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Crystal ball not clear

Baltimore Sun

Now for my eagerly awaited midseason predictions, the only ones with a warning label that reads "Discard after Feb. 28, or sooner."

It's not that the NBA season is totally meaningless, but it doesn't mean as much as people think.

The way it is today isn't the way it was at the start of the season - as you could tell from my preseason picks - and the way it is now isn't the way it will be at the end.

A year ago at this time, the Celtics had the best record, 44-11, and were looking forward to an easy closing schedule with 66 days to play their last 29 games.

You saw how that turned out. Nevertheless, for what's it's worth …

MVP: Preseason - Kobe Bryant, Lakers; current - LeBron James, Cavaliers.

Bryant is part of an ensemble cast, which hurts, but as great as James is, I didn't think the Cavaliers would win the East, much less run away from it, Shaquille O'Neal or no Shaquille O'Neal.

Coach of the year: Preseason - Gregg Popovich, Spurs, for leading his old team on a last hurrah, or not; current - Nate McMillan, Trail Blazers, who has kept his team in the race without Greg Oden, Joel Pryzbilla, Travis Outlaw and, recently, Brandon Roy.

Executive of the year: Preseason -Danny Ainge, Celtics, who snared Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels to revitalize the worn-out Celtics; current - Chris Wallace, Grizzlies, for fielding a competitive team after years of dumping money.

Conference picks: Preseason East - Celtics; current - Cavs.

Healthy, the Celtics, who started 23-5, would be right there with the Cavs, but now, even with their players back, there's the question of how much Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have lost.

Happily for the Celtics, all that counts is what they can bring in April.

Unhappily, in February, it's not much.

Preseason in West - Lakers, no problem; current - Lakers, despite their problems.

After years of predicting greatness for them when they finally had all their players, I learned this cast of characters is only great in the spring, if then.

Before the season, when predicting the Lakers' chances to break the Bulls' 72-10 record, said: "This team will be better than last season, but it won't win as many games."

Last season, it won 65. All it would take to match that is a 24-4 finish.

To win it all: Preseason - Lakers, who looked head and shoulders above everybody; current- Lakers, even if they no longer look head and shoulders above everybody.

Happily for the Lakers, they'll be into it by June … presumably.

As for the Cavaliers, the Lakers let them get to their second option in both losses to them. Look for Phil Jackson to plan a kink in a Cleveland offense with one player scoring or assisting on 44 percent of their points.

Free agent shuffle: Preseason most likely to leave - 1, Chris Bosh, Raptors, 2. James; current - 1. Dwyane Wade, Heat; 2. Amare Stoudemire, Suns.

They said it:

Celtics coach Doc Rivers, on fans embracing former LSU star Glen Davis at the Saints' victory parade in New Orleans: "Yeah, well, they thought he was a float."

Rockets' Trevor Ariza, shooting 38 percent: "I'm going to shoot it. If it's not there, I'm going to try to do something else. But if I get left open, I'm going to shoot it - definitely."

Magic's Dwight Howard to TNT's Cheryl Miller, on slumping teammate Vince Carter's 48-point game: "I'm just glad to see Half-Man Half-Retired back at it."

Spurs disappointment Richard Jefferson, on Popovich's frustration: "They say when they stop yelling at you that's when you have to be worried. Well, he hasn't stopped yelling at me yet."

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