by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

What up, people? It’s Friday and things are sloooow here at the SLAM Dome, which is nice because the last week or so was a sprint to finish our next issue, with a 4,000-mile round-trip to Los Angeles over the weekend thrown in for me, so I could report this next issue’s cover story. Our office was closed on Monday for MLK Day, so I took the redeye back to NYC that left Sunday night, worked on the plane the entire time and didn’t sleep, got to NYC on Monday morning and went directly home. I slept three hours, woke up and did a conference call for Tuesday’s episode of “The Beat” on NBA TV, went back to sleep for a few hours, woke up and recorded this week’s episode of The Hangtime Podcast (link below), went back to sleep for a few hours, then woke up and got back to work on the cover story for this issue of SLAM.

Then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday featured all of us in the Dome running around like chickens with our heads cut off, finishing writing things and editing things. And now we’re done with the issue that will drop right around All-Star Weekend. I get the weekend off, and then I’m leaving town again, to work on a different story, and coming back later next week. It really don’t stop.

On “The Beat” this week, David Aldridge and I did our midseason awards, and it was much tougher than I expected to make my choices. Perhaps that was because of my zombie-like state of unsleep, but I really struggled deciding.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: This one was so easy that we ended up not even debating it on the show — Blake Griffin, obvs — and instead talked about whether or not Blake will be an All-Star. We both agreed that he will be, because there’s no way Stern would miss this marketing opportunity. I should also mention that I wrote the John Wall cover story a few months ago arguing that he was a legit ROY candidate. And he was. But he’s only played in 28 games because of injuries, and as good as he’s been — he’s 5th in the League in assists — Blake Griffin has been unstoppable.

MOST IMPROVED: DA and I also agreed on this one, as we both went with Kevin Love. I thought about choosing either Wes Matthews or Dorrell Wright, because they’ve both been terrific, but I couldn’t overlook what Love’s doing. You know, he averaged 14 and 11 last season, both perfectly respectable averages, but this season he’s averaging 21.4 and 15.6. So he’s averaging more rebounds per game this season than he did points per game last season. Some of that is an increase in playing time, sure, but he’s only playing about 7 minutes more per game. As DA said, if it was that easy to average 15 rebounds a game, everybody would do it.

COACH OF THE YEAR: I think this is the most wide-open category. DA went with Popovich, which I totally get. I thought about Thibodeau, Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle, even Jerry Sloan, but eventually went with Erik Spoelstra. It was just a few months ago that there were rumors about whether or not Spoelstra was the right guy for the job. They started 9-8, and since then are 21-5, which includes that 21 of 22 run when everyone was healthy. They’ve lost Haslem and Mike Miller to long injuries, but nore than anything, I went with Spoelstra because he’s had a bigger spotlight on him than any other coach, and he not only didn’t screw it up, but he’s also been very successful.

MVP: I thought hard about Derrick Rose and Amar’e, and DA went with LeBron and made a good case for him. I came really close to going with Rose, but to me, the two best teams for most of the first half were Dallas and San Antonio, and the main reason Dallas was there was because of Dirk Nowitzki. Before Dirk went down with that injury, Dallas was a crazy 24-5. He’s averaging about 24 ppg, right around his career average, but the most impressive thing to me is that he’s the most efficient he’s ever been, shooting a remarkable 54 percent from the floor. As if to prove Dirk’s value, when he went down injured, Dallas went 2-7 without him. Since he came back they’re 1-3, and trying to figure out how to play without Caron Butler. But that 24-5 start suggests to me that there are big things ahead.

But what do I know? Give me your picks down below in the comments section.

• Here’s this week’s Hangtime Podcast. This week Sekou and I welcomed the guys from The Basketball Jones, Tas and Skeets, who are celebrating their fifth anniversary this weekend up in Toronto. We also had Jenni Carlson from The Oklahoman on with us to talk about her efforts to get Charles Barkley to visit Oklahoma City for a game.

To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here. Or you can listen via the flash player below:

Other links…

• I’ve always enjoyed the BBC nature series like Blue Planet and then the Planet Earth, especially getting to watch them in HD or on Blu-Ray. And now there’s a new BBC series about a different animal: Humans!

Check this clip out, and if you can, click the little button on the bottom right of the YouTube player and blow it up full-screen, because it’s pretty amazing.

• The most stone-cold outside shooter this season has to be my main man Rolandas Dovydaitis. Who? Exactly. In an amateur game in Lithuania, Dovydaitis attempted 124 three-pointers in one game, and he made 24 of them. And I love that he finished the game with 73 points, so he scored 72 on three-pointers and also got one free throw. His team won 103-70, but I particularly liked this note in the story:

Despite collecting a total of 73 points, Dovydaitis managed to get a total efficiency ranking of minus-30, mostly due to a hundred missed three-pointers.

Great story here on Robert Swift, the high schooler drafted by Seattle who was injured a lot and got mad tattoos, then stepped away from basketball. He became an amateur ultimate fighter and ballooned up to 340 pounds, but now is back playing in Japan and playing pretty well.

• Most exciting news this week for me is that the Sidekick is coming back! I was among the world’s most avid Sidekick users for years, until a few years ago when I realized that I wasn’t a 7th grade girl. But the interface was amazing and intuitive, and the keyboard on it was the best phone keyboard I’ve ever used. A couple of years ago Microsoft took over the Sidekick and then everyone had all their data deleted somehow, but luckily I was out before then. I used a G1 for a while, and really liked the Android O/S, but didn’t like the keyboard. For a while I used a Blackberry, which worked fine but isn’t really much fun. For the last few months I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy S, which is a beautiful phone, but doesn’t have an actual keyboard, which keeps me from typing/texting as much as I probably would otherwise.

The new Sidekick is going to be Android-based, which is awesome, and if the keyboard is even close to as good as the old Sidekick keyboard, I am so in.

• Finally, I’ve been a fan of Natalie Portman since Beautiful Girls, but after she uncorked a laugh on the Golden Globes, the internet has run with it. Here’s a funny video from College Humor where they took the Portman laugh and recut it a bit, to great effect.

• That’s it. Have a great weekend everyone, catch you next week.