Celtics’ Garnett is the man to beat in MVP race

Times Staff Writer

According to oddsmakers, it will be a showdown between Boston’s Kevin Garnett, Cleveland’s LeBron James, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Orlando’s Dwight Howard for the NBA most valuable player award this season.

In’s most recent update, Garnett is the favorite to be named MVP (2-5), followed by James (2-1), Bryant (3-1) and Howard (4-1).

But what about Phoenix’s Steve Nash? Well, Nash -- a two-time MVP -- is in the middle of the pack at 25-1, which ranks behind New Orleans’ Chris Paul (15-1) and Utah’s Carlos Boozer (20-1) and even with Denver’s Allen Iverson and Golden State’s Baron Davis.


Yet Nash is still listed higher than last season’s MVP, Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, who comes in at 35-1.

The interesting thing about Nash and Nowitzki is that both are having MVP-type seasons while leading two of the top teams in the Western Conference.

Although the Suns’ overall play has been more inconsistent this season -- because of injuries and poor perimeter shooting -- Nash leads the league in assists, averaging a career-high 11.9. He also is scoring a solid 17.1 points a game and is shooting a career-best 46.6% from behind the three-point line.

It has been nearly the same situation for Nowitzki with the Mavericks, who are in a three-team battle for first place in the Southwest Division with San Antonio and New Orleans.

Despite facing consistent double teams every game, Nowitzki is 11th in the NBA in scoring at 22.1 points on 16.1 field-goal attempts a game (Nowitzki’s lowest shots average since the 2000-01 season). Nowitzki also is averaging a career-high 3.7 assists and leads the Mavericks in rebounding at 8.4 a game.

The bottom line is Nash and Nowitzki are no longer being pushed as NBA poster players, and with Phoenix and Dallas finding victories harder to come by, an opportunity has been created for younger players such as Howard and Paul.

The Lakers will play host to the Suns tonight at Staples Center with a couple of positive trends on their side.

The Lakers are 6-0 against the spread in their last six games against teams from the Pacific Division and 4-0 against the spread in their last four games when they have had two days’ rest.

Phoenix is 1-4 against the spread in its last five games against Western Conference opponents and 0-4 against the spread in its last four games overall.

College basketball

Play in the Pacific 10 Conference will resume tonight with Arizona State, which has won nine consecutive games, looking to remain undefeated in league play at California.

The Sun Devils (13-2 overall, 3-0 in the Pac-10), have gotten off to a strong start behind the play of James Hardin, Jeff Pendergraph and Derek Glasser. But the key for Arizona State has been its ability to make shots and play defense.

As a team, the Sun Devils are shooting a solid 49.7% from the field while limiting opponents to 56.7 points a game and 38.8% shooting from the field over the last four games.

Arizona State, 7-4 against the spread, will face a tough challenge against California (11-4, 2-2). The Bears, who are led by forward Ryan Anderson, are 7-2 against the spread in their last nine home games.