Shanoff's WUC: At NBA Mid, Lakers Still Rule

Today's Calls: Lakers vs. the NBA, Kansas State vs. Texas, Norv Turner vs. Wade Phillips vs. Chan Gailey, Felix Hernandez vs. Cubs in Arizona, Nate Robinson vs. Shannon Brown and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: The NBA season mid-point is a moving target, but when the defending champs hit 41 games it feels like an appropriate time to reflect. ↵

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↵Particularly when those champs are playing better than any other team in the league, commemorated the halfway mark by beating their opponent from last year's Finals -- and have done nothing to change the fact that they remain the team to beat. ↵

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↵It's not that there aren't some compelling story lines through the first half of the season: ↵

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↵First-half MVP: Kevin Durant. The Thunder's transformation from "young team years away" to "playoff contender" has been the most interesting story of the season so far -- and led by Durant. (And they aren't slowing down.) ↵

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↵• The ascent of the Hawks: This was more impressive a quarter of the season ago, but they remain in 1st place in the Southeast and will be a tough out in the East playoffs. ↵

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↵• Tyreke Evans is Rookie of the (Mid-)Year: 20-5-5 has made the Kings -- the Kings! -- a must-see team, just like Brandon Jennings has made the Bucks interesting. In retrospect, it seems ludicrous that any teams passed on them in the draft. ↵

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↵• The collapse of the Wizards: Even before the Arenas debacle, the team went from shadow contender in the East to the biggest disappointment in the league. At least they will provide excitement at the trade deadline as they dismantle. ↵

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↵• The pending return of "NBA Jam" as a video game sensation: Enough said. ↵

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↵Note the absence of mention of bona fide "contenders" like the Mavs, Nuggets, Spurs, Cavs and Celtics. ↵

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↵That's because their success feels hollow: None have looked good enough to take 4 of 7 from the Lakers. And so the NBA's regular season is a nice showcase for young talent with no aspiration beyond exploring their own potential. ↵

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↵But the actual championship? Feels like a done deal. ↵

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↵Blissfully absent from the list list: Hysteria over "Summer of 2010." Happy to defer that discussion until the regular season is over ... or at least the trade deadline. ↵

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↵CBB Mania: Kansas State topples Texas, in a statement game for the Wildcats that their Top 10 ranking is no fluke. Texas looked totally rattled by K-State's defense. To be fair, UT's D was pretty good, too. Kentucky, that No. 1 ranking is yours. ... ↵

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↵Tip of the cap to the K-State fans who didn't rush the court. Sometimes that's appropriate, but when you're a fan of a Top 10 team with aspirations of a conference title, you should act like you have the better team. ↵

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↵(Um, Ryan Fagan is going to want to update his NCAA seeding list.) ↵

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↵Tonight: Obviously, you must follow Northwestern at Ohio State, but a more intriguing game nationally is Northern Iowa at Wichita St. If you haven't seen UNI play this season, it should be a good snapshot. Clemson-Georgia Tech feels like a battle between two teams who won’t make it to the Sweet 16. Purdue looks to get off the schneid at Illinois. ↵

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↵NFL Conference Title Games: This compact primer by Dillon and Brown will give you a nice baseline for the week of lead-up. You can make a compelling case for either of the teams to win both games. (Picks coming Friday.) ↵

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↵NFL Coaching Carousel: ↵

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↵• Chan Gailey coaching the Bills? If you're a Buffalo fan, that has to be depressing news. ↵

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↵• Norv Turner reportedly got a 3-year extension -- well, that's 3 more years you know the Chargers won't be winning the AFC. ↵

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↵• Wade Phillips isn't getting fired ... yet. You can bet that Jerry Jones is already looking ahead a year to who he will hire when he eventually does get rid of Phillips. And short of a Super Bowl next season (ha), that's a lock. ↵

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↵• Mike Nolan is leaving the Broncos after only one year as D.C. If he's leaving after a year, things must not have gone well at all. (Apparently, he's not so radioactive that he can't fail upwards, to Miami.) ↵

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↵Dunk Contest: Nate Robinson is back, for the one event that gives him relevance. Also in: Shannon Brown (my pick to win), Gerald Wallace and the winner of a Dunk-Off between Eric Gordon and DeMar DeRozan (who could upend Brown). ↵

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↵MLB Hot Stove: Felix Hernandez locked up by the Mariners, who have shown an admirable commitment to spending to be competitive in the AL West -- retaining one of the Top 5 pitchers in baseball through his peak years is the cornerstone. ↵

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↵Spring Training: Cubs moving from Arizona to Florida for Spring Training? This is intriguing, particularly for Arizona fans who had turned the region into Wrigleyville Southwest. As usual, it probably comes down to money. ↵

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↵Jose Offerman banned for life from the Dominican League? You don't say. ↵

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↵CFB Recruiting: Marcus Lattimore -- No. 1 on SN's Top 100 list -- is down to Auburn and South Carolina. I think that splitting carries at Auburn will nudge him to South Carolina, where he can be The Guy from Day 1. The SEC's Dion Lewis? ↵

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↵Rachel Alexandra deserved some consideration for Sportsman of the Year in 2009. She'll have to settle for Horse of the Year. ↵

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↵The Last Word: Kudos to John Calipari, who led a fundraising effort to help Haiti that raised more than a million dollars. ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/danshanoff. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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