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Ten things I like and don't like, including LeBron-Kyrie magic

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Is LeBron the MVP every season? (1:01)

The Jump Crew break down LeBron James' MVP candidacy and agree that LeBron may deserve the reward every season. (1:01)

Like we always do at this time ...

10 things I like and don't like

1. The Kyrie-LeBron two-man game

It is gorgeous to watch these guys do the pick-and-roll dance in their third season together, with hundreds of reps under their belts. They know their rhythms. They have mastered a bunch of first steps, and they understand exactly how the defense will respond to each of them -- and how to leverage every one of those responses into a specific advantage. They are patient, and they are vicious, and they are slowly becoming perhaps the deadliest unconventional pick-and-roll combination ever -- a calculating version of the old Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant two-man game.

They will set two or three screens if that's what it takes. Sometimes, the first screen is just a test -- a prodding, a chance to see what vulnerabilities the defense will expose.

When Irving senses he can pivot around and barricade DeMarre Carroll, he snaps into screen No. 2 and springs LeBron toward the baseline. Irving knows both defenders will chase LeBron there, so he scampers out toward the 3-point arc. If Kyle Lowry is slow to recover, Irving has an open triple. If Lowry rushes out, Irving can blow by him and see what emerges next.

LeBron anticipates Irving's drive might lure Carroll toward the paint, and slides out to the corner for an open 3. Lethal.

Reverse roles, and LeBron turns into the league's most versatile screener:

Irving knows Avery Bradley is prepped to chase him over LeBron's pick, and that he might juke Bradley by stunting toward LeBron and then crossing back the other way. He knows exactly how that move, if successful, will scramble the Celtics: They'll either double Irving, leaving LeBron rampaging to the rim, or switch themselves into an untenable mismatch. The Celtics choose the switch, and LeBron slices them apart.

Chemistry matters. You can't replace the power of shared experience.

2. The John Wall footrace

The Wiz are 10-6 in their past 16 games, and that counts as progress. They were on a nice roll before a dispiriting loss in Dallas on Tuesday on the second night of a back-to-back. They played the Rockets to a hilt the night before in Houston, and threw a bunch of different looks at James Harden.

Wall, of course, is at the center of everything, and he has rediscovered his peak turbo explosiveness after surgeries on both knees. When Wall's engine is revving, the Wiz will sometimes set screens for him almost at half-court, foisting an uncomfortable choice on the poor sap guarding Marcin Gortat: try to corral Wall 35 feet from the basket, or lay back and provide Wall a sprinter's runway. Good luck:

Look: Things are still perilous here. The Wiz are just 16-18, a game out of the No. 8 spot, and paper thin. Scott Brooks has no clue what he's going to get from his atrocious bench every night, or even who might get into the game. Hey, there's Jason Smith! Wait, what happened to Andrew Nicholson, the other half of Orlando's old backup frontcourt? Trey Burke scored 27 points last week against Brooklyn. It might take him three weeks to total up that many points again.

But the Wiz are playing with more fight. Markieff Morris has looked energetic on defense, including in switching onto Harden, and he and Gortat have unleashed some nice big-man passing. Washington's small-ball lineups, with Otto Porter or Kelly Oubre at power forward, have managed well.

The Wiz have to bring that kind of attuned energy every night. They don't have enough talent to play entitled basketball.

3. Booing Robert Covington

Man, this is brutal. I get that Covington is slumping; he's shooting 28 percent on 3s, but he's still launching six per game. That is frustrating to watch for fans who just want every Philly player to pass the damn ball to Joel Embiid.

But booing every miss, as Sixers fans have started to do, seems excessive. Covington is an undrafted surprise locked into a four-year minimum-salary contract. Literally any NBA-level production from that player type is an unexpected positive. Covington wildly outperformed that contract for three years as an above-average 3-point shooter, and now (some) Philly fans are punishing him for building up expectations.

His job is to shoot! With Gerald Henderson and Jerryd Bayless both hurt, who exactly do Philly fans want launching from deep? Covington isn't Josh Smith, launching hopeless bricks despite being a skilled inside player with zero track record of credible 3-point shooting.

Have some faith Covington's 3-point mark will float back up toward his career norms! Cheer him into a hot streak! He's trying hard on both ends, and doing what the team asks.

4. The state of Iron Man

After a wildly inconsistent and kinda icy start, Wes Matthews, almost two years removed from a devastating Achilles tear, has found his shot. Wessy Wes is shooting 38 percent from deep on almost eight attempts per game, a huge number. A lot of those are toughies requiring balletic footwork -- slide-backs, side-steppers, and other tricks to launch over and around defenders right in his grill.

Matthews isn't all the way back, and he probably never will be. He's not as explosive finishing around the basket, he doesn't post up as much, and he's not quite the immovable stopper he was in Portland. But he's still damn good on defense, and he's proving he can drain high-degree-of-difficulty triples again.

Between Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dorian Finney-Smith and (maybe) Justin Anderson, the Mavs have a bunch of interesting wings waiting for better players at other spots -- especially point guard. Related: Have you seen the point guards in this draft class?

5. The state of Chandler Parsons

So, umm, when do we start getting worried about this? Now? Next month? Yesterday? Because right now, this is uncomfortable. Parsons hasn't cracked 20 minutes in a game since November, and no one with the Grizz knows when the team might finally clear him to play in back-to-backs.

When Parsons is on the floor, he looks like he needs a few squirts of WD-40 around his knees. He's upright and stiff, slower both with and without the ball, and he requires a Dirk-level deep knee bend to load his jumper. His shot has always been on the flat side, but it's a clothesline right now. So far, the fears Dallas and Portland had about Parsons' knee issues look to have been on point.

You see glimpses of how Parsons might mesh with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. All three are brainy, shifty players who delight in subtle movements that open little cracks in the defense -- change-of-direction cuts, hesitation dribbles, and shoulder fakes. Parsons can take a handoff from Gasol, drive one way, pitch the ball back to the big fella, and sprint right into another handoff going the other direction.

When Parsons finally got healthy last season, he played the best ball of his life. The Grizzlies and Parsons are both optimistic that player still exists, and that we might see him before the end of the season. Memphis has a lot at stake here.

6. Lou Williams, still owning the Lou-for-1

A full five years ago, I wrote a little story for Sports Illustrated about how Lou Williams absolutely owned the 2-for-1. Like, no one on those Philly teams even tried to get the ball in the last 40 seconds of a quarter. He had an entire art to it: The first shot had to be a 3-pointer, usually released with about 35 seconds remaining. With the defense primed for another triple on the last possession, Williams would zip into the lane for one of his goofball runners.

I'm happy to report the Lou-for-1 is still very much a thing. The other Lakers get out of the way. "The chain of command there is Lou first, second, third, and fourth," Larry Nance told me, laughing.

Williams is a true NBA character.

7. Vanishing hack jobs

Well, would you look at this! Through 564 total games as of Thursday morning, there have only been 64 away-from-the-play fouls this season -- down from 217 unwatchable hack jobs at the same point last season, per data from the league office. That is a huge drop, and more than I expected when the NBA settled on a half-measure in addressing this issue over the summer.

(To review: The league applied the same harsh penalty that had been in place for off-the-ball hacks in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter to the last two minutes of every quarter. Some critics wanted a more aggressive prohibition that would have erased Hack-a-Shaq from the game. Purists agitated for the status quo, or something like it, reasoning that hack victims should suffer the consequences of their free-throw incompetence.)

Maybe the league somehow landed on the right balance. Both DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard -- two of the three hackees, along with Andre Drummond, who accounted for most off-ball fouls -- have bumped their free-throw percentage up to the point at which the strategy isn't profitable for opponents anymore. Maybe coaches have realized that the benefits are so tiny, if they exist at all, that hacking just isn't worth it. (Players generally hate it.)

The issue could rise up again in the playoffs, when coaches care more about every possession. There are a few potential hack victims lingering, including Ian Mahinmi (if he ever gets healthy) and Andre Roberson, who has forgotten how to shoot free throws in Oklahoma City.

But give the NBA credit: so far, so good.

8. Another find in Milwaukee

Psst ... President Malcolm Brogdon has outperformed Matthew Dellavedova, and he's a cinch as of today for the No. 2 spot behind Joel Embiid in the Rookie of the Year race. Brogdon has drained 41 percent of his 3s, meaning he's a good-enough spot-up shooter to work off the ball when Giannis Antetokounmpo is destroying fools. He's big enough to defend wing players in case Jason Kidd wants to hide his buddy Jason Terry on opposing point guards.

Brogdon is a cerebral player. He's a good off-ball cutter, and he's big enough to initiate from the post. He has developed a nice chemistry with Greg Monroe; Milwaukee has shredded opponents by almost 15 points per 100 possessions when those two share the floor, and Monroe is reinvigorated after a weird early-season benching. With Kidd usually staggering Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, the Bucks feel potent almost every minute of every game.

Brogdon marks another great find for John Hammond, Justin Zanik, and the rest of Milwaukee's front office.

9. Carmelo Anthony, soccer star

It's always fun when Melo gets a little frustrated around the basket -- when he doesn't get a call, or misses a bunny before finally pogo-sticking up to finish the job. A little injustice or bad luck brings out his mean streak.

He gets so juiced up, he'll sometimes wait for the ball to plop through the basket and head it soccer-style toward the referee. By the letter of the law, that constitutes a delay-of-game penalty, but refs rarely seem to call it. Good for them! It's fun! Melo isn't the only guy who does this -- DeMarcus Cousins cracked a nice one earlier this week -- but he is the league's preeminent post-basket heading expert.

10. Bullying Marquese Chriss

Experienced big men of the NBA: Stop being so mean to Marquese Chriss! He's only 19! Post-up bullies just steal this poor kid's lunch money at every opportunity, and Chriss is too skinny and inexperienced to do anything about it. Boris Diaw held extended tea-time sessions against Chriss a few weeks ago in Utah; Diaw got the ball up high, saw Chriss in front of him, and just sort of butted his way, ass-first, to the rim for layups.

Chriss would stare at the refs after every Diaw assault with a look that was both angry and desperate: WHY AREN'T YOU DOING ANYTHING TO HELP ME AGAINST THIS LARGE FRENCH MAN? PLEASE HELP! THIS HAS TO BE SOME SORT OF VIOLATION!

Chriss has a fun bad-boy spunk, but refs aren't having any of it from a teenager. He's a tech magnet, and Earl Watson, the Suns coach, has chastised Chriss several times for his ongoing dialogue with officials.

Chriss is gonna be good, but starting him is a great way to tank. The Suns are last in the West, jostling with Miami, Brooklyn, Philly, Dallas and the Lakers for the league lead in losses, and they've made a clear move toward youth the last couple of weeks. They've damn near benched both Brandon Knight and Jared Dudley -- not that Knight was helping much -- and reserved regular minutes for Dragan Bender.

The race to the bottom is going to be a fun second-half storyline, especially since the Lakers owe their pick to Philadelphia unless it falls within the top three.