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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Al Iannazzone's end-of-season NBA awards and playoff predictions

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant smiles after

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant smiles after hitting a basket in the second quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers in Oklahoma City on Jan. 21, 2014. Credit: AP / Sue Ogrocki

Kevin Durant shouldn't have to worry about finishing second this time. After the season he's had, the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award should go to Durant.

Full disclosure: I had a vote for the MVP and Durant was first on my ballot ahead of LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Joakim Noah and Tim Duncan.

Although the Thunder was without All-Star guard Russell Westbrook for 36 games, Durant led Oklahoma City to a 59-23 record, the second-best mark in the league. The NBA scoring champ registered career highs in scoring (32.0) and assists (5.5), averaged 7.4 rebounds and played the best defense of his career.

Last year, Durant famously said, "I'm tired of being second" after finishing second behind James for MVP. Durant, the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft, has finished second in the MVP voting three times, and the Thunder was runner-up to the Heat in the NBA Finals two years ago.

But Durant should lift his first MVP trophy this year. The Thunder has a good chance of representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals and winning it all, so Durant very well could hoist another trophy in June.

Here are our other postseason awards:

Coach of the Year

The candidates: Dwane Casey (Raptors), Steve Clifford (Bobcats), Jeff Hornacek (Suns), Jason Kidd (Nets), Gregg Popovich (Spurs), Tom Thibodeau (Bulls).

Winner: Clifford

Our take: Another incredible job by Popovich -- this time to get his team to emphatically rebound from last year's Finals meltdown and finish with the NBA's best record. Thibodeau, without his best player (Derrick Rose) and after Chicago traded Luol Deng essentially for nothing, won 48 games. Hornacek got more out of the Suns than anyone expected. But Clifford has turned around Charlotte from a team that went 28-120 the previous two seasons to a 43-win playoff team this season.

Rookie of the Year

The candidates:Victor Oladipo (Magic), Michael Carter-Williams (76ers).

Winner: Carter-Williams

Our take: Oladipo kept improving and could prove to be better in the long run, but Carter-Williams joined Oscar Robertson (1960-61) and Alvan Adams (1975-76) as the only players since 1950 to lead all rookies in points, rebounds and assists.

Sixth Man of the Year

The candidates:Vince Carter (Mavericks), Jamal Crawford (Clippers), Taj Gibson (Bulls), Manu Ginobili (Spurs), Reggie Jackson (Thunder), Markieff Morris (Suns).

Winner: Gibson

Our take: Crawford and Ginobili are perennial candidates and former winners and are deserving contenders, as is Morris. But Gibson is having the best season of his career and has proved to be a reliable closer. He was among the league leaders in fourth-quarter minutes, field goals and rebounds.

Defensive Player of the Year

The candidates: Paul George (Pacers), Roy Hibbert (Pacers), Serge Ibaka (Thunder), Andre Iguodala (Warriors), LeBron James (Heat), Joakim Noah (Bulls)

Winner: Noah

Our take: James deserved the award last year and Ibaka probably should have garnered at least one along the way, but Noah had a tremendous year guarding his man, helping, rebounding and just impacting nearly every defensive possession.

Most improved

The candidates: Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Goran Dragic (Suns), Lance Stephenson (Pacers), Isaiah Thomas (Kings)

Winner: Dragic

Our take: Stephenson was the leader the first part of the season and Thomas has made a big leap, but Dragic's improvement and emergence were main reasons the surprising Suns won 48 games. He entered this season a career 9.5-point scorer and averaged 20.3 points.

All-NBA teams

First team: Chris Paul (Clippers), James Harden (Rockets), LeBron James (Heat), Kevin Durant (Thunder), Joakim Noah (Bulls).

Second team: Stephen Curry (Warriors), Tony Parker (Spurs), Blake Griffin (Clippers), Tim Duncan (Spurs), Dwight Howard (Rockets).

Third team: John Wall (Wizards), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), LaMarcus Aldridge (Trail Blazers), Paul George (Pacers), Al Jefferson (Bobcats).

Playoff predictions

Eastern Conference

First round: Pacers over Hawks; Heat over Bobcats; Nets over Raptors; Bulls over Wizards

East semifinals: Pacers over Bulls; Heat over Nets

East finals: Pacers over Heat

Western Conference

First round: Spurs over Mavericks; Thunder over Grizzlies; Clippers over Warriors; Rockets over Blazers

West semifinals: Spurs over Rockets;Thunder over Clippers

West Finals: Thunder over Spurs

NBA Finals: Thunder over Pacers


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