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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Utah's Mehmet Okur Rains Two Late Threes on Seattle, Including the Game Winner

Mehmet Okur's three pointer with 1.6 seconds left lifted the Utah Jazz to a 109-107 win over the Seattle Supersonics. Utah led for most of the second half but Ray Allen scored 20 points in the fourth quarter and Rashard Lewis' three pointer with 1:35 remaining put the Sonics up 103-102. That set the stage for an exciting finish. Matt Harpring sank two free throws to give Utah a 104-103 lead but Lewis immediately answered with two free throws. The teams traded missed shots before Carlos Boozer's putback made the score 106-105 Utah. After a timeout, Ray Allen drove left and converted a tough left handed layup over the outstretched arms of Andrei Kirilenko. Utah eschewed calling a timeout and Deron Williams pushed the ball upcourt, finding Okur on the wing. Okur drained a coldblooded three pointer. Allen missed a desperation three pointer at the buzzer.

Okur finished with 12 points and five rebounds. Utah's brightest star for most of the game was Carlos Boozer, who had 24 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, and two blocked shots. Allen's 33 points were a game-high total but he shot only 8-19 from the field. Utah used various defenders on him--Derek Fisher, Dee Brown and Kirilenko--and was able to keep him quiet for most of the game until he exploded in the fourth quarter. Lewis had 27 points and eight rebounds. Utah's bench outscored Seattle's 33-13, with most of the damage being done by rookie Paul Millsap, a second round draft pick who had 16 points and a game-high 10 rebounds in only 20 minutes of action. He shot 7-8 from the field and made both of his free throws. Charles Barkley often screams "Gi-NO-bili!" and Tom Heinsohn used to declare, "I LOVE Walt-ah" (in reference to Walter McCarty), so I would like to combine those two phrases and say, "I LOVE Mill-Sap!" This guy simply inhales rebounds and he goes to the basket with authority. He is getting limited minutes now because Boozer is playing so well but he is a valuable energizing force coming off of the bench. Millsap is the only player to win three straight NCAA Division I rebounding titles, so his glasswork is no fluke. Utah outrebounded Seattle 40-31 and, not coincidentally, had nine more field goal attempts.

Utah and Orlando have been the two best teams in the NBA so far this season and they have at least one thing in common: each team's frontcourt rotation features a former Detroit Piston. Okur and Darko Milicic had small roles on the Pistons 2004 championship team but are significant contributors to the Jazz and Magic respectively. Okur averaged 18.0 ppg and 9.1 rpg last year and is averaging 15.1 ppg and 8.4 rpg this year. Milicic is averaging a more modest 8.1 ppg and 5.1 rpg but he ranks in the top ten in the league in blocked shots despite playing less than 22 mpg. Ben Wallace, the heart and soul of the Pistons for the past several years, is now the starting center in Chicago. The Bulls have gotten off to a much discussed slow start but will be a factor in the Eastern Conference when all is said and done. Detroit did not receive much in return for those three players, so it will be interesting to follow the progress of these four franchises.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:55 PM

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Warner Brothers NBA DVDs: Great Gifts for Your Favorite Basketball Fan














I just received the newest NBA DVDs from Warner Brothers. "Illest," who won the 20SecondTimeout/Warner Brothers NBA DVDs Trivia Contest, will soon be receiving from me "Detroit Pistons: Motor City Madness," Miami Heat: 15 Strong," "Houston Rockets: Clutch City" and "Greatest Moments in NBA History." The latter is a single DVD, while the others are sets consisting of 11, 13 and 8 discs respectively. Also, "Vednam," who provided a good alternative answer for question four, will be receiving "Motor City Madness."

I'm sure that any basketball fan on your holiday gift list would be thrilled to receive any or all of these DVDs--and 20SecondTimeout can help make that happen! Keep watching this space, because there will soon be a second trivia contest awarding these DVDs as prizes. The previous winners will not be eligible to win any DVDs that they received from the first contest, so if you missed out the last time you still have a chance to win. The format and rules will be a little different this time, ensuring that there will be four different winners.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:55 AM

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Perfect Storm: Kobe Bryant Scores 30 Third Quarter Points Without Missing a Shot, Drops 52 as Lakers Rout Jazz, 132-102

The term perfect game is usually applied in baseball--and not that frequently. If you watched Kobe Bryant's performance in the Lakers 132-102 blowout of the Utah Jazz on Thursday then you saw the closest thing that you will ever see to a basketball player being perfect, at least for 12 glorious minutes. In the third quarter, Bryant made all nine of his field goal attempts (including two three pointers), sank all 10 of his free throws and tied his own Lakers franchise record with 30 points. He also played good defense and made some gorgeous passes. Andrei Kirilenko--one of the league's best defensive players--was guarding Bryant during a good part of this time. Bryant also made his last two field goal attempts of the second quarter, including a slam dunk right in Kirilenko's grill, so he actually made 11 straight field goals. Bryant hit deep threes, running jumpers, turnaround jumpers--he was so hot that when Deron Williams fouled him when he attempted a pull up three pointer on the fast break no one said anything about not fouling a jump shooter; TNT's Steve Kerr said that you have to contest someone's shot when they are that hot. In addition to the flying facial to close out the first half, Bryant delivered an even more impressive dunk in the third quarter, posterizing Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer.

After the game, Bryant said that it felt like he was playing a video game. TNT's Marv Albert, who has seen more than a few great games, declared during the telecast, "This will go down as one of the great performances of all-time for a single quarter." Kerr added, "You get an idea of just how much better Kobe Bryant--or Michael Jordan--is than everybody else out on the floor. When you consider how good NBA players are, that's just amazing. Kobe was just a man among boys tonight." Bryant sat out the last half minute of the third quarter or he might have tied George Gervin's NBA record of 33 points in a quarter. As Albert and Kerr mentioned, Gervin's effort came in the last game of the 1978 season when he was gunning for the scoring title in an otherwise meaningless game. Bryant's performance came in the middle of the season against the team with the best record in the NBA. Bryant made a token appearance in the fourth quarter before returning to the bench. He finished with 52 points on 19-26 shooting from the field and 12-15 free throw shooting, adding four rebounds and three assists and committing only one turnover in 34 minutes. This was the 12th 50 point game of Bryant's career and his highest scoring output since his epochal 81 point game last year; the Lakers are 9-3 in those contests.

In the wake of this astounding performance, ESPN's Ric Bucher asks a very logical question: When will people quit trying to anoint others and simply admit that Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player on the planet? Bucher writes, "How many times must Kobe demonstrate that no one in the league--and I mean no one--has his combination of skill, tenacity, understanding of time and score, killer instinct and ability to control the game at both ends? And how many times must I be the one taking the flag and waving it? Trust me, if you're sick of me sticking up for Kobe, I'm equally sick of having to do it. It shouldn't be this difficult to have the man recognized as the league's all-around best player. OK, so you don't like him. I'm good with that. But not respect him? Not give him his due? Anoint anyone who hasn't accomplished half of what he has as The King or The One or The Whatever?"

The rest of the game kind of falls into the "Oh, by the way" category but it is at least worth mentioning that the Lakers simply destroyed the team that has the best record in the league, a squad that beat the San Antonio Spurs last night. Yes, the Jazz were playing the second game of a back to back but the Lakers' overall performance was very impressive. Lamar Odom had 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists and Maurice Evans--a nice offseason acquisition--scored 17 points in 23 minutes. The Lakers outrebounded the Jazz, the league's best rebounding team, 43-34. Boozer finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Jazz rookie Paul Millsap had 13 points on 6-7 shooting and seven rebounds in only 17 minutes; as Kerr noted, some guys just have a nose for the ball and he might be the steal of the draft.

The Lakers improved to 10-5 and are in first place in the Pacific Division. The one cautionary note about their early success is that their schedule has been heavily loaded with home games, meaning that they will have to do well on the road in the second half of the season to maintain their position in the standings--but Thursday was not about the standings or cautionary notes or anything other than the best player in the game putting on a classic performance. If you missed it, you missed something really special.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:50 AM

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Pistons Extend Winning Streak to 7 With 87-85 Victory Over the Heat

Detroit trailed for most of the game, but eventually wore down Miami for an 87-85 win in the first half of TNT's Thursday night doubleheader. Rip Hamilton led the Pistons with 24 points. He scored nine of Detroit's 18 first quarter points as Miami led by seven going into the second quarter. Detroit started out the game by shooting 3-11 from the field while committing four turnovers. Flip Murray came off the bench to provide a boost with eight points in the second quarter and Detroit trimmed the Miami lead to 45-42 at halftime. The Heat clearly did not have a lot left in the tank, even against a Pistons team that was hardly hitting on all cylinders (so to speak). TNT's Charles Barkley predicted at halftime that Detroit would win the game and went so far as to say that Detroit will finish the season with the best record in the East (more on that topic later).

Hamilton's layup with 8:26 left in the third quarter tied the score for the first time, 49-49. The Heat rebuilt their lead to 55-49, but the Pistons closed the period with a 17-9 run to take a 66-64 lead into the fourth quarter. Hamilton scored six of the 17 points.

Murray's jumper with 9:41 remaining put Detroit up 71-65 and the Heat seemed to be fading fast--but Miami scored seven straight points in less than two minutes to regain the lead, 72-71. Then it was Detroit's turn to make a run, as Chauncey Billups hit two three pointers and Rasheed Wallace made one in a 13-4 burst that put Detroit up 84-76. Miami rallied again but could get no closer than 86-85. Wade's attempt to make a game winning jumper barely grazed iron with less than two seconds left and Hamilton made a free throw to close out the scoring.

The game was a rematch of the last two Eastern Conference Finals but did not feel that way; Detroit's heart and soul, Ben Wallace, now plays for the Chicago Bulls and the Heat are now just 6-9, including a 4-7 record without Shaquille O'Neal, who is sidelined with a knee injury. Miami went 11-12 last year when O'Neal was not in the lineup, so it is becoming increasingly clear that, despite Dwyane Wade's obvious gifts, the Heat are basically a .500 team--or worse--when O'Neal is not on the court. Wade finished with 21 points, eight assists and five rebounds in 46 minutes but he shot only 5-23 from the field. He never found a rhythm, either, shooting 1-3 in the first quarter, 1-5 in the second quarter, 1-8 in the third quarter and 2-7 in the fourth quarter. Also, Barkley and Kenny Smith pointed out a lapse in judgement by Wade on the game's final play. Wade held on to the ball and ran the clock down despite the fact that Miami was trailing by one; the correct play would be to take the shot more quickly, leaving enough time for an offensive rebound or a foul--even if Detroit made two free throws, Miami would still have had a chance to send the game into overtime with a three pointer. TNT's Ernie Johnson spoke up in Wade's defense, noting that Wade was probably exhausted from trying to carry the team for the entire game (I don't recall anyone saying that about Kobe Bryant last year when he carried a team without a legitimate post presence into the playoffs...).

During the game, Doug Collins, TNT's outstanding analyst, agreed with Barkley that Detroit will finish with the best record in the East. Detroit Coach Flip Saunders thinks that way, too, and has publicly said that the Pistons will be a better playoff team this year than last year--bold words for someone who guided Detroit to the best record in the league in 2005-06 only to barely beat playoff neophyte Cleveland in a seven game series. The East is so weak this year that anything could happen but there is no way that Detroit is a better team without Ben Wallace, which is the undertone to Saunders' remark. He and Wallace feuded and Saunders wants to prove that the team is better off without the four-time Defensive Player of the Year. A simple glance at Detroit's year by year playoff record shows that this team is in decline: Champions in '04, Finalists in '05, Eastern Conference Finalists in '06. It will not be easy for the Pistons to reverse that trend this year without Wallace and, if they do, it will be more of a reflection on the weakness of the East than any alleged improvement that they have made.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:17 AM

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Francis Factor: Orlando Thrives Without the Departed Former All-Star

The Orlando Magic are 12-4, just one game behind the Utah Jazz for the best record in the NBA. Barely nine months ago, the Magic traded away three-time All-Star Steve Francis to the New York Knicks for, essentially, nothing (Penny Hardaway's expiring contract and Trevor Ariza, who is averaging less than 6 ppg this year). This may be the best example ever of "addition by subtraction." This year Francis is averaging 12.2 ppg, shooting .436 from the floor and he has a 51/30 assist-turnover ratio.

Orlando originally acquired Francis (and Cuttino Mobley) by trading Tracy McGrady to the Houston Rockets. As I discussed in this space on January 15, John Weisbrod--the "mastermind" behind that deal--rapidly went from being an NBA General Manager to being an NHL scout which is, with all due respect, an even greater fall from grace than Francis has had. Let's look at the three most recent teams that Francis has "touched." Dwight Howard is blossoming in Orlando now that he is not limited to crashing the offensive boards for leftovers while Francis dribbles away the shot clock--and Orlando's current starting point guard, Jameer Nelson, is averaging 14.7 ppg and shooting .530 from the field (his assist-turnover ratio, 57-43, is just as lousy as Francis' but there is no doubt that he has better chemistry with Howard and the other Magic than Francis ever did); the Rockets are in a tight three way "battle of Texas" with Dallas and San Antonio for the Southwest Division crown. Meanwhile, Francis' Knicks are 6-11, despite being graced by the presence not only of "Stevie Franchise" but also "Starbury." The Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz does not think that it is coincidental that Orlando's rise began almost immediately after Francis' departure.

Houston and Orlando solved their problems with Francis but what should the Knicks do? This may sound crazy but I think that the Knicks should cut Marbury and Francis--today. The team was lousy last year despite being coached by Larry Brown, who specializes in reclamation projects. This season is nearly a fifth over and the Knicks are still lousy. Isiah Thomas' job as President/Coach is on the line and his head is going to be on the chopping block if he casts his lot with these two guys. Thomas has said that he will allocate minutes based on performance. What better message could he send to the rest of his roster--which does contain some promising young players that Thomas has acquired--than to get rid of two players who are not coachable and don't play defense? Would the Knicks really be that much worse than 6-11 without Francis and Marbury? Marbury's numbers are even worse than Francis' (9.9 ppg, .380 field goal shooting, 72/35 assist-turnover ratio). The way that the Knicks have thrown away money in recent years I doubt that they would blink at absorbing Francis and Marbury's bloated contracts. Given the choice of paying them to play or paying them to go away, I think that the Knicks' record (and the records of Houston and Orlando, not to mention the teams that have improved after Marbury left, which could be the subject of another article) speaks pretty loudly that Francis and Marbury should be sent on their merry way.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:03 AM

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Sun Burn: Phoenix Lights Up Houston, 102-91

The Phoenix Suns won their fifth straight game with a 102-91 victory over the Houston Rockets, snapping Houston's four game winning streak. NBA TV broadcast the game while ESPN, which normally telecasts Wednesday night NBA games, showed a college basketball doubleheader. Amare Stoudemire seems to be making great strides in his rehabilitation from microfracture surgery; he led Phoenix with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Raja Bell added 20 points while shooting 4-6 from three point range and Steve Nash had 17 points and eight assists. Tracy McGrady led Houston with 23 points, but shot only 9-26 from the field. He also had seven assists and five rebounds. Yao Ming only played 29 minutes due to foul trouble but produced 18 points, six rebounds and three assists.

This was the second game of a back to back for Houston, while the Suns not only enjoyed home court advantage but also had not played since Sunday. Phoenix likes to push the ball anyway, so it was not surprising that the Suns scored 19 points in a little over six minutes to open the game. Still, the Rockets only trailed 19-15 at the 5:34 mark when Yao went to the bench after committing his second foul. The Suns went on a quick 10-0 run and Houston Coach Jeff Van Gundy felt compelled to put Yao back in with Phoenix leading 31-20 with 1:58 left in the period. Phoenix led 35-22 at the end of the quarter.

Shane Battier opened the second quarter scoring with a layup off of a nice feed from Yao but then neither team scored again until Leandro Barbosa made two free throws for the Suns at the 8:39 mark. Houston shot 0-6 from the field during that stretch and Phoenix shot 0-5. If you watched the game closely, you could actually hear crickets and see tumbleweed rolling across the court. Yao committed his third foul with 8:15 left, hacking the driving Stoudemire, who made the basket and the ensuing free throw. Phoenix led 40-26, Yao trudged to the bench and Houston's hopes for victory seemed to be very slim. Without Yao on the court, Houston could neither execute its halfcourt offense nor provide any resistance in the paint on defense. The Suns built their lead to 55-33 and still led 57-40 at halftime. Stoudemire nearly had a double double in the first half (13 points, nine rebounds) and Bell had 13 points (including four three pointers). Luther Head paced Houston with 11 points, while McGrady had nine and Yao had five.

Houston began the third quarter by scoring eight straight points, six of them by Yao. He picked up his fourth foul during that run but Van Gundy left him in the game, realizing that the Rockets had no chance at all if he took Yao out at that point. The Suns made only one field goal in the first 7:21 of the third period, a Nash three pointer. After making 13 of their first 21 field goal attempts in the game they hit only 5 of their next 22. They had no answer for Yao, either, as he scored 13 points in the period; Stoudemire was unable to deny him good position on the block and Yao simply caught the ball and shot over him on several occasions. Other times, Yao and McGrady effectively ran the pick and roll, leading to dunks or free throws for Yao. Phoenix found just enough offense in the waning moments of the quarter to maintain a 70-67 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The tempo of the game was very erratic. Phoenix' 35 first quarter points are the most that the Rockets have given up in any quarter this year--but the Suns also had a season-low 13 points in the third quarter. The Rockets took a 74-72 lead on McGrady's jumper with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter. The big comeback seemed to drain all of Houston's energy, because Nash immediately countered with a three pointer and a long two point jumper to put Phoenix back on top and the Suns never trailed again. In the fourth quarter, the assignment of guarding Yao went to Kurt Thomas, who did a much better job denying Yao post position than Stoudemire had done. A lot of people talk about how many points Stoudemire scored against Tim Duncan in the playoffs a couple years ago but Duncan scored a ton against Stoudemire as well--and Duncan's team won the series. Stoudemire scores and rebounds but was not a top level defender even before he had the microfracture surgery.

McGrady missed a lot of shots that he normally makes and spent the waning seconds of the game sitting on the bench with his head buried in his hands. He had been listed as questionable for the game after injuring his hip and was clearly upset that he had not been able to punctuate Houston's comeback with some of his trademark late game heroics.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:31 AM

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Headband-gate": Why Scott Skiles Needs to Read About Joe Lapchick

Chicago Bulls Coach Scott Skiles is currently engaged in a high profile battle of wills with his center, four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace. Skiles prides himself on his stubborness; shortly after the Bulls hired him in 2003, he found himself at odds with the underachieving Eddie Robinson and publicly declared, "I've never lost a battle of wills in my life. And I don't plan on doing it now." Maybe that works when you are butting heads with a 6-9 journeyman who is more interested in cashing his check than working on his game but it is definitely not the best approach to take with one of the league's premier rebounders and defenders.

Some people take pot shots at Phil Jackson and say that anyone could win championships while coaching Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant--but Jackson also coached the free spirited Dennis Rodman, who played a vital role on the Chicago Bulls' second three-peat teams (1996-98). Jackson had few rules, some of which Rodman managed to violate from time to time. Rarely did the public become aware of these transgressions, though; Jackson fined Rodman and the team moved on without incident or controversy. Jackson maintained his authority without compromising Rodman's individuality.

There is no question that Wallace should not have publicly defied Skiles by donning a headband after it had been made clear that this was against team policy--but the team is foolish to make a rule about such a trivial matter as wearing a headband. A player's responsibility is to steer clear of legal trouble, be ready to play at game time and be ready to practice at practice time. Hall of Fame NFL Coach John Madden has said that all he required of his players was to "be on time, pay attention and play like hell on Sunday."

Gus Alfieri, the point guard on St. John's 1959 NIT championship team, has written a biography of that team's Hall of Fame coach, Joe Lapchick. When I interviewed Alfieri, he told me that Lapchick deliberately had few rules for his players. In fact, Alfieri says that Bobby Knight learned this from Lapchick and has the same approach (Knight's problem is that he is a bully who lacks self control but that is a story for another day). Alfieri says, "Knight told me that Coach Lapchick taught him a rule that he still uses to this day. The rule, kind of simplified, was this: if a player does anything to embarrass the school, the team or me, he has to answer to me." Lapchick’s idea was that if he had too many specific rules with specific consequences that he would paint himself into a corner and not retain the flexibility to handle each situation based on the particular circumstances that are involved. Alfieri believes that this focused the players on doing things the right way.

Here is what Ben Wallace says about the controversy: "I knew that we weren't allowed to wear the headbands. If you know the rules and break them, you expect to be punished. I can't try to put myself above the team or anybody else and wear a headband like I did. I'm man enough to take the punishment. But I'm not sorry." Wallace's initial inspiration for wearing a headband came from Cliff Robinson, who said that doing so is a good way to remind yourself not to get too big of a head. It is ironic that someone whose playing style epitomizes hard work and unselfishness is being criticized by his team for doing something to remind himself not to forget what it took to get to the NBA in the first place.

Now the Bulls have painted themselves into a corner. The Chicago Tribune has reported that Wallace will be fined and General Manager John Paxson has said that if Wallace had approached the team privately then perhaps an accomodation could have been made. Of course, if the Bulls change the rule at this point then Paxson and Skiles will feel like they have been bullied and that their authority has been diminished. That is why you shouldn't micromanage teams and make rules about irrelevant things in the first place. Paxson told the Tribune that he first instituted the rule when he saw then-Bulls Eddie Robinson and Eddy Curry wearing headbands crookedly or around their necks, which he thought looked unprofessional. Paxson is missing the point. The problem with Curry and Robinson is not that they don't look like professionals but that they don't conduct themselves like professionals in terms of their practice habits. To put it bluntly, a knucklehead is a knucklehead with or without a headband. Paxson's job is to create a knucklehead-free roster, not a headband-free one; he has gotten rid of the knuckleheads he inherited from Jerry Krause and he should be grateful to have the headband-wearing player he signed this summer.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:18 AM

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Grisly Performance: Denver Loses at Home to Memphis, 108-96

Prior to Tuesday, the Memphis Grizzlies were 0-7 on the road, 0-7 versus the Western Conference, had yet to win a game in 15 tries at the Pepsi Center and were tied with the Charlotte Bobcats for the worst record in the NBA (3-10). On the other hand, the 8-4 Denver Nuggets had won five straight and ranked first in the NBA in scoring. So what would happen when these two teams going in opposite directions faced off in the Pepsi Center? As Chris Berman loves to say, "THAT'S why they play the games!" Memphis overcame a slow start--and 37 points by Carmelo Anthony--to post a 108-96 win. Hakim Warrick led the Grizzlies with 25 points, Chucky Atkins added 22 points and five assists and Mike Miller contributed 13 points, seven rebounds and a career-high 14 assists. Anthony had nine rebounds and seven assists in addition to his game-high scoring total. He shot 17-30 from the field but only 3-8 from the free throw line. Marcus Camby had 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, while Andre Miller had five points, five rebounds and 13 assists.

Anthony scored 14 points in the first quarter and 22 points in the first half. He had six points in less than three minutes to open the game as Denver took an 8-2 lead. The early moments of the game were almost comical due to the completely opposite styles preferred by Denver Coach George Karl and Memphis Coach Mike Fratello. Karl wants his team to push the ball up the floor and shoot quickly, while Fratello's squad squeezes the air out of the ball until it is almost flat, usually not shooting until right before the shot clock expires. Only eight Grizzlies played against Denver and the Grizzlies will be without the services of injured All-Star Pau Gasol for at least a few more weeks, so they hardly have the depth that uptempo teams like Phoenix and Denver do. Denver led 25-17 after the first quarter.

Memphis went ahead 35-34 with 6:13 remaining in the second quarter after Dahntay Jones sank two free throws. Memphis pushed the margin to as much as five but Anthony's layup with :29 remaining brought the Nuggets to within 53-52.

The Nuggets began the third quarter just like they started the game, going on an 8-2 run and taking a 60-55 lead. Early in the period, Memphis' Stromile Swift tried to convert a powerful two hand dunk but instead he slammed the ball with so much force that it caromed off of the back of the rim and flew into the stands. Shortly after that miscue, though, the Grizzlies went on a 13-5 run to take a 68-65 lead and they were still ahead 81-80 at the end of the quarter.

Memphis owned the fourth quarter, outscoring Denver 27-16. Ironically, the Grizzlies managed to win the type of high scoring game that Karl normally seeks and Fratello tries to avoid. The Nuggets' problem is that their defense is every bit as bad as their offense is good, so on the nights that only Anthony can really get it going on offense Denver can lose to anyone. Shooting guard J.R. Smith, the team's second leading scorer at 17.9 ppg, managed just five points on 2-8 shooting, committed five turnovers--and didn't exactly make up for these offensive lapses by playing well on defense, either.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:21 AM

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Statistical Profile of a Title Team

NBCSports.com has just published "The Statistical Profile of a Title Team," my examination of some of the key statistical categories in which most of the past 17 NBA champions have excelled. Hall of Fame Coach and ESPN analyst Hubie Brown always stresses the importance of point differential, while Cleveland Cavaliers Assistant Coach Hank Egan (a member of Gregg Popovich's staff when the San Antonio Spurs won the 1999 title) emphasizes defensive field goal percentage. Check out the article to see how closely these statistics correlate with winning championships:

The Statistical Profile of a Title Team

posted by David Friedman @ 4:52 AM

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All's Well That Ends Well: Cavs Overcome Slow Start, Beat the 76ers, 108-95

For the second night in a row, the Cleveland Cavaliers showed that how you finish is a lot more important that how you start. The Philadelphia 76ers roared out to a 25-16 first quarter lead in Saturday's game at Quicken Loans Arena but the Cavaliers outscored them 92-70 the rest of the way to post a 108-95 win; on Friday night, the Cavaliers led the Pacers by 15 after the first quarter but lost the game by ten. LeBron James had 25 points and 11 assists against the 76ers. Zydrunas Ilgauskas set season-highs in points (18 ), rebounds (15) and blocked shots (five) and tied franchise records for offensive rebounds in a half (10) and in a game (12). Allen Iverson had a game-high 31 points but shot only 10-28 from the field. He was guarded most of the night by former backcourt mate Eric Snow. The Cavs' Larry Hughes sat out as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain. His spot in the starting lineup had been filled by David Wesley, but Cavs Coach Mike Brown benched Wesley in favor of rookie Shannon Brown. Brown scored three points on 1-6 shooting from the field but Wesley did not see any action. Damon Jones picked up the slack, coming off the bench to score 12 points, shooting 3-5 from three point range.

Philadelphia power forward Shavlik Randolph was the unlikely star in the early going, scoring 10 first quarter points on 4-4 shooting. He finished the night with 12 points. After the game, Sixers Coach Maurice Cheeks said, "We tried to post the ball early to Shav and he scored...if it's working, then we continue to go to him but obviously that was not going to continue (for the whole game)."

Cleveland tied the game at 26 with 8:58 remaining in the second quarter and did not trail again after the 5:04 mark in that period. The Cavaliers led 51-38 at halftime. Ilgauskas already had 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. Jones also had 12 points at the break, while Iverson had 14 on 5-15 shooting.

James rebounded from a poor first half (six points on 2-9 shooting, four turnovers) to score 12 points on 5-7 shooting in the third quarter. Iverson scored nine points in the period on 3-5 shooting and the Cavaliers led 82-70 going into the final quarter. The 76ers never got closer than eight points in the fourth quarter, done in both by poor shooting (7-19, .368) and an inability to stop the Cavaliers, who shot 11-20 (.550).

In his postgame standup, Cheeks said, "Our turnovers killed us in the second quarter--turnovers and quick shots...Damon Jones made some shots in the second quarter that kind of turned the tide. The way we started the game--our second quarter was not like that."

"I don't think that we carried the team, but we came in with a lot of energy...We've shown all year long that when we are able to execute and share the basketball among one another that we are usually able to shoot a high percentage," Jones said of the Cleveland bench's contributions to the win. He also stressed the importance of getting Ilgauskas involved: "Hopefully this game will get him going back on the right track." He added that the 7-3 center has proven that he is capable of putting up double doubles on a regular basis and that the Cavs must take advantage of this.

James echoed Jones' comments about feeding the ball to Ilgauskas: "It got to the point where we just said 'screw the offense, we've got to get Z the ball.' There were some calls we made that had nothing to do with our offense, but we have to find a way to get Z in a comfort zone. It was good to see that."

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Notes From Courtside:

World B. Free, who played for both the Cavaliers and the 76ers, is currently Director of Player Development/Ambassador of 76ers Basketball. Free was one of the top scorers in the NBA in the late 70s and early 80s and prior to the game he showed that he can still shoot the ball, draining many three pointers as players from both teams warmed up. He told me that he enjoyed his time as a Cavalier, particularly the challenge of bringing some life back to the franchise after the dark days of the Ted Stepien era.

One of the loudest cheers of the night came when his face was shown on the giant overhead scoreboard. When fans know who you are and still cheer for you two decades after you retired, you know that you did something right.

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The scoreboard operator found a couple clever ways to encourage boos while various 76ers shot free throws. One time he put a University of Michigan logo up; another time he showed a Pittsburgh Steelers logo.

Also, between the third and fourth quarters of Cavs games, the arena soundsystem booms "Hang on Sloopy" in honor of Ohio State football. This often gets the loudest cheer of the night.

This much is clear: Ohio is still first and foremost a football state; maybe if LeBron and the Cavs bring an NBA title to Cleveland that might change.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:24 AM

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