- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

At halftime of the NBA season, the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns are the leading title contenders.

Best friends Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash are the leading MVP candidates.

Did billionaire Mavericks owner Mark Cuban ruin a possible dynasty by not re-signing Nash three summers ago?

Or did Cuban simply create two elite teams instead of one by not matching the six-year, $63 million contract of the Suns?

The Suns also include forward Amare Stoudemire, the feel-good story of the season. But Grant Hill has played past Jan. 1 for just the second time in six seasons, and Dikembe Mutombo is playing younger than whatever age he is.

The San Antonio Spurs, headed for their eighth straight 50-win season behind Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan, remain within striking distance.

Carmelo Anthony, the league’s leading scorer, returned from a 15-game suspension last night. Anthony, Allen Iverson and coach George Karl make the Denver Nuggets the most fascinating team to watch in the season’s second half.

The Western Conference is much better than the Eastern Conference, maybe more than ever since the balance of power shifted in 1998-99.

The five best teams in the Class AAA East are separated by 21/2 games.

The Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers lead the pack, and they might be just as surprised as everyone else.

Both teams are great at home and poor on the road.

It is well documented that Gilbert Arenas has become an elite player, but Carlos Boozer of the Utah Jazz and Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets should be added to the list.

For LeBron James, the transition from wunderkind to elite status has been an arduous one. His coach and teammates haven’t been much help.

The signing of Ben Wallace hasn’t put the Chicago Bulls over the top. Wallace is a year older, and the Bulls remain an interesting assortment of role players. Sixth man Ben Gordon leads the team in scoring.

(Insert your favorite Kevin Garnett-to-Chicago trade rumor here.)

The Detroit Pistons signed Chris Webber, and the Indiana Pacers made an eight-player trade last week to spark their teams.

The defending champion Miami Heat remain defenseless without Shaquille O’Neal and coach Pat Riley, both of whom had midseason surgery. When they return, the Heat’s season can begin again.

For the rest of the league, a bad second half could be a good thing — the perfect position to draft Kevin Durant, Greg Oden or Joakim Noah.

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