell leaves game with Achilles injury and it looks bad (VIDEO)

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This looks bad.

Hopefully it’s not what it looked like, but Dallas’ big man and critical role player Dwight Powell went down in the first half against the Clippers with a non-contact leg injury and will not return to the game with what the team is calling a right Achilles injury.

Here is a video of Powell going down as he plants to drive the lane; if you are at all squeamish this would be one to skip.

That looks a lot like a torn Achilles. Medical tests likely will confirm that tomorrow.

Powell is starting at center for the Mavericks, giving them 9.6 points and 5.7 rebounds a game, more importantly bringing toughness and doing the dirty work needed inside to allow Kristaps Porzingis to play his pick-and-pop game on the outside. Powell has become an important part of what is working in Dallas.

If this is a torn Achilles Powell is done for the season. This will ultimately mean more run for Maxi Kleber and Boban Marjanovic, plus it could send Dallas out into the market looking for another big man before the trade deadline.

Friends, family, former teammates of Delonte West trying to him find his way

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The conversation among Delonte West’s friends, family, and former teammates will sound familiar to people who have sat in living rooms or around dinner tables around the nation trying to find ways to help a friend or family member battling mental illness.

They offer help in a variety of ways — money, housing, a path to medical assistance through doctors — but can be frustrated at every turn as those steps fail to help.

West has been out of the league for seven seasons, but his challenges with bipolar disorder — something he announced he had during his playing days — have not ended. Last weekend, a disturbing video of West being attacked and beaten on a Washington D.C. street surfaced. It was followed by a second video showing West handcuffed and talking to the police, where West used graphic and disturbing language to accuse another man of pulling a gun on him. Legally, nothing came of the incident.

However, it showed how much West continues to struggle. A lot of people from the NBA family have tried to help West, but have been frustrated by the results, something Shams Charania wrote about at The Athletic.

Professional basketball allowed West to have structure in his life, to have a level of stability. According to those close to him, that has gone by the wayside since he exited the NBA…

Former teammate Jameer Nelson is one of many people who have witnessed West’s post-career distress and offered help. The National Basketball Players Association has maintained close contact with West and made itself available as a resource. His college coach at Saint Joseph, Phil Martelli, and West’s former player agent, Noah Croom, have been in communication with each other — and West — about providing him support. The same can be said for the Celtics and Mavericks. Both Boston GM Danny Ainge and Dallas owner Mark Cuban have been in direct contact at various points, according to those close to West.  They all want him to find his place in life, and they want to be a helping hand when needed.

The NBPA helped facilitate his residence change from Dallas to Maryland in recent years and extensively supported him financially, as recently as this month, according to sources. Ainge and the Celtics have given him a scouting job to scout games in the D.C. and East Coast area, sources said, but West has had mixed results due to fluctuating attendance. His close friends and family have all stepped in whenever they could.

As has happened with so many families around the nation, all that support and love has not been enough, it has not had the desired impact.

Nelson, West’s former St. Joseph’s teammate, posted this on Twitter over the weekend:

Delonte West announced he had bipolar disorder back in 2008, during his eight-season NBA career — a career that was cut short in part by a series of actions and lack of reliability (from teams’ perspectives) likely tied to his condition.

There is no shortage of love and concern for West, and there are a lot of people who want to help. How to help, and if he will accept that help, are very different questions. Ones a lot of people can relate to.