Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sunday Slams: NBA's dynamic duo, Deng, MVP and more!

I’m sick. I hate being sick. However, being sick gives me a license to lie in bed and watch basketball, and this makes me happy. It’s probably not the most exciting way to usher in 2007, but anyone who knows me knows I’m not very exciting.

Anyway, I’m watching the Suns play the Chauncey Billups-less Pistons, and I can’t get over how well Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire run the pick and roll. I know that I’ve written about this before, and this isn’t exactly news, but Nash and Stoudemire have become the John Stockton and Karl Malone of the current NBA. The play is unstoppable. It’s being run so well by this duo that I can’t figure out why Phoenix doesn’t run it every time down the floor.

Steve Nash can always just pull up and shoot. If he’s not feeling that, he dumps it to Stoudemire, who is back to 100% and is dominating people one-on-one.

So, defensively, do you double Amare? How about doubling Nash? You can’t do either. What makes the play so lethal is that it invariably leaves Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa or someone else wide open for a three-pointer.

Thankfully, I’m not an NBA head coach, because I have no idea how you defend this for an entire game. I expect that when it comes to playoff time, Phoenix will pick and roll even more. That’s the main reason why I picked them to win the NBA title this year.

DENG…HOW ABOUT THE BULLS?

Luol Deng is playing like he wants a fat, new contract. This is a smart decision, since he’s in line for a fat, new contract.

While Ben Gordon gets a lot of love for his instant offense, Ben Wallace grabs the boards and plays the tough defense, and Kirk Hinrich is lauded for leading, it has been Deng who has been the Bulls best overall player this season. Deng is averaging a career-high 18 points and is shooting a career best 54%. Last night, he carried the Bulls to a huge victory over the Cavaliers, scoring 32 points on 15 of 19 shooting.

I think at this point the Bulls and Pistons are the two best teams in the East, and considering the Ben Wallace factor, that could make for an interesting time in the spring.

But regardless of how good they end up being, Chicago is going to have to seriously consider locking Luol Deng up long term with a big money contract, and that could cause a whole different set of interesting circumstances this spring.

Will John Paxson move Deng to get Kevin Garnett? Will the Bulls decide they can win it all with what they have, a seemingly legitimate question based on how they’re playing? Can the team afford to pay all of their young talent, or will they trade someone to stay under the luxury tax?

Luol Deng isn’t exactly making the decision an easy one for the Bulls upper management, but I’m sure they wouldn’t have it any other way right now.

THE MVP RACE

I know we’re only a third of the way through the season, but the MVP race is going to be controversial again.

Steve Nash, the two-time winner of the award, is having his best NBA season statistically. I would consider him the front-runner again at this point, and he deserves it. He’s actually getting better as he gets older. In my opinion, he finally deserves the MVP award (I wouldn’t have given it to him two years ago or last year).

But Steve Nash can’t win this award again. He just can’t. There’s no way you can argue that for the last three seasons he’s been the most valuable player in the league. Phoenix has way too much talent around him. Would they be as good if he were lost for the year? No. Would they drop off completely? No.

And I suppose that’s the crux of the award. Those criteria are mine and it’s how I would base my vote if I ever had the chance. But that’s not to say all writers feel that way.

Regardless, we have a long list of early season candidates. Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Tim Duncan are all right there so far.

But the one player you have to watch out for in this race is Dwayne Wade. Have you seen how bad the Heat is without him? Plus, you know that once Shaq gets back, Miami is going to make a run. How strong of a run they make could go a long way towards impacting the MVP race.

Amazingly, it’s Steve Nash’s award to lose again.

PUTBACKS

-The new ball is done after tonight. How long before the players complain about the switch taking place in the middle of the season? I’m going with Saturday.

-How can fans and coaches possibly be expected to pick the All-Star forwards for the West? Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Shawn Marion, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Zach Randolph are all deserving of a trip to Vegas this year, and I’m not even including Elton Brand or Josh Howard in that discussion. This is one deep conference.

-I feel bad for Mike Fratello. He never had a chance this year when Pau Gasol got hurt. At least the Czar of the telestrator will find TV work immediately, and it’s likely he’ll rarely draw an assignment in Memphis.

-Can you believe that Ron Artest for Corey Maggette trade didn’t happen? Again, use common sense with rumors and the outcome is clear. I can’t stress this enough.

-HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Let's get caught up

I've embarked on a little holiday vacation with the family, and the big news that I keep reading about is that the Clippers and Kings are talking seriously about a Corey Maggette for Ron Artest swap. Sure they are.

The Clippers need some serious help, but turning to Ron Artest in desperation is not the route I would go. You're telling me that Artest coupled with Sam Cassell, Tim Thomas and the always bizarre Chris Kaman is going to make for a winning combination? Uh, alright.

Speaking of Kaman, was anyone else totally shocked that he cut his hair? I couldn't believe it.

Elsewhere, injuries are really taking over the 2006 season. Yao Ming goes down right as Tracy McGrady is getting healthy. Dwayne Wade sprains his wrist last night in Chicago. Rashard Lewis goes down for the Sonics right as Ray Allen is coming back. The entire Hornets roster. Too bad.

How about Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards? First place with a bullet. Arenas is making a pretty strong case for an All-Star bid, and I can only imagine how motivated he'll be if he is snubbed. Let's hope he makes the team, because otherwise he's going to shoot for a 100 point game.

Oh, and don't look now but the Knicks are a game out of first place. That playoff bandwagon might be starting up again.

Is Lawrence Frank about one more week away from a complete and total meltdown? He seems to be losing it from what I have seen.

That's enough rambling for now. I'll be back with much more frequent updating in 2007. Have a happy new year everyone!!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Iverson trade

According to the fine folks at ESPN.com, Allen Iverson is on his way to Denver to play for the Nuggets.

From the Mile High side of the table, I have mixed feelings on this one.

On one hand, the thought of Iverson playing with Carmelo Anthony is tremendously exciting. After all, they’re the league’s top scorers. Plus, I don’t necessarily buy into the notion that Iverson will shoot, shoot and shoot. He’s averaging more than seven assists a game right now, and with potent scorers like Anthony and J.R. Smith, this marks a change for The Answer. He can actually rely on someone else to do some scoring when he wants a break.

Now, does that mean I think this will work? No. I’m not saying that it won’t, but I’m a little concerned about what this will do to Carmelo Anthony once he gets back from his sabbatical. Anthony has been The Man in Denver for three years, and he signed a max contract in the off-season to continue that role for years to come. How will he handle being the Co-Man with Iverson? That’s a question that can’t be answered yet, and his suspension complicates matters a bit.

What happens if Iverson and the Nuggets start rolling without Anthony, and then face major re-adjusting again when Anthony returns from suspension? Will chemistry be affected when he comes back?

For Denver, there’s no way out of this plan since they’ve moved draft picks and they’ve eaten up their cap space by trading for A.I. However, I like that Denver is going for it in an already loaded West. I think George Karl has the ability to make this work, but there’s a lot of questions that ironically must be Answered. Sorry, that was horrible.

Now, from the Philadelphia side of things, I don’t care for the trade at all. Billy King could have gone any direction he wanted here, and he wasn’t in a hurry as of two days ago. Suddenly, boom, it’s over.

What does he get for his patience? An expiring contract (Joe Smith) and a point guard who arguably may have had his best days behind him (Andre Miller). Sure, the Sixers get two first round draft picks in this year’s deep draft, but both picks are likely to be in the 20s, so big deal.

Is Joe Smith’s expiring contract and two first round picks enough for Iverson? King doesn’t come out of this with any All-Stars or lottery picks, and while the Sixers appear to be in the driver’s seat for Greg Oden’s services, they would have been in that position regardless of what they got back for Iverson.

By not holding out for Randy Foye, Shaun Livingston or J.R. Smith, it feels to me as though Philadelphia got less than what I was expecting them to get, and I wasn’t expecting them to get enough in the first place.

We’ll see what else happens here, as Billy King may just be getting started in the rebuilding phase. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and see how he uses his three first-round picks. However, if I’m Joe Sixer Fan, I’m not happy right now.

So, the saga is finally over. Denver, on paper, joins Phoenix, Utah, San Antonio and Dallas as the frontrunners in the Western Conference. Are two superstars enough to win a championship? Absolutely. Will this move translate to a title? We shall see, but one way or another, the ride is going to be a fun one.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday Slams: Brawl, Iverson, Injuries and much more

There has been a fair share of classic fights in Madison Square Garden.

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier battled in 1971.

In 1985, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. took on Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff at the first Wrestlemania.

However, Saturday night’s brawl between the Knicks and Nuggets was not a fight for the ages at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

Sadly, I didn’t see this live, so I’ve only have highlights to go off of, but it sure seemed that everyone was in the wrong here. Why were the Nuggets starters still in? What was Mardy Collins thinking with that horribly unnecessary flagrant? What was Nate Robinson doing jumping J.R. Smith, sending both of them flying into the front row?

Worst of all was Carmelo Anthony’s sucker punch on Collins. The punch was bad. The retreating as quickly as possible was way worse. I’d suspend him an additional game for that cowardly act.

I hope the Nuggets and Knicks are appreciative of David Stern’s generosity in bringing back the old ball because he’s about to go Dictator on everyone involved in the ugly fight. I expect some swift punishment tomorrow, and every single person who took place in the brawl will deserve whatever Mr. Stern hands down.

It’s disappointing that once again we have another horrible, unnecessary, flat-out stupid incident that will again mar the league’s image, but I’m realistic enough to know that this won’t be the last one. I hope I am wrong. There’s no place for any of that in the NBA.

A.I. IS STILL A SIXER

So, how will all these forthcoming Denver suspensions affect their ability to get Allen Iverson? And are they really in the running for Iverson?

Who knows?

As of print time (ha!) Sunday night, Iverson remains out of action, waiting for his fate to be determined. Although the Sixers have lost 11 in a row and are fading deeper into the cellar of the worst division in basketball, they appear to be in no hurry to move Iverson.

Denver, Minnesota, and Boston appear to be the frontrunners for his services if you believe reports or rumors, but Billy King just keeps listening.

The best rumor of the week was that Miami was a player in all of this. Can you imagine? Iverson, Wade and Shaq running around trying to co-exist with Jason Kapono, Gary Payton and Wayne Simien. It’s hard to comprehend. Personally, I don’t think it would work. There’s still only one basketball, and unless Shaq is out for the year, he’s not going to be happy as a third option. Plus, Miami would be crazy to get into the luxury tax for that lineup.

However, I’d be glued to the TV to see every game. I didn’t think Pat Riley’s moves would work last year, and boy did the Heat prove me wrong.

Anyway, fantasies aside and writing without any sources, I still think Iverson is going to Minnesota because deep down I think that’s what everyone wants. Philly doesn’t need multiple draft picks if they’re headed towards a top three pick this year. Rebuilding could come very quickly with Randy Foye, Greg Oden and cap space. Let’s make this happen.

INJURIES ARE PICKING UP

Nothing can ruin an NBA team’s season faster than a star player being injured for a long period of time. It’s happening all over the place.

Kenyon Martin is out for the year in Denver.

Tracy McGrady’s back is acting up again in Houston.

The Lakers’ Lamar Odom is out at least a month with a sprained knee.

Ray Allen is sitting for the Sonics with a sprained tendon in his foot.

Shaq has missed a ton of time with a bum knee in Miami.

Steve Francis, Peja Stojackovic and Hedo Turkoglu are all on the sidelines as well.

Some teams will get by because they have elite players to help get them through this time (Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming).

But others like New Orleans and Seattle will find that missing their star players for an extended period of time will also probably mean missing the postseason.

It’s the nature of the NBA, and it shows just how important guys 3 through12 on your roster really are to the overall success during the season.


PUTBACKS

-I hope we get a Lakers/Rockets playoff series because the teams played two of the most entertaining games of the year this week, even though Lamar Odom and Tracy McGrady missed the majority of both of them.

-Is Phoenix ever going to lose again? I don’t see it happening this week as they host Toronto, head to Denver to face a scrub-heavy version of the Nuggets and then shoot it out with the Wizards? Circle December 28th on your calendar for the Suns against the Mavs in Dallas on TNT. That will be fun, and it very easily could be a Western Conference preview.

-Ben Wallace is back to being Ben Wallace, and low and behold, the Bulls are streaking. Wallace played his two best games of the year this past week, recording 20 rebounds on Wednesday against the Sonics and then topping himself with 27 on Friday against Milwaukee. The Bulls look poised to be in the mix for the top seed in the East.

-Who is my pick for most disappointing team in the NBA at this point? New Jersey. How is it possible that they’re not winning the Atlantic Division by at least five games? I I feel back for Lawrence Frank. Those Larry Brown rumors are only going to get worse.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lakers hang on for victory

The Lakers survived a wild comeback by the Houston Rockets to win 102-94 on Tuesday night.

I was all set to write a glowing piece of praise about the Lakers’ third quarter, in which they outscored the Rockets 30-13 by running the triangle the way Tex Winter originally dreamed it up. They used great passing and cuts to the basket to get seven lay-ups in the quarter. Defensively, they played similar to the way they did against San Antonio on Sunday night, forcing 10 turnovers in the period alone and completely taking Yao Ming out of the game.

Everything was great for L.A. They led 94-73 with seven minutes to play in the game and Phil Jackson decided he had seen enough of the starters.

Huge mistake.

(Note: This is in NO WAY an indictment of Phil’s coaching. Who wouldn’t pull the starters?)

The Rockets rattled off 19 in a row to cut the lead to two, and they actually had chances to take the lead. Phil had to put the starters back on the floor, even though he clearly wanted to rest them with the team playing back-to-back games. However, Houston couldn’t convert their free throws and ultimately came up short. It was an amazing comeback, nonetheless.

For the Lakers, they won without Lamar Odom, who injured his right knee in the first quarter. I re-wound the game to see where he got hurt, and it appears to me that he tweaked the knee on a drive to the basket. He seemed to land awkwardly after Shane Battier blocked his shot, but he stayed in the game for the next few possessions before asking to come out of the game. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious. He had an MRI tonight, and Lakers fans will hold their breath waiting for the results.

Los Angeles continues the “We’re for Real” tour tomorrow night in Dallas. They won pretty convincingly against San Antonio on Sunday, and seemed poised to do it again tonight in Houston before a near disaster was averted. The Lakers are certainly better than I thought they’d be at 15-6, but honestly, I’d feel a lot better about them right now if they had closed out properly tonight. We’ll see how they do in Big D. Instead of feeling like they’re rolling, I feel like they need to bounce back. What a difference seven minutes can make.

Monday, December 11, 2006

New Year, Old Ball

Wow. Marc Stein broke the news a couple of hours ago, and I'm still in shock.

The old balls return on January 1.

David Stern admitted he made a mistake? He listened to the players? Honestly, I feel like I don't even know him anymore. This is still the man who made a 1-0 ruling in the Ron Artest situation, right? Can Sheed still call him Dictator?

I was really getting used to the new ball. There was that famous Vince Carter 3-pointer that died on the rim and went in to tie the Wizards. There was Amare Stoudemire's shot on Friday night that bounced off the rim twice, hit the top of the backboard, and then spun back into the basket.

You never knew what was going to happen with that microfiber thing.

Good for the players. Say goodbye to those nasty little cuts and hello to leather.

I need a sound bite from Rasheed Wallace immediately. If you hear of one, please send me the link.

Edit: I just had a thought. Will Kwame Brown revert to not being able to catch the ball?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday Slams: Iverson, Pistons, Suns and more

The big news of the week is that the Philadelphia 76ers and Allen Iverson are set to part ways once and for all.

There are many columnists (I suggest here, here and here) who can sum up the history far better than me, but this seemed inevitable for a long time.

The last hurrah for A.I. and the Sixers was the Chris Webber trade in February of 2005. At the time, it was believed that the two superstars would be tailor-made for one another, and Philly would be set to make a deep run in the postseason. Instead, Webber turned out to be a shell of his former self, and it was Iverson who was once again left to lead the team alone.

So, here we are. He’s going to be moved. Philadelphia is not going to get nearly enough for him, and, if you believe rumors, Minnesota has suddenly gone from selling Kevin Garnett to buying Allen Iverson.

It makes sense.

Garnett doesn’t want to leave. He’s happy to let Iverson do his thing without worrying how it will affect his numbers. The combination would give Minnesota a legitimate shot at making a championship run on paper.

The only problem is what this does to the Sixers. They can get Randy Foye, a player who has Philly ties (having gone to Villanova), and they’ll take back some collection of second tier players like Ricky Davis, Eddie Griffin and Troy Hudson to make the salaries work. What else can you do when you very publically state that you’re trading your superstar?

What if Minnesota doesn’t work out? Who else is out there to deal with? Honestly, I have no idea. I can’t imagine the Sixers would hand Iverson to Boston and watch him light them up for years in the same division.

There was an interesting rumor about Dallas, with Devin Harris being the centerpiece of a package, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Dallas is good enough without Iverson to make a serious run at the title. I wouldn’t roll the dice on that one.

Regardless of where Iverson goes, the one certainty here is that the Sixers are toast for the season.

David Aldridge wrote a very interesting column today in the Philadelphia Inquirer. His basic point is that if you were going to start over, this would be the year to do it since experts are projecting this to be one of the best drafts in years.

They should have traded Iverson years ago, but at least they’re finally going to move on. In my opinion, it’s been long overdue.

THE PISTONS TAKE BACK THEIR THRONE

Did you notice the Eastern Conference preview on Friday night? Still to early for you? Fine.

The Pistons and Magic met at the newly named Amway Arena. Although Orlando has the best record in the Conference, the Pistons reminded them they are the true beasts in the East.

It was a competitive game. Dwight Howard gave Detroit fits inside. However, when the game was on the line, it was Rip Hamilton who could not be stopped. He ran circles around Grant Hill coming off screens and hit two wide-open shots to give the Pistons the lead for good.

Also, Chauncey Billups torched Carlos Arroyo and Jameer Nelson all night, finishing with a game-high 31 points. After the game, Billups summed up the main difference between these two teams right now.

“We’ve been in a million games like this, where it comes down to the last four or five minutes,” said Billups. “We just stay poised out there.”

It was an odd week for the Pistons. They had their eight-game winning streak snapped by Charlotte, and then they lost at home to the Blazers.

However, Detroit pulled themselves together with a huge win on the road in Dallas and the win in Orlando the next night.

Maybe the Pistons need some motivation to get themselves going for regular season games after four straight deep postseason runs, but one thing seems clear—those who wrote this team off when discussing who is the best in the East made a mistake.

Detroit sure looks like the team to beat to me.

THE SUNS ARE SCORCHING AGAIN

When I got home Thursday night and checked the ticker to find out who won the Suns/Nets game, I was convinced there was an error.

Phoenix won 161-157? Someone typed the wrong numbers.

Nope, that’s just the Phoenix Suns for you.

The next night, I made it a point to see how Phoenix played at Boston. They had to be tired after a double overtime game the night before. I didn’t think there was any way they could pull out a victory, especially against a young Celtics team with very fresh legs and a decent offense.

What happened? Phoenix outlasted Boston in the final quarter for a 116-111 victory.

This team is like the Energizer Bunny. They can’t be stopped.

Phoenix has won nine in a row. What should frighten opponents is how Phoenix can win games even when they’re not playing well, as they did on this night in Boston.

In the fourth quarter, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire worked the pick-and-roll to perfection. It was so great that I’m not sure there’s a team in the NBA that could have stopped them. They used it on two consecutive possessions. The first time, Nash was double teamed off of the switch and dished to Stoudemire for an easy, driving dunk. The next possession, the defenders went with Stoudemire, and Nash calmly pulled up and drained a 17-footer. On the next trip, Phoenix worked the ball around, and Nash found Shawn Marion for a backbreaking 20-footer from the corner to ice the victory.

They were tired and sloppy for most of the night, and their weaknesses were again exposed as the Celtics dominated on the glass, but the bottom line for Phoenix is that they’ve won nine straight games, and they’re doing it by playing their style of basketball.

PUTBACKS

-How about the year Luke Walton is having? He was supposed to be a bench player after the Lakers signed Vladimir Radmanovic in the off-season, but Walton is earning his time as a starter. He’s shooting an astounding 56% from 3-point range, and he set a new career high Friday night when he dropped 25 on Atlanta to lead the Kobe-less Lakers to a victory.

-Speaking of the Lakers, we’re about to find out how good they are. They host San Antonio tonight, then head to Texas for games with Houston and Dallas before they return home for another game with the Rockets. Not an easy week with or without #24.

-New Orleans knew the gamble they were taking by bringing in Peja Stojakovic and Bobby Jackson due to their injury histories, so it isn’t surprising to see both players in street clothes and the team struggling without them.

-If you missed ESPN.com’s Weekend Dime, then you missed this doozy of a quote from Rasheed Wallace on the new ball:

“The new ball sucks. Dictator just went on and threw it out there [without] asking guys and testing it. That ball sucks. They had some Spalding guy create quote-unquote microfiber and all that. You got guys who never played the game before who want to change the ball.”

Dictator? How much will Sheed get fined for that blast on David Stern? I hope he doesn’t because that is one awesome quote.

-Congratulations to the Clippers for finding a way to win on the road in Memphis. There may be no stopping them now.

-Shocking to see Stephon Jackson in the middle of a tiff with Rick Carlisle. You have to love the Pacers.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tuesday thoughts on Kobe, Curry, Chandler and more

-Kobe Bryant’s ankle injury isn’t quite as bad as he thought it was. That is certainly good news for the Lakers and their fans, thousands of whom forgot how to breathe at the Staples Center last night.

It’s funny how unfazed I was as a Lakers fan watching Bryant clutch his right ankle. Don’t get me wrong, Kobe missing a prolonged period of time is not something I want or would be able to handle, but I can’t get Lamar Odom’s first two games of the season out of my head. Those terrific performances without Bryant and the season long above average play of the team as a whole gives me hope that the Lakers can survive if Kobe can’t go tomorrow night. With that said, I’d prefer it if he can go.

-Eddy Curry’s play over the last seven games has writers and bloggers alike amazed, and while the resurgence is surprising considering he’s doing it with the whole heart issue, and for the Knicks, I think everyone is forgetting the corner that Curry turned at the end of the '04-'05 season. Remember, he was a HUGE part of the Bulls resurrection towards the end of that season, and when he went out with an irregular heartbeat, the Bulls playoff chances took a colossal hit. Curry has always had the potential to become a force inside offensively, and it’s nice to see Isiah Thomas realize it and work the offense through him rather than four shoot-first point guards.

-On a side topic, those who think John Paxson gave up on Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler too soon are, in my opinion, not aware of what happened in Chicago. First, neither player was a Paxson draft pick. Secondly, I don’t think Paxson ever questioned either player’s ability on the floor when he decided to move them. Pax decided he wouldn’t stand by and watch Curry play with a heart risk without gaining more knowledge, and whether you agree or not, when Curry refused to take a DNA test, Paxson felt he had to move him to the Knicks. That wasn’t a decision based on what Curry was doing on the floor. In Chandler’s case, I think it was becoming clear he needed to go elsewhere to get right mentally. If Paxson didn’t value him, he never would have re-signed him to a big money contract. From where I sit, it seemed that Chandler was never able to live up to the pressure of being traded for Elton Brand. He’s a perfect example of a player just needing a change of scenery, and the Bulls made the move they had to make once they added Ben Wallace. So, the point of all of this is that Curry and Chandler's success now doesn’t mean the Bulls made a mistake, it's just a reminder of how their plans changed. That’s just my opinion.

-What a surprise it was to fire up the HoopsHype rumors this morning only to find a story about the Clippers denying that they were shopping Corey Maggette. You don’t say?

-I’m watching the Blazers and the Pistons go down to the wire and I'm thinking about this Zach Randolph to Detroit trade rumor. Sure, he'd help the Pistons. Yes, I know what he and the Portland fans have been through the last couple of years. And yet, I don’t think I’d mess with this Portland team if I were their General Manager. Perhaps I’m na├»ve, but Randolph sounds more mature in this SI article, and the Blazers have loads of young talent around him. They are two years away from being the team everyone in the league is afraid to play.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sunday Slams: Brian Hill, Kobe, Bad Trade Rumors and more!!!

A MAGICAL RETURN TO THE TOP

The calendar has flipped to December, and the Orlando Magic is the class of the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

I’ve written a ton already on the greatness of Dwight Howard, so I won’t waste your time again.

While the inspiring tale of Grant Hill is wonderful, I’d like to focus on another former great making a comeback with the Magic this season—head coach Brian Hill.

You remember Brian Hill.

He’s the winningest coach in Magic franchise history. He led the Magic to three straight 50-win seasons from 1994-1996, including the team’s only Finals appearance in 1995.

But after the 95-96 season, Shaquille O’Neal left for L.A., and Hill was fired mid-way through the following season after Penny Hardaway and others quit on him.

Hill moved on, landing the worst gig in basketball trying to lead a horrid Vancouver Grizzlies roster. Remember the Big Country years? After that, Hill was overlooked for countless coaching jobs, instead working as an assistant for several teams.

Now, with Penny Hardaway long since a Magic afterthought, Hill is back on top in Florida. It started in the final 22 games of last season, when the Magic won 16 of them and made a startling late playoff push.

This season, the team has picked up right where they left off, and it’s looking increasingly likely that this isn’t going to stop.

Hill has the Magic playing defense again (they’re tops in the league in field goal percentage), but he’s also getting the support of his players.

In Portland Friday night, in a tie game with two seconds on the clock, Hill drew up a brilliant final play that resulted in a Grant Hill lay-up for the victory.

Afterwards, Grant credited Brian for recognizing how the Blazers had been switching defensively on screens and taking advantage of it with the play he called.

The star player crediting the coach for a key play? It’s clearly not 1996 anymore for Brian Hill, but ten years later, November’s NBA Coach of the Month is doing what he’s always done—leading the Magic to a winning record.

THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES TAKES A NOT-SO-SUPRISING TURN

The whole landscape of the city was changing. The TV ratings showed it. The buzz was reflecting it. Hell, even Jack seemed to be buying in.

So much for that.

Sure, we’re only a month in, but the Lakers are again on top in L.A., if they ever really lost their footing as king of the mountain.

They smacked the Clippers around again Saturday night with a 97-88 victory in a game that was never in doubt.

Why are the Lakers the best in town again? Amazingly, it’s because of the job GM Mitch Kupchak has done.

I’ll admit I was wrong about Kupchak. I didn’t think he got enough for Shaq, and I questioned his decision to deal Caron Butler for Kwame Brown.

However, the Lakers are 11-5, and it’s because of the role players Kupchak has added.

The Lakers have rebuilt well through the draft, adding Luke Walton, Brian Cook, Andrew Bynum, Ronny Turiaf, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar in the last four drafts. Only Bynum was a top 10 pick.

In addition, Kupchak used draft day this year to add Maurice Evans, who is yet another former Pistons bench player flourishing for another team.

Kobe Bryant has help now, and it’s showing in how he’s playing. Sure, the 52 points against Utah looked the same do-it-all Kobe, but there was one big difference. The Lakers as a team shot 60%, and it was Kobe’s teammates who kept the Jazz honest by knocking down 53% of their shots. In contrast, when Kobe went for 81 against Toronto last season, his teammates shot 33%.

Meanwhile, the Clippers are a mess at 7-8 and in the cellar of the Pacific. At least Mike Dunleavy has a new contract to figure out how to fix it.

SILLY TRADE RUMORS DRIVE ME NUTS

OK, so if I’m to believe media reports, the Grizzlies are going to trade Pau Gasol and the Heat and Clippers have talked about a Corey Maggette for Antonie Walker swap.
I didn’t believe either one, and they’ve both been vehemently refuted since I initially read it.

The reason? GM’s aren’t completely stupid.

Memphis may be bad, but trading Pau Gasol to the Celtics isn’t going to improve the Grizz or make them more valuable for sale. Remember, the reason they’re bad is because Pau Gasol is hurt.

Antoine Walker isn’t worth half of Corey Maggette right now. Sure, their salaries are close, but why in the world would the Clippers make that trade? They wouldn’t, because it’s absurd.

I’m thoroughly convinced that Corey Maggette is never going to be traded. It’s rumored every year, and yet, he always remains a Clipper.

So, here’s my advice to you, my loyal dozen readers. The next time you read that the Lakers are going to trade Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum to the Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett, think about whether that trade actually makes sense for the Lakers and don’t give it another thought. It’s not happening.

When you see the Bulls without any low post scoring, draft picks and a bevy of young talent who will need fat contracts, give some credence to Garnett rumors.

The next time you see Earl Watson’s name connected to the Miami Heat, think about how the Heat needs a point guard and Watson may want more playing time. This makes sense. This could happen.

Common sense must return to trade rumors. I love them more than anyone, but so far this year, they’re even more ridiculous than normal and it’s only going to get worse.

PUTBACKS

-Remember when the Mavs and Suns were struggling? Me neither.

-The Union’s lawsuit about the new ball and the technical fouls is really something. I understand their point and that they want control over some of these decisions, but the technicals have diminished already and I swear the complaints about the new ball have ceased. I wouldn’t test David Stern, but that’s just me.

-After the stupidity of the controversy surrounding Ben Wallace and the headband, the Bulls have won four in a row and look poised for a big two weeks with their next seven games at home against inferior teams (sorry Sonics fans, it’s not personal). This has nothing to do with the headband incident uniting the team and everything to do with not being on the road against good West teams. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

-A Jamal Crawford update. The Knicks played two more games since Wednesday and lost both of them. Crawford played 30+ minutes in each. Hmmm.

-Are the Pistons on the quietest eight-game winning streak in league history?

-In my season preview, I wondered how much playing time Dorrell Wright would get in Miami this season. It looks like more than I thought, since I can’t imagine him losing his starting role anytime soon. He’s been a nice surprise so far.

-If you’re not reading the new NBA Fanhouse at AOL.com, you really should be. It’s a great look at the league from some of the best bloggers around. Funny and insightful.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

My ongoing theory about Jamal Crawford

I haven’t had a lot of chances to sit down and watch the Knicks this season.

I’ve read a lot about the lineup shuffles, the feuds and the booing at home, but I wanted to see for myself how bad this team really is.

I wrote in this week’s Sunday Slams that Isiah should use Jamal Crawford in spurts rather than playing him for 30+ minutes a night, and that Zeke should just concede and use Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury at the same time.

Well, tonight, Thomas used all three on the floor to close out the game, and it worked. The Knicks beat the Cavs 101-98 in Cleveland.

Crawford only played 15 minutes leading up to the 4th quarter, and this was brilliant strategy.

For my money, Crawford is incredibly frustrating to watch. He’s got tremendous ability, but he makes a lot of bad decisions. This game was the perfect example.

Crawford and Eddy Curry executed the pick-and-roll to perfection for much of the final quarter, leading to either easy baskets or free throw attempts. It’s a side of Crawford’s game that I rarely see, but one that worked very well with his good friend Eddy Curry. This is precisely how the Knicks’ point guards should be using Curry, and while I assumed it would be Francis who would be best suited to maximize Curry’s game, it was Crawford who perfected it down the stretch.

But for every nice pass, there was still the Crawford trademark: a questionable shot attempt.

With the Knicks trailing 84-82, Crawford missed a terrible 3-pointer without passing or setting up the offense at all. After a Cleveland miss, Crawford again made no passes and missed an 18-foot jumper on New York’s next possession.

In addition, for every made shot on offense, Crawford gave the points right back defensively. Literally. There was a series where he drove right to the basket offensively for an easy lay-up, then immediately let Eric Snow go right by him with ease on the other end. Two series later, Crawford drilled a 3-pointer but didn’t rotate properly on defense and allowed Damon Jones to answer with a triple of his own.

But, on this night, Crawford’s good play outweighed the bad. Thomas intentionally saved him for the 4th quarter, and Crawford answered the call by scoring all 11 of his points and racking up all two huge assists to Curry.

He played a total of 27 minutes, which follows my theory for victory. I am thoroughly convinced I’m on to something here. Jamal Crawford always seems to be a work in progress. I think finding ways to make him successful are critical to the success of the Knicks. We’ll see how it all evolves.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday Slams

THE EAST STILL GETS A TEAM IN THE FINALS, RIGHT?

If you peruse the papers today, there appears to be some shock around the country about how awful the Eastern Conference has been this season.

Is this really a new thing?

Sure, the Pistons and Heat have won two of the last three titles, but at no point during those two seasons was the East the better Conference.

This season, the East appears even worse. The Atlantic Division doesn’t have a winning team right now, and Orlando looks like they might run away with the Southeast.

However, coming into the season, I thought the Central was the only strong division in the Conference, and so far it’s living up to that billing, sort of. The Pistons and Cavaliers are two of three teams in the East with winning records.

You read that right. There are three teams in the Conference with winning records.

As I wrote yesterday, I think the Bulls will turn things around once they get back home. If that happens, you’re looking at a pretty strong division race, and I will be willing to go out on a limb and say the Central will provide the East’s Finals representative this year.

I know, what a limb.

ON THE ROAD WITH THE CLIPPERS

For the five of you that have been reading since prediction time, you’ll recall that I picked the Clippers fourth in the Pacific Division. Even I thought I was crazy when I did it.

But if the Clippers can’t win on the road, they’re actually going to fulfill my prophecy.

The Clip Show dropped another road contest last night, giving away a game in Minnesota by scoring two points down the stretch.

It wasn’t a good week overall for Mike Dunleavy’s crew.

They lost a ‘road’ game to the Lakers on Tuesday when they couldn’t stop Kobe Bryant.

Then, the Clippers came out sluggish the next night and got smoked by the Seattle Sonics.

And there’s more bad news to accompany a 0-3 week.

Chris Kaman is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle. Plus, the road trip continues tonight against red-hot Denver, and then Los Angeles heads to Sacramento to wrap up the trip.

Before the Minnesota game, Mike Dunleavy told the Los Angeles Times, "I know we can play better, and I know we have the right guys. We just need the light bulb to come on, and I don't know when it will. I keep hoping it's going to be the next game."

If that light doesn’t come on before this mini-trip is over, the Clippers could very well find themselves in last place heading into a re-match with the Lakers next Saturday night.

In a division this good, that’s never a place you want to be.

WHO SHOULD START FOR THE KNICKS IN THE BACKCOURT?

The Knicks are a difficult team to sit and watch. I tried Saturday night when they hosted the Bulls.

What I saw was a horrible first-half, an inspired run sparked by Renaldo Balkman of all people, a lot of sloppy play (N.Y. had 25 turnovers), and a smattering of boos from the Garden faithful.

The Knicks are not good, but in an Atlantic Division that’s completely up for grabs, they have as good a shot at the playoffs as anyone else.

So, let me help Isiah Thomas, who can’t figure out what his backcourt lineup should be.

Stop jerking with Steve Francis and start him. Start Stephon Marbury as well to avoid the inevitable blowup (whoops, too late) and bring Jamal Crawford off the bench in spurts.

To me, too much is being made about Francis and Marbury, and not enough is being made about the constant inconsistency of Crawford.

There’s no question Crawford has tremendous talent and athletic ability. I would never take that away from him.

However, Crawford’s decision making has always been questionable, and that’s being polite.

The Knicks looked great when they put the ball in Steve Francis’ hands and let him make plays last night.

But when Crawford has the ball, he’s always looking to score, even in impossible situations, and this Knicks team has way too much talent to put up with that kind of mentality.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when Crawford plays less than 30 minutes, the Knicks are 3-2, and when he plays 30 or more, they’re 2-8.

Maybe that’s not fair, and maybe I’m trying to defend an argument, but in my opinion, Crawford is best as an energy spark off of the bench. Isiah Thomas needs to realize this once and for all and limit his playing time to maximize his efficiency.

PUTBACKS

-Is it really fair to blame the Grizzlies’ problems on Mike Fratello? What is he supposed to do without Pau Gasol?

-Ben Wallace apparently really likes wearing a headband, so much so that last night he defied a Scott Skiles’ team rule that says Chicago players can’t wear one. This led to a benching and a team meeting after the game. This is something to keep an eye on.

-My belief is that you can pick out the championship contenders by looking at road records. In other words, teams that win on the road are legit. So, who’s legit right now? Detroit, Utah, Denver, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. The Nuggets are the only team on this list that surprises me.

-My five MVP candidates from the first month of the season: Dirk Nowitski, LeBron James, Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony and Carlos Boozer. I’d give it to Dirk if you made me choose right now.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Quick thoughts on Friday's games

Ho Hum, another come-from-behind fourth quarter victory for the Jazz. This contest with the Lakers was a heck of game, but in the end it was offensive rebounding and the great play of Carlos Boozer that gave the Jazz the victory.

From the Lakers' side of things, this wasn't close to a bad loss. They had multiple chances to win the game, and the shots just wouldn't stay down. In particular, Lamar Odom had one of those fourth quarters where the ball seemed destined to go through the net, yet somehow found a way not to.

I know Kobe Bryant had a very quiet fourth quarter, but let's not start the "he should have been more active" discussion.

For one, he's still not 100%, so fading on the road has to be somewhat expected.

Also, and this is a key factor to the team's overall success this year, Bryant saw that Odom and Kwame Brown were hot offensively, and he smartly tried to keep them involved.

The Lakers can't win a title without the "supporting cast" winning some ballgames, so there's going to be some trial and error in the process. Hopefully, Bryant and his teammates will find the right balance.

Elsewhere, Dallas keeps on rolling with a big win in San Antonio. Dirk Nowitski continues his MVP-like play, recording his sixth straight double-double. Suddenly, the Mavs are the team to beat out West.

The East is an unmitigated disaster right now.

I thought John Hollinger was nuts earlier this week when he wrote that Miami was headed to the lottery, but then I sat down and watched them play twice. When Pat Riley is inserting Jason Kapono into his starting lineup, there are serious problems in Heatville.

But honestly, what choice does Riles have? He can't continue to use Antoine Walker when he can't make a shot from anywhere (inside the arc, outside the arc, the free throw line).

I feel bad for Dwayne Wade. Hopefully, Dorrell Wright can emerge as an option for Miami, but even that will be an up and down proposition.

And what in the world is going on with the Bulls. Look, they do this every year, and they blame it on the circus trip. Then, they'll come home and rattle off eight in a row, and everyone will be excited about them. But, to me, something is different about this horrible road trip. This was the team that was supposed to instill fear in their opponents with their defensive intensity, rise above the horrors of five games out West and show they had championship mettle.

Instead, they look worse than last year's team.

123 points to Philadelphia? Are you kidding me? How about the performance of Ben Wallace last night? Zero points, zero rebounds in 20 minutes. I could get that stat line, and I don't make anywhere close to the $60 million they're spending on him.

The Bulls might want to wake up. I know the East is bad, and there's plenty of season to be played, but right now, Chicago is performing like the worst team in the Conference, and you can't blame it entirely on elephants and clowns.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Today, I'm thankful for my DVR, a device that allows me to watch games like Utah at Sacramento a day later.

I simply wouldn't believe this start for the Jazz if I wasn't seeing it for myself. They erased a 21-point deficit last night by scoring 75 points in the second half, and they're now 11-1 on the young season.

Utah never quits, and they're playing like the most complete team in the league. The sight of their bench jumping up and down following a Mehmut Okur triple was fun to witness. They're all having a blast out there.

Should we book the trip to Vegas for Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer?

Never in a million years would I have guessed I'd be enjoying watching the Jazz, but I really am.

I can't wait for tomorrow night when Kobe and the Lakers get their shot at the NBA's best. That's going to be a lot of fun.

Have a tremendous holiday.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Mavs are awake!

That's seven in a row for the defending Western Conference champs, and they're doing it without Josh Howard.

Granted, they've beaten Phoenix, Portland, Chicago, Memphis (x2), Charlotte and Washington, but you still have to be very impressed with what's going on in Big D.

The first thing that pops out is the defense. The Mavs have held opponents under 100 points in five of those seven contests. Just nine days ago, Dallas was allowing 105 points a game. Coming into tonight's play, it was down to 99 points a game, and that's going to drop further. Tuesday against the Wizards, a team that came into the game as the sixth highest scoring group in the NBA, the Mavericks only gave up 80 points and held the Wiz to 7 of 33 shooting in the second half. Very impressive.

The other factor in the winning streak is the play of Dirk Nowitski. He's merely averaging 28 points and 11 rebounds during the run. He's playing aggressively again, getting to foul line for double digit attempts in five of those games. This is the Dirk that was borderline unstoppable in the postseason last year.

So, big shock, the Mavs have returned to their winning ways. Now, I'm still waiting for Phoenix to join them. Maybe Steve Nash's winning 3-pointer last night was all they needed.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sunday Slams

THE JAZZ KEEP ON WINNING

Well, if the thought was that Andrei Kirilenko’s injury would stop the victory train in Salt Lake City, so much for that theory.

The Jazz is now 9-1 after sweeping the week with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, Seattle SuperSonics and Phoenix Suns. I watched at least the decisive quarter of all three of these contests, and if you’re still denying this team’s start, you must stop.

This team is good.

I still believe they’re too young to be taken seriously as title contenders, but there’s no doubt they’re headed towards great things soon if they stay healthy.

One thing that immediately jumps out at you about the Jazz is hustle. This week alone, Utah pulled down 45 offensive rebounds in three games. 45!! I don’t care what kind of roster you have, if you’re pulling down 15 offensive rebounds a game, you’re going to win a lot of games.

Deron Williams continues to be the genuine surprise of the young season. He has been absolutely outstanding. Williams spent time in the off-season learning from John Stockton, and suddenly, he’s playing like him. In addition, Williams is comfortable with his teammates, especially old Illini friends Dee Brown and Roger Powell, and that comfort has translated onto the court. He’s also emerging as the team’s go-to scorer down the stretch, hitting clutch buckets against Seattle and Phoenix to put games away.

One other reason for Williams’ and the Jazz success this year has been the addition of Derek Fisher to the roster. Fish knows how to lead in the locker room, and he knows a thing or two about winning from his time in Los Angeles. His veteran leadership will only make this team stronger the more they keep winning.

I could go on and on about how well Utah is playing, with Matt Harpring contributing huge off the bench and Paul Millsap doing all of the little things, but I don’t want this to be a weekly feature. If they keep winning in the fashion they have been, I may not have a choice.

PHOENIX CAN’T CLOSE TEAMS OUT

I still believe the Suns will figure this out, but they’re inability to finish teams off is becoming distressing.

Phoenix completely collapsed on the road in Utah on Saturday night. They blew a 16-point lead and did so in an incredibly sloppy manner. On two separate occasions Saturday night, Phoenix fouled Mehmut Okur while in the act of shooting 3s. Then, Leandro Barbosa missed not one, but two uncontested lay-ups. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Barbosa missed a lay-up that hurt the Suns in their loss to Utah in the first week of the season.

Blowing leads isn’t a new phenomenon for the Suns. They’ve always seemed to have trouble closing teams out, and I think a large part of it is their constant up-tempo style. The Suns almost never slow down and play a half court game. When behind, Phoenix can erase seemingly any lead due to their offensive bursts, but I’m beginning to wonder if the same tempo hurts them when they’re ahead.

All I know for sure is that Phoenix has lost the fourth quarter six out of nine times already this season, and only two can be attributed to garbage time. That’s not good news for a team with championship aspirations.

TIME TO PANIC IN MIAMI?

Anytime a team is blown out on their home floor by the New York Knicks, the question can be raised.

However, the Miami Heat may be in big trouble now that Shaquille O’Neal is out for an extended period of time.

The Heat is off to a not shocking 4-5 start, but what is surprising is how poorly they’ve played on their home floor. The Heat lost all three games in Miami this week, including two blowouts (to Houston and New York) and a surprising defeat to a depleted Denver Nuggets squad.

One of the main reasons Miami has struggled at AmericanAirlines Arena is the shooting woe of Antoine Walker. Employee #8 has hit a mere 6 of 34 shots from behind the arc at home, a heinous 18%.

Without Shaq, someone will need to help Dwayne Wade out offensively, so either Walker will have to start hitting his shots from deep or he’ll need to eliminate it from his game and become the dribble penetrating scorer he has proven he can be.

Regardless, times are tough on South Beach for now, and they don’t look like they’ll get any better anytime soon.

THE WESTERN CONFERENCE IS PRETTY GOOD

I bet the Hornets wish they had stayed in the East.

With Utah, Golden State and New Orleans off to great starts, what was surely going to be a crowded playoff picture appears as though it could include 12 of the 15 teams in the conference. At this point, only Memphis looks like a lock for the lottery.

If you have any doubt about how good this conference is in the first two weeks, Portland is 5-6 and no one is talking about them even though they’ve beaten the Lakers, Hornets and Nets convincingly, and they’ve done it without Brandon Roy.

Yes, it’s still early, and some teams will fall back to the pack, but teams in the West may have more competition than normal to get to the postseason. For example, Phoenix is currently looking up at 13 teams. Yikes!

PUTBACKS

-Dwight Howard put up yet another 20/20 night this week. That’s already two this season, and Orlando has won four in a row. They are certainly a team to keep both eyes on.

-Cleveland’s loss to Washington means I wasn’t totally right in my prediction that they’d go on a major tear, but the Cavaliers still look like the class of the East so far. LeBron is putting up King James-like numbers, and Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden are providing the help that Cleveland needs to be contenders.

-The Clippers got waxed in Utah on Tuesday night, but they’ve taken care of business when they’ve played at the Staples Center. The Clippers are 6-0 at home and 0-2 on the road so far. The Clip Show has four of their next five on the road, although one is Tuesday night against the Lakers in their home building. We’ll see if they can adjust to the different lighting.

-If the Bulls decide they need another big-time scorer, and Seattle can’t work out a contract extension with Rashard Lewis, wouldn’t he make sense in Chicago? Hmmm.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Doug Collins possesses the Rockets?

"I don't like my point guard inbounding the basketball"- Collins on Rafer Alston failing to get the ball in and needing a timeout.

"I can live with my superstar driving to the basket in that situation to try to draw a foul"- Collins on Tracy McGrady

So, the question here is clearly either a) does Doug Collins believe he is Jeff Van Gundy or b) is he setting up an alternate form of commentary to compete with Hubie Brown's second person?

For the record, I love Doug Collins on commentary.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Surprise, surprise...I was wrong

Friends, the game of the year sadly did not a) have any hype or b) live up to the billing I gave it.

This Utah Jazz team is playing some very inspired basketball. Mehmet Okur and Matt Harpring are doing their part in the offense, and Deron Williams seems to have come a long way since his rookie year funk. Can it last? Of course it can. Will it? I still don't believe in it. However, Jerry Sloan better win Coach of the Year this year. He's deserved it about five times in his career, and he's never won it, which is an outrage.

More than anything else involving Utah, I am still waiting for an official to give the Jazz crowd a technical for disrespectful complaining. This must happen before the year is over. It's just something else inside that arena.

Also, I was thrilled to see Bill Simmons (I get the feeling he's unhappy with Doc Rivers) jump on the Paul Pierce to the Bulls bandwagon. This has been a point I've been making long before this blog existed. Pierce is the perfect piece to the Bulls puzzle: a go to scorer with size who can compliment both Kirk Hinrich and Ben Wallace perfectly. Plus, it works well for the Celtics since the Bulls have any number of tradable assets to choose from.

Finally, sucks to be Denver. I wrote in the season preview that injuries would be a big key to the team's season. Kenyon Martin managed two games this year before being shut down for good. Bad times in the Rockies. It's a shame too, since 'Melo is playing outstanding basketball.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Game of the Year is near

I just want to get a jump on all of the hype.

Los Angeles Clippers (5-1) at Utah Jazz (6-1). Tomorrow night. Salt Lake City.

Brand vs. Boozer. Livingston vs. Williams. Kaman vs. Okur. Goose bumps.

Winner takes over the coveted top spot in the West, assuming of course that San Antonio loses at Houston.

November games don't get much bigger.

Make your predictions in the comment section.

For the record, I like the Clip show. Put your money on the Jazz.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The debut of Sunday Slams

Since Sunday seems to be the day NBA columnists check in with their own unique takes on what’s happening in the Association, I figured I should jump into the fray with my own version of a Sunday column. I present you loyal few with Sunday Slams, my new weekly view of what’s happening around the league.

SWEET TUNES IN SALT LAKE CITY

The season is less than two weeks old. Keep reminding yourselves of this fact when you look at the standings and see the Utah Jazz with the league’s best record at 6-1.

The Jazz was the expert’s darling coming into the season, and so far, they’ve made everyone look smart. Well, except for me. Carlos Boozer has been a monster early, averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Jazz.

However, you can hear Salt Lake holding it’s breath waiting for the injuries to come, and, sure enough, Andrei Kirilenko sprained his ankle midway through the first half last night in Milwaukee. Apparently, he sensed it was coming.

From the Deseret News: "Milwaukee," Kirilenko said as he lay on a training table, his propped-up right foot in a walking boot. "Second injury in Milwaukee. Start thinking about bad-lucky. How you say that, like Friday 13th — something like bad things you're thinking about."

Exactly.

Kirilenko is the quiet leader for Utah. He does a bit of everything, and does it all well, so Jerry Sloan will keep his fingers crossed. The good news has been the early play of Deron Williams, who looks like he’s going to live up to the hype after an inconsistent rookie year.

This will be a big week for the Jazz, as they’ll square off with the Clippers, Sonics and Suns. If they can survive that without Kirilenko and stay hot, I’ll continue to eat crow.

PHOENIX AND DALLAS ARE A COMBINED 3-9

The Suns and Mavs have struggled mightily at the start of the season, but there’s absolutely no reason to panic.

Both teams are trying to find their collective chemistry, with Phoenix working Amare Stoudemire back into the rotation and Dallas trying to find the right mix of players with Greg Buckner, Austin Croshere, Devean George, Anthony Johnson and Maurice Ager needing minutes.

The bottom line for both teams is that they’ve forgotten how to play defense. Phoenix is giving up a whopping 108 points per game, while Dallas isn’t much better, allowing 105 per contest.

The Suns took a step in the right direction last night against Memphis, allowing a mere 87 points. With Avery Johnson running the show in Big D, I have to assume the Mavericks will get back to the basics and stop opponents from shooting 50% from the floor.

Both teams are still stacked with talent, and their slow starts are not indicative of where they’ll end up. Chemistry takes time in the NBA. Ask the NBA Champion Miami Heat whether early starts truly matter.

WHERE DID LAMAR ODOM GO?

Lamar Odom started the season looking like a lock for the All-Star game in Las Vegas.

But then Kobe Bryant returned, and Odom lost his aggressiveness. There are many who feel the two can’t play on the same floor together, but I’m still not sold on this argument.

Odom is one of the most unselfish players in the league, almost to a fault in some cases, and he goes through patterns where he doesn’t take the ball to the basket, instead either deferring to teammates to shoot or settling for long-range shots. For example, he took only six shots against Seattle in a loss, and then followed that performance by attempting seven 3s in a win over Minnesota.

Odom’s successful when he drives to the bucket, and his aggressiveness can be measured by how often he gets to the foul line.

In the first three games of the season when Odom looked like the MVP, he attempted 26 free throws. In the four games since, he’s taken 12.

Until Bryant gets back to form, the Lakers can ill afford to have Luke Walton and Smush Parker carry the offense. It’s time for Odom to be the team’s second option for good and maintain a me-first attitude on the offensive end.

LAYUPS

-Ben Gordon started the week with a 37-point performance against Milwaukee, but he followed it with two atrocious shooting displays. In Cleveland on Thursday, Gordon shot 1 of 10 from the floor, and last night against Indiana, he shot 1 of 9 and was benched. The Bulls need Gordon’s scoring, but he’s a liability on the floor defensively. I would not want to be Scott Skiles trying to put together a lineup right now.

-Zach Randolph is out of his mind so far. The Blazers are 4-2, and Randolph is the reason why. He averaged 34 points and 12 rebounds this week, and he’s registered a double-double in five of six games. Those are some scary numbers. I don’t think anyone was expecting this.

-The Joe Johnson for Boris Diaw swap actually looked like a steal for Phoenix last season. However, things are evening out. Johnson has the Atlanta Hawks off to a surprising start, while Diaw looks out of shape and is way off his pace from last year.

-Kevin Garnett’s numbers are as strong as ever, but was anyone else concerned watching Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard put up big numbers against the Timberwolves this week? Granted, that can’t all be pinned on K.G. (hello, Mark Blount), but it makes you wonder if Garnett is losing some of his edge on the defensive end.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

LeBron leads wild comeback

There's an ancient theory that NBA fans don't need to watch games until the last two minutes of a game.

Well, if you subscribed to that theory tonight, you missed an amazing comeback by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Their opponent, the dreadful Boston Celtics, had everything working for them through three quarters. They held a 76-60 lead even without Wally Szczerbiak and Theo Ratliff. Nothing made sense in this game, as Paul Pierce had zero points in the first half, yet his team went on not one, but two 11-0 runs in the half.

But the Celtics forgot to show up for the fourth quarter.

LeBron took over. He finished with 38 points, but more importantly, he invited his teammates on his back for a classic comeback. Sasha Pavlovic nailed two big 3s along the way to assist.

I saw the Cavs dismantle the Bulls on Thursday night, and now, after seeing this tonight, I'm convinced they're ready to go on a major tear.

The league has always feared a killer instinct in LeBron James. He showed it tonight, and with the Cavs sitting at 4-2 looking at New York, Portland, Minnesota, Washington, Memphis and Toronto next, this comeback could be the spark of something they never look back from.

Elsewhere, Dwight Howard went nuts tonight for 21 points and 22 rebounds. He did it against Kevin Garnett for much of the night. Wow.

Things are starting to become normal again in the NBA. Thank goodness.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Nellie gets over in return to Big D

A bit of the wild and wacky in Dallas on Monday night. If only Marv Albert had been there!

First, Don Nelson and his Golden State Warriors were successful in Nellie's first game back in Dallas with a 107-104 victory. The mood was very friendly, at least from Mavericks fans, who greated Nelson with a standing ovation.

However, Mark Cuban seemed to have a different opinion if you are to believe what Mark Heisler wrote in the L.A. Times over the weekend. That is awesome. You have to love Cuban saying there is no grudge. OK, Mark.

Meanwhile, Avery Johnson didn't stick around for the entire reunion, getting himself tossed in the second quarter. Worse news for the Mavs is that Josh Howard left the game with what is being called an ankle sprain. Howard is a guy the Mavs can't afford to lose for very long, especially now that they're off to an 0-3 start.

Elsewhere, San Antonio held off the Knicks late charge to win in the Garden. The Knicks playoff bandwagon is pretty light right now.

The Bulls got a huge night from Ben Gordon en route to a 110-85 win at home over Milwaukee. Gordon made 15 of 25 shots for 37 points. That's a lot of shots for Ben Gordon. If the Bulls are going to live and die with Gordon's shooting, this is going to be a seesaw year for sure.

Carlos Arroyo sparked Orlando's victory over Washington. I'm still waiting for the dominant Dwight Howard to return. Where has he gone? Nice win for the Magic.

And in Utah, the Jazz move to 4-0 with a big time 103-101 win over the Pistons. Great finish as Rip Hamilton tried to tie the game with a lay-up, but Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko rejected it as time expired. Utah, Philadelphia and New Orleans are still the only unbeatens in the league.

One question regarding the fans in Utah: Is it possible to give them technicals under the new "no whining to the officials" policy? I'm just asking.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sonics get revenge on Lakers

On a night when Sonics legends including Xavier McDaniel and the one and only Shawn Kemp were in the building, Seattle handed the Los Angeles Lakers their first loss of the year 117-101.

Both teams started at a torrid pace, with the Lakers hitting their first seven shots and the Sonics shooting 62% in the first quarter.

From that point on, it was all about turnovers. The Lakers committed a ton of them, 22 total, and the Sonics capitalized. The Sonics used a 15-0 run in the first half and a 16-2 run to start the second half to turn a competitive game into garbage time.

Seattle also continued to shoot the basketball well, hitting 60% of their shots from behind the arc. Ray Allen led the way with 32 points. Rashard Lewis had a big night, scoring 25 points and making 6 of 10 3-pointers. Earl Watson sparked the Sonics off the bench with 12 points and four steals, while his point guard counterpart Luke Ridnour continued his hot start to the 2006-2007 season with 22 points on 9 of 13 shooting.

For Los Angeles, this game was a major departure from their three victories. On offense, Lamar Odom lacked the aggressiveness he had in the previous three, when he averaged 28 points per game, finishing with 11 points on only six shot attempts. Kobe Bryant was also quiet, scoring only seven points in the first half and finishing with 15 for the game on 4 of 10 shooting.

However, the killer for the Lakers was settling for 3-point shots. In their three victories, the Lakers moved the ball well and got balanced scoring from unlikely sources like Luke Walton, Andrew Bynum and Ronny Turiaf. Tonight, L.A. settled for the long-range shot, and they lost because of it. They are not a team that can survive shooting 8 of 25 from behind the 3-point line.

So, what have we learned about these two teams in their home and home series? Well, they can both score with anyone. The keys to success for both teams will be how effectively they defend, and how well they move the basketball. We’ll see how things progress in week two.

Kyle Korver can't miss!

The Sixers are still unbeaten with a 107-98 win over the Heat. I certainly didn’t see this coming.

As the headline mentions, Kyle Korver is out of his mind right now. He’s hit nine of his last ten shots from long range, and he’s making it hard for defenses to contain Allen Iverson. A.I. loves to penetrate, and teams have to respect him due to his great scoring ability, so that’s leaving Korver and Iguodala wide open for outside shots. If they keep hitting them, the Sixers will keep winning.

Iverson is such an incredible talent. He’s scored 30+ points in every game so far, and he has that ability to beat you from anywhere. However, he’s also registered two double figure assists games so far, so he’s looking to get everyone else involved.

In other unbeaten team news, I fear I may have been wrong about Carlos Boozer and the Jazz. They certainly have been impressive so far during their 3-0 start. Great starts don’t always amount to great seasons though. Remember the Bucks red-hot start last year?

Phoenix is off to a rough beginning. I think everyone knew that getting Amare Stoudemire back into the flow was going to be a work in progress, but to see him get two points last night against the Clippers is still surprising. The Suns are 1-3 and in last place right now.

The Dallas Mavericks have also looked sluggish as they work their new pieces into the rotation. Houston torched them from the opening tip last night, as Jason Terry couldn’t buy a basket, and no one could stop Yao Ming. Avery Johnson doesn’t seem to be using Devon Harris as much as I expected. I guess he’s still feeling his roster out, but Harris was a spark during their playoff run last year, so it’s a bit surprising he’s not getting more minutes.

Tim Duncan and Spurs had a nice bounce back effort this afternoon in Toronto. Duncan simply dominated Chris Bosh in this game. The Big Boring did whatever he wanted on the offensive end, scoring 26 points on 10 of 15 shooting. Fabricio Oberto and Francisco Elson are adding some new life to the Spurs frontcourt. Elson is really a breath of fresh air since all he does is run the floor and clean up garbage. I still worry about their depth once playoff time rolls around.

The Magic looked sloppy again in Atlanta this afternoon. Dwight Howard got himself into early foul trouble and was a complete non-factor for most of the game. In fact, Zaza Pachulia dominated him at times on both ends of the floor. Where has the Dwight Howard from opening night gone? The good news for Magic fans is that Darko Milicic looked strong on the defensive end and was able to get to the foul line. The problems occurred once he shot his free throws. Ugly. Orlando had 14 first-half turnovers, so they haven’t fixed that problem yet.

By the way, the Atlanta Hawks are leading the Southeast division right now!

Just remember, it’s early. Nothing in this league is for sure until it’s all said and done. The only thing I’m confident in writing right now is that Doc Rivers is officially on the hot seat in Boston. His Celtics look like the worst team in the league so far. Like I wrote in the Atlantic preview, at least they have a dance team now.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Game blog: Sonics at Lakers 11/3/06

Before we get to the Lakers/Sonics game, I must thank the people who put together the League Pass. The four games at once channel is awesome.

This is the first of a home and home weekend series between the two teams. It should be fun.

FIRST QUARTER

Well, I’m still sitting here waiting for ESPN. If Tirico is calling the game, I can wait all night.

Lamar Odom comes into this game averaging 28/11/7. He’s the MVP thru two games.

The Lakers jump out to an early 5-0 lead. Kobe hasn’t scored yet, and I haven’t seen a play yet.

Guess who’s on the board. 7-0 L.A. I don’t think this Cleveland/San Antonio game could possibly have a longer finish.

Luke Ridnour and Rashard Lewis hit back-to-back threes to answer right back. This Seattle team has some serious offensive weapons.

Wow, Lebron’s dunk on Duncan was something else. I guess that’s worth missing the start of the Lakers/Sonics game. I hate stupid national coverage.

Who is Becky Hammon? Where does ESPN find these women to ask inane questions? GO TO THE SECOND GAME!!!

HOORAY!!!

No Tirico! Life is good.

It’s 13-8 after a Rashard Lewis bucket.

After a Kobe jumper, Luke Ridnour buries another three. He usually kills the Lakers.

Bryant delivers a fancy pass to a wide-open Lamar Odom for another three, and then off a turnover, the duo connects again for an Odom lay-up.

Luke Walton buries another from long range to give the Lakers a 27-11 lead. Bob Hill wants to talk about it. So far, Walton has 10 points, Odom has 9, and Kobe has 3 assists. I’d write something about the Sonics, but this isn’t looking like a bounce back effort to this point.

Back from the timeout, Bynum blocks a shot, which leads to a beautiful give-and-go between Bryant and Odom. This is really ugly for Seattle. 12-0 run for the Lakers.

Kobe looks really odd wearing #24.

Smush Parker converts a three-point play to further the dominance. The Lakers are shooting 83% so far.

Ray Allen and Earl Watson lead the Sonics on a mini 7-0 run. Allen’s shot is still as smooth as ever.

After Odom's free throws put the Lakers up 38-22, Allen hits a three and is fouled by Ronny Turiaf. Bad idea. That’s a rare four-point play. Where’s Walt Williams? The Sonics have made this respectable to end the quarter. 38-26 Lakers after one.

SECOND QUARTER

Turiaf hits a jumper to start the quarter. If you’re a Lakers fan, it’s impossible not to love him.

Wow, did Sacramento just steal one in Chicago. The Bulls blew a four-point lead with 15 seconds left. Impressive.

Odom knocks down a triple to put the Lakers up 45-30. It seems as though he can’t miss early in the year.

I love the way Mo Evans hustles. He’s always around the ball. How did he not fit in Detroit? I know the Pistons have a great starting lineup, but Joe Dumars seems awfully quick to move bench pieces. However, he’s smarter than I am so there has to be a great reason.

Watson dishes a gorgeous alley-oop to Damien Wilkins. Very highlight-film like. The resemblance is uncanny.

Speaking of highlight worthy, Odom goes behind the back to Evans for a bucket. The Lakers have 50 points at the 7:32 mark of the second quarter. Seattle’s defense doesn’t seem very improved in the early going.

Odom has 14 points and 5 assists already and the Lakers are shooting 71%.

Kobe takes his first ridiculous shot of the season, a spinning left handed shot put that surprisingly winds up an air ball. That was horrible.

Here come the Sonics. It’s a 12-0 run to cut the lead to four. Earl Watson is hitting everything and has 10 points off the bench. I should point out that Lamar Odom is not on the floor during this run and that is not a coincidence. By the way, the Lakers still have 50 points at the 5:06 mark.

Phil Jackson puts Odom right back on the floor and he misses. At the other end, Chris Wilcox keeps the run going with an offensive rebound and put back.

Kobe, the playmaker, throws a great bounce pass to Walton for a lay-up. L.A. goes back up by six.

Ray Allen buries a fall away shot with two on the shot clock. You can’t possibly defend that. He has 13 points.

After some Walton free throws, Allen throws an incredible pass to Lenny Wilkens. Sadly, this isn’t 1970 and Wilkens is working as a TV commentator, therefore making it impossible to get Allen his assist. It was still a perfect pass.

Odom goes left for an easy lay-up. Teams should really work harder to make him go right.

Kobe Bryant and Mickael Gelebale start a trading baskets war. Kobe wins after converting a three-point play to put the Lakers up by nine. Kobe looks a little ginger and rusty, which isn’t surprising considering he missed the whole preseason.

The Lakers lead 65-56 at the half. Kobe has 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 turnovers. He tells Jim Gray he needs to “get in his groove.” He played 19 minutes in the first half, which seems like a lot. We’ll see if Jackson goes with Evans more in the second half.

Seattle has to feel pretty good to only be down by nine. They only shot 42%, while allowing the Lakers to shoot 60%. This could be way worse and I feel a Ray Allen onslaught coming.

THIRD QUARTER

I just realized the great Mouhamed Sene has no points and two rebounds so far. I hope his cousin is watching.

Rashard Lewis starts the half with a basket. He’s been quiet.

Odom hasn’t been. He nails another three. He’s made all four he’s tried from downtown.

Ray Allen goes right to the basket for an easy lay-up. And so it begins.

Seattle runs a brilliant fast break that Sene can’t finish. He shot his lay-up into the bottom of the backboard, but the good news is that he was fouled. He then missed both free throws. I miss Robert Swift.

The Sonics get three chances on the offensive end, and Ray Allen makes the Lakers pay for it. You can’t give him multiple chances.

At the other end, some nice passing leads to an Andrew Bynum dunk. The Lakers continue their excellent team basketball.

Ray Allen hits two more shots. He has 24 now. It’s 75-69 Lakers.

Kobe answers with a spin move for an easy basket. He seems to lack his normal explosion though.

This game has gotten very sloppy. It’s 77-71 and nothing is really happening, especially for the Lakers offensively. The ball movement seems to have completely stopped.

Rashard Lewis bangs down a three, and this is a three-point game. The Sonics are hanging tough here.

Kobe air balls a lay-up. I think he could use a rest.

Ray Allen buries a jumper and is fouled. Tie game. It’s a 12-2 run for the Sonics. Allen has 12 in the quarter. See, I knew it.

Smush Parker hits from long range to give the Lakers the lead again, until Lewis answers right back. Both teams are feeling it from behind the arc.

Kobe goes to the rim for an easy hoop. Danny Fortson didn’t scare him apparently.

Fortson puts back his own miss on the other end. He’s a load, which Tom Tolbert also points out.

We’re tied at 82. Seattle has never led in this game. The Lakers have led by 20.

Bynum makes two free throws. Kobe isn’t on the floor, so let’s see what happens. Odom hits from 17-feet. He has 21.

Ray Allen is left wide open for a triple. That’s not a good idea defensively. Allen has 30, 15 in the quarter, and he’s only warming up. 86-85 Lakers.

Earl Watson gives the Sonics their first lead with another three-point basket. What a display of shooting by Seattle. They lead 88-86 after three quarters. They won the quarter 32-21. I’m impressed and not surprised one bit.

FOURTH QUARTER

Bryant starts the quarter with a missed jumper. The Lakers look totally listless.

Wilkens hits a runner in the lane to give the Sonics a four-point lead. Seattle has all of the momentum right now.

Turiaf hits two free throws. The Lakers have Turiaf, Bryant, Farmar, Evans and Radmanovic on the floor, so they’re going small to counter the Sonics, who have Allen, Lewis, Ridnour, Collison and Watson playing.

Lewis scores in the post for Seattle, then after Mo Evans runs down another loose ball, Kobe nails a free throw to cut the Sonics lead back to three.

Wilkens blows by Bryant for an easy dunk. That was totally uncontested.

Vlad Radmanovic hits a wide-open three following Kobe’s penetration. Turiaf blocks Earl Watson’s shot and Jordan Farmar converts a nearly impossible lay-up to tie the game at 94. Turiaf then hops down the court. He’s an emotional fellow. This is quite the little game.

Odom gets back to the line following a timeout and hits both free throws to give the Lakers the lead again.

Whoa, Ray Allen missed a three. A Lakers turnover leads to a Chris Wilcox jam. We’re tied again.

Ridnour blows by Farmar for a lay-up. Phil Jackson isn’t thrilled about that one and wants to talk it over.

Back from the break, Ronny Turiaf throws a horrible pass that bounces off the official. That’s turnover #18 for the Lakers.

Ray Allen misses another three, barely, and Kobe Bryant takes advantage with another three-point play to give the Lakers the lead 99-98. This is a seesaw battle.

Ridnour hits a floater, Luke Walton answers with a free throw and we’re tied again.

Lewis gives Seattle the lead again with a fast break basket. The Sonics decide inexplicably to double team Walton, which allows him to dish to Turiaf, who gets to the foul line for some free throws. 102-102.

After a Lewis miss, Turiaf gives the Lakers the lead from 18-feet. He has 10 and the crowd is alive. This is hard to keep up with it’s so back and forth.

Wilcox hammers home a Ridnour miss to even the score at 104. This is anyone’s game with 3:22 to go.

Walton misses another free throw, but gets the back end to give the Lakers the lead.

Lewis finds Wilcox with a nice little pass to draw the foul. Wilcox misses the first, makes the second. Guess what? We’re tied.

Luke Walton gets a lay-up after a near turnover. Walton has 20 points. Allen misses on a drive to the hoop and Walton grabs the rebound.

The Lakers move the ball well, but Kobe can’t finish. Rashard Lewis hits a tough shot with one on the shot clock to tie the game at 107.

Smush Parker goes to the left hand for a lay-up. That was pretty.

At the other end, Allen misses a shot he should make and Ronny Turiaf battles for the rebound. Wilcox fouls him to send him to the line. The crowd loves Turiaf. They chant “Ronny, Ronny.” He makes both free throws to put L.A. up 111-107 with 56 seconds left. Timeout. Turiaf has 12 points and 5 rebounds off the bench. Great balanced scoring for both teams.

This has been a heck of a game.

Back from the timeout, Turiaf makes two INCREDIBLE blocks. Well, one incredible block on Wilcox and one with a lot of arm on Lewis. Kobe only hits one free throw. 112-107 with 40 seconds left.

Rashard Lewis gets a tip-in to cut the lead to three. Odom makes only one free throw, but it’s still a two-possession game. Good thing for the Lakers, as Lewis hits a three immediately.

Odom goes back to the line. The first is good. The second is also good. 115-112.

Allen gets a good look from straight away, but his triple is short. Odom grabs the board with 15 seconds left. It looks like the Lakers will escape here. Odom hits the first. He has 27. Make it 28 with the second.

Lewis misses the three, and fittingly Ronny Turiaf grabs the game icing rebound. The Lakers are 3-0. Seattle gave it everything they had.

Your final: 118-112.

Odom leads the way with 28 points, Kobe finishes with 23, and Walton has 20.

Ray Allen finishes with 30. He didn’t score in the fourth quarter, so he wasn’t warming up after all.

See you Sunday for the rematch.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Around the League 11/3/06

The Philadelphia 76ers are 2-0.

Granted, they’ve beaten Atlanta and Orlando, but 2-0 is 2-0.

Allen Iverson had another great night, scoring 39 points and hitting a beautiful game-winning runner off of the glass. Kyle Korver had an unbelievable shooting night, hitting 10 of 13 shots, including all four triples he tried to finish with 28.

Orlando is going to have to stop turning the ball over. They have 46 turnovers in two games. That’s not going to get the job done. It’s nice to see Grant Hill playing like the year is 1996. I hope he stays healthy. The Magic will need him if teams are going to triple team Dwight Howard, which is precisely what Philly did tonight.

Elsewhere, Chris Paul and the Hornets also improved to 2-0. Tyson Chandler had the type of game NOOK was anticipating when they traded for him. He didn’t do much offensively, but he grabbed 15 rebounds. On a team with Paul, Peja Stojakovic, David West and Bobby Jackson, that’s all Chandler needs to do every night.

The Miami Heat woke up and took down the New Jersey Nets. They’ll be fine. Shaq poured in 21 to lead the way, which is shocking considering he was defended by Jason Collins and Mikki Moore all night. I would hate to be a Nets fan, since they have no answer for Miami.

The Knicks lost to the Hawks. So, they’ve beaten the lowly Grizzlies in triple-overtime and they’ve lost to the Hawks. Great start. Josh Smith had a dunk where I swear he was so high his feet were above the rim.

I didn’t see much of the Pistons/Celtics game, but when I was tuned in, it sure seemed Nazr Muhammed was active offensively. All five starters finished in double figures, which must be a nice change of pace for Detroit. I would like to know why Doc Rivers was using Michael Olowokandi.

We’re back soon with live blogging of Kobe’s debut against the Sonics. Can the Lakers keep playing great team ball with Mamba back? We shall see.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fast Breaks 11/1/06

I’m still worn out from last night’s live blogging, but sitting here listening to Mason introduce the Pistons, I know that life has never been better. I must interview him. This will happen before the season ends. His Nazr Mohammed intro didn’t disappoint.

So much for the Bulls undefeated season. They gave up 66 points total to Miami last night, and then tonight they allowed the Magic to get 63 in the first half. Very interesting. Dwight Howard had a great start to the year with 27 points and 11 rebounds.

The Celtics are making a habit of furious comebacks when I watch them. They did it against New Jersey in the pre-season, and then tonight they gave NOOK a scare. Peja Stojakovic earned his money by knocking down a clutch shot with 46 seconds left. To the surprise of exactly no one, Tyson Chandler fouled out in his Hornets debut. Chris Paul is a special talent. He carried the load tonight with 20 points and 10 assists.

The Bucks surprised the Pistons in the Palace. This is going to be a mighty interesting year in Detroit. In the first game under the new “Rasheed Wallace” rules, Rasheed Wallace was thrown out of the game after scoring zero points. I actually only predicted one T tonight, so I guess I underestimated Rasheed. That will never happen again. I can’t wait to see what happened.

If anything happens in the late games, we’ll cover it in the morning.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Live Blogging: Suns at Lakers (2nd half)

THIRD QUARTER

Three straight baskets give the Lakers the lead to start the half. They weren’t exactly hard to come by either.

The two-time MVP answers right back with a triple. I’m writing like Kevin Harlan is talking and that disturbs me. Fatigue is setting in.

Odom gets another lay-up. That’s four straight to start the half.

Is Doug Collins secretly working as Leondro Barbosa’s agent? To say he loves him would be quite an understatement. Barbosa and Bell hit back-to-back threes to give Phoenix the lead again.

Andrew Bynum is fired up. He’s fist pumping left and right. He’s having a very solid game with 12 points and 5 rebounds.

Odom and Nash trade horrendous passes, and then Odom goes coast-to-coast for another three-point play. Great start to the year for Odom. Suns lead by one.

Steve Nash gets an uncontested floater. How does he always end up wide open? I guess teams fear the pass first with him.

Bynum dominates Amare in the post for a lay-up, and then following a turnover, Odom goes behind the back to Evans to ignite the crowd.

Odom then brings the crowd to their feet with a three. Suddenly, the Lakers are up six and I get an IM from my friend who loves the Suns that reads “this is so unlike the Suns!” He's kidding. My championship pick is NOT looking great right now.

It’s a 53-32 run for the Lakers since the end of the first quarter. Doug Collins just said “discombobulated.” This isn’t going well for Phoenix.

Andrew Bynum is absolutely dominating right now in the post. He gives the Lakers an eight-point lead with a nice hustle play. He has 16 points and 9 rebounds, and there is no question he’ll be the story in L.A. if the Lakers win this. Meanwhile, in the desert, the concern about Amare’s knee isn’t being alleviated.

Jordan Farmar gets his first NBA points to give the Lakers an 83-73 lead. Following a Marcus Banks bucket, Farmar goes right back to the basket for another lay-up. That really shouldn’t happen.

After a Radmanovic miss, Mo Evans gets another offensive rebound and basket. Evans, Bynum and Odom are giving the Lakers a ton of energy tonight.

The Lakers have a 24-2 advantage in the paint in the third quarter. Yikes.

It’s an 87-79 game in favor of Los Angeles after three. Who saw that coming?

FOURTH QUARTER

Farmar gets yet another lay-up to begin the fourth quarter. Can TNT find a shot of the Clippers licking their chops?

Radmanovic hits a jumper, which is a wonderful sign for Lakers fans. They follow that basket with a great trap to create a turnover. It leads to nothing, but it was a nice play.

The Lakers simply have no fear going to the basket. Odom gets another lay-up, and hits his free throw to give the Lakers a 94-81 lead. Meanwhile, Nash gets more real-time rest.

Remember kids; my Finals pick is Phoenix vs. Miami. I feel great right now. Ugh.

L.A. can’t miss. It’s 101-85. They’ve made six straight field goals to start the quarter. They looked like they were going to be blown out of the building in the first quarter. You have to love the NBA.

All right, I take back what I wrote earlier. Odom will be the story in Los Angeles. He’s working on 29 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals.

There’s still a ton of time left here. Almost eight minutes of game time, which I believe translates into 22 minutes of real time.

Barbosa hits a big three and, surprisingly, Doug Collins sings his praises. Good grief. The lead is now 102-91. Look out!

Marion hits another easy basket to cut the lead to nine as the Lakers start to turn the ball over.

Smush Parker nails an open three as the Lakers take advantage of a double team in the post.

Mo Evans strokes a beautiful 19-footer, then on the other end, Shawn Marion misses by a mile on a long-range attempt. The Staples Center is on their feet. Seriously, who expected this from the Lakers tonight? I don’t even know what to make of this. L.A. leads 107-95.

Barbosa hits another three. Guess who said he’s the only player who can make a shot for Phoenix? He also said nine points is a three possession game “when you play the Suns.” Uh, Doug, it’s three possessions when you play anyone.

Odom buries a huge triple to give the Lakers a 10-point lead, but Barbosa answers right back.

Andrew Bynum drains a fall-away 15-footer to put the Lakers up by nine. Has he arrived or is this a one-night mirage? We’ll find out tomorrow. He’s been amazing in this one with 18 points, 9 boards and 5 assists. Odom is up to 32/13/6. Mo Evans has 17 points. Who needs Kobe?

It’s all over. 114-106 is your final. Odom finishes with 34. Barbosa has 30 in a losing effort, so at least Doug Collins was right.

What a HUGE win for the Lakers. What a bizarre opening night. This is going to be some season if tonight is any indication.

Thanks for reading.

Live Blogging: Suns at Lakers (1st half)

FIRST QUARTER

How excited do you think Kevin Harlan has been all day? I’m thinking he was fun to be around this morning.

I’m telling you right now, if this is another blowout, I’m going to bed. I don’t have the commitment to sit through two horrible games.

My man, Sasha Vujacic, gets the start in place of Kobe Bryant. This is terrible news for the Lakers. Also, it’s interesting that Luke Walton gets the start over Vlad Radmanovic. We’ll see how long that lasts. Andrew Bynum makes his first start at center for the purple and gold. This could be really, really bad for them.

Lights Out is fine. It’s a little darker, but really there’s not a huge difference on TV.

The game starts at a Phoenix pace for sure. 8-6 in favor of the Suns early as they’re getting whatever they want offensively.

Phoenix has hit their first six shots. This offensive system is something else.

Shawn Marion hits a three to put the Suns up 16-11. This game is going faster than I can type. I can’t imagine the Lakers hanging at this pace for much longer.

Kurt Thomas keeps Phoenix perfect from the floor with a 17-footer.

Marion hits another shot and will go to the line. The Suns are 9 for 9 to start the game. As if that’s not enough, in come Amare Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa.

Whoa, Raja Bell missed a wide-open three. They’re human.

Add in a big dunk from Amare. I sense that I’m going to bed soon as Vujacic dribbles the ball off of his foot out of bounds.

It’s now 28-14. Make it 30-14 as Amare scores again. So far, he looks fine to me. My championship pick looks wonderful right now.

It’s a 20-3 run over a three minute time period. The Lakers are playing absolutely no defense in transition or half-court.

Finally, Mo Evans makes a defensive play for the Lakers and is rewarded with a lay-up at the other end. That’s precisely why they picked him up.

Amare rejects a Ronny Turiaf shot. He’s very active so far.

Barbosa knocks down a three to put Phoenix up 39-20. This is a disaster so far for the Lakers.

Wow, that was some first quarter for the Suns. They lead 41-26 and are shooting 77%.

SECOND QUARTER

Brian Cook strokes a three to start the quarter. It was reported earlier in the day that he couldn’t come to an agreement with the Lakers on a new contract, but now Ross Siler of the L.A. Daily News is reporting they’ve worked out a new three-year deal. So, there you go. I’m not a huge fan of Cook’s game. He’s a streak shooter. My understanding is that Vlad Radmanovic is also a shooter, so I don’t know why Cook is necessary.

Lamar Odom uses a nice spin move inside to get to the line. He’s going to have to continue to be aggressive like that to keep this close.

He follows my advice but misses a pretty easy lay-up. Every time the Lakers miss, the Suns score immediately.

L.O. is completely abusing Kurt Thomas. Mike D’Antoni is going to have to make an adjustment. The Lakers are making this respectable as Odom converts a three-point play.

Kobe’s wedding ring is absurd. Seriously, it looks like he’s wearing his wife’s ring.

Doug Collins is hammering home the real time rest for Steve Nash. It’s something like 23 minutes. I’ve never understood why real time rest is important. He misses his first two shots coming back off the bench. He must be rusty from all that actual time he was sitting.

Radmanovic takes a turnover all the way for a lay-up to cut the lead to 46-40. The Lakers are taking advantage of some turnovers and missed shots. It’s funny how easy it is to get back in a game when the other team finally misses some shots.

Phoenix suddenly can’t buy a basket. They’re 3 for 11 in the quarter and the Lakers are capitalizing.

The energy level has totally shifted. The Lakers are getting offensive rebounds, creating turnovers and scoring in transition. They’re also missing a ton of free throws.

Nash nails a wide-open triple to stop the run. Phoenix leads 51-43.

The Lakers are really challenging Phoenix on every shot. At the other end, Andrew Bynum takes a beautiful Smush Parker pass and turns it into a three-point play. Amazingly, the Lakers are only down six.

Bynum gives Mo Evans a gorgeous backdoor pass out of the post for a lay-up. This is the tale of two quarters to say the least and it’s a VERY entertaining game so far. The Lakers would actually be winning this game if they could make their free throws.

Shawn Marion ends another run with a wide open 10-footer. He has 14 to lead the Suns, who hold a 58-53 lead at the half.

No sleep for me!