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Posted: Wednesday March 31, 2010 4:47PM; Updated: Wednesday March 31, 2010 6:47PM
Paul Forrester
Paul Forrester>INSIDE THE NBA
NBA Awards Races

We've come to expect it. Coaches who -- no matter the personnel turnover -- consistently guide their teams to successful seasons (Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Jerry Sloan) are usually overshadowed by the latest "it" guys who defy the odds for a quick turnaround (Scott Brooks, Scott Skiles). That's why Jackson, Popovich and Sloan have combined for only two Coach of the Year awards despite having won a total of 3,011 games. (Incidentally, three of the last four coaching honorees -- Byron Scott, Sam Mitchell and Avery Johnson -- are no longer coaching in the league.)

This shouldn't detract from the accomplishments of those who have received the honor. But to win consistently, even with great talent, is often harder than molding a young, raw team into a contender. Egos, off-court agendas and contracts all have a way of making life complicated at the top. But with each successful season, the Sloans of the NBA are taken a little more for granted.

Unfortunately, this year looks to be no different. Jackson's efforts to keep the Lakers focused after a title, Popovich's work with an aging and hurt Spurs team and Sloan's ability to tease another top-four seed from a Jazz team rife with financial concerns all will take a backseat to the turnarounds engineered by Oklahoma City's Brooks and Milwaukee's Skiles.

Should we not acknowledge that Brooks has taken a team that ranked 27th in opponent field-goal percentage last season and transformed it into the league's fourth-ranked unit this season? Or that Skiles has led a team with a rookie point guard to within a whisker of the No. 5 seed in the East? Of course not. But we should expand the conversation earlier to include the men we expect to win -- who always win.

(All stats and records are through March 30.)

League MVP
LeBron James
F, Cleveland Cavaliers   
Previous Ranking: 1
29.8 7.2 8.6 50.5
To some, James' declaration that he could win the scoring title every year if he really wanted to just reeks of egoism. But come on: We know he's right. And as he inches toward a second MVP honor and leads the league in scoring, he's certainly backing up his claim.
Kobe Bryant
G, Los Angeles Lakers   
Previous Ranking: 2
27.2 5.4 5.1 46.2
With the playoffs about three weeks away, Kobe isn't pleased with how the Lakers have played in splitting the first four games of their five-game road trip. "It's important for me to put my foot on the gas and have in our mind's eye the kind of urgency that we need to play with in order to defend [the championship]," Bryant told NBA TV. "The trap that you run into is you play with that sense of urgency when you're down 10, 12, 13 points and that's the kind of mentality I do not want us to have going into the postseason."
Dwight Howard
C, Orlando Magic   
Previous Ranking: 4
18.6 13.3 2.7 60.7
He may be the new Rasheed Wallace with his technicals (he's one away from earning a suspension), but the old Rasheed never led the league in blocks, rebounding and shooting. "What I do is not flashy," Howard told the Orlando Sentinel. "I might have to start grabbing rebounds with one hand and scream."
Kevin Durant
F, Oklahoma City Thunder   
Previous Ranking: 3
29.6 7.6 2.7 47.6
There may not be a better pitchman for free agents this summer than Durant, who leads the NBA with a franchise-record 39 30-point games. "[Oklahoma City] is a great place to play," he told the Boston Globe. "We like each other. We have a close-knit community, and hopefully that attracts them."
Dwyane Wade
G, Miami Heat   
Previous Ranking: --
26.4 4.8 6.7 47.1
With Miami's postseason hopes fading at the start of March, Wade has since steered the Heat comfortably into the playoff picture with an 11-3 mark this month. Wade led Miami in scoring and assists in 10 of those games, and he is averaging 5.6 boards a game for the month.
Rookie of the Year
Spotlight: A five-game break for a concussion shouldn't detract from Evans' performance this season (he posted a double-double in his first game back). But he better watch out: Brandon Jennings has guided the Bucks to a 21-7 mark since the start of February as the starting point guard. He hasn't always been pretty, but he's been effective. 1. Tyreke Evans, Kings (PR: 1)
2. Brandon Jennings, Bucks (PR: 2)
3. Stephen Curry, Warriors (PR: 3)
4. Darren Collison, Hornets (PR: 4)
5. Marcus Thornton, Hornets (PR: 5)
Sixth Man Award
Spotlight: Mike Woodson inexplicably hasn't earned a contract extension, but give him credit for pick-and-rolling Crawford into success. "That just opens up so much," Crawford said. "It creates some kind of mismatch or confusion, and that's what you want as an offensive player." 1. Jamal Crawford, Hawks (PR: 1)
2. Marcus Thornton, Hornets (PR: 5)
3. Jason Terry, Mavericks (PR: --)
4. Anderson Varejao, Cavs (PR: 4)
5. Carl Landry, Kings (PR: 2)
Coach of the Year
Spotlight: Skiles is making a late push in turning around a team most experts left for dead. But when you can mold the league's youngest opening-night starting lineup into the third-best three-point defense and are on pace to double last year's win total, you shouldn't be forgotten. 1. Scott Brooks, Thunder (PR: 1)
2. Scott Skiles, Bucks (PR: 2)
3. Gregg Popovich, Spurs (PR: 3)
4. Nate McMillan, Trail Blazers (PR: 4)
5. Larry Brown, Bobcats (PR: --)
Defensive Player of the Year
Spotlight: "Dikembe [Mutombo] told me with the way that I can move and jump that I should be the Defensive Player of the Year every year until I get old," Howard told Two in a row would be a good start. 1. Dwight Howard, Magic (PR: 1)
2. Gerald Wallace, Bobcats (PR: --)
3. Rajon Rondo, Celtics (PR: 5)
4. Andrew Bogut, Bucks (PR: 2)
4. Josh Smith, Hawks (PR: 3)
Most Improved Player
Spotlight: According to Kobe, Russell Westbrook may deserve a spot on this list next to teammate Durant. Bryant said recently that Durant has "improved leaps and bounds. Durant's a great player, but I think Westbrook's development has really helped elevate [the Thunder]." 1. Kevin Durant, Thunder (PR: 1)
2. Andrew Bogut, Bucks (PR: 3)
3. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies (PR: 2)
4. Aaron Brooks, Rockets (PR: 4)
5. Carl Landry, Kings (PR: 5)



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