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Saturday, December 08, 2007

The "NBA 14" Paved the Road that Led to Riches for Today's Stars

Anyone who wonders why Oscar Robertson never received coaching or front office opportunities in the NBA should read this great article by the Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith. Smith spent some time with former Sixer and Bull Chet Walker, who was one of 14 players--including Robertson--who filed law suits challenging the NBA's economic structure; this resulted in the creation of a free agency system that has enabled today's players to make millions of dollars. Robertson, Walker and several others of the "NBA 14"--including Joe Caldwell--paid a heavy price for their activism, although it is also true that some of them (Bill Bradley, Wes Unseld) do not seem have suffered as much retribution as others.

Smith reports that Walker "is hardly one of those chip-on-the-shoulder old-timers living in the past and looking for a handout. He has done well and mostly is retired now." Walker is somewhat bemused by the ultimate outcome of his efforts as a labor activist during his playing career, telling Smith, "I never thought I'd be saying guys are making too much money. But you hear of these guys rejecting $10 million a year, it's absurd. You can't believe it. I don't have cable, so I don't watch much NBA. But I watch the Lakers. I don't understand these owners, how they evaluate talent. How do you pay Kwame Brown $9 million? Amazing. And these guys think they're making this money because they're great players." Smith writes:

Actually, they're making it in large part because of guys like Walker, who was one of the so-called NBA 14, the group of players that successfully brought on the modern NBA era with the first free agency. Many, like Walker, suffered for it. His career ended prematurely even though he averaged almost 20 points per game his final season for the Bulls in 1974-75.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:47 PM

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Dreaming of a Matchup Between the 1992 and 2008 Versions of Team USA

There will probably never be a team that has a better collective resume than the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team--the only squad that should ever be referred to as the "Dream Team." However, in the wake of the tremendous performances by Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and LeBron James in this year's FIBA Americas Tournament, it is at least reasonable to ask what would happen if the 1992 team played the 2008 U.S. Olympic team (assuming that it is composed of the same players who were on the roster this year). With Malice asked several bloggers to break down this matchup. Most of the respondents offered thoughtful replies, though one answer seemed to be included for name value more than analytical depth--unless you happen to be unaware that Michael Jordan was very good and that he played for the 1992 team.

Five of the six bloggers picked the 1992 team to beat the 2008 team. I agree with the majority verdict but not necessarily with all of the reasons that some of the contributors provided. We tend to forget that many of the big names on the 1992 team were no longer in their primes and that both Larry Bird and John Stockton were severely limited due to injuries--so a recitation of their career accomplishments is not an accurate indicator of how they performed for the Dream Team or what they would be capable of doing against the 2008 team. I posted a comment at With Malice offering my take:

Interesting question, but some contributors obviously took the assignment more seriously than others (Michael Jordan was on the first Dream Team? Really? I never knew that, so saying that he might make the difference in a close game is really some deep analysis).

I agree that the '92 team has been a bit mythologized. Laettner was a spare part, Stockton played briefly in just four games due to a fracture in his leg and Bird was at the end of his career and could barely play in some games due to back spasms. Jordan was obviously the best player but people forget that the player who actually performed the best was Barkley (team-highs of 18 ppg and .711 field goal percentage). Jordan (team-high 37 steals) and Pippen (second on the team with 23 steals) were absolute terrors on the defensive end and they took special delight in abusing Toni Kukoc, who they viewed as Jerry Krause’s pet. I’ll bet a lot of people would be surprised to hear that Pip led the team in assists (47 in eight games), Jordan was second (38) and Magic was only third (33 in six games). It is true that the '92 team was never seriously tested by a team as good as the '08 team but I doubt that MJ, Pip, Barkley, Magic and the others would somehow shrink from that challenge.

The individual matchups would be amazing to watch: isn’t a Jordan-Kobe showdown with both players in their prime something we all want to see, whatever our opinions are about Kobe? Pip on LeBron or Melo would also be tremendous, as would Magic on Kidd. I think that those perimeter matchups would end up being pretty even overall but that where the '92 team would win the game would be in the paint, with Barkley, Ewing, Robinson and Karl Malone getting the better of Amare, Howard and Tyson Chandler (who actually probably would not get any playing time because he usually only got on the court in Vegas when Team USA was up 20 and that would never happen in this game). Some analysts think that the '08 team will have problems in the Olympics with the best FIBA big men and, while I don’t think that will cost Team USA because Kobe and Kidd are on a mission, that is the area that would prove decisive in this hypothetical matchup. Dream Team '92 wins, 108-100, and Barkley (28 points, 15 rebounds) is the MVP.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:10 AM

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Tireless Iverson Leads Denver to 122-109 Win in Dallas

After playing all 48 minutes and scoring 51 points in a 114-107 loss versus the Lakers on Wednesday, Allen Iverson and his Denver Nuggets faced a tough back to back game at Dallas on Thursday. The Nuggets had lost 18 of their previous 19 games in Dallas, including five straight defeats, but Iverson produced 35 points, 12 assists and six steals as Denver cruised to a 122-109 win. This kind of game is sometimes referred to as a "scheduling loss" for the road team, although in this instance it should be noted that Dallas was also playing for the second time in two nights. Iverson's great performance--including 12-19 shooting from the field and 11-13 free throw shooting--helped the Nuggets to overcome a bad shooting night by Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 23 points but shot just 9-30 from the field. Dirk Nowitzki had perhaps his best game of the season, tying his season-high with 32 points and also contributing 12 rebounds and five assists. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, Josh Howard (20 points on 5-16 shooting), Devin Harris (12 points on 5-14 shooting) and Jason Terry (five points on 2-7 shooting) all shot very poorly; only Jerry Stackhouse (23 points on 8-14 shooting) provided much assistance for Nowitzki. Dallas also struggled mightily on defense, as all seven Nuggets who played at least 15 minutes shot better than .500 from the field.

Before the game, TNT analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith critiqued Iverson's game by saying that even though he puts up decent assists numbers he does not really have a point guard mentality; they asserted that he compiles assists primarily because he has the ball so much but that he only passes out of necessity when all of his shooting options are exhausted. There is some validity to that point of view, although I think that it is more apt to say that about guys like Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis. While there is no doubt that Iverson has a shoot first mentality, he has also shown throughout his career that he is willing and able to not only pass out of necessity but to create scoring opportunities for his teammates provided that they are willing and able to step up and make shots. For instance, in game seven of the 2001 playoffs versus Toronto, Iverson had 16 assists to help lead the 76ers to an 88-87 victory; the flip side of that is that Iverson shot just 8-27 from the field in that game, lending credence to Barkley and Smith's assertion that Iverson only passes as a last resort.

However one defines or criticizes Iverson's game, there is no questioning his heart, determination and energy. I often tell people that Iverson is not the greatest basketball player I have ever seen (though he is of course an outstanding player) but he is the most amazing athlete I have ever watched in person: it is simply unbelievable that someone his size (he is generously listed at NBA.com as 6-0, 180) can not only survive in a league in which the average player is roughly 6-7, 230 but that he can perform at such a high level. Iverson is now adding a third dimension to his greatness, because he has to overcome not only his lack of height and bulk but also the inevitable wear and tear that goes along with being a 32 year old guard who has logged nearly 32,000 regular season minutes.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:18 AM

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Slamming Some "Sick" Basketball Writing

I just read three magazine articles that perplexed me. "Mal" means sick and if you flip that around and add an "s" for "subpar" then you'll know where I found these articles. Anyway, the first one declared that the New York Knicks and Sacramento Kings are going to face each other in this year's NBA Finals. Maybe this was just a satirical piece--albeit one that failed to provide either humor or insight--because even with the long lead time it takes to put out a magazine there is no way that anyone who actually watches the NBA could possibly believe that those squads are going to the Finals in 2008 without purchasing tickets. If the Knicks get rid of Stephon Marbury soon then they could possibly, maybe grab the eighth playoff spot in the East. As for the Kings, they are currently 10th in the West and, looking at the teams in front of them, it is hard to picture them moving up in the standings (obviously, Kevin Martin's recent injury makes a playoff push even less likely).

The second article discussed the Detroit Pistons and tried to make the case that they are being disrespected. Huh? Consider these preseason predictions: The Sporting News picked the Pistons to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, CBS Sports.com ranked the Pistons as the third best team in the East, David DuPree of USA Today also had the Pistons third and Sports Illustrated called Detroit the second best team in the East. In addition, most of the NBA analysts on ESPN, TNT and NBA TV generally offer nothing but praise for the Pistons, even though Detroit has failed to return to the Finals since the departures of Coach Larry Brown and center Ben Wallace. I guess that the magazine in question wants to say that is it taking a "countercultural" position on this issue but it is hard to be "countercultural" when most of the mainstream media actually agrees with you that Detroit is one of the top teams in the East. I have consistently predicted that Detroit would not win a title without Brown and Wallace and so far I have been correct; my take is certainly more "countercultural" than an article that offers by the numbers praise for Detroit without addressing why this team has annually underachieved in the playoffs since winning the 2004 championship. The Eastern team that has actually been disrespected is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have one of the best players in the league, rebound very well and play good defense when their lineup is intact. The Cavs used that three pronged formula to beat Detroit four straight times in last year's postseason yet many "experts" suggested that they will struggle to make the playoffs this year. Injuries and a couple contentious contract negotiations led to a mediocre start for the Cavs but they will be right back in the hunt as soon as LeBron James returns to action. As Cleveland Coach Mike Brown said a couple weeks ago after a victory over Toronto, "The thing that I am excited about is that we have time. We don't need to be perfect on either side of the ball right now. We take this one day, one game at a time and--I've said this since I've been here--we use the regular season to get better. We do that, and if our offense continues to get better and our defense continues to get better with our focus on that end of the floor then by playoff time we'll be right where we need to be." Barring a serious injury to James, the Cavs will be a very tough out come playoff time and the article about Detroit being disrespected will look pretty foolish after the Pistons once again fall short of their goal.

The third article was a profile of the late, great Gus Johnson. I'm all in favor of honoring the legends of the game, as any visitor to this site can plainly see--but this article did not really capture the essence of Johnson's career. Johnson and Dave DeBusschere engaged in several memorable playoff battles when Johnson was with the Bullets and DeBusschere was with the Knicks; to write about Johnson and not devote significant space to his rivalry with DeBusschere would be like writing about Magic Johnson without mentioning Larry Bird (or vice versa). My 2006 article about the DeBusschere-Johnson rivalry explains that their matchup not only provided compelling theater but often decided which of their teams would win. As Knicks Coach Red Holzman once said, "People came to see the Knicks play the Bullets and left talking about the mini-war between DeBusschere and Johnson." Also, while the "Mal" article just lightly touched on Johnson's role with the 1973 ABA Champion Indiana Pacers, I interviewed Pacers starting center Mel Daniels and Coach Slick Leonard in order to find out exactly how Johnson made a vital contribution in a key ABA Finals game after Daniels got in foul trouble.

Here's a better prediction than the one forecasting a Knicks-Kings Finals: if "Mal" offers a response to this post, the ratio of snide remarks/off topic comments to actual basketball analysis will be about 10 to 1; I mean, if you have a subpar product and it is publicly available for everyone to see, it is kind of hard to argue that it is not subpar--and what other word could be used to describe wack predictions, the playing of the tired "Detroit is disrespected" card and a superficial look at Gus Johnson that does not do justice to him or to his great matchups with DeBusschere?

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:55 AM

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Kobe Takes Command in the Fourth, Lakers Beat Nuggets, 114-107

Allen Iverson scored 51 points but he had just two in the fourth quarter as Kobe Bryant took over at both ends of the court to lead the Lakers to a 111-107 win in Denver. Iverson shot 18-27 from the field and also had eight assists as he racked up the NBA's highest single-game scoring total this season. The effort was his 11th career 50 point game but his first as a Nugget. Denver dropped to 2-1 in games in which Iverson has topped 40 points; Iverson's teams have gone 54-25 during his career in his 40 point games. Bryant finished with 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and one blocked shot but those numbers hardly tell the complete story of this game. Bryant played less than 31 minutes due to injury and foul trouble but he had a major impact on the final outcome. In the fourth quarter, he scored 12 of the Lakers' 21 points, including six straight in a 1:07 stretch during the final two minutes; in addition to that, he very effectively guarded Carmelo Anthony for the first half of the period and then he shut down Iverson in the last six minutes of the period, chasing him all over the court and holding him to two points. Bryant, who obviously has had more than his share of high-scoring games, explained his mindset when he covered Iverson in the fourth quarter: "I'm not one of these players that believes if a guy gets hot there's nothing you can do about it. I just don't believe that." While Bryant did yeoman's work, he also received help from his supporting cast, notably Vladimir Radmanovic (21 points, 6-9 three point shooting), Derek Fisher (20 points, five assists, five rebounds) and Lamar Odom (17 points, seven rebounds, four assists). Anthony finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Marcus Camby failed to score but tallied a game-high 20 rebounds.

There were many interesting storylines and subplots in this game. The Nuggets came in averaging 106.6 ppg (fourth in the NBA) and the Lakers were right behind them (106.1 ppg, fifth in the NBA), so the resulting shootout is hardly a surprise. However, as ESPN's Jon Barry noted, Denver should clearly be the superior team: "I don't think there's a more talented roster in the NBA." The Nuggets have a former MVP (Iverson), a perennial All-Star (Anthony), the reigning Defensive Player of the Year (Marcus Camby), a former number one overall draft pick (Kenyon Martin) and several other talented role players, yet something is clearly missing with this group. Even granting that Bryant is the best player in the league, the Nuggets have the deeper and more talented team on paper--it's not even close--yet the Lakers have beaten the Nuggets twice in the past week; last Thursday, the Lakers overcame a 17 point deficit to post a 127-99 blowout win. Prior to the game, Barry identified two problems for the Nuggets: (1) They do not make a nightly commitment to play good defense; (2) the players do not sufficiently trust each other and trust the system. Nuggets players openly talked before the season about winning 60 games but after this loss they have the same 11-8 record that the Lakers do.

Another issue for Denver is who should start in the backcourt. Coach George Karl went with Anthony Carter and Iverson against the Lakers, bringing J.R. Smith off of the bench; the two-fold problem with that is (1) neither Carter nor Iverson is big enough to defend most NBA shooting guards and (2) Smith (seven points on 1-10 shooting) is a young, immature player who does not relish being a reserve. Carter drew the early assignment of guarding Bryant, who simply backed him down and shot right over him, scoring seven points in the first 5:37 as the Lakers jumped out to a 17-8 lead. The only good thing for Denver is that the cross-matching meant that Bryant often ended up guarding Carter instead of Iverson, who abused Derek Fisher for 15 first quarter points as Denver closed the gap to 29-24 by the end of the quarter.

Near the end of the quarter, play by play man Mark Jones said, "There are nights when if you are Phil Jackson you just can't figure out why Lamar Odom seems a little bit cursed at the offensive end." Barry responded by praising Odom's versatility but suggested that the Bryant-Odom pairing simply has not worked but that neither player is really at fault. The answer to Jones' question and the explanation for why the Bryant-Odom duo has not clicked is something that I touched upon in my recap (see above link) to last week's Lakers win over the Nuggets. Most people, like Barry, salivate at Odom's size and considerable talent but the problem is that Odom does not really understand how to play--and considering that he is in his ninth season but has not even sniffed an All-Star Game appearance, it is safe to assume that he is not going to suddenly figure things out. Consider a couple plays from the closing stages of the first quarter: on the first one, Odom catches the ball on the wing and has a wide open jumper but he instead hesitates (allowing the defense to get set) and then he barrels into the lane, committing a charge; on the second one, Bryant feeds Odom at the top of the key while Anthony has fallen down and is tying his shoe, leaving Denver's defense in disarray. Odom again has a chance to shoot an open jumper but he instead drives to the hoop and commits another charge. As Doug Collins put it last week when Odom made a similar miscue, Odom turned an easy play into a difficult one. Odom sometimes displays great court vision but he has a perplexing knack for making poor decisions, particularly at the end of games, and that is a big reason that he is not as good as many people seem to believe or as a cursory look at his statistics may suggest.

On Tuesday night, Bryant overcame a bout of the stomach flu and set the tone early by scoring 13 of his 20 points in the first quarter as the Lakers routed the Timberwolves, 116-95; the same ailment sent center Andrew Bynum to the hospital and removed him from the starting lineup versus Denver, though he did eventually see action versus the Nuggets. Bryant told Barry that playing through illness or pain is a learned skill but that rather than talk to Bynum or his teammates about this he provides leadership by example. Lakers' fans probably had stomach trouble of their own late in the first quarter when Eduardo Najera accidentally tripped Bryant, who landed hard on his left shoulder, forcing him to leave the game and to briefly receive treatment in the locker room.

Late in the first quarter, Denver started playing a zone defense. Initially, the Lakers had poor spacing and made some bad passes but they soon figured out how to expose the gaping holes in what Barry called a "Swiss cheese" zone; mainly, Radmanovic camped out behind the three point line on the right baseline and no Nugget ever came near him as he made five straight three pointers. Radmanovic's three point barrage helped the Lakers maintain their lead until Bryant returned at the 6:45 mark of the second quarter. I'm sure that it will not be long before some stats guru and/or fan blogger who did not watch this game looks at the boxscore, notes the positional designations and mocks Bryant's defense by saying that Iverson "torched" him for 51 points. As I already noted, due to cross-matching Bryant was rarely guarding Iverson in the first quarter (Iverson did make a nice fadeaway jumper after a pick and roll play when Bryant was on him). Iverson scored 12 of his points early in the second quarter when Bryant was not even in the game; after Bryant returned from the locker room, trainer Gary Vitti wrapped his shoulder in ice for a few minutes while Bryant sat on the bench. So, when Bryant checked back in, the Lakers led 45-40 and Iverson had 27 points, of which Bryant was "responsible" for a only a handful at most (depending on how one assigns "blame" for pick and roll plays). Bryant guarded Iverson and held him scoreless for the next 5:25. Then, at the 1:20 mark Odom's questionable decision making reappeared, this time at the defensive end of the court. On the previous possession, Bryant drove to the hoop but--unlike Odom--he pulled up to avoid the charge, drew the defense to him and made a left handed shovel pass to Odom, who converted a dunk to put the Lakers up 60-49. The Nuggets responded by running a dribble hand off play beyond the three point line above the top of the key. Bryant overplayed Iverson to deny him the ball, but then Iverson cut back and Eduardo Najera screened Bryant. Odom, who was guarding Najera, had planted himself several feet away from the play. As a Sports Illustrated caption once wryly said of a ground-bound Darryl Dawkins as several players around him jumped for a rebound, he was "awaiting future developments." What developed was a wide open jumper for Iverson. Not surprisingly, a couple possessions later the Nuggets again ran a screen and roll with Najera and Iverson, this time on the left wing. Odom was once again out of position and Bryant committed his third foul as he tried to recover and block Iverson's shot; he got a lot of ball but he also clipped Iverson on his shooting hand. Iverson made the free throws to finish with 33 first half points, his career-best.

Bryant picked up his fourth foul less than a minute into the third period. Iverson was guarding him and Bryant faked toward midcourt and then did a "swim" move (like a defensive lineman) to cut into the lane; when Bryant's hand touched Iverson, Iverson dropped to the court like he'd been shot, a very smart veteran move: he knew that he was beaten anyway, so he exaggerated the contact and hoped to draw the foul. The ploy worked and Bryant had to sit out the rest of the period. Without Bryant guarding him, Iverson "suddenly" became hot again, scoring 16 points in the quarter. His jumper at the 5:06 mark gave the Nuggets their first lead of the game. The Nuggets soon built a four point lead but, as Bryant told ESPN's Lisa Salters after the game, the Lakers kept their cool and tied the score at 88 by the end of the period. Bryant also said to Salters that he felt he had gotten a couple questionable calls but that he knew that if he complained about them that it would destroy his team's morale; instead, he encouraged his teammates to keep the score close so that they could have a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.

Bryant played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter. Jackson put newly acquired Trevor Ariza on Iverson in the early going but he was hardly hiding Bryant, who did a great job on the dangerous Anthony. Bryant broke the tie with a driving layup but Denver answered with a Camby lob to Anthony. Barry commented, "You might say that's Kobe Bryant's fault but Andrew Bynum, who is guarding Marcus Camby, has got to step up and pressure that basketball. Don't let him survey the floor and make that pass." For you economists out there who believe that you can evaluate basketball players without actually watching the games and have decided that Bynum is more valuable to the Lakers than Bryant, what Barry is talking about is that Bryant was fronting Anthony in the post; when the post defender fronts his man, it is essential that the player guarding the ballhandler pressures him and makes it difficult for him to feed the post. Also, usually there is supposed to be backside help if the passer successfully gets the ball to the post player. After that play, Anthony did not score again with Bryant guarding him until Anthony stole the ball from Luke Walton in the open court and converted a fast break dunk at the 5:55 mark to put Denver up, 96-94. The Lakers had just been up 94-90 two minutes prior to that, so Jackson called a timeout to stop the bleeding. Ariza had done a good job on Iverson but when Fisher and Odom returned to the game to replace Jordan Farmar and Ariza respectively then Bryant shifted to Iverson for the rest of the game.

Smith's four free throws sandwiched around a Fisher jumper made the score 100-96 Denver with 4:24 left in the game; prior to Fisher's shot, Bryant had scored all six of the Lakers' fourth quarter points in addition to his defensive work on Anthony and Iverson. After Smith's second pair of free throws, for some reason Odom decided to go one on one in the post against Defensive Player of the Year Camby, shooting a jump hook that had no chance. This gave the Nuggets an opportunity to go up by six but the Lakers dodged that bullet when Bynum stole an Iverson pass. Then, Bryant drove to the hoop and passed to Radmanovic for a three pointer. Iverson answered with his first (and last) points in the quarter, making a strong drive, scoring a layup over Bryant and drawing a foul from Radmanovic. After that play, the Lakers once again tried the "Lamar Odom experience," this time resulting in a shot clock violation; as Barry said after that play, it would have been better if Odom had forced a shot because it might have gone in and would have at least given the Lakers an offensive rebounding opportunity (please remember this play the next time you criticize Bryant for "forcing" a shot or the next time some talking head says that the problem with the Lakers is that Odom does not get the ball enough). The Lakers dodged this second bullet that Odom attempted to shoot in their collective feet when Bryant stuck to Iverson like flypaper and blocked his three point shot. Bryant apparently had seen enough of Odom running the offense; he dribbled into the right corner, was trapped by two defenders but reversed himself and dribbled back out to the right wing when he glimpsed Bynum cutting to the hoop. Bryant made a perfect lob pass from just inside the three point line and Bynum, who has a long reach and excellent hands, dunked the ball to pull the Lakers to within 102-101. Radmanovic then stole the ball and split a pair of free throws to tie the score.

Odom and Smith dove on the floor for a loose ball during Denver's next possession. The officials called a jump ball and both players were jawing at each other as they stood up. Bryant walked right up to Odom, said something to calm him down and tapped Odom's chest for emphasis. Odom won the tip, Bryant caught the ball and drove all the way down court to score a layup. Kenyon Martin fouled Bryant on the play but Bryant missed the free throw, his only miss in six attempts (I just saw some stat about Bryant's free throw percentage in the last two minutes of games, so I'm sure that miss will be more ammunition to "prove" that he is not the league's best clutch player, notwithstanding how he completely took over the fourth quarter of this game at both ends of the court). Bynum made a great block to nullify an Anthony drive and Bryant scored on another layup to put the Lakers up, 106-102. Anthony's finger roll kept Denver in contention but Bryant all but closed the door by nailing a jumper from the left baseline. The game ended with Martin splitting a pair of free throws, Fisher making three out of four free throws and Anthony scoring a layup.

After the game, Barry summed everything up thusly: "If this L.A. Lakers team can keep it close and you have the best player in the NBA, you have a chance to win."

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:20 AM

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

That's Amare: Stoudemire Scores 42, Suns Outlast Pacers

Amare Stoudemire scored 42 points and Steve Nash dished out 17 assists as the Phoenix Suns built a 15 point lead, fell behind by five points in the fourth quarter and then rallied to pull out a 121-117 road win against the Pacers. "We had two or three games out there," Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni said with a chuckle after the game. "We played well, they played well and we played well. It ended on a good note." Stoudemire's points and Nash's assists are both season-highs for any Suns player in those categories. Stoudemire shot 15-24 from the field and 12-13 from the free throw line. He also had 13 rebounds and four assists and managed to play the last 6:14 of the game despite having five fouls. Nash scored 17 points on 6-9 shooting, though he surprisingly missed two free throws (5-7). Nash also contributed six rebounds and his +17 plus/minus number was a game-high, just ahead of Stoudemire's +15. Grant Hill had a nice all-around game (16 points on 7-9 shooting, five rebounds, six assists), while Raja Bell (17 points, 6-15 shooting) and Shawn Marion (14 points, 5-15 field goal shooting, 12 rebounds) also scored in double figures. Leandro Barbosa (four points on 1-8 shooting) and Boris Diaw (two points on 1-3 shooting) struggled and Brian Skinner (eight points, six rebounds) was the only productive reserve for the Suns. Jermaine O'Neal (30 points on 14-20 shooting, 11 rebounds) had his best game of the season by far, Jamaal Tinsley used his size in the post to overpower Nash on more than a few occasions (19 points, 12 assists) and Mike Dunleavy added 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Early in the game it looked like the Suns would run the Pacers right out of the gym; Phoenix led 24-14 at the 5:57 mark of the first quarter, which roughly projects to a 192-112 final score. Obviously, nothing that extreme is likely to happen in an NBA game but the Suns did lead by as much as 38-24 before a couple late baskets pulled the Pacers to within 38-29. Stoudemire had 10 points and six rebounds in the first quarter, while Nash had six points and five assists. Tinsley helped keep the Pacers in contention with his nine points and four assists; he often bulled his way to the hoop, muscling Nash and then either scoring over him or passing to an open teammate if a help defender came over.

In the second quarter the Suns once again built a double digit lead and when Stoudemire's two free throws with 2:38 left made the score 66-51 it looked like Phoenix might be ahead by more than 20 by halftime. Instead, the Pacers outscored the Suns 13-3 down the stretch to remain very much in the ballgame. Stoudemire led both teams with 23 points and seven rebounds at intermission, while Nash had eight points and nine assists. O'Neal and Tinsley each scored 14 points for the Pacers. The Pacers enjoyed advantages in both rebounding (26-22) and points in the paint (36-26) and they held the Suns to 0-8 shooting from three point range (the Pacers finished the game with a 50-45 rebounding edge and a 58-46 points in the paint edge, with the 58 points being a season-high for Indiana). The difference was that the Suns shot 19-19 from the free throw line in the first half while the Pacers shot 8-11.

Let's see if this story sounds familiar: the Suns built a double digit lead in the third quarter (84-72) but the Pacers rallied to get within two points (88-86). A mini-run by Phoenix gave the Suns a 96-90 lead heading into the final 12 minutes. Brian Skinner's dunk off of a feed by Nash put Phoenix up 98-90 but the Pacers answered with 10 straight points to take their first lead of the second half. The teams traded baskets for a few minutes before Tinsley and Dunleavy hit back to back three pointers to put Indiana up 112-107. Two Stoudemire free throws and a Hill jumper narrowed the margin to one but then Dunleavy once again hit a three pointer. It is important to note that Dunleavy kept getting wide open looks because the Suns were forced to trap both O'Neal and Tinsley because they did not have anyone who could guard either player one on one; problems guarding a team that has a good power forward and a penetrating point guard could prove fatal if/when the Spurs or Jazz come calling at playoff time: while the Spurs and most other championship teams rely on the ability to get key stops down the stretch, the Suns hang their hats on being able to convert at the offensive end of the court--and on this night, against this team, that would prove to be good enough. A Stoudemire jump hook and two Nash free throws left the Pacers clinging to a 117-115 lead with 1:11 remaining. The next possession went very strangely and after a few passes Dunleavy caught the ball and did a lot of aimless dribbling before launching a fadeaway shot that barely beat the shot clock and did not draw iron. Hill plucked the ball out of the air and passed ahead to Nash, whose cold blooded three pointer put the Suns ahead for good.

The last time the Suns came to Indiana, they beat the Pacers 103-92. After that contest, Coach D'Antoni said, "Nothing great on our part. But we did the job. We are lucky to get this one." His comments after Tuesday's victory were very similar: "We just struggle to play for 48 minutes right now...but to get a win on their home floor is good no matter how we do it." Later he added, "We just weren't real sharp the whole game. Our pace and their pace together kind of set it up that a 15 point lead is not real safe but we'll take it and go on to the next game."

Toward the end of his postgame standup, I asked him, "You mentioned a lack of focus a couple times. Was that mainly at the defensive end in the second half?"

Coach D'Antoni replied, "It's hard to figure it out all the time. It's a long year and we are just up and down with it a little bit. We'll figure it out. I don't know; if I knew the answer I'd tell you."

Stoudemire offered this telling insight into his team's mindset: "We're a confident team. Sometimes we're a little too confident because teams fight back but we know that we can get the win. That hurts us sometimes but we have to do a better job when we're up 15 of closing teams out. We have to find that killer instinct. We have a nice group of guys but sometimes we have to get hard core."

I asked Stoudemire, "What specifically broke down defensively to let them come back?"

He answered, "They shot well and we missed shots; that's all that was. We could have stepped up our intensity level in the last three minutes of the first half but they made tough shots and we missed some shots. That is the way the game is played sometimes but there are no excuses. We have to put teams away."

Nash is keenly aware of his team's tendency to wander mentally and he is not at all happy about it: "We had a lot of letdowns, whether it was missing layups or having mental lapses defensively. It is frustrating because we had a game that we could have possibly put to rest at halftime and all of a sudden (in the fourth quarter) we're losing. It is just a relief because we made the plays down the stretch and got the stops when it counted but this was not a very gratifying win."

I asked Nash, "Could you pinpoint one or two specific things that went wrong defensively?"

He answered, "I think that it was just mental lapses and just not being alert, forgetting the game plan and falling asleep. I think that sometimes we score easily and we take for granted that if we let up for a minute that teams can come back on you. In this league, everyone is talented."

Later, Nash said, "It is a win and it is a road win. We have a lot to be thankful for but we have to keep working and trying to stop some of the mental lapses...We don't live up to the standards of discipline and energy and cohesion that we set for ourselves." Nash seemed so glum and morose that I said to him, "It sounds like you are frustrated. Is this something that you talk about as a team or do you plan to talk to certain players about it?"

He answered, "Yeah, I mean, we know; we come into the locker room and it is silent, like a loss. Everyone knows that we have to do better and that we set higher standards for ourselves. It is more relieving (to win this game) than gratifying." In response to someone else's question, he went so far as to say that it almost would have been better to play hard the whole game and lose then to be so inconsistent and blow so many opportunities.

I asked Nash, "Does this concern you from the standpoint that if something like this happened in the postseason that it could possibly cost you a game that could swing the outcome of a series?"

As soon as I got the words out of my mouth, he immediately responded with great conviction, "Absolutely. Absolutely. That's happened to us in the past and I think that's why we're not excited to win, because we know better. We know that we have to continue to live by higher standards."

*****************************
Notes From Courtside:

In a recent post (and the comments that followed it), I talked about "talent" and "athleticism" and said, "I think that the way many people define athletic ability is very narrow." Specifically, I think that Steve Nash is an excellent athlete even though he is not a high flyer and does not possess blazing straight line speed. I had an opportunity to discuss this subject with Coach D'Antoni, Coach O'Brien, former player/current broadcaster Dan Majerle, Suns President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Steve Kerr and Nash himself. I gathered so much material from them that I will save most of their comments and insights for a separate post devoted entirely to that subject. However, to whet your appetite, I will share Coach O'Brien's thoughts about Nash and what makes him a special point guard. I asked Coach O'Brien, "A lot of times fans will make an arbitrary distinction about which players are 'athletic' and which players are 'skilled.' Wouldn't you say that Nash's shooting ability and his passing ability are athletic skills, also?"

O'Brien replied, "He's very athletic. Sometimes people confuse quickness, Allen Iverson-type quickness, with athletic ability. They look at Steve Nash (and try) to figure out why is he so good. He's very athletic, he's in phenomenal condition, he never stops and he has a whole arsenal of shots--he can score inside, he can hit deep shots. He never gives up his dribble until he has something positive to do with the ball, either to get an open shot for himself or create something for somebody else. Otherwise, he keeps on going and keeps on probing; that is really, I would say, a very, very unique skill that he that a lot of us coaches around the NBA would like to see more people on our teams have."

I asked O'Brien, "Is that a skill that you can really coach or develop in a point guard or is that something that you either have or you don't?"

He replied, "I think that you can develop it but it takes a while. In his case, it's fairly innate. I don't think that anybody took him into a gym and taught it to him over a weekend."

I then followed up by asking, "If you are trying to develop that skill in a player who does not innately have it, how would you do it? Would you show him film?"

O'Brien answered, "We show film--for instance, to (Pacer reserve guards) Andre (Owens) and Travis (Diener), as an example. We want them to, in practice or one on one on the court, to go and drive the ball to the charge circle. If you don't get anything, dribble it back out. Dribble it back in, dribble it back out, look for your shot, look for the pass, maintain your dribble. That's the ideal point guard. Some point guards get in the paint and leave their feet, which is the worst thing that you can do. Some get in there and predetermine what they are going to do with the basketball--this time I'm going to get my shot, this time I'm going to pass. Nash reacts to the defense and he always maintains his dribble and as a result he's always an MVP candidate."

***

In addition to talking with Coach D'Antoni about Nash during my one on one pregame interview with him, I also asked him to make an early evaluation of the team's offseason moves that resulted in the acquisition of Grant Hill and the loss of Kurt Thomas and to single out an area in which his team may be stronger this year and an area in which his team may be weaker. He replied, "I don't think that there is any area in which we are not as strong. With the emergence of Brian Skinner, he gives us the strength and defensive presence that Kurt gave us last year. With Grant Hill, we added a seven-time All-Star. That's hard to do; that's really hard to do at this stage of the game and he's healthy. He just gives you a player who can just take over a game and there aren't that many players out there in the league who can do that. I think that everybody else should be a little bit better, especially Leandro and Boris getting a little bit older and Amare learning different things. So, I don't see us being weaker in anything. We still have to get better--it doesn't mean that we are better than the best--but I think that we improved our team."

I followed up by asking him, "Outside observers might feel that with Skinner you don't have quite the post presence that you did with Kurt Thomas and Skinner might not have quite the ability to hit the outside shot that Thomas does."

D'Antoni replied, "Kurt only played about 17 minutes for us. He missed months of the season. So, I think we're good; I think we're better."

Two questions that I had before the season about the Hill acquisition were how he would fit in to the drive and kick scheme since he is not a great three point shooter and whether his body could hold up for an entire season at the fast pace that the Suns play. D'Antoni brushed aside both concerns: "First, he's a great driver and kicker. Now, if he's on the receiving end of the drive and kick, one, he makes enough threes to keep everybody honest; he's not a great three point shooter but he's not a bad three point shooter, either. He's about 30% now and he's learning when to pick his spots. Also, it's a little bit of a myth (that we only shoot threes)--he doesn't always have to shoot a three; he can take a dribble and shoot his midrange jumper. He's finding a blend there and he fits in perfectly with what we do; one more playmaker on the floor really helps us out. For him over the long haul, he's completely healthy. I mean, we should be saying that over months and months that Steve Nash can't handle this pace. Well, they're both about the same age. He is one year older than Steve. There is nothing wrong with him physically; he's completely well. Now, at age 35, might he break down? He might. We don't know that but his past problems were due to things not being right structurally. He's right, right now, so we don't see him breaking down or missing games but it could happen. It could happen to Steve or to any of our guys but our doctors and trainers are pretty secure that he's good. Anybody could break down during a long season but they don't think that he is at any more risk than anybody else."

***

Before the game, while discussing some of the things that have transpired in recent years in FIBA competition, Kerr relayed an interesting anecdote that D'Antoni--an assistant coach for Team USA--told him about Kobe Bryant. Prior to each game in last summer's FIBA Americas tournament, Bryant asked the coaching staff, "Who do you want me to take out?" In other words, Bryant wanted to know who was the toughest perimeter threat on each team so that he could study his tendencies on film and then completely neutralize him on the court. I said to Kerr, "That sounds like a sniper zeroing in on a target" and Kerr replied, "Yeah--and he was serious." Kerr went on to say that Bryant's "focus" and "bravado" added an essential missing element to the squad and elevated everyone else's play. Kerr noted that the previous Team USA squad had performed reasonably well other than the infamous loss to Greece but that it lacked a certain "swagger," as he termed it, and that Team USA did not have a "player who everyone feared." Kerr literally shook his head in wonderment as he described Bryant's impact on Team USA.

***

After the rest of the reporters were done talking to Stoudemire after the game, I asked him if he has been in contact yet with Gilbert Arenas, who recently underwent microfracture surgery. Stoudemire told me that he has not spoken with Arenas yet but that he plans to call him when the Suns go to Washington this Friday. He added that Arenas' microfracture surgery was on a non-weight bearing bone so it was not quite as serious but Stoudemire agreed with me that Arenas does have to be cautious about not coming back too soon.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:50 AM

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

NBA Leaderboard, Part IV

Boston is still on top of the standings but without fanfare San Antonio has moved into a virtual tie with the Celtics. LeBron James' quest to win his first scoring title--and prevent Kobe Bryant from becoming the first player to win three straight since Michael Jordan--has been briefly put on hold by a finger injury.

Best Five Records
-------------------

1) Boston Celtics, 14-2
2) San Antonio Spurs, 15-3
3) Orlando Magic, 15-4
4) Phoenix Suns, 13-4
5) Utah Jazz, 13-5

The San Antonio Spurs have won there straight and eight of their past 10 and have almost caught up with the Boston Celtics. The Spurs received a bit of a scare this weekend when Tim Duncan sprained his knee and his ankle but MRI results revealed no significant damage. Orlando's hot start has deservedly fueled MVP talk about Dwight Howard; Orlando actually started almost as well last year (14-5) before fading to a 40-42 record but Howard's improvement and the team's added depth (Rashard Lewis, a healthy Hedo Turkoglu) will prevent that from happening this season.

Top Ten Scorers (and a few other notables)
------------------

1) LeBron James, CLE 30.7 ppg
2) Kobe Bryant, LAL 27.6 ppg
3) Tracy McGrady, HOU 25.9 ppg
4) Carlos Boozer, UTA 25.4 ppg
5) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 25.3 ppg
6) Richard Jefferson, NJN 24.8 ppg
7) Kevin Martin, SAC 24.5 ppg
8) Baron Davis, GSW 23.6 ppg
9) Allen Iverson, DEN 23.5 ppg
10) Dwight Howard, ORL 23.5 ppg

14) Yao Ming, HOU 22.1 ppg

16) Paul Pierce, BOS 21.1 ppg
17) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 20.9 ppg

20) Ray Allen, BOS 20.1 ppg

22) Kevin Durant, SEA 19.6 ppg

25) Kevin Garnett, BOS 19.4 ppg

This leaderboard has somewhat stabilized at the top. James remains in command, though Bryant is just two 50 point games away from catching up; in any case, it definitely looks like this will be a two man race. Howard looks like he could average 25 ppg this season and then do so for years to come. Nowitzki got off to a slow start but has recently picked up the pace, scoring at least 25 points in three of his last five games.

Top Ten Rebounders (and a few other notables)
----------------------

1) Marcus Camby, DEN 14.7 rpg
2) Dwight Howard, ORL 14.6 rpg
3) Chris Kaman, LAC 14.1 rpg
4) Emeka Okafor, CHA 12.0 rpg
5) Kevin Garnett, BOS 11.6 rpg
6) Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cle 11.3 rpg
7) Carlos Boozer, UTA 11.2 rpg
8) Shawn Marion, PHX 11.1 rpg
9) Al Jefferson, MIN 10.9 rpg
10) Drew Gooden, CLE 10.3 rpg

12) Al Horford, ATL 10.2 rpg

15) Yao Ming, HOU 10.1 rpg
16) Andrew Bynum, LAL 10.1 rpg

19) Tim Duncan, SAS, 8.9 rpg

22) Jason Kidd, NJN 8.6 rpg
23) Ben Wallace, CHI 8.6 rpg

27) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 8.2 rpg

33) Shaquille O'Neal, MIA 7.7 rpg
34) LeBron James, CLE 7.6 rpg

48) Kobe Bryant, LAL 6.1 rpg

Kaman is the surprise member of the top ten and it looks like he plans on staying there all season long. People like to suggest that LeBron James is a one man team but the other two members of Cleveland's frontcourt, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden, are both in the top ten in rebounding; defense, rebounding and James' brilliance is the proven recipe for Cleveland to be successful. Rookie Al Horford is a more productive player right now than the more celebrated Kevin Durant but, unfortunately, he has no shot at winning the Rookie of the Year award unless he can boost his scoring to at least the 13-15 ppg range. Ben Wallace had a season-high 19 rebounds on Saturday as he moved closer to the top 20.

Top Ten Playmakers
----------------------

1) Steve Nash, PHX 11.1 apg
2) Jason Kidd, NJN 10.7 apg
3) Chris Paul, NOH 10.1 apg
4) Deron Williams, UTA 8.7 apg
5) Baron Davis, GSW 8.6 apg
6) Jamaal Tinsley, IND 8.4 apg
7) LeBron James, CLE 8.1 apg
8) Chauncey Billups, DET 7.9 apg
9) Jose Calderon, TOR 7.8 apg
10) T.J. Ford, TOR 7.4 apg

Maybe Jason Kidd will actually push Steve Nash for the assists title after all, though I suspect that Nash will get some separation by putting up some 18 or 20 assist games, particularly when some weaker Eastern Conference teams venture west and arrive in Phoenix to play their fourth game in five days. Paul and Williams will always be linked together and not too long from now they may very well be annually fighting for the top two spots. How about that point guard rotation in Toronto, with both players ranking in the top ten in the league in assists? Calderon and Ford are playing virtually the same number of minutes.

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:28 AM

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Early Take on the MVP/RoY Races

BrewHoop.com will be polling several NBA bloggers throughout the season to get their takes on the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year races. Contributors have been instructed to rank candidates on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 and 5-4-3-2-1 point scale respectively (i.e., 10 is a person's first choice for MVP), based on the entire season to date, not who we think will be the best player by the end of the year or who has played well in a recent stretch. The results of the first poll can be found here.

Four of my top five MVP candidates finished in the top five in the overall voting; I rated Tim Duncan higher and Chris Paul lower than the consensus. Eight of my ten MVP candidates finished in the top ten; I left off Carlos Boozer and Manu Ginobili (they would be in my top 15) in favor of Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming. As for Rookie of the Year, I am not surprised that Kevin Durant finished first but I have him third right now. Three of my five Rookie of the Year selections were consensus picks; I left off Jamario Moon and Yi Jianlian in favor of Sean Williams and Luis Scola. The group is wrong to ignore Williams, who ranks in the top ten in the league (not just among rookies) in field goal percentage and blocked shots; he is a more productive player, right now, than Durant and Williams is making his contributions on a much better team. Moon and Scola are probably a wash right now but if we are talking about production to date then I would not put Yi in the top five. Here is my complete ballot exactly as I submitted it:

MVP

10-LeBron James--He is racking up "big" triple doubles (with 30-plus points) like Michael Jordan in 1989 and has improved on defense as well.
9-Kobe Bryant--He is still the best all-around, two way player in the game but the voting instructions are to select who is playing the best right now and no one is playing better than LeBron.
8-Dwight Howard: His numbers--24 ppg, 15 rpg, nearly 3 bpg--demand that he rank highly in any MVP discussion.
7-Kevin Garnett: Barring a complete collapse by the Celtics, the media will likely give him the MVP. He is putting up good numbers, which he always does, but I'd be lying if I said I'd take him over LeBron or Kobe. Honestly, I don't think that he is better than Duncan or Nowitzki but he has been more productive than either of those guys so far.
6-Tim Duncan: He's not putting up big individual numbers but does anybody believe that the Spurs would have the best record in the West without him?
5-Steve Nash: Amazingly, his shooting percentages are even higher than his off the charts numbers from last season.
4-Dirk Nowitzki: His shooting numbers are down but his assists and blocks are up.
3-Chris Paul: Career-high numbers across the board.
2-Tracy McGrady: Houston's record without him in recent seasons is terrible.
1-Yao Ming: Steady inside presence on an up and down Houston team.

ROY

5-Al Horford: Nearly averaging a double-double and shooting a much better percentage than Durant.
4-Sean Williams: Ranks in the top ten in the league (not just among rookies) in field goal percentage and blocked shots.
3-Kevin Durant: I realize that Durant will likely be a landslide winner due to the unrelenting hype but the only significant edge he has over my top two selections is ppg--and that is because he is playing a lot of minutes for a bad team and he has the green light to jack up shots despite his poor field goal percentage.
2-Juan Carlos Navarro: Logged at least 35 minutes in four straight games, played a big role in Memphis going 2-2 in those contests.
1-Luis Scola: Already has three 20 point games, ranks 11th in the NBA in field goal percentage and has emerged as a solid rebounder.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:03 AM

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Butler Does it, Washington Improves to 5-4 Without Arenas

Gilbert Arenas is out of action for at least three months due to his two knee surgeries--including a microfracture procedure--but the Washington Wizards are actually playing better without "Agent Zero." Caron Butler scored 29 points on 10-18 field goal shooting as Washington defeated Toronto 101-97; Butler also had seven assists, three rebounds, three steals and no turnovers. The Wizards are now 5-4 this season without Arenas after only going 3-5 while he was in the lineup. Butler is putting up the best numbers of his career by far in all three shooting categories and is scoring a career-best 23.0 ppg. Antawn Jamison also had a big game against Toronto, producing 28 points and 14 rebounds. Jamison shot 11-18 from the field, including nine straight makes after a slow start. Both Butler and Jamison shoot a better percentage from the field than Arenas does, so maybe one thing that we are finding out is that when Arenas returns the Wizards would be better off if "Agent Zero" shot less--particularly the long jumpers that he loves to launch early in the shot clock--and passed more to Butler and Jamison. Butler has blossomed into a multidimensional player who can score inside and out and who also rebounds, defends and passes well.

Last year, Arenas was touted in some quarters as an MVP candidate. If he is truly that valuable then it would be logical to expect that in his absence Butler and Jamison would not only be attracting more defensive attention but that they would also suffer without Arenas' playmaking; that combination of factors should lead to lower shooting percentages for both players. However, Butler has shot 78-143 (.545) from the field in the nine games without Arenas and Jamison has shot 84-66 (.506) from the field in those contests, well above both of their career averages, better than they have ever shot while playing with Arenas and better than every season in their respective careers except one (Jamison shot .535 from the field in 2003-04 while playing for Dallas). One could argue that this is a small sample of games but, at least in terms of this season, it is a balanced sample (eight games with Arenas, nine games without him). It will be interesting to continue to monitor the Wizards' progress as a team as well as the numbers posted by Butler and Jamison.

The Raptors were also missing their most celebrated player and they were obviously affected by the absence of Chris Bosh (who has a strained groin muscle) much more acutely than the Wizards were bothered by the loss of Arenas. Jason Kapono led the Raptors with 23 points and surprising rookie Jamario Moon had a double double (16 points, 13 rebounds) but Andrea Bargnani (four points, 2-13 field goal shooting) had an awful game and Toronto shot just .432 from the field.

At halftime, the Wizards retired Earl Monroe's number 10 jersey. He is just the fourth Wizard/Bullet to have his number retired, joining Gus Johnson, Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. Monroe, a Hall of Famer and one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, spent the first four seasons of his career with the franchise, then known as the Baltimore Bullets. He was the 1968 Rookie of the Year and he made the 1969 All-NBA First Team after averaging 25.8 ppg. The Bullets traded Monroe to the New York Knicks in 1971 and he formed the "Rolls Royce" backcourt with fellow Hall of Famer Walt Frazier as the Knicks captured the 1973 NBA title. During this year's All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, Monroe shared with me his memories of playing against various ABA teams--including Dr. J's New York Nets--in some hotly contested interleague preseason games. The Knicks retired his number 15 jersey in 1986, so Monroe is now just the eleventh NBA player to have his jersey retired by at least two teams. Several of Monroe's contemporaries were on hand for the ceremony, including Mike Davis, Mike Riordan, Archie Clark, Kevin Loughery, Phil Chenier and Wes Unseld. Davis also played briefly in the ABA and I had a chance to speak with him at the ABA Reunion during the 2005 All-Star Weekend in Denver.

During the third quarter, Monroe joined announcers Chenier and Steve Buckhantz at the broadcast table to talk about the ceremony and his great career. Monroe explained how he developed his unique playing style: "It was all trial and error for me because I started at the age of 14. Other guys had been playing (from a younger age). What I did was just go to the playgrounds, try this and try that. If it worked, I kept it; if it didn't work I just discarded it." Monroe was not a high flyer but he mastered the spin move and was able to get a shot off against anybody at any time. Chenier described Monroe's style as "herky jerky" because he always had his defender off balance; it has been said that Monroe himself did not know what he was going to do before he did it so his defender had no way of knowing, either. Chenier said that Jamison uses some Monroe-like moves and he also showed some film clips of Tony Parker and LeBron James utilizing spin moves to good effect but I think that the current player whose game is most reminiscent of Monroe's may be Sam Cassell. Like Monroe, Cassell is not a high flyer but he is a master at getting his defender off balance and figuring out how to get off a good shot in any situation.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:05 AM

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