Proven winner

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This season was telling for Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss and his decision to choose Kobe Bryant over Shaquille O’Neal.

Led by Bryant, the Lakers were 34-46 through Sunday and will miss the playoffs for just the fifth time in their history.

Led by O’Neal, the Miami Heat are 57-23. O’Neal has been revived by the change of scenery, playing in 73 games — the most in four seasons — and shooting a career-high 60 percent.

O’Neal averages 22.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists, but the numbers of Dwyane Wade and undrafted players like Damon Jones and Udonis Haslem are just as impressive because of his presence.

Without O’Neal, the Lakers have won 22 fewer games. With O’Neal, the Heat have won 15 more. That 37-game difference is the second best behind Moses Malone’s plus-39 in 1982-83.

That’s why Shaquille O’Neal is the league’s MVP. He won while Kobe lost.

Everyone, it seems, loves Goliath.

• Coach of the year: Nate McMillan, SuperSonics. His definition of roles has been positively Auerbach-like on a team with numerous free agents. 2. Mike D’Antoni, Suns. 3. George Karl, Nuggets.

• Executive of the year: Mark Cuban, Mavericks. He turned around the Suns, SuperSonics and Wizards with trades and kept his team at 50 wins. 2. Bryan Colangelo, Suns. 3. Pat Riley, Heat.

• Rookie of the year: Dwight Howard, Magic. He’s the next Amare Stoudemire. 2. Emeka Okafor, Bobcats. 3. Andre Iguodala, 76ers. Best 19-year-old: Howard. Best 20-year-old: LeBron James, Cavaliers. Best 21-year-old: Josh Childress, Hawks.

• Defensive player of the year: Marcus Camby, Nuggets. When healthy, he’s Ben Wallace.

• Most improved player: Dan Dickau, Hornets. He’s the next Steve Nash.

• Sixth man award: Tyson Chandler, Bulls. The rest of the bench: Ben Gordon, Bulls; Earl Boykins, Nuggets; Antonio Daniels and Danny Fortson, SuperSonics; Jerry Stackhouse, Mavericks; Stromile Swift, Grizzlies.

• Teammate of the year: Steve Nash, Suns. Nash, who averages a league-leading 11.5 assists, turned two players — Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion — into All-NBA forwards. Nash has assisted on 57 percent of Marion’s field goals, 54 percent of Stoudemire’s and 52 percent of Joe Johnson’s.

• Sportsman of the year: Grant Hill, Magic. His comeback was for every gym rat without a guaranteed contract.

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