Doug Moe's Denver Nuggets, meanwhile, have become this season's overachievers--their finishing kick has them in line to win the Midwest Division title with a record in the West second only to the Lakers'. Moe's popularity with the media won't hurt him, either, although Riley is also well regarded. Moe is funny and honest as they come.
Rick Pitino deserves a mention for the job he's done with the New York Knicks, and last season's top coach, Portland's Mike Schuler, has matched his performance of a year ago. But Moe is the man.
--Most improved player. There are plenty of deserving candidates. Kevin Duckworth, an overweight underachiever last season, has become a force at center for Portland, where forward Jerome Kersey also has made great strides.
In San Antonio, how about center Frank Brickowski, a former Laker bench-warmer who has far exceeded the Spurs' expectations? In Utah, there is guard John Stockton, an already fine player who became the league's top assist-maker this season.
But this award should go to another Denver Nugget, guard Michael Adams, who was going nowhere with the Washington Bullets but blended beautifully with the Nuggets' nonstop running style. Moe said that the Nuggets would be nowhere without him, and his three-point shooting streak has added another facet to the already dangerous Denver offense.
--Defensive player. The incumbent, Michael Cooper, lost a chance to defend his title when he sprained his ankle. Cooper is still the one player you'd take your chances with in shutting down the opposition's top gun.
Jordan leads the league in steals but cheats too often on the other end of the court. How could he avoid doing so, given the load he carries offensively? Utah's Mark Eaton is once again the league's top shot blocker, and no one clogs the middle more effectively, but his immobility is still a liability.
So, the choice here--and it won't be popular with the Laker guards, who privately have let it be known that he's overrated--is San Antonio guard Alvin Robertson.
--Rookie of the year. The easiest pick of all. Knick guard Mark Jackson is an exciting, committed player who set a team record for assists and is equally as passionate about his defense. His maturity and court leadership remind Magic Johnson of . . . Magic Johnson.
Honorable mention: Golden State guard Winston Garland and Indiana long bomber Reggie Miller, who broke Bird's record for three-pointers by a rookie.
--Sixth man. Another category in which Cooper is a perennial candidate, this season it becomes the province of Tarpley, Dallas' 7-foot forward who has shown the capacity of 20-point, 20-rebound nights coming off the bench.
--All-NBA team: First team: Magic Johnson and Jordan, guards; Akeem Olajuwon, center; Bird and Charles Barkley, forwards. Second team: Clyde Drexler and Fat Lever, guards; Moses Malone, center; Dominique Wilkins and Karl Malone, forwards (with apologies to Kevin McHale).