Defensive Player of the Year: Dikembe Mutombo, C, Nuggets. Mutombo gets this vote because of his shot-blocking ability (through Sunday he was averaging 3.9 blocks, best in the league). He affects opponents' offensive game plans—not to mention their shots—more than any other player.
Sixth Man: Dell Curry, G, Hornets. He doesn't start, but he finishes. Curry, who won last year's Sixth Man Award, always seems to be in the game at crunch time. And no team depends on a substitute to take as many big shots as Charlotte does Curry, who was averaging 13.6 points in 24.7 minutes per game at week's end.
Line of the Year
Yinka Dare, C, Nets: 3 M, 0-1 FG, 0-0 FT, 0 PTS, 1 REB. Those are the rookie center's statistics for the entire season, thanks in part to knee injuries that necessitated surgery in February. New Jersey knew when it drafted the 7'1" Dare with the 14th overall pick (ahead of such players as Wesley Person and Michael Smith) that he had raw skills. But they didn't know just how raw. By the way, that one field goal attempt, on Nov. 11 against the Bullets, was an air ball.
Around the Rim
Two second-year players who are closing with a rush: 76er center Shawn Bradley, who had 10 double-doubles in 11 games, and Piston guard Allan Houston, who in his last 11 games through Sunday averaged 27.7 points.... There is such a thing as a positive Clipper stat. At season's end forward Loy Vaught will have increased his scoring average in each of his first five seasons, from 5.5 as a rookie to 7.6, 9.4, 11.7 and, this season, 17.5 through Sunday. The record for most consecutive seasons of improvement is eight, held by the Knicks' Derek Harper (1983-84 through 1990-91, with the Mavericks).