The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: The Heat is Off, Durant Sizzles and the Knicks Play Better Without "Starbury"In Miami, 4-11 is not the number you call for information but the record of the city's pro basketball team. At this rate, the Heat will be dialing 911 before long. While Shaquille O'Neal sails off into the sunset of his career, young Kevin Durant authored the best performance of his rookie season, scoring 35 points as the Sonics beat the Pacers 95-93 to claim their first home win of the season. Everyone is calling for Isiah Thomas' head but, as I've said all along, if Thomas would give "Starbury" the ax then he could prevent the blade from coming down on his own neck. Let's take a closer look at three of Friday night's games:
The Score: Boston 95, Miami 85
The Key Stat: Dwyane Wade scored 10 points, shooting 2-11 from the field and 6-11 on his free throws. He had five rebounds, one assist and six turnovers.
The Bottom Line: The return of Dwyane Wade has hardly solved all of the Miami Heat's problems. For one thing, Wade is not yet playing at the level that he was before he got hurt last season. Another issue is Pat Riley's "subtraction by addition" offseason acquisitions of Ricky Davis and Smush Parker; Davis has no interest in playing any defense and did not contribute much offensively versus the Celtics (six points on 1-6 field goal shooting), while Parker has been playing terribly (.315 field goal percentage) and, to top it off, is dealing with some legal problems as well. Riley's latest move is to bench Davis and point guard Jason Williams in favor of Penny Hardaway and Chris Quinn. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported that Shaquille O'Neal had cross words with Riley at a recent practice--O'Neal had little interest in being in shape when he was young and that has not changed with age--but, of course, Smith downplayed the significance of this because any suggestion that O'Neal is not dedicated or challenges his coaches simply does not fit into any storyline that the mainstream media wants to tell. As for the winners, Ray Allen (3-17) and Paul Pierce (7-18) had poor shooting nights from the field but they shot a combined 18-20 from the free throw line as Boston made 16 more free throws than Miami.
The Score: Seattle 95, Indiana 93
The Key Stat: Kevin Durant scored 35 points on 12-20 field goal shooting and posted a game-high +13 plus/minus rating. He had seven turnovers and only two assists but he scored six points in the final minute of the game--all on free throws--to preserve the win.
The Bottom Line: In his previous game, Durant showed some signs of being willing and able to take over down the stretch. It will be interesting to see how teams defend him from now on in such situations. In order to be consistently successful, Durant will have to improve his field goal percentage and demonstrate a more well rounded game than he has so far; this performance is a good start.
The Score: New York 91, Milwaukee 88
The Key Stat: New York trailed 65-52 with 5:45 remaining in the third quarter when Stephon Marbury left the game due to a shoulder injury; Fred Jones took his place and delivered 10 points and two assists in 17:45 of playing time as the Knicks outscored the Bucks 39-23 to claim the win.
The Bottom Line: Is it too extreme to blame one player for the Knicks' troubles? Perhaps, but I'm not saying that Marbury is the only problem; what I am saying is that I can't picture him being part of the solution. The pattern during his career is crystal clear: teams get worse when he arrives and they get better when he leaves. Some would say that Marbury is the most talented player on the team but that may be part of the problem; maybe nobody on the team is willing to stand up to him and/or maybe Marbury does not respect any of his teammates enough to listen. Whatever the case, the point guard handles the ball on nearly every offensive possession and is the front line of the defense and Marbury is simply not someone you can trust with either responsibility.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:55 AM