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Gilbert Arenas, Kevin Durant top NBA midseason story lines
Gilbert, guns and grief
Gilbert Arenas's highly anticipated return after a nearly two-year hiatus ended prematurely when NBA Commissioner David Stern handed him a season-ending suspension for bringing four guns to the locker room at Verizon Center in a dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton. Arenas pleaded guilty to a felony gun charge and faces possible jail time when he gets sentenced on March 26. The gun incident has wrecked his relationship with the organization, leading to speculation of a split through a trade, buyout or the possible termination of his contract. The Wizards were a disappointment prior to losing Arenas; after finishing with the worst record in the Eastern Conference last season they are now next to last. The franchise also lost its patriarch, Abe Pollin, in late November.
Kevin Durant's breakthrough
Only 21, Kevin Durant hasn't come close to reaching his prime, but the former Montrose Christian star has already established himself as one of most dangerous offensive weapons in the NBA. He currently ranks second in scoring at 29.7 points per game and has scored at least 25 points in 25 consecutive games -- something no third-year player has done since Michael Jordan put together a 40-game streak in 1986-87. More surprisingly, Durant has emerged as a dark-horse MVP candidate after lifting the Oklahoma City Thunder into the fifth spot in the Western Conference and already leading the team to seven more wins than last season, when it was 23-59.
LeBron James's brilliance
The reigning league MVP has continued to dominate the NBA in nearly every way imaginable -- his ability to score effortlessly, his ability to set up teammates with sweet passes, and his ability to chase down unsuspecting players for fantastic blocks. James is leading the league in scoring, averaging a career-high 8.2 assists and has the highest player efficiency rating (31.62) for the third consecutive season. The Cleveland Cavaliers (43-11) also have the same record at the all-star break as last season, when they finished with a league-best 66 wins. After finally getting newcomer Shaquille O'Neal acclimated to the system, James has compensated for every deficiency within his team and kept it rolling on a 12-game winning streak despite injuries to Mo Williams and Delonte West.
Kobe Bryant continued to shoot despite a broken index finger on his right hand, and continued to run and jump despite a bad back and a sore knee. Bryant is averaging 28 points; has made buzzer-beating jumpers against Milwaukee, Boston and Miami; and led the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference. The NBA Finals MVP has compared himself to Bruce Willis's character in "Unbreakable," but a left ankle injury finally forced the one-time MVP to sit the past two games -- ending his streak of 235 consecutive games played -- and skip the all-star game. Bryant is 31 and has gone through a grueling stretch of basketball that included 18 international games and 43 playoff games since the end of the 2006-07 season.
The New Jersey Nets (4-48) are spectacularly bad, on pace to win just six games this season, which would allow them to surpass -- or rather plummet below -- the ineptness of the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who posted the worst record in NBA history at 9-73. Those 76ers started the season 4-48. The Nets lost their first 18 games, fired Lawrence Frank after an 0-16 start, and his replacement, Kiki Vandeweghe, is 3-27. Despite having an all-star point guard in Devin Harris and a promising center in Brook Lopez, the Nets are the league's lowest-scoring team at 90.1 points and lack a 20-point scorer. The Nets would have to go 6-24 the rest of the season to avoid infamy.