Friday, February 27, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. Intriguing result Thursday from Houston, where the Rockets blew the Cavs away 93-74. It was a double loss for Cleveland, which lost Ben Wallace for at least a month and probably more with a broken right fibula, which he sustained guarding Yao Ming in the second quarter. Yao was devastating in more ways than one, hitting 13 of 15 shots for 28 points and eight rebounds. When it wasn't Yao, it was the 3-point shooters, and Von Wafer in particular, who was 4-for-6 from behind the arc and provided a surprising 19 points off the bench. It was the kind of game that makes you believe Houston is better without Tracy McGrady and Rafer Alston than it was with them. It was also a night that must have left Orlando salivating. The Magic, who play a game that relies on a dominant center in Dwight Howard and plenty of outside shooting, saw a perfect blueprint for beating the Cavs if they meet in the playoffs.

2. It seems like the Lakers, and not the Cavs, are the team that's starting to get some separation from everyone else at the top of the league. Kobe, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom have all increased their production significantly to make up for Andrew Bynum since he's been out. And the bench, with most of its parts healthy, is blowing games open against teams that aren't as deep, like Phoenix last night. The Lakers hold a lead of two and a half games over Boston and three over Cleveland now, and they hold the tiebreaker having swept both teams. A slump may be the only way for anyone to catch the Lakers, but they haven't lost more than two games in a row all year.

3. It was a tough day for the Chicago Bulls family Thursday, when word came out that Red Kerr and Norm Van Lier had both died. Kerr was the first coach in Bulls history, winning Coach of the Year honors for taking the Bulls to the playoffs in their inaugural season, but he will be better remembered as their affable color announcer, gaining nationwide fame calling WGN-TV broadcasts during the Michael Jordan era. Jordan, Pippen and a host of other Bulls greats attended a tribute earlier this year that had been moved up because of Kerr's worsening prostate cancer, and Jordan clapped his hands together with chalk in front of Kerr's face one more time, a good-luck ritual that preceded tipoff of Bulls games during the Jordan era. Van Lier's contributions came after Kerr's coaching stint but before Jordan, when Chicago was a perennial contender that could never quite break through in the Western Conference during the '70s. He began his career with the impossible task of trying to replace Oscar Robertson while playing for Bob Cousy in Cincinnati, and then came to the Bulls, where he teamed with Jerry Sloan to carve out their own legends as one of the grittiest backcourt combos in the history of the league. He later, like Kerr, became a broadcaster for the team.

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