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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. Miami's still got work to do if it wants to continue its climb up the Eastern Conference standings. It looks like the rookie head coach Eric Spoelstra still hasn't found the right starting lineup. Dwyane Wade, who went for 24, was surrounded by only one other player at the tip who scored more than three points, and combined the other four starters had 16 points, five assists and three rebounds in 56 minutes. Meanwhile, the team's second leading scorer somehow wound up being Mark Blount, with 17, and Michael Beasley came off the bench to provide 11 rebounds and 11 points. It's time for Beasley, the second pick in last year's draft, to start.

2. The Cavs got a critical boost last night on the heels of a blowout loss to Orlando. Zydrunas Ilgauskas looked stellar in his return from an ankle injury that caused him to miss almost a month. He had 20 points on 10-for-16 shooting and 11 rebounds, and even though it was against a Clippers team whose struggles inside have been well-documented, it's a positive sign for a team that needed one. The Cavs now have a couple of weeks to see how Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace mesh as a fully healthy power rotation and decide if they need additional help via trade.

3. The Sixers have done it. They finally have a better than .500 record for the first time since November 23 after winning in Washington last night. They've won 10 out of 12 games, and pulled to within two games of Miami and Detroit, who are tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference. They've saved their season by getting back to the up-tempo game that served them so well last season and forcing Elton Brand, back from missing a month with a dislocated shoulder to tailor his game to the team rather than vice-versa. They'll likely move Brand to the starting lineup with Samuel Dalembert out indefinitely with a sprained ankle, so the challenge for coach Tony DiLeo is to make sure the lineup change won't be a stylistic change.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. There was little cause for discontent on the surface of the Celtics win at home over the Kings by a healthy 119-100 margin. But Boston's two point guards, Rajon Rondo and Eddie House, were the two leading scorers and together took almost as many shots (28) as Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen combined. That's why the Celtics are after a veteran point guard who is a distributor first.

2. You have to hand it to the Hornets' reserves last night, who responded to 4-for-25 combined shooting from Chris Paul and James Posey with enough firepower to get by Denver 94-81. Peja Stojakovic played like the key cog the team needs him to be, with 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting, but the other major contribution came from Devin Brown, the 11th man into the game, who had 18 points and made all three of his three-pointers. The team as a whole made two out of every three shots from the floor aside from Paul and Posey.

3. Al Jefferson and Kevin Love have pretty recognizable names, but they're strangers to defense, or at least they were last night against the Pistons. Detroit went to a big lineup after starting small and exploited the T'Wolves' weaknesses. Rasheed Wallace (25 points, 10 rebounds), Antonio McDyess (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Jason Maxiell battered Minnesota inside.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. It's getting difficult to argue that Cleveland shouldn't be considered the best team in the league. They have the best winning percentage, the best points differential, are 21-0 at home, and have plenty of guys with which to surround LeBron James, the league's best player. James and Williams almost made it a double triple-double last night, and their numbers of at least 23 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds each represent the first time it's been done in the NBA since Butch Beard and John Johnson did it for the second-year expansion Cavs in 1971. Somehow the LeBron-Mo combo seems destined for a lot more than the Beard-Johnson 1-2 punch ever provided.

2. James and Williams weren't the only pair of teammates to come close to twin triple-doubles. Raymond Felton and Boris Diaw were both an assist shy in Charlotte's double-overtime upset of the Lakers in Los Angeles. The Bobcats are playing well of late, winning six of their last eight, and it's clear the trade with Phoenix was the right move, with Raja Bell, and especially Boris Diaw playing at high levels. They've bolstered their frontcourt by acquiring Desagan Dipo and Juwan Howard in recent weeks, adding veterans to provide depth in a manner a team much farther up the standings would do to help itself win a title. In this case, those veterans appear to be around to help a team make the playoffs for the first time, which Charlotte is poised, with a second-half run, is poised to do.

3. Look out in the East. Mickael Pietrus, a major boost to the Magic before he broke his wrist last month, returned Tuesday and led the team with 27 points and 10 rebounds off the bench in a 135-111 rout of Indiana. If Orlando can integrate Pietrus successfully with rookie Courtney Lee, who has taken over the starting 2 guard position, the Magic probably won't be relegated to third place in the conference, which they occupy now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. Don't look now, but the Heat has moved into a tie for fifth place in the East with the Pistons, and only a game and a half behind the fourth-place Hawks, whom Miami drubbed last night. Trade rumors persist, especially around Shawn Marion, but they've quietly won six of eight games. Marion has sat out three of the last four, which may or may not be coincidence. Usually, teams don't like to mess with their roster while the going is good, but this could be an exception. The Heat just pounded a team they're trying to catch without Marion in the lineup, so look for them to try to make his absence permanent.

2. So Rafer Alston decided to call out his teammates last night about not sharing the ball in a loss to the Knicks. Can anyone tell me why a point guard who went 1-for-7 from behind the arc feels a need to talk about his teammates not passing the ball? Rafer could pick his spots a lot better, both on the court and off. And while we're in the complaint department, could the Knicks please acknowledge that David Lee, and not Jared Jeffries, is the center on that team? I know neither of them is really a center, but Lee guards centers and centers guard him. So why try to fool innocent readers of box scores?

3. Weren't the Clippers supposed to have a glut of big men or something after the Zach Randolph trade? Thanks to injuries suffered by Randolph, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman, the Clips are using DeAndre Jordan, Brian Skinner and spot work by Cheikh Samb (!) at center. And yes, they still charge for tickets.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. The Celtics aren't as good as their 19-game win streak, and they aren't as bad as their stretch of seven losses in nine games. But if their play in the last week is an accurate indication of their ability, man, they're tough. They bookended wins at a competent Miami team and title-contending Orlando with blowouts of Phoenix last Monday and Dallas on Sunday. If the Celtics can beat the Mavs with only eight points from Paul Pierce, look out.

2. It was an interesting juxtaposition of missing pieces in the Indiana-Charlotte game last night. The Pacers have in Danny Granger the scorer/finisher the Bobcats need, and the Bobcats have the supporting cast the Pacers lack. Granger and his running mates performed well enough Sunday to overcome the more balanced Bobcats, largely because of a huge rebounding advantage (52-37). One could only imagine, however, what would happen if a player like Granger were surrounded by a team like Charlotte.

3. We thought J.R. Smith's numbers were going to surge with Carmelo Anthony out. But it's been Nene who has blossomed instead. The one-name Brazilian, whose progress has been stunted by injuries, has averaged 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in January, while Smith's scoring averaged has slipped by a point from December. Nene tied a career high with 28 points last night, adding nine rebounds and four steals. Smith wasn't bad either, with 22 rebounds and six assists. Anthony is back Friday, so the onus is on Nuggets coach George Karl now to integrate everyone's production to maximum effect.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. How bad is it for the Pistons? They lost by 21 to the Mavs at home tonight, and that was even though they went 28-for-29 from the line. It could have easily been worse for Detroit, which has lost six of eight and looks directionless since the Iverson trade. They're 20-18 with AI, and appear headed for a first-round playoff exit, which makes losing in the Eastern Conference Finals every year look a lot better. Normally, this would be a "Wait 'til next year!" moment for Pistons fans, but since the trade was made with the summer of 2010 in mind, it's more like "Wait 'til the next next year!"

2. Misery has company. The Phoenix Suns are perhaps even worse off than the Pistons, who at least have 2010 to look forward to. The Suns, too, gave indication they have plummeted from the league's elite with a blowout loss at Charlotte last night. Boris Diaw, the ex-Sun, made Phoenix rue trading him with a 26-point, 11-rebound performance last night. The only Sun to score more than a dozen points was 36-year-old Shaquille O'Neal, who looks like he's the team's best player right now. When you're being led by a guy whose 37th birthday is little more than a month away, that's not a good sign.

3. The official Rookie-Sophomore game is three weeks away, but last night's Thunder-Clippers game was quite the showcase for young players. Rookie Eric Gordon, who may now start hearing Rookie of the Year chatter, sprang for 41 points while second-year man Al Thornton had 34 as the Clippers beat Oklahoma City, despite a game-high 46 points from last year's Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant. Even more eye-opening was the play of Ricky Davis, who responded to an 0-for-6 shooting night by dishing out 11 assists. Now that's a performance worth noting!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. I look up and down the Bulls box score from last night, and I don't see anything they did wrong. Then I look at the Hawks' side of the ledger and realize Mike Bibby went off for 31 points and nabbed 5 steals to guide Atlanta to a 105-102 win. Ah, the perils of employing a rookie point guard, even if that rookie is Derrick Rose. By the way, Atlanta's starting backcourt played 45 minutes each last night, as Mike Woodson is hamstrung by injuries and is hesitant to dig down the bench for untested players.

2. If you're wondering why the Kings haven't traded Brad Miller yet, last night's game against the Nuggets could provide some insight. The veteran center went 0-for-4 with 2 points and 3 rebounds and was completely outplayed by Nene, who has been 16.5 points and 6.9 rebounds in January but isn't exactly going to be mistaken for Wilt Chamberlain. It's hard for Miller to showcase himself for contenders when he does little more than show up at the arena.

3. Things are tough in Utah this season. Carlos Boozer is hurt, and then Paul Millsap, his backup, goes down. Just as Paul Millsap gets back, Andrei Kirilenko goes down with inflammation in his ankle last night. Deron Williams, who went 4-for-14, has missed time, too, but showed last night that even as his team crumbles around him, he's still one of the best. He mitigated the poor shooting night by distributing the ball for 11 assists and getting to the line, where he was 9-for-10. It was a performance the shorthanded Jazz needed to get by Minnesota and pick up a win they'll need to stay afloat and keep alive the hope of a late-season run.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. I don't put too much stock in the Cavs-Lakers game from last night. Both teams were seriously banged up, and especially Cleveland, which is without two starters until Delonte West and Zydrunas Ilgauskas return. The Cavs won't likely have to resort to J.J. Hickson and Lorenzen Wright for 27 minutes in the event they return to Los Angeles for a Finals rematch.

2. Here is yet more confirmation that the Spurs can find a way to win when other team's can't: Michael Finley clanked all seven of his 3-point attempts, Parker and Ginobili went 7 for 22 from the floor and Tim Duncan couldn't even make half of his 11 free throws at Charlotte an increasingly difficult place to play. No matter. Thanks to a last-minute block by Duncan, who supplemented his ho-hum 17 points with 11 rebounds and six rebounds, and double figures from Roger Mason and George Hill, San Antonio escaped with another victory, 86-84.

3. OK, so Anthony Parker, of all people, comes up one rebound and one assist shy of a triple-double, and Toronto still can't beat an Atlanta team that is without Al Horford. I know the Raptors are without Jose Calderon and Jermaine O'Neal, but look, their season is over. The tinkering they've done with a team that won the third seed in the East two years ago has gone horribly wrong, and it may be time, with free agency for Chris Bosh looming in 2010, to blow things up and start again. Sorry, Canada.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. The Rockets have to be the most resourceful team out there. They got 22 points from the inconsistent Rafer Alston and a perfect 12-for-12, 26-point, 10-rebound performance from Yao Ming on a night when Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest were both missing. That combined with 17 points from journeyman Von Wafer and 19 minutes of run out of Brent Barry were enough to get by Miami. How a team can shoot 57 percent with limited offensive weaponry is a testament to Rick Adelman's coaching.

2. If Orlando doesn't go as far as I think they will this season, their bench may be the foremost reason why. The Magic reserves shot 1-for-11 and scored two points as a unit last night. But the starting five had enough on their own to beat the Carmelo-less Nuggets by 18 in Denver, and depth shouldn't be quite as much of a problem when Mickael Pietrus returns from a broken wrist. But it will still be a problem.

3. OK, I'll admit it when my suggestions don't exactly pan out for the parties involved. Charlie Villanueva didn't light it up as the starting power forward for the Bucks last night, going 3-for-12 with eight points and four rebounds in 29 minutes as the Bucks lost to the Clippers last night. But it was the second game of a West Coast back-to-back for Milwaukee, and that's hardly a time to pass judgment. I stand by my Villanueva backing for at least another night!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. If you were watching the Cavs-Bucs ... er, pardon, Cavs-Hornets game on ESPN last night, and you got past the ABA-era throwbacks (New Orleans paid tribute to the ABA Buccaneers, the first of three pro basketball teams in the city), you saw LeBron court even more comparisons to Magic Johnson. Shorthanded Cleveland, without Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Delonte West to injuries and with Anderson Varejao in foul trouble, put out an all-small stretch-run lineup of Mo Williams, Boobie Gibson, Sasha Pavlovic, Wally Szcerbiak and LeBron, which meant the 6-foot-9 King James played center a la Magic against the Sixers in the 1980 Finals. Granted, the stakes weren't nearly as high, but the Cavs ran their record to 20-0 at home with their small forward at center against a good New Orleans team. Impressive.

2. Imagine if David Lee had any help on the Knicks. The undersized center yanked down 21 rebounds and scored 15 points on a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor and 3-for-3 from the line in a loss Friday at Washington. He'd be some running mate for LeBron in 2010, don't you think?

3. For the first time since November, Charlie Villanueva showed up in the starting lineup, and he delivered a performance that suggests he should start for the Bucks more often. He put up 25 points and 12 rebounds, and has been pouring in 17.8 points per game in January. When he gets more than 20 minutes in a game, he averages 19.7 points. Nothing against Luc-Richard Mbah A Moute, who is playing remarkably well for a second-round pick (and has a permanent starting position on the all-time name team), but maybe Charlie has earned back his spot in the lineup.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. Now here's the Celtics we know. Boston held Vince Carter to 1-for-10 shooting last night and the 17 points by Devin Harris was the highest total for any Net. The C's got solid contributions off the bench as well, which had been absent during their struggles. Glen Davis had 12 points, Eddie House 10 and Leon Powe grabbed eight rebounds for a reserve crew that saw plenty of action in a game that was blown open in the third quarter.

2. Dwayne Wade has been getting more work at the point lately, and he's showing why he's almost as effective a distributor as he is a finisher. Wade posted 13 assists last night, which mitigated a 5-for-20 shooting night. Daequan Cook and Michael Beasley picked up the scoring slack, hitting for 20+ each off the bench in a win for Miami over the Bucks. Maybe the Heat should try going big for a while, with Wade at the point and Marion at the 2.

3. No one saw this coming, but Roger Mason may well have be the single most important offseason acquisition made by a contending team. He's become one of the league's best clutch shooters as witnessed by his game-winner last night against the Lakers, and has taken over the defensive stopper role that Bruce Bowen played expertly for years in San Antonio. Can you imagine what he could have done for the Hornets, considering their troubles at the off guard spot?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Three random thoughts ...

... about the NBA:

1. What in the name of John Starks got into Joe Johnson and J.R. Smith last night? Johnson's 1-for-14 shooting performance was the No. 1 reason the Hawks lost to the Suns last night, and Smith's 4-for-21 was almost enough to do in the Nuggets, who beat the Mavs only by 2 even though Dallas only had one starter (Nowitzki and his 44 points) in double figures.

2. The Timberwolves' five-game winning streak ended with a loss to the Heat, but Randy Foye is still playing well. He put up 29 points last night and is averaging 23.2 over his last five games, finally making a case that he deserved to be taken seventh overall and putting a dent in the idea that the Brandon Roy-Randy Foye draft-day deal was one of the most egregious fleecings of the last 20 years. A small dent, mind you, but a dent nonetheless.

3. It certainly didn't spook LeBron James, who had a triple-double, but there was a ghost on the floor during the Cleveland-Memphis game. O.J. Mayo played 31 minutes, had six points, two rebounds, one assist, one steal, and committed three fouls while the Grizzlies lost by 15 at home to a team that started Lorenzen Wright at power forward. Yikes! Keep it up, Juice, and you'll have a ghost of a chance at Rookie of the Year.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cellphone hoops theater

Thought I might share a little cellphone video from my outing Monday to see my alma mater, East Tennessee State, hoop it up with Florida Gulf Coast University on the south side of Fort Myers. The action you see here is a well-executed fast break on a night that such success in transition was rare for my Bucs, who were upset 64-61. Adam Sollazzo can be seen feeding senior point guard Courtney Pigram, who misses a runner that ETSU leading scorer and former JUCO Player of the Year Kevin Tiggs puts back for the score.

video

(I apologize for the funky audio, but hey ... it's a cellphone, you can't ask for much!)

It was an otherwise frustrating night for my boys, who led by eight at halftime but played with little energy as FGCU whittled the margin down. ETSU still had the game in their hands in the final minute, with the ball and a two point lead, but Pigram slipped and fell on a wet spot that a couple of players had pointed out to refs on the previous stoppage. FGCU took the ball and promptly converted a 3-point play to slip in front. ETSU had a final opportunity, but failed to get a better look than an 18-foot jumper for Isiah Brown, who predictably clanked it, and FGCU came away with the rebound, two free throws and an upset victory.

I could start in with a hew and cry about the wet spot, but I won't because the Bucs never should have let FGCU make it so close. ETSU has more talent, and hopefully this loss will stick in their minds the next time they think of letting their concentration lag against an inferior opponent.

Three random thoughts ...

... about the NBA:

1. How can anyone defend the Jason Kidd trade for Dallas now? Even if you discount the emergence of Devin Harris in New Jersey, as some have, Kidd is just stinking it up for the Mavericks a lot of nights. Sunday's seven assists and four points on 1 of 9 shooting against Sacramento isn't going to cut it, particularly when you turn it over four times. If it hadn't been for what looks like a career year for Jason Terry, the Mavs would be a .500 ballclub.

2. Orlando is for real. Seriously. If you can destroy a decent Atlanta team, then go into San Antonio like they did last night and contain everyone on the floor except Tony Parker, you're doing something right. Parker only went to the line four times, too, which is even more impressive. The other point guard on the floor, Jameer Nelson, is the X factor for the Magic. When he plays like he did last night, draining three from behind the arc and piling up 22 points, Orlando can beat anyone.

3. Don't let the score fool you. The Celtics' win over the Raptors last night had a lot more to do with an aberrant shooting night from Ray Allen than any sort of righting of the ship. Allen is good for a few nights where he hits eight treys and scores 36 now and again, but you certainly can't count on that or 5-for-16 shooting from the opposing team's best player (Chris Bosh in this case). More indicative of where Boston is right now is Glen Davis, who put up 12 shots and made just one in 30 minutes of run. Yikes.