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BEST SO FAR

Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page E06

BEST SO FAR

Teams: Spurs and Suns. They're on a generational collision course in the West, the old-school defensive team and the up-tempo Suns of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

Player: LeBron James. In only his second year, he has drawn the inevitable comparison to a young Michael Jordan. The scary thing is, he is undeniably better at age 20 than Jordan was.



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Coaches: Eddie Jordan. How the Wizards have learned to coalesce this quickly is still astonishing. And Mike D'Antoni, who has led the Suns to the most wins (tied with San Antonio at 41).

General Managers: Bryan Colangelo of Phoenix, John Paxson of Chicago and Ernie Grunfeld of Washington.

PLEASANT SURPRISES

Teams: Phoenix and Chicago. The Suns' offense is smoking hot, and the Baby Bulls are for real.

Players: Gilbert Arenas and Grant Hill. Arenas is healthy, maturing and showing the league why Grunfeld was willing to invest $65 million in him two years ago. And who knew Hill had this much left after all the injuries?

Coaches: Mike Fratello of Memphis and Nate McMillan of Seattle. The Grizzlies, 5-11 on Dec. 2, are 24-10 since Fratello took over. The SuperSonics have won 35 games already -- after going 37-45 in 2004.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS

Teams: New York Knicks. A year after their playoff return, it's Starbury and a disastrous supporting cast. And the Minnesota Timberwolves have fallen from Western Conference finals to possibly the lottery.

Player: Carmelo Anthony. His image and game are in a serious slump.

Coaches: Mike Montgomery, Golden State. You have to do more with that roster. Lawrence Frank, New Jersey. Letting Jason Kidd and Vince Carter take all of your shots won't get you to the playoffs.


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