By Chris Mannix
January 18, 2010

Talk of the league's MVP will be dominated by LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in the second half of the season, but with teams nearing the halfway point in the schedule, there is another name that needs to be included: Carmelo Anthony.

Playing in a tougher conference than James and with considerably less talent than Bryant, Anthony has had a dominant first half. He leads the NBA in scoring (30.0 points), has more 30-point games than eight teams combined and has helped mold Denver into strong finishers (the Nuggets are 21-2 when leading after three quarters).

Even his peers are starting to give Anthony props.

"I tell my friends all the time if I had to chose between LeBron, Kobe and Carmelo, I'm [going to] choose Carmelo," Dwight Howard said on 104.3 The Fan in Denver. "He can really score. I had the opportunity to play with him in the Olympics and he scores in bunches. You look up and he'll have 15 points in the first quarter. He's just that talented."

With Anthony -- who has the Nuggets up to No. 4 in this week's Power Rankings -- now squarely in the mix, the MVP race should be a fight to the finish.

(All stats and records are through Jan. 17.)

NBA Power Rankings
1 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 1
They finished 3-2 on their Western road trip, and LeBron averaged 36.2 points on 55.5 percent shooting from the field. James leads the league in scoring on the road at 31.4 points, which is 4.4 more than he averages at home. The Cavs play their next three at Quicken Loans Arena, including Thursday's showdown with the Lakers.
2 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 3
Even with a commanding five-game lead in the conference standings, the Lakers aren't content to stand pat. League sources say L.A. has been active in trade talks as it looks to upgrade its bench before the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Meanwhile, after Monday's game against visiting Orlando, the Lakers will play eight in a row on the road.
3 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 8
Atlanta Hawks (26-13)
Has any offseason pickup panned out better than Jamal Crawford? The free-wheeling combo guard has become Atlanta's go-to guy down the stretch. He knocked down a 26-foot buzzer-beater to topple the Suns last week and is averaging 17.2 points -- tops among players who haven't started a game this season. Said an East scout, "He's the perfect fit."
4 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 9
You can see why Chauncey Billups calls Nene the team's most efficient player. The Nuggets' center has shot at least 70 percent seven times this season, and his 58.1 field-goal percentage is fifth best in the NBA. In wins over Minnesota, Orlando and Utah last week, Nene averaged 15.0 points on 65.5 percent shooting.
5 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 2
The C's game notes need a second page to keep up with their walking wounded. After colliding with Shelden Williams in practice Sunday, Paul Pierce (knee) rejoined a long list that includes Kevin Garnett (knee), Rajon Rondo (hamstring) and Rasheed Wallace (foot). The good news for Boston is that Wallace is expected to play Monday and Garnett could be back by the end of the week.
6 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 4
Scoring at least 97 points seems to be their key to success. Since Nov. 16, the Mavs are 18-2 when scoring at least 97 and 1-9 when they fail to reach it. Defeats don't get Dallas down, though, as the Mavs have dropped consecutive games only twice -- the best mark in the NBA.
7 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 5
Here's why teams should be terrified of San Antonio: Tim Duncan is playing his best basketball in years, averaging 19.9 points and shooting a career-best 55.4 percent from the field -- all while playing a career-low 32.1 minutes. To keep Duncan fresh, Gregg Popovich has elected to sit his center on the second end of back-to-backs. "It pays dividends come playoff time," Popovich said.
8 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 6
Orlando Magic (26-14)
Stan Van Gundy has a simple solution for his team's recent woes, which include losing two straight and six of eight: Stop thinking about last season. "They got to get rid of the whole last-year thing," Van Gundy said. "It's been a negative. They compare what we did last year, but we got to make this team improve. We're not playing against last year's team. It's not relevant. That drains enthusiasm."
9 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 12
Every button Nate McMillan pushes seems to be the right one. The Blazers concluded a 2-0 week with a 15-point win over Orlando that featured a rotation of 36-year-old Juwan Howard and (get your NBA Register) rookies Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham. "I'm looking around and it's a bunch of guys I've played with for the first time," Brandon Roy said. "But that's our team now."
10 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 16
Utah Jazz (23-18)
The Carlos Boozer conundrum is looming larger as the trade deadline approaches. The Jazz likely can't afford to re-sign Boozer this offseason but can't stay in contention without his production (19.0 points, 10.6 rebounds) in the frontcourt. "I've been in a whole bunch of trade rumors my whole career, especially when I left Cleveland," Boozer told the Salt Lake Tribune. "So for me, I just play. I don't worry about. I don't think about it."
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