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Our view: Hornets' Paul league MVP at the break
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 2/18/2008 12:30 AM

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Compared to last summer, when the NBA brought us a rogue referee and a superstar's parking lot rant, the regular season has seemed a little quiet.

But the league has set itself up for an entertaining finish, as Shaquille O'Neal, Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Jerry Sloan, the usual suspects from the Spurs and possibly Jason Kidd vie for the most coveted piece of hardware in basketball -- whatever the trophy is called that's given to the winner of the Western Conference finals. I'm pretty sure one exists.

In the meantime, let's celebrate the All-Star Game's visit to New Orleans by running down the midseason award winners:

Most valuable player: Chris Paul, Hornets.

No one has done more to make his team successful. Paul's ability to take over games down the stretch is uncanny. It will be interesting to see if he can make as much of a difference during the playoffs. Runner-up: Kevin Garnett, Celtics.

Coach of the year: Doc Rivers, Celtics.

Some people thought Rivers would be the weak link with the new-look Celtics. But Boston has been the league's best defensive team, it started the season 29-3 despite massive personnel changes and has gotten solid play from youngsters like Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis. Just before the break, the Celtics went 7-2 with Kevin Garnett injured. Doc deserves his due. Runner-up: Byron Scott, Hornets.

Rookie of the year: Kevin Durant, Sonics.

Yeah, piling up points for a bad team may not be much of a challenge, but Durant still deserves this honor. Al Horford hasn't done enough to merit more than second place. Runner-up: Al Horford, Hawks.

Sixth-man award: Manu Ginobili, Spurs.

If Ben Gordon ever gets healthy, he has a decent chance of winning this honor for a second time, since his substitute scoring average of 23.8 points in 16 games is higher than Ginobili's 18.9. Runner-up: Leandro Barbosa, Suns.

Most improved: Travis Outlaw, Trail Blazers.

For four seasons, he seemed destined to be one of those college-skipping players who would never learn the game. But Outlaw is averaging 12.8 points this year and has been a key contributor for the surprising Trail Blazers. Runner-up: Al Jefferson, Timberwolves.

Best addition: Kevin Garnett, Celtics.

This award nearly went to Kobe Bryant, but it turns out he never changed teams. Until Garnett arrived, the Celtics were a 40-win team at best. Runner-up: Jamario Moon, Raptors.

Worst addition: Jason Richardson, Bobcats.

He's a good player, but has done nothing to improve Charlotte. At the start of the season, it seemed as though Richardson and Raymond Felton were in a race to see who could hoist the most 3-point shots. Emeka Okafor, meanwhile, stood alone under the basket wondering when Michael Jordan was going to bring him some help. Runner-up: Zach Randolph, Knicks.

Biggest surprise: New Orleans Hornets.

The Hornets have left little doubt they are serious contenders. Funny what can happen with one special talent and a bunch of guys who act like they want to win. Runner-up: Isiah Thomas still coaching the Knicks.

Biggest disappointment: Bulls.

The team with a reputation of always playing harder than its opponent looked like it barely cared at times this season. Runner-up: Entire Eastern Conference.

Best trend: Nellie-ball succeeds in Golden State.

Whether they win, lose or score 130 points, coach Don Nelson's Warriors are entertaining to watch. Their upset win over Dallas in last year's playoffs helped accelerate the NBA's move to a faster-paced, higher-scoring game. Now if the league could only do something to liven up the Finals, which have been painful to watch during most of this decade. Runner-up: Stumping for all-star votes on YouTube.