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1 p.m. ET, 4/12/07

Saluting The Season's Best

Posted by Brad Weinstein
Are we looking at only the fourth three-peat winner of the MVP award?
Bob Rosato/SI
With less than a week left in the regular season, the three SI.com writers with official votes have weighed in with their award picks. (All votes must be received by the league office on Thursday, April 19.)

A synopsis:

-- Jack McCallum, Ian Thomsen and Marty Burns agree that Portland's Brandon Roy should be Rookie of the Year and Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa should win the Sixth Man Award.

-- There is no consensus when it comes to Most Improved Player, which the NBA says "is designed to honor an up-and-coming player" and "not intended to be given to a player who has made a 'comeback'.'' The field is so crowded that eight different players occupy the nine available spots on the writers' ballots.

-- Two writers chose San Antonio swingman Bruce Bowen for Defensive Player of the Year. A Bowen victory would be a rarity in that the award has gone to a shot-blocking big man nine of the last 10 years (perimeter stopper Ron Artest won it in 2004).

-- Utah's late-season swoon has hurt Jerry Sloan's bid to win Coach of the Year for the first time in his 22-year career. Also, last season's winner, Avery Johnson, didn't receive any of the three first-place votes as he attempts to become the first coach to win in back-to-back seasons.

-- In the much-discussed MVP race, two of our three voters selected Steve Nash, while the other sided with Dirk Nowitzki. If that form holds among voters throughout the league, Nash would join Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird as the only players to win three consecutive MVPs.

Now it's your turn. What do you think about our experts' picks? Where do you disagree? What would your ballots look like? Let's hear it.

3:30 p.m. ET, 4/5/07

Gil's Injury A Real Downer

Posted by Marty Burns
The Wizards lost their two 2007 All-Stars, point guard Gilbert Arenas (above) and small forward Caron Butler, in a one-week span.
AP
Gilbert Arenas' knee injury is more than a devastating blow to the Wizards. It's a loss for NBA fans everywhere. Without Agent Zero on the court (he's expected to miss two to three months), the upcoming playoffs won't be nearly as much fun.

Last year the high-scoring Wizards took LeBron James' Cavs to six games in their first-round series. They lost three games by one point, the final two in OT. Arenas dueled LeBron the entire time, trading big shots and good-natured trash talk. It was good theater.

A Wizards-Cavs rematch would have really added spice to the postseason. But something tells me that even if Arenas faced Shaq's Heat or Chris Bosh's Raptors, he would have found some way to keep things entertaining.

Now the Wizards, who are also without Caron Butler, look about as exciting as lint under a broom, which is what they will be no matter whom they face. Antonio Daniels and Jarvis Hayes are solid enough replacements for Arenas and Butler, respectively, to keep Washington in its current sixth spot in the East. But the Wizards were going to need Arenas and Butler to make any serious noise in the playoffs.

Washington must be wondering what it did to anger the basketball gods. First, Butler breaks his hand on a fluke play when he hits the backboard while trying to block a shot. Then Arenas goes down when another player falls into his leg.

Antawn Jamison might want to avoid black cats and walking under ladders for a while.

Remember, the Wizards also suffered one of the most bizarre losses in NBA history last weekend. Leading Toronto by three points in the final seconds, Washington forward Michael Ruffin (a terrible foul shooter) tried to kill the clock by flinging the ball toward the rafters as he stood just outside the three-point arc. The ball slipped through his fingers, however, and Toronto's Morris Peterson snatched it out of the air a few feet away and hit a leaning desperation three at the horn to tie it.

The Raptors went on to win the game in OT.

Naturally.

That's just the way it has gone for the Wizards of late. Too bad for them. And for the NBA.

2 p.m. ET, 4/4/07

No Need To Rush Wade

Posted by Marty Burns
Dwyane Wade could be just days away from returning to game action.
AP
Miami's Dwyane Wade returned to practice Monday. The All-Star shooting guard, out since Feb. 21 with a dislocated left shoulder, reportedly looked good during a five-on-five scrimmage. He even dunked emphatically (with his right hand).

Heat coach Pat Riley has said he'd like to have Wade back for the final five or six games of the season, which would mean a return as early as Sunday's game against Charlotte. Miami is pushing hard for the No. 3 spot in the East -- it defeated the Raptors on Tuesday night to pull within a game of Toronto for that spot -- and the resulting home court advantage. Wade, however, has said he would prefer to wait until the last two games of the regular season.

In this case, Riley the coach should give in to Riley the GM. In other words, he should listen to his star player.

Rushing D-Wade back at this point -- even for something as important as home court -- would be foolish. Wade's injury is severe enough that any bang or bump from an opponent could cause it to return. No matter how much he says he's fine -- and how much body armor he wears -- he will not be able to avoid contact with opponents.

Wade himself admitted as much after Monday's practice with teammates. "It's tougher on defense, because you're getting hit, [and] I'm getting screened a lot from the big guys," he told reporters. "So that's a problem I had today, thinking too much. I'm thinking about the screen coming."

Gee, think all those Eastern Conference teams the Heat are scheduled to face over those final five games would take it easy on old D-Wade?

It's understandable why Riley would want to go all out for the No. 3 seed. Not only would the Heat get home court in a likely matchup against a team they have absolutely owned in the Wizards (and who recently lost All-Star Caron Butler to injury), but they also would avoid the Pistons in the second round. If the Heat maintain their current standing as the fourth seed, they would draw either Chicago or Cleveland in the first round, followed most likely by Detroit in the second.

But it's far more important for the Heat to have Wade as close to 100 percent as possible for the playoffs. With Shaquille O'Neal and a relatively soft remaining schedule, they should be able to win enough games to secure the third spot without the help of their sensational shooting guard. Keep in mind, the Butler-less Wizards lost by 20 points to Charlotte on Tuesday night, while the Raptors face a tougher schedule and recently lost a key player of their own in injured forward Jorge Garbajosa.

Home court advantage would be nice, but the Heat are a veteran team that knows how to win on the road anyway. What they really need to defend their championship is an effective Wade.

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