It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Those words were uttered by three NBA people during the first half of the season. Dwyane Wade, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown and Sam Cassell all made that point, in those words, and if indeed the NBA season is a marathon, then why are 82 regular- The Mavericks are 44-9, and that’s after an 0-4 start. They are the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title, but getting through the ridiculously tough Western Conference is no gimme. Plus, if Dirk Nowitzki goes down, the Mavs will be done. As far as the individual stuff, here is one writer’s version of the midseason NBA awards: Most Valuable Player: Steve Nash. My initial feeling when he won the MVP twoyears ago was that it was a borderline pick, because Shaquille O’Neal was still dominating the game. But with Phoenix struggling horribly recently with Nash out with a shoulder injury, his worth is being underscored, and he could become the firstplayer since Larry Bird in 1984-86 to win the award three times in a row. LeBron James might be the best overall player in the league, and Kobe Bryant is the best competitor/closer. But Nash is the MVP. Coach of the Year: Avery Johnson. There are a lot of ways to look at this award, but the fact that Dallas has such a great record, with Johnson righting the Mavericks after their poor start when they were ripe to implode, makes him the choice. Another way to look at the award is who has done the most with the least – and that might be Jeff Van Gundy in Houston. The Rockets lost Yao Ming for 25 games and Tracy McGrady for eight, and they are holding steady as the top-ranked defensive team in the league. Rookie of the Year: Brandon Roy. The Portland Trail Blazers guard would have been an easy pick, but he missed 20 games due to injury. Still, he is averging a rookie-high 14.6 points per game, with no other rookie close to his production. Defensive Player of the Year: Kevin Garnett. This is a wide-open category, and Garnett gets the nod because his defense is often underrated. He is an athletic wonder who rebounds, blocks shots and gets steals. The only problem is that Minnesota probably isn’t going anywhere this season, and that’s happened too much in Garnett’s career. Sixth Man of the Year: Leandro Barbosa. Barbosa probably is the fastest player in the league, and his production – 16.8 points per game – is just too high to overlook. Plus, as such a speedy guard, he is a bear to guard by anybody, especially other reserves. Most Improved Player: Josh Howard. Sacramento’s Kevin Martin has made a bigger leap statistically than Dallas’ Howard, but the Kings aren’t going anywhere. Howard made the All-Star team, although that’s a borderline pick in the loaded Western Conference, but with averages of 19.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, he has been huge to the Mavs. Macho culture: A lot of talk this week has been about John Amaechi becoming the first former NBA player to come out of the closet. However, I’ve realized that beyond that fact, not a lot of people know much about Amaechi. Excerpts from Amaechi’s book “Man in the Middle” on ESPN.com are enlightening, entertaining and well-written. He makes a lot of strong points in the book, including the anti-gay sentiment of players in the league. “Over time, I realized their anti-gay prejudice was more a convention of a particular brand of masculinity,” Amaechi writes. “Homophobia is a ballplayer posture, akin to donning a `game face,’ wearing flashy jewelry or driving the perfect black Escalade.” Amaechi, who was the firstplayer raised in GreatBritain to play in the NBA, also has written some funny excerpts about nearly coming out late in his career. “Every time I did something eccentric, like bringing my fabulously flaming friends to games, people would quip, `Oh, he’s just English. Leave him alone.”‘ Amaechi’s coming out has spurred a national debate on gay rights, and that could be positive. However, Tim Hardaway’s anti-gay comments also got a lot of play this week. Those comments were full of hate and were a shame. In case you missed it, Hardaway said, “I hate gay people, so let it be known. I don’t like gay people, and I don’t like to be around gay people. I’m homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the … United States.” Commissioner David Stern responded in a fast and smart way, banning Hardaway from the All-Star weekend. Hardaway was scheduled to make several public appearances on behalf of the league. Mr. Style: Roscoe Nance deserves credit for an illuminating story in USA Today on Cleveland Cavaliers guard/fashion star Damon Jones. Jones says he owns 450 suits and 150 pairs of shoes and claims to not only be the best shooter in the world, but the best dresser in the NBA. As for the keys to being a well-dressed man, Jones says to avoid mismatching belts and shoes and wearing oversized clothes. He added, “The biggest fashion mistake is trying to reach my level. That cannot and will not happen. No one will ever be able to put clothes on the way I do.” [email protected] (562) 499-1338 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! With all of the teams having completed at least 50games of the 82-game regular-season schedule, we can glean a lot about this season so far, although some pronouncements made earlier in the season, such as “There is no way Miami is repeating!” might not be no-doubt-about-it, take-it-to-the-bank true. Miami sure doesn’t look like it will repeat, but if the Heat and a healthy Shaquille O’Neal make it to the playoffs, no matter what their seed, they will have a reasonable chance to get through the weak Eastern Conference. Hardly anything is ever a certainty in this league, and that was shown in last season’s playoffs. In hindsight, many will say they expected Dallas to win Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals in SanAntonio. Many also will say they expected Detroit to fall to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals. But hardly anybody talked about Miami as a title contender during last year’s regular season, and though that Dallas-San Antonio series was as wacky as can be, it’s hard to bet against a home team in a Game 7. Anyway, the most obvious storyline this season is the Mavericks’ continued rise. Yes, Dallas is darn good. season games necessary before the real fun – the postseason – begins? The answer most given is “tradition,” although “revenue” is actually the more accurate answer.