1. (1): LeBron James  won last season’s MVP, and he’s a better player this year. His 23-point first quarter against the Clippers was ridiculous. If he ever develops a turnaround or a 4-man’s post game, there will be no way of guarding him.
3. (3): The moral of the Chauncey Billups  story: patience. By the time he was 25, he already had played for four teams. He’s an All-Star again this year. He always had what it took, he just didn’t have people who were willing to wait for it.
4. (8): Stan Van Gundy  drives his players crazy, even after they had a heart-to-heart about him being a kinder, gentler coach. He may be annoying, but he knows what he’s doing. Put this roster in many other coaches’ hands and their win total goes down by five or six.
5. (7): The Jazz  have talked about moving Carlos Boozer for as long as the Suns have talked about trading Amar’e Stoudemire. Would they do it now, playing this well?
6. (6): For as long as I’ve been watching basketball, I can’t remember a time when a good Atlanta team could say the following about a good Boston team: “I think we’re in their heads.” What’s weird is how dismissive the C’s are of the young Hawks’ success against them.
7. (5): We’ve all talked about the Celtics ‘ injuries and their age. In the meantime, a few stories have been overlooked: Tony Allen  is playing his best ball in two years; Rajon Rondo  has improved dramatically as a passer and is on pace to break Bob Cousy’s 50-year-old single-season assist record; and even when he’s not 100 percent, KG can still walk, chew gum, cuss, and shoot the 18-footer like it’s nothin’.
8. Dallas (4): Don’t you get the feeling that Mark Cuban is going to be off-the-charts crazy during All-Star Weekend? He’s the host of a party that he wants to be memorable; something bizarre is going to happen.
9. Oklahoma City (13): Kevin Durant  has always been the New English to me, a thin sniper with more range than his predecessor, Alex English. But Cedric Maxwell  had an even better analogy the other day on the radio: George “Iceman” Gervin.
11. Portland (10): I love how this team doesn’t make injury excuses. The Trail Blazers definitely are cursed, though. Even coach Nate McMillan, who has a ruptured Achilles tendon, hobbles on the sideline with a cast.
12. Phoenix (15): The Amar’e to San Antonio rumor is frightening. If you pair him with Tim Duncan , nobody in the league matches up with the Spurs. Not even the Lakers and all their size.
13. Memphis (11): I’m glad Chris Wallace got a second chance. He torched through three first-round picks in one offseason in Boston, the equivalent of a college kid blowing all of the folks’ money on spring break. But this is a great bounceback. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in sports.
15. Houston (18): Update on T-Mac’s week: While his Rockets played three games, winning two, T-Mac may have watched a few minutes from some exotic resort. He made over $1.8 million last week to stay away from the team that hates him. Who the hell needs lawyers? This is the greatest pre-divorce settlement of all time.
16. New Orleans (12): The city has too much Saints adrenaline right now to spend a lot of time on Chris Paul’s injury, but it’ll sink in after the Super Bowl . Very soon, we’ll know the answer to the “Where Would the Hornets be without Chris Paul ?” question. This is not going to be pretty.
17. Charlotte (17): You’ve got a group of basketball players of various sizes, talent levels, and “behavioral issues.” If your goal is simply to go out each night and have them be respectable, is there any other coach besides Larry Brown  you’d hire for the job? The guy can be as mental as some of his players, but the results are incredible.
18. Chicago (14): Glad to see Derrick Rose  and Rajon Rondo both make their first All-Star Game. For the next 10 years, the Rose or Rondo debate is going to be just as compelling as Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams.
19. Miami (19): Update on last week’s prediction: I said Dwyane Wade  would go for 40 and 8 against the Bucks; he wound up with 23 and 6. To that end, I wake up daily and thank the good Lord for not putting me anywhere close to Las Vegas. At this point, I’d be the media version of Antoine Walker .
20. Milwaukee (21): This is when you feel like karma exists just to kick your ass: Your team is bad ‘ bad enough to win the lottery ‘ and when you win it, the consensus No. 1 pick is Andrew Bogut . Not that he’s a stiff, but there are No.1s like LeBron and Hakeem. And there are No.1s like Kent Benson and Andrew Bogut — both drafted by the Bucks.
21. LA Clippers (20): I know it’s not going to happen, but the Celtics need Marcus Camby . He had 20 rebounds Wednesday night, exactly half of them on the offensive glass.
22. New York (22): Anyone, even a world-class Knicks  hater, can see that David Lee  is an All-Star. I can understand how the fans missed him, but the coaches should have gotten this one right.
23. Philadelphia (26): And along those lines, I respect the hell out of democracy and the fans’ voting process, but damn. Allen Iverson  is the only All-Star starter who truly doesn’t belong in the game. You can argue that some guys don’t deserve to start … AI shouldn’t be within 75 miles of Dallas.
26. Sacramento (24): Is Kevin Martin  rusty or a little unnerved by the presence of Tyreke Evans ? Since returning from his injury last month, Martin has just one game in which he’s made at least half his shots.
28. Golden State (29): I’m so guilty of East Coast bias that I don’t even consider it bias anymore. And I’m not alone. If Monta Ellis  is ever traded to this side of the country, we’d consider him a top 10 player.
29. Washington (28): Tell me you don’t look at li’l Earl Boykins , who’s all of 5-5, and think of posting him up. By the way, it’s a good thing Gilbert Arenas  didn’t playfully challenge Boykins to a gun fight: Gilbert is 6-5, so if Boykins is a straight shot, his natural aim is somewhere below the waist.
30. New Jersey (30): CC Sabathia  recently attended Nets practice to give them encouragement. It’s a tough assignment when you consider the numbers: CC, who pitched every fifth day, finished 2009 with 19 wins; if the Nets  get really lucky, they’ll finish 2010 with about half that total.