The amazing thing about basketball is that every year you'll see new things -- things you never expected.
For example, I never imagined that a guy could have the highest scoring average in a decade and still be the most underrated player in the league. Yet, somehow, Tracy McGrady is pulling it off.
Let's not mince words: Right now, McGrady is flat-out the best player in basketball. It's not even a close call. His current average of 32.4 points per game is the highest in the league in 10 years, and if you eliminate players named "Jordan" from the equation, it's the highest since Bernard King averaged 32.9 in 1984-85.
Yet that average actually understates how well McGrady is playing. Here's a trivia question to get things started: Since Christmas, how many times has McGrady been held under 20 points?
While you ponder that answer, let's look at his accomplishments.
For starters, can we give him an Oscar for Best Performance Without a Supporting Actor? Despite a roster that, minus McGrady, would have trouble beating Cleveland or Denver, McGrady has managed to raise his game across the board and drag the Magic into the playoffs. Their current four-game win streak even has them challenging Boston for the No. 6 seed.
McGrady is shooting more -- boosting his shot attempts from 20.9 to 24.1 a game -- but yet also managed the difficult feat of shooting better -- his field-goal, free-throw and 3-point percentages are all significantly higher than a year ago. Having overcome last year's back trouble, the 23-year old simultaneously has shouldered a bigger load while improving his efficiency.
Now, back to that trivia question. The correct answer is zero. McGrady has scored at least 20 points in 40 straight games -- he'll make it a full half-season Monday night against Memphis. He's also been Orlando's leading scorer in all 40 of those games. That accomplishment is a monument to his consistency.
Look closer at his 40-game stretch. He's averaging 33.9 points a game -- even Jordan averaged that many only twice, and other than His Airness, the last player to score that much in a season was Bob McAdoo in 1975-76.
McGrady's raised his game even more down the stretch, averaging an amazing 37 a game over his past 15 contests as he leads the Magic's playoff charge. That includes Sunday night's stellar performance in Miami, when he had 32 at halftime and then put it in cruise control as Orlando rolled to a blowout win.
And yet, when the topic of MVP comes up, McGrady's name is mysteriously absent. Despite putting up the best scoring season in a decade and taking an otherwise talentless team into the postseason, all eyes have been focused westward, toward Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.
All three are great players and worthy candidates in another year. But McGrady has been head and shoulders above the rest, and in a fair world, his amazing 40-game stretch should have cemented the award a long time ago.
Gulf War II
National sports took a backseat to national interests as coalition troops began their invasion of Iraq. The NBA opted not to postpone any games but increased security at all arenas and advised fans to show up early and buy lots of NBA merchandise while they waited for the game to start.
Rudy faces another battle
Having already overcome having his face rearranged by Kermit Washington, Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich will face an ever tougher test as he battles bladder cancer. The Rockets hope to have him back soon from his treatment (the cancer fortunately was caught early), but best wishes are in order for Rudy T. and his family.
Jordan calls out Wizards
Michael Jordan called out his teammates Monday after they mailed in a brutal 109-83 loss in Phoenix at the start of a crucial six-game road trip. They responded by blowing a fourth-quarter lead at Golden State Sunday night to fall a game and a half behind Milwaukee for the final playoff spot.
SWISH: Jermaine O'Neal
The Pacers forward was totally dominant Thursday to help end the team's recent struggles, scoring 38 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in a 102-72 blowout of Boston. For the week, he averaged 27 points, 12 boards and two blocks while shooting 50 percent from the floor.
BRICK: Latrell Sprewell
With the Knicks hanging out on the fringes of the playoff hunt, Spree chose a bad time to take a week off. He shot 19-of-55 and averaged just 13.5 a game as the Knicks split four games and failed to gain ground on eighth-place Milwaukee.
SWISH: Shaquille O'Neal
Shaq scored his 20,000 point Thursday night against Sacramento, but some wiseguy wrote a disparaging remark on the ball before it got to him. (Wouldn't it be great if they found out it was Yao Ming?) But Shaq didn't get mad, he got even: 48 points and 20 rebounds against Boston on Friday, on 19-of-24 shooting.
BRICK: Boston Celtics
Notice that both O'Neals tore up the Celtics this week? Not that it's news: so did Juwon Howard and the Nuggets. Could they really miss Vin Baker this much? Actually, it may be that teams are figuring out the Celtics' fronting schemes in the post, which they had been using to great effect to make up for their lack of size. Whatever the cause, Boston has dropped four straight to fall out of the Atlantic Division race.
SWISH: Ben Wallace
The Pistons center has been a reboundin' fool the past two weeks, grabbing 20 or more in six of his past seven games. He also blocked 30 shots in that span as the Pistons went 5-2 to give themselves some breathing room in their march toward the top seed in the East.
Philadelphia 76ers at Indiana Pacers, Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST
Presuming he doesn't go postal in the next 48 hours, Ron Artest will be back in the Pacers' lineup for this one, and not a moment too soon. Indy's recent swoon has it looking up at the Sixers in the standings and the Pacers will need to beat their former coach to claim a top three seed in the East.
Los Angeles Lakers at Houston Rockets, Wednesday, 9 p.m. EST
It's Shaq vs. Yao, the final chapter for this year. Both players have raised their games of late, with Shaq blistering Boston for 48 this week while Yao drilled his first career 3-pointer against Golden State.
Sacramento Kings at Detroit Pistons, Sunday, 6 p.m. EST
In a doomsday scenario for the folks at ABC, the Kings and Pistons will end up in the Finals, matching a small-market team against a club that is completely devoid of superstar talent. But that's the network's problem. These two are playing the best of anyone in each conference and seem headed on a collision course for June.
This department brings you thoughts and comments from around the country. Here's what people are saying this week:
Should I stay or should I go?
Intrigue is building in the Twin Cities as Kevin Garnett's free agency starts to loom on the horizon. Garnett will be free after the 2003-04 season and has been noncommittal about signing an extension, wanting to see the Timberwolves make some progress toward championship contention. More
Nice story on how the New York crowd has turned on Allan Houston -- in a good way. After spending all last year as a boo magnet, his two 50-point games have put him back in the locals' good graces. More
Three for the red, white and blue
Ignore the lead on Phil Jackson's mind games and scroll further down, where the New York Post's Peter Vecsey says the U.S. will add Allen Iverson and Jermaine O'Neal to the roster in coming weeks and will give Kevin Garnett all the time he wants to make up his mind. More
Making a mockery
Mock draft alert! Mock draft alert! The first I've seen this year, apart from the assorted draftgeek.com sites that are doing mock drafts for 2007, is interesting because it suggests Mario Austin of Mississippi State and Mike Sweetney of Georgetown aren't first-round material. More
San Antonio guard Steve Kerr joined Dallas' Steve Nash in opposing the coalition strikes against Iraq. Kerr's words are notable given his life experience -- he was born in the Middle East and his father was shot and killed by terrorists in Beirut while he was in college. More. Miami's Vladimir Stepania also spoke up about it, in a story that amazed me because it said Orlando quote machine Gordan Giricek had no comment. More
While his Maryland teammates from a year ago were celebrating Drew Nicholas' heroics, Chris Wilcox was finally getting a chance to play for the Clippers. Injuries to Elton Brand and Michael Olowokandi have allowed him to get minutes, and while he's still raw (his career high is just 12), he'll make a spectacular play once a game that hints at his potential.
Well, the LeBron Show is leaving the station and the next stop is the NBA. But where? After James led his St. Vincent-St. Mary team to the state title, declaring for the NBA draft will be a mere formality. (And why is the school named after two saints anyway? Is there something so special about it that just being "St. Vincent" or "St. Mary" like everyone else would have been unacceptable?)
The Cavs and Nuggets have disappointed the conspiracy theorists of late, with Cleveland knocking off New Jersey Sunday and Denver looking energetic in waxing the Celtics Saturday. So while they're not overtly tanking to improve their chances, there's still nearly a 50-50 shot that LeBron is headed to either Denver or Cleveland.
The regular season may be winding down, but this week Off The Glass says your homework is just begining. Take a look at some of the prospects who are finishing the year on a high note and should occupy a lofty position on your draft board next season.
This is the part where we ask you, the reader, to stop waving that towel on the sidelines, pull off the warmups, get on the floor and take some shots. Each week we'll ask a question and post the best responses a week later.
Last week WAAG asked who the defensive player of the year should be. Looks like Ben Wallace should start clearing space for another trophy.
BEN WALLACE! He's the only man in the NBA that can control a game without scoring a point. The two blocks on MJ should solidify his repeat. Rob Spencer, Clarkston, Mich.
Allen Iverson is overlooked because he's small, but he is all over the court. He's a beast. Jeff Kelly, Bordentown, N.J.
Ben Wallace!!! He brings it every night. "No fly zone" is serious, folks! Janeicer Chenault, Detroit
Ron Artest, BABY!!! No defender, including Ben Wallace, is more tenacious on D. His intensity scares most guys out of their shoes. Sorry, Ben. Jay Hyun, Spokane, Wash.
Kobe Bryant deserves it. He is simply the best on the defensive end -- as well as offensive. Marvin Chu, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Easy -- Ben Wallace. If that question were a layup, Big Ben would've swatted it into the fourth row. Nick Spano, Ferndale, Mich.
Doug Christie. He flat-out shuts people down. Except for Kobe and T-Mac, he has kept everyone he defends under their average. Lee Swett, Erlanger, Ky.
Undoubtedly, our man in Detroit, Ben Wallace! Players get intimidated by him, especially if he has the Afro on. Carlo Rivas, Royal Oak, Mich.
Cleveland's Ricky Davis. After all, the best defense is a good offense, regardless of which basket you're shooting at. Kristopher Bunker, Simi Valley, Calif.
This one is a no-brainer. Ben Wallace rises in the morning for the sole purpose of playing tough "D". Unselfish personified. Scott Geisel, Pittsburgh
Tim Duncan edges out Ben Wallace. After watching him reject three KG dunks last week, Duncan's clutch defense against the elite big men wins him the award. Andrew Selders, Fargo, N.D.
Ben Wallace hands down! He deserves it just for slapping Shaq's pitiful layup back at him last week. Nicole Mikel-Brumfield, Laurel, Md.
There's a swingman who plays with hustle, shuts down the opponents' best perimeter player and isn't trying to break league suspension records. His name is Bruce Bowen. Musa Zaghloul, Amman, Jordan
I think Kevin Garnett should be defensive player of the year. He is the only player in the league who can guard all five positions on a consistent basis and is a great overall defender. Josh Meyer, Palmer, Iowa
Ben Wallace is the Defensive Player of the Year, maybe even the decade. He boards, blocks and defends. What more can you ask for? Justin Chen, Toronto
Adonal Foyle defends the basket like his life depends on it. If he was a starter, he would lead the league in blocks. Justin Dimaya, San Jose, Calif.
This week's topic: Can anyone in the East win a seven-game series against the West, or will the Finals be a mere formality?
John Hollinger covers the NBA for CNNSI.com. "Week at a Glance" appears each Monday during the season.