A few observations at the NBA's midpoint

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By NORMAN CHAD
Monday, January 25, 2010

I like the NBA -- I'm not saying it's FAN-tastic, I'm not saying it's where amazing happens, I'm not saying I love this game -- I just like it. I like it enough to provide a comprehensive report on the NBA at midseason:

If you're going to have a slam dunk contest during All-Star Weekend, bring in the all-stars. Shaquille O'Neal had an interesting idea last week -- he proposed a superstar dunking contest to raise money for Haiti. He wants the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant under the bright lights.

Indeed, at the moment, this year's slam dunk entrants are Nate Robinson, Gerald Wallace, Shannon Brown and either Eric Gordon or DeMar DeRozan. These are all fine gentlemen, I'm sure, with impeccable dunking credentials in their local neighborhoods. But, frankly, I wouldn't recognize DeMar DeRozan if I were DeMar DeRozan's body double.

Anyway, Shaq is right -- holding a slam dunk contest without LeBron, Kobe, Vince Carter and Dwight Howard is like holding a physicists contest without Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi and Stephen Hawking.

Kevin Durant is the best player you'll never see (unless you never see that online poker pro from Sweden who wins, like, $3 million a day). When I have grazed upon NBA-TV on occasion, I've stumbled on an Oklahoma City Thunder game. I don't even know where Oklahoma City is -- I assume it's in Oklahoma; maybe Kansas -- and can't imagine anyone playing basketball in Oklahoma City.

But, boy oh boy, does this Kevin Durant got game. He's averaging 29.3 points (third in the league) and 7.3 rebounds. He is very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very smooth. I suspect he's already among the NBA's top 10 players -- maybe even in the top five -- and one day the 6-foot-9 forward could be the best in the league.

By the way, since when does the NBA have a team in Oklahoma City? I thought only the NHL did stuff like that.

The Nets are actually worse than their record would indicate. That would seem improbable, considering they are 3-40. But their abysmal record is not the residue of bad luck, it's the residue of unbelievably bad play.

They are the NBA's lowest-scoring team (89.9 points) and have the worst point differential per game (-13.0). They are the league's worst shooting team (41.9 percent), worst three-point shooting team (28.1 percent), second-worst rebounding team and have the second-worst assist-to-turnover ratio. They also have the second-worst defensive field goal percentage (48.6).

On the bright side, they're polite losers: Only five teams in the NBA have fewer technicals.

They say a billion Chinese can't be wrong about Stephon Marbury -- well, we're about to find out. In a major test of Chinese-U.S. relations, Marbury is going to the bigger mainland to shoot hoops. To best replicate his Knicks experience, he has signed a contract with the 3-12 Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons, currently tied for last place in the 17-team Chinese Basketball Association.

"The aim of signing Marbury is to pay back our fans," team owner Wang Xingjiang said. What ghastly acts could the Brave Dragons fans have committed to be paid back this way?


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