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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Agent Zero's Hibachi is Still Smoking, C. Webb is a Piston and the Suns Burn the Grizzlies

Martin Luther King Day proved to be very eventful in the NBA. Chris Webber attended Monday's Detroit-Minnesota game as a guest of the Pistons and announced that on Tuesday he will sign with the Pistons. Magic Johnson, who has a small ownership interest in the L.A. Lakers, appeared on Monday night's TNT broadcast as a studio analyst. He said that while he is disappointed that Webber did not sign with the Lakers he understands Webber's desire to return to his home state, adding, "Chris felt comfortable with (Pistons President) Joe Dumars." TNT's Charles Barkley thinks that going to Detroit is a good move for Webber, explaining, "His legs can't sustain playing every night against those power forwards in the West." Webber's passing ability should lead to a lot of easy baskets for guys who move well without the basketball, like Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. On the other hand, while TNT's Kenny Smith agrees that Detroit is a good fit for Webber, he believes that Webber would fit in even better in New Jersey or San Antonio, based on what those teams need and what Webber can provide.

Gilbert Arenas, aka "Agent Zero," produced another 50 point game and another buzzer beating, game winning three pointer. Arenas tied Michael Jordan's Verizon Center record with 51 points and broke a 111-111 tie with a "walk off" three pointer as his Washington Wizards beat the fast fading Utah Jazz. This was Arenas' third 50 point game in a 15 game span, a feat that has only been accomplished by Kobe Bryant since Michael Jordan did it in the 1988-89 season. Arenas is also the first player in franchise history to have three 50 point games in one season. He shot 14-29 from the field, 7-12 on three pointers and 16-17 from the free throw line. Arenas also had five assists while committing only one turnover.

While Webber provided the day's NBA headline and Arenas supplied the individual fireworks, Phoenix and Memphis tried to explode the scoreboard in the first game of TNT's doubleheader. The Suns prevailed 137-122 as the teams combined for 148 first half points (76-72 Phoenix), the most points scored in one half in an NBA game this season. The Grizzlies scored more points in the first half than they did in their previous game, a ghastly 111-66 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Amare Stoudemire led the way for the Suns with a season-high 42 points, shooting 15-21 from the field and 12-13 from the free throw line. He also had nine rebounds. Steve Nash had 12 points and 15 assists. The Suns shot 14-34 (.412) from three point range. Mike Miller led Memphis with 25 points; Pau Gasol had a nice all around game with 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists but he was silent during the third quarter when the Suns broke the game open behind Stoudemire's 16 points. The Grizzlies committed numerous turnovers during the period and were not able to get their other scorers involved despite the fact that the Suns double and even triple teamed Gasol, who shot 7-7 from the field in the first half (17 points) in addition to dishing off for six assists.

At halftime, Magic, Barkley and Smith offered some interesting thoughts on the Suns' prospects and how Memphis' style has changed since the team fired Coach Mike Fratello and installed Tony Barone as the interim head coach. Barone has Memphis playing an uptempo style. Of course, he also has the benefit of Gasol's services; Gasol missed most of the early part of the season with a broken foot that he suffered during the FIBA World Championship last summer. Barkley said that this kind of game reinforces Phoenix' bad habits on the defensive end of the court, the area where they must improve in order to beat Dallas or San Antonio in a playoff series. Magic added that even though his '80s Lakers played an uptempo style that they also played defense and made sure to shut down outmanned teams like Memphis; echoing Barkley's point, he said that he would have expected his Lakers to be up at least 15 at halftime versus a team like the Grizzlies, pushing that margin to 20 in the third quarter. Smith quipped, "Defense wins championships but copy-catting keeps your job." He explained that since Phoenix has done well with an uptempo style that other teams are copying it, even if they don't have the personnel to do it with the same level of success.

It is not surprising that the Suns simply wore down the Grizzlies in the third quarter but there were a couple things worth noting in the second half. One, Stoudemire's game has literally improved by leaps and bounds since the preseason, when he looked more tentative than a freshman at the prom and moved more awkwardly than a newborn colt. Now he is running, jumping and dunking with authority. He benefits from Nash's timely feeds but Nash also benefits by having an extraordinary athlete to catch his passes.

The other interesting thing that happened in the second half is that the Suns kept all of their starters in the game until just 38.3 seconds remained. They were up 136-118 at that point and TNT's Dick Stockton and Reggie Miller had been wondering aloud for several minutes why the Suns were risking injury to Nash, Stoudemire and other key players. With a few minutes left, Nash took a pretty good whack to the face (the contact was deemed inadvertent and no foul was called on the play) and could be seen rubbing his jaw but he stayed in the game even after that. The Suns were still running and gunning full speed right up to the end. When this happened in the Knicks-Nuggets game, a flagrant foul and a fight ensued. Fortunately, nothing of that nature happened in this game. After the game, Cheryl Miller asked Phoenix' Raja Bell about the Suns' strange substitution pattern and he replied that the Suns have blown several leads this year, so Coach Mike D'Antoni wanted to make sure that did not happen again--which is exactly how Nuggets' Coach George Karl justified leaving his starters in versus the Knicks. I don't know if any of this means anything but you can bet that if a freak ankle injury or a fight had happened that D'Antoni would be answering a lot of questions about this.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:30 AM



At Thursday, January 18, 2007 1:23:00 AM, Blogger JF said...

who is the mvp?

my take:
either kobe or arenas.

Nash is possible but won't win 3 in row if Jordan never did

Kobe -- 4th best rcd in NBA with Odom hurt

Arenas -- carrying Wiz to top teams in East, with remarkable performances

I'd probably say Kobe, but not sure since he had Odom for part of season & since Phil is great coach. Either way, Arenas is my #2

Nowitzki? Maybe I'm leaving him out, b/c Terry is such a strong #2 on them...

your thoughts?

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 6:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I would pick Kobe. All of the candidates have the requisite individual numbers. Kobe plays at a high level at both ends of the court and I think that is important. Greg Anthony always holds Nash's lack of defense against him and I think that this is a valid point.

I am not surprised by how well the Lakers are doing--I picked them to finish fourth in the West--but I imagine that most observers are surprised. The Lakers do still have to "make up" some road games (they have played more at home than on the road so far) but they have already beaten several of the top teams (Phx, Dall, Spurs twice) and have not lost much if any ground despite Odom's extended absence.

Some people like choosing the best player on the team with the best record, so by that standard Dirk will receive heavy consideration.

I would not be surprised if Nash wins again. I compared Nash to Mark Price in a recent post and there is an interesting discussion about this over at APBR Metrics. One poster there made the point that Nash won his first MVP in a narrow decision over Shaq in a year when there weren't an abundance of candidates. Then Nash had better stats in year two, Amare was out and the Suns did well, so Nash won it again even though Kobe averaged 35 and Dirk, LeBron and Wade all had super seasons. This year Nash's individual numbers are better than they were in the previous two seasons. I joked that at this rate, with that kind of reasoning, if Nash stays healthy he will challenge Kareem's record for most MVPs.

Arenas is fun to watch and he's been on an absolute tear for the past 25 games or so, but he started off the season slowly and his team is not dominant even in the weaker of the two conferences. He's an All-Star and an All-NBA performer without doubt but I just can't put him above Kobe, LeBron or Wade. Arenas' shot selection is bad, no matter what his shooting percentage is; as I said in the comments section to a different post, if you shoot 6-9 from three point range in one game and 1-9 the next then you are a 40% shooter--but in the playoffs your team will almost certainly lose the 1-9 game and if you don't win the 6-9 game then you are down 0-2. Arenas is a point guard, not Ray Allen, and when the point guard is jacking up threes all over the place early in the shot clock then the other team does not get into foul trouble and does not exert much energy on defense. Yes, Arenas has won several games this year by playing this way, but I am not convinced that this will work over the course of a long season or in a playoff run. Hey, if Washington gets a 1,2 or 3 seed and then advances in the playoffs with Arenas playing this way, I'll say that I was wrong. For now, I will not join the Arenas for MVP bandwagon that seems to be gaining in numbers by the day.


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