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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Tuesday Night's Action

There were only five NBA games on Tuesday night, but some interesting story lines played out. Here are the scores, key stats and bottom line meaning of three of those contests:

The Score: Detroit 109, Boston 102

The Key Stat: Detroit is 8-3 since signing Chris Webber.

The Bottom Line: Letting Ben Wallace go and "replacing" him with Nazr Mohammed (6.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg this season) was a ghastly error. To paraphrase Dennis Green's overused and yet very catchy phrase, Nazr Mohammed was what I thought he was--and Chris Webber is letting Joe Dumars off the hook. I never understood why anyone thought that Mohammed is a significantly better offensive player than Ben Wallace--who does not score much (neither does Mohammed, by the way) but who sets screens, passes and gets offensive rebounds--or why anyone believed that he would be an adequate replacement in the middle for Big Ben. Detroit started the season 21-15, a far cry from last year's 64-18 record. Then, the Philadelphia 76ers decided to hit the "reboot" button and injected new life into two franchises: Denver received Allen Iverson and Detroit received Chris Webber (the 76ers have been playing better, too--a subject worthy of discussion in another post). Webber's numbers as a Piston are not eyepopping (12.5 ppg, 7 rpg, 3.3 apg) but they are tremendous compared to Mohammed's. More importantly, Webber's passing fits in perfectly with Detroit's offense, particularly the off the ball cutting abilities of Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. Joe Dumars did a great job building a championship team in Detroit but in recent years there has been a lot more talent leaving the Palace at Auburn Hills than arriving there: Larry Brown, Ben Wallace, Mehmet Okur and Darko Milicic have departed and the team has done worse in the postseason each year since winning the title. I heard Chauncey Billups recently say that he thinks that Detroit should have won the championship each of the past two years. I wonder if in ten years we will look back at this era of Pistons basketball the way that we see the 1980s Chicago Bears: one year wonders who squandered the opportunity to win multiple titles. I'm still not convinced that Flip Saunders can steer this ship to the Finals even in the depleted Leastern Conference but he seems to have a better chance now than he did 11 games ago.

Postscript: Look at Boston Coach Doc Rivers' face, which seems to be etched with the battle scars of each defeat from the team's franchise record 15 game losing streak: does anyone age faster than coaches or political leaders? The grey and/or receding hair, lines on the face and bags under the eyes index for those two fields is off the charts.

The Score: New York 102, L.A. Clippers 90

The Key Stat: Eddy Curry had 23 points and eight rebounds, David Lee chipped in 16 points and 10 rebounds and Jamal Crawford scored 23 points for the victorious Knicks, who are just one win away from equalling last season's total.

The Bottom Line: This message is for everyone out there who made fun of Isiah Thomas as an executive and/or coach. Isiah Thomas is responsible for assembling the current New York Knicks roster and he has now spent 50 games coaching it. The Knicks are one of the most improved teams in the NBA. Curry has blossomed into a legitimate All-Star candidate. Lee is averaging a double-double. Crawford has been unstoppable at times and has not only produced a 50 point game but he has also made numerous clutch shots. Is there any reason that Thomas should not be a candidate for both Executive of the Year and Coach of the Year? In Bill Parcells' parlance, Thomas bought the groceries and cooked the meal. I am still skeptical of the idea of having Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis on the same team, but Thomas' Knicks are doing better than just about anyone expected. Is it possible that Thomas--who is an NCAA Champion, a two-time NBA Champion, a Hall of Famer and a Top 50 player--might know more about basketball than his numerous media and fan critics? Jermaine O'Neal, Brad Miller and Al Harrington all improved markedly while Thomas coached them in Indiana and the same thing seems to be happening with the Knicks' young players. Will Thomas and the Knicks be able to keep this up long enough that Thomas' critics will have to borrow from the Bill Belichick/Kobe Bryant story template and explain how much Thomas has "changed and evolved" this year?

The Score: Houston 98, Memphis 90

The Key Stat: Houston is 15-6 since Yao Ming was forced out of action with an injured leg.

The Bottom Line: I agree with the ESPN NBA Coast to Coast panelists who laud the contributions of Dikembe Mutombo and Shane Battier to Houston's recent success--but that is also known as burying the lead. Let me place the lead in bold, capital letters, so no one misses it: TRACY MCGRADY. He had 33 points, eight assists and six rebounds in the win over Memphis. Yes, the Grizzlies are dreadful but T-Mac's production in the last 20 games (he missed one game since Yao's injury; naturally, the Rockets lost) is fantastic: 28.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg , 6.2 apg. Last year, the Rockets could hardly win a game without him but were a very solid team when he was in the lineup, even if Yao was out of action. Again this season, the Rockets are proving to be a formidable team whenever T-Mac steps on the court, even without Yao. It would be great to see what this team is capable of with a healthy T-Mac and a healthy Yao on the court at the same time. I don't see why anyone should question T-Mac's status as an All-Star starter this year. The Rockets are 7.5 games behind Phoenix. Let's trade Amare, Marion, Diaw and Bell for Mutombo, Juwan Howard, Shane Battier and Rafer Alston and see how well Nash and his new teammates would do.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:10 AM



At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 9:26:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Isiah definitely knows more about basketball but he has made some terrible moves.

I hate the Celtics but its tough seeing Rivers struggle. Firing him will take him out of his misery but the team will still be terrible. They are just a young team, and without their superstar it really shows. Maybe they need to get rid of the dance team. Red Auerbach is always right.

TRACY is definitely the key. But can he stay healthy enough to produce in April and May. If he can once Yao comes back, the Rockets are scary.

Why are Dwight Howard and Tyrus Thomas in the dunk contest? They are too tall and will bring nothing to the contest. I didnt like Nance, or Sampson, or any of the other 6'9 and over guys in the contest. I also dont want to see Robinson in the contest again.

At Thursday, February 08, 2007 2:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

No GM always make the right moves. I think that Dumars is an excellent GM, but I also think that letting Wallace (and Okur) go was a mistake. Isiah has been particularly good on draft day and as a coach; I question some of his trades/veteran signings but he clearly believes in assembling a lot of talent and trying to make it work as opposed to building a team based on each player filling a certain role.

I feel bad for Rivers because, as far as I can tell, he is both a good guy and a good coach but he is in a no win situation (literally).

Nance was pretty good, but Doc would have beaten him in '84 if he had gone the safe route; instead, Doc missed a dunk, which opened the way for Nance to win. Sampson and most other really big guys just seem to try to dunk the ball as hard as they possibly can; they don't show a lot of hang time. Maybe Howard and Thomas will show us something different. I don't mind seeing Nate again and it would not be right to deny him a chance to defend his title. There is a new rule that will place a time limit on each player's attempts, so we won't have to wait forever until he makes one. In a way, the fact that he could convert after so many misses shows what kind of hops he really has. His legs don't know that he missed the first 13 or 14--he had to jump each time, which adds to the fatigue.

At Thursday, February 08, 2007 3:44:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

Letting Okur go was a very big mistake. He had good games against the Lakers during the season and Finals that year. Of course Wallace didnt like Saunders, but I think if Dumars gave him that extra year he might have stayed.

Nate should definitely be able to defend. After 2 misses, that should be it. Not 13. I think its a disgrace that Wade and James havent been in. Even though they are game dunkers they owe the fans to be in the contest at least one. If they lose so what. I dont want to see them in the skills competition. And as much as I see Carter dunk on people in games why hasnt he been back? I know he changed the contest in 2000 but I would like to see him in the competition.

Why dont they have a horse competition or one-on-one like they did at halftime back in the day? Bring the legends game back but do go crazy and get 70 years old. All-Star weekend is terrible. And eliminate the WNBA from it.

At Thursday, February 08, 2007 5:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I think that Wade, LeBron, Carter, Kobe and the other big name stars feel like they can only lose status by being in the dunk contest and not winning but that winning would not increase their status that much. They are probably right about that, but I agree that it would be nice if they did it anyway for the fans.

I actually like the idea of a skills competition that actually involves doing things by the rules that are done during games--passing, shooting and dribbling. The lineup for that competition is stacked with talent--Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Nash--and could be a highlight of All-Star Saturday.

The Shooting Stars competition is the closest thing that All-Star Weekend has to horse and I think that the NBA likes this format because it involves the participation of current players, retired players and WNBA players (cross promotion). I wasn't crazy about it at first, but it has kind of grown on me.

Injuries are the reason that they did away with the Legends Game. Shooting Stars basically is the replacement, since legends participate in that. One on one would be fun to watch but I think that injuries are a concern there; players can kind of pace themselves in an All-Star Game but it's hard to pace yourself in one on one.

I don't think that All-Star Weekend is terrible. It is just hard to ever match or recreate the excitement that Dr. J and Jordan generated in the dunk contest because those guys were the originals--everybody since then is trying to copy them but it is not easy to do that (I know that there were great dunkers before them but they were the original contest dunkers that national audiences got to see, Doc in the ABA and MJ in the NBA).


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