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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Gibson Shoots Down Rookies

Cleveland's Daniel Gibson shot 11-20 from three point range and scored 33 points as the Sophomores defeated the Rookies, 136-109. Read all about that, the Hall of Fame press conference, Brandon Roy's reaction to getting his first All-Star ring and more in the second report that I filed from New Orleans for HoopsHype.com (10/7/15 edit: the link to HoopsHype.com no longer works, so I have posted the original article below). In case you missed it, here is the link to my first report: Learning About the French Quarter

The NBA rookies saw too much "boobie" in New Orleans on Friday--Daniel "Boobie" Gibson shot an amazing 11-20 from three point range as the Sophomores once again routed the Rookies, 136-109. This has become a nearly annual rite of passage for the first year players: they show up "star struck," as their coach Darrell Walker put it after the game, and basically look like they are moving in cement shoes on defense as the Sophomores make up for their defeat from the previous year. No doubt this year's rookies will exact a measure of revenge in next year's contest.

Gibson did not attempt a single two point shot. One time when he was being closely guarded he did the old Larry Bird move: step back and shoot an even deeper three pointer. Of course, Gibson made that shot, too. Rudy Gay added 22 points for the Sophomores, LaMarcus Aldridge had 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists, Jordan Farmar contributed 17 points and 12 assists and Brandon Roy--the only participant from either team who will play in the big game on Sunday--had 17 points and seven assists. Kevin Durant, who likely would have been the best player in college basketball this year had he not turned pro early, is understandably more comfortable playing against players who are closer to his own age. He led the rookies with 23 points on 10-19 shooting--a much better than normal percentage for him--and he also had eight rebounds and four assists.

On the other hand, Durant played little defense and tied for the team-high with five turnovers. On several occasions, Durant completely stalled the team's ball movement by trying in vain to break down his defender with one on one dribbling moves that led nowhere. He can be a decent ballhandler at times but I am still much less impressed with this aspect of his game than other commentators appear to be. The Rookies turned the ball over 24 times, a number that would give a coach a heart attack if it happened in a regular season or playoff game.

After the game, I asked Durant why the Rookies annually take such a pounding in this game. He replied quite sensibly (if a bit unimaginatively), "I wish I could tell you; then we would have won the game...It's tough to win when a guy makes 11 three pointers." Gay countered, "If he would have only hit five (three pointers) we still would have won. We were in a similar situation last year and the Sophomores just took it to us." Even though this is just an exhibition game, I think it really provides a dramatic demonstration of the difference between being fresh out of college versus having a year and a half of NBA experience under your belt.

Earlier in the day, the Sheraton hotel hosted the annual press conference to announce the 15 finalists for Hall of Fame induction, a group headlined by NBA coaches Pat Riley and Don Nelson and NBA players Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Adrian Dantley, Richie Guerin, Dennis Johnson and Chris Mullin. Guerin, Dantley and Mullin were also finalists last year. The Basketball Hall of Fame encompasses all levels of the game, so it is fair to wonder if NBA players are overlooked in the selection process--and that goes double for ABA stars like Artis Gilmore, Mel Daniels and Roger Brown. In 2005 and 2007, no NBA players were inducted, something that Jerry Colangelo, a Hall of Famer in his own right, described to me as an "anomaly" that he sincerely hopes does not happen again. I asked Colangelo what he thinks of the idea of the NBA establishing a pro basketball hall of fame to honor NBA and ABA players, much like college basketball and other entities have their own halls of fame. He replied, "Personally, I would be against something like that. There are plenty of other Halls of Fame and we don't need another one to compete with what exists. I think that for the most part it has been a fair process and players get their due. Hopefully, as I said, what happens going forward will be the proof in the pudding. I think that it will balance out."

I specifically asked him about the plights of ABA legends Artis Gilmore, Roger Brown and Slick Leonard, who have yet to be inducted in the Hall of Fame despite their tremendous accomplishments. I mentioned that ABA fans think that the fierce rivalry between the leagues may still be affecting the voting process decades later. Colangelo did not say anything directly about Gilmore, Brown and Leonard but offered this general response, "I don't think that anyone should be given the short end of the stick. Some of these (ABA) players played in both leagues and went back and forth. Again, I am hopeful that over a period of time these people will be recognized for their contributions."

Nets General Manager Rod Thorn was a New York Nets assistant coach in the ABA, so he witnessed firsthand how great that league was. ABA fans may be a bit disappointed in his take on the subject of the ABA and the Hall of Fame. When I asked him whether he thought that the ABA has been slighted--citing Gilmore and Brown by name--he answered, "Those players were great players, as you intimated. They certainly have been considered for the Hall of Fame. To me, I think that the really great players from both leagues are in the Hall of Fame. I don't think that there is a need for another Hall of Fame, to tell you the truth. I think that this one takes care of all aspects of basketball. There are great players and really great players and I think that the really great players end up getting into the Hall of Fame."

Dominique Wilkins was one of 11 Hall of Famers who sat on the stage as TNT's David Aldridge read the names of this year's Hall of Fame finalists. After the ceremony, Wilkins candidly spoke with me about the experience of waiting to hear his name called prior to his nomination: "It's a lot less stress; I've been through it and I've done it, it's over and I can just welcome the new guys coming in. It's stressful, man, not knowing if you are going to be selected or not. You go through months of stress. This is the honor of honors, individually, to be appreciated and respected by your peers and others. It's nerve wracking."

The fact that Wilkins did not make it on the first ballot--he was voted in the second time around--reinforces the belief that there is something wrong with the system but Wilkins does not fault the process even though it slighted him initially: "You're honoring people across the world. It's hard, because you're looking at more than just basketball talent--character and respect. It's a very tedious and hard process. I think that our Hall of Fame is unique because it is the only one that covers the whole world. I don't think that we should change that."

After the Hall of Fame press conference, the media availability sessions for the All-Star Saturday night participants and the All-Stars themselves were held in succession. Not surprisingly, Kobe Bryant attracted the largest crowd. I fought my way through to get close enough to hear him talk about his injured pinkie finger and even managed to get in a few questions. Someone asked Bryant if he considered competing in the Three Point Shootout lefthanded. I remember when Bryant attempted to play in an actual game with a separated shoulder before Coach Phil Jackson yanked him out of the contest when it became apparent that he could not raise his arm over his head and therefore had to shoot lefthanded, so I would not put anything past Bryant. He instantly shot this idea down, though, noting the pedigrees of the Shootout competitors and saying, "I'm confident, but I'm not that confident."

I asked Bryant if his doctors have discussed with him the possibility that he may permanently damage the finger if he elects to forgo surgery and play out the rest of the season. He replied, "No, I'll just be the cool grandfather who can stretch his pinkie all the way out to here (gestures to the side). There is no ligament there holding it in. I got lucky. This knuckle right here (points to the base of the finger) was down here (points midway down his hand) but I didn't hurt this one (points to the middle of his pinkie finger). So I'm not going to have any damage or any fingers that look like Larry Bird's." He added that the most painful part of the injury happened when trainer Gary Vitti pulled it back into place, a moment of agony that was captured on national television. "After that, it felt like the finger just wasn't there. It felt like a spaghetti noodle," Bryant concluded.

While a veritable horde gathered around Bryant, Brandon Roy played the role of the lonely Maytag repairman. When I walked over to his table, I pulled up a chair and basically had a one on one conversation with him for a few moments. I asked him if he liked having things this way or if he would prefer to get as much attention as Bryant does. He answered, "I like it this way. I'm a low key, under the radar type of guy. I don't need attention and I am more comfortable this way." I pointed out that the flip side of that is that this could lead to Roy being underappreciated, because the guys who get the most attention are usually the ones who are considered to be the best players. "I think that those guys have done tremendous things in their careers," Roy said. "I'm not at their level yet. Hopefully, one day--even though I don't need attention--I will be mentioned as an MVP candidate."

I said to Roy that the truly great players always work on something new each off season and I asked him what his project will be this summer. He answered that he plans to improve his midrange jumper and his three point shot. I noticed that Roy was perhaps the only player who brought his All-Star ring to the media availability session. I asked him if he would open the box and show it to me and he happily complied. It occurred to me that I never learned how the rings are distributed, so I asked Roy how he got his. He told me that the players went into a room and the individually labeled boxes were on a table and the coach handed them out one at a time. The veteran All-Stars played it off, Roy said, but he was quite thrilled: "I was like, 'Wow.' I was in awe. I keep looking at it. I'll probably put it on my finger once I go back to my room and then wear it around all day. It's truly an honor."

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:07 AM


Friday, February 15, 2008

Learning About the French Quarter

All-Star Weekend is well underway. Here is the link to my first report for HoopsHype.com (10/7/15 edit: the link to HoopsHype.com no longer works, so I have posted the original article below):

This is the fourth time that I have covered NBA All-Star Weekend and each time represented the first time that I had visited the host city. In Denver (2005) I immediately noticed the fresh air and beautiful mountain skyline. Houston (2006) made an instant impression by virtue of its sheer physical size. Las Vegas (2007) has the glitz and the glamour, the landscape dotted with gaudy hotels/casinos. The first sensation I experienced in New Orleans was a wonderful aroma of food in the airport; I'm not sure what was being cooked but whatever it was smelled great.

The newest flavors that have been added to the city are huge posters/billboards promoting All-Star Weekend. One of them features Kevin Garnett and the tagline, "Basketball is a brotherhood."

During the shuttle ride to the Marriott we did not see many signs of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought upon this city, partially because of the rebuilding efforts that have taken place since then and partially because we did not travel through the most afflicted areas. We passed by some of New Orleans' famous cemeteries and our driver Derek explained why the tombs are above ground: the whole area is below sea level, so the ground is saturated with water and people do not want to bury their loved ones in those muddy conditions.

After arriving at the Marriott and picking up my credential, I had several hours of free time before the day's NBA activities formally began. I decided to explore the French Quarter on foot. Louisiana has a rich basketball legacy that includes the likes of Bob Pettit, Pistol Pete Maravich and Karl Malone but it has an even older chess legacy that dates back to New Orleans-born Paul Morphy, whose career eerily foreshadowed Bobby Fischer's: both earned recognition as the best chess player in the world before abandoning the game and spending their latter years struggling with mental illness. The current king of chess in New Orleans is chess master Jude Acers, who has held court in the French Quarter for decades, taking on all comers. I hoped to challenge him to a game but alas I apparently just missed him on this day, arriving at the Gazebo restaurant on Decatur Street just moments after he packed up his board and left. I hung around for a while because some of the locals thought that he might return; at the Gazebo I enjoyed one of the juiciest, best tasting hamburgers I have ever eaten but Acers did not come back and I soon resumed my explorations.

The French Quarter was not directly hit by Hurricane Katrina but of course its impact was heavily felt there because people who worked and shopped there were displaced--including Acers and many others. You can learn a lot about what New Orleans' citizens are thinking by reading the slogans on various t-shirts that are being sold in the French Quarter. My favorite reads simply "Recover, Rebuild, Re-New Orleans." Some of the slogans are funny, if slightly politically incorrect ("Beer…Helping White Men Dance Since 1842"). Malapropisms prompted by drunkenness are a frequent theme (for example, "Officer, I swear to drunk I am not God"). Many of the slogans are definitely not safe for work (or this site), but I can clean one of them up enough to convey its flavor: "Fema Evacuation Plan: Run (expletive deleted) run."

Although I did not meet Acers, I encountered a very talented artist of a different kind: William Warren, who is a proud member of the Jackson Square Artist Colony. Warren explained that the roots of the colony date back as far as the Civil War era, "probably making it the oldest outdoor art colony in the United States." Warren studied at the Rhode Island School of Design but 10 years ago he relocated to New Orleans for two reasons: the existence of the vibrant art colony and the opportunity to do more outdoor painting due to the more temperate nature of the city's climate. Members of the colony must purchase licenses from the city of New Orleans. The cost is not high but one of the provisions of the agreement between the colony and the city is that the artists will only produce original, handmade work--no machine made or mass produced items. Warren describes the colony's mission: "Promoting and preserving the art of painting and drawing." He says that a hand painted image is different than the mechanical image produced by a camera because it is organic and vibrant and conveys emotion instead of being a precise, by the numbers depiction.

While Warren spoke with me he continued to paint one of a series of works that he is doing about the city's lamp posts. He does not like the fluorescent bulbs that the city sometimes places in these old fixtures, so his paintings depict a burning flame shining brightly, an example not only of the triumph of the organic (fire) over the mechanical (a light bulb) but also symbolizing his hopes for the city's revival. Watching him work, I commented that it seems to me that the artist differs from the average person in both his heightened visual perception and his ability to use his fine motor skills to accurately portray what he sees. Warren agreed with this observation and added, "The hand is being lost to the computer." He is disappointed that a greater emphasis is not placed on art in the schools.

New Orleans is a very compact city where it is much easier to get around on foot or via public transportation than by car and this is even more true now with so many people arriving in town this weekend. The Marriott literally sits on the border of the French Quarter and it is a brief walk away from the massive Ernest M. Morial Convention Center, host of NBA All-Star Jam Session. If you are able to make it to New Orleans during All-Star Weekend but cannot score tickets to the big game or the side events then Jam Session is a wonderful alternative. Current and former players are available for demonstrations and autograph sessions and there are numerous opportunities for fans young and old alike to participate in various interactive basketball activities. The Jam Session site also hosts events like the NBA/National Wheelchair Basketball Association All-Star Wheelchair Classic and the Legends Shootout.

I wrote about the Wheelchair Classic last year and was so impressed by what I saw that this has become a can't miss event for me. The participants are selected by the NWBA and comprise the top players from its teams; this year, Christina Ripp became the first woman to qualify for the game. The West All-Stars defeated the East All-Stars 64-57, with Bobby Nickleberry--who makes Wes Unseld-like outlet passes--winning East MVP honors and the sharpshooting Chuck Gill winning West MVP honors. I had the good fortune of watching most of the game while sitting next to Susan Katz, the communication coordinator of the Lakeshore Foundation. Katz played wheelchair basketball for the University of Illinois and won a Paralympics gold medal as a member of Team USA in 2004; her insights and patient explanations greatly increased my understanding of the strategic aspects of wheelchair basketball. Most of the rules of the game are the same; two differences are that offensive players are allowed to stay in the lane for four seconds and the ballhandler is allowed two "pushes" of his chair for each time he dribbles the basketball.

The obvious limitation that wheelchair athletes face is not being able to jump but Katz mentioned to me that the lack of lateral mobility is a key element in wheelchair basketball strategy. Players have to spin and/or travel in an arc to move from one side to the other, so the back pick is a devastating weapon in wheelchair basketball and if it is properly executed it always leads to a wide open shot. She noted that at the highest levels of the game the players have such great chair skills and speed that this advantage is minimized somewhat, much like how the opening to get a shot off in the NBA is very small.

The legs are the most important part of the shot for a jump shooter. Obviously, wheelchair athletes have to rely on different sources of power. During halftime of the game, Jeff Griffin and Trooper Johnson set official Guinness World Records for most free throws made in one minute by a wheelchair athlete (25 each), as certified by Stuart Claxton, a Guinness World records representative who was present on site. Katz graciously arranged for me to speak with both athletes. I asked them if they had played basketball prior to their injuries. Johnson told me, "I played mostly football before my accident but I've been playing sports all of my life so once I had my car accident the transition back into sports and athletics was natural."

How did they make the adjustment to shooting without using leg power? Johnson answered, "It's something that you just get used to. You start understanding that all of the power has to be generated by your arms and once you get used to the form from sitting in the wheelchair it's just repetition, like anything else; the more you do it, the better you get at it and the stronger you get at it." Players must deal with both muscular and cardiovascular fatigue during games. Johnson noted, "If you don't maintain your hydration level then you will get cramps. You also have to work on your cardio so that you don't get winded on the court."

Like Johnson, Griffin was a football player prior to his injury, playing wide receiver at the junior college level. "Like Trooper said, I got hurt but my competitive drive continued. Being able to compete in a wheelchair against other guys who are in similar situations is just a great opportunity to keep that drive going." Griffin dismissed my question about the difficulty of learning how to shoot from a wheelchair by saying simply, "When you are competitive you find a way. You find a way to adapt." Echoing Katz' observation about back picks, Griffin told me that even though he had played some competitive basketball prior to his injury that he never fully understood the pick and roll play--and how it can help you get a shot off against a player who is more athletic--until he started playing wheelchair basketball. Johnson added that able-bodied players can grab jerseys and fight their way through picks but, as Katz suggested, when a wheelchair athlete is picked then he stays picked for several seconds.

This year's Legends Shootout featured George Gervin, Detlef Schrempf, Jo Jo White and defending champion David Thompson. The contest consisted of shooting from racks located on each baseline and at the top of the key. The players could shoot 20 foot jumpers but Schrempf elected to shoot legit NBA threes. He and Gervin advanced to the Finals, where Gervin won after Schrempf missed a "money ball" that could have potentially tied the score.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:25 PM


The Pantheon: An Examination of Basketball Greatness, Part V--The Modern Era's Finest

As I explained before, "The basic premise of the Pantheon series is that instead of crowning one player as the greatest of all-time we should look at and appreciate the body of work produced by 10 players who could legitimately claim that title. Those players, who were the top finishers in the AP's 1999 vote to select the greatest player ever, are Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Earvin Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Julius Erving. The Pantheon series examines the careers of each of these players, focusing on peak value and durability; the final part will assess the accomplishments of several active players who may soon be Pantheon-worthy, if they are not already."

The ten Pantheon members who were profiled in the first four parts of this series are all retired. It is easier to assess complete resumes that have stood the test of time than to evaluate players whose careers are still in progress. However, there are at least four active players who have performed at a Pantheon-like level: Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan are the two dominant NBA figures of the post-Michael Jordan era, winners of four championships each. O’Neal averaged at least 21.5 ppg and 10.7 rpg in each of his first 13 seasons, including a run of 10 straight years when he did not score less than 26.2 ppg. O’Neal averaged 23.4 ppg, a career-high 13.9 rpg and a career-high 3.9 bpg en route to winning the 1992-93 Rookie of the Year award. Players generally put up their best rebounding and shot blocking numbers early in their careers but it is a bit unusual that O’Neal never matched his rookie performances in both categories; that dovetails with the perception that for most of his career O’Neal has been more interested in scoring than in playing defense and rebounding. Another perception about O’Neal is that he tends to coast—relatively speaking—in the regular season and is a much more focused player in the playoffs; he averaged 15.4 rpg in both the 2000 and 2001 postseasons and, not coincidentally, his Lakers won the championship both of those years.

O’Neal had an immediate impact on the Orlando Magic’s record: they improved from 21-61 to 41-41 in his first season and then won 50, 57 and 60 games in the next three seasons. The Magic had the best record in the Eastern Conference in 1994-95 and made it all the way to the NBA Finals, where they were swept by the Houston Rockets. Considering how dominant O’Neal is capable of being, it is odd that his teams have been swept out of the playoffs six times: in addition to the 1995 Finals, O’Neal’s 50-32 Magic lost 3-0 to the 47-35 Indiana Pacers in his first playoff appearance in 1993-94, his 1995-96 Magic lost 4-0 to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, his 1997-98 Lakers lost 4-0 to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals, his 1999 Lakers lost 4-0 to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round and his 2007 Heat lost 4-0 to the Chicago Bulls in the first round (O’Neal’s teams also lost 4-1 in the 1997 and 2004 playoffs).

After four seasons with Orlando, O’Neal signed with the L.A. Lakers as a free agent. He earned the first of his eight All-NBA First Team selections in 1997-98 (he finished second in MVP voting in 1994-95 to David Robinson, who made the All-NBA First Team at center that season). The Lakers did not lack for talent—in 1998 they became the first team to send four players to the All-Star Game (O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel) since the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers—but O’Neal’s playoff resume was pretty thin before Phil Jackson became the head coach of the Lakers in 1999-00. Jackson made O’Neal the hub of the Triangle Offense and demanded that O’Neal get in shape so that he could be active as a rebounder and defender. O’Neal responded and he and Bryant led the Lakers to a 67-15 regular season record. The Portland Trail Blazers pushed the Lakers to the brink of elimination in game seven of the Western Conference Finals but the Lakers survived that test and then defeated the Pacers 4-2 to claim the franchise’s first championship since 1988. That was probably O’Neal’s peak value season: he won his second scoring title by averaging a career-high 29.7 ppg, he set a career-high with a 3.8 apg average and his rebounding (13.6 rpg) and shot blocking (3.0 bpg) were close to career-high levels. In the playoffs he averaged 30.7 ppg, 15.4 rpg, 3.1 apg and 2.4 bpg, earning the first of his three Finals MVPs.

O’Neal and Bryant famously were not close off of the court but on the court they were an unstoppable inside-outside duo and they led the Lakers to the next two NBA titles. Their dynasty began to unravel in 2002 because of a most unexpected and unlikely reason--an injured toe; O’Neal could have had surgery early in the offseason to repair his troublesome toe but he declared, “I got hurt on company time, so I’ll heal on company time.” While O’Neal recuperated on “company time,” the Lakers got off to a slow start. Bryant averaged 40.3 ppg in February 2003 and scored at least 40 points in nine straight games—the longest such streak by a player not named Wilt Chamberlain—while trying to keep the Lakers above water but they never quite rounded back into championship form and eventually lost to Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. The Spurs went on to win the championship and have captured two more titles since then. The Lakers made it back to the Finals in 2004 but lost to the Pistons, after which owner Jerry Buss declined to give O’Neal a maximum contract extension for maximum dollars and shipped him to Miami for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant.

The Heat felt that they had a wide enough window of opportunity to win multiple championships with O’Neal and Dwyane Wade leading the way but they ended up with just one, a 2006 triumph over the Dallas Mavericks. Miami got swept out of the playoffs in the first round in 2007 and became the worst team in the NBA in the first half of the 2008 season, prompting the Heat to send O’Neal to Phoenix in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. It will be interesting to see if O’Neal can cap off his career by playing a meaningful role in helping the Suns to win the first championship in franchise history.

O’Neal tagged Duncan with the nickname “The Big Fundamental” and that designation certainly is very appropriate: Duncan’s footwork is impeccable and his entire game is very fundamentally sound. Like O’Neal, Duncan won the Rookie of the Year award by helping his team make a huge jump in wins; the 1997-98 Spurs went 56-26, a record improvement of 36 games over the previous season. To be fair, it must be noted that perennial All-Star and former MVP David Robinson missed all but six games in 1996-97 but returned to action in 1997-98. Duncan and Robinson won a title in just their second season together, sweeping the O’Neal-Bryant Lakers out of the playoffs along the way. Robinson showed a lot of class and grace by seamlessly ceding the primary role on offense to Duncan, a marked contrast to the way that O’Neal seemingly resented every shot that Bryant took and every headline that his younger co-star received. Duncan missed the 2000 playoffs with an injury and the Spurs lost in the first round. O’Neal and Bryant got their rematch against Duncan and Robinson in 2001 and completely thrashed them, winning the final two games 111-72 and 111-82 in San Antonio. The Lakers beat the Spurs 4-1 in the 2002 playoffs; by that time, O’Neal-Bryant had a 3-1 championship edge over Duncan-Robinson and clearly owned the bragging rights in the post-Jordan era. As indicated above, that all began to change after O’Neal’s delayed surgery. Duncan and Robinson won the 2003 championship in Robinson’s final season and then Duncan reaffirmed his greatness by leading the Spurs to titles in 2005 and 2007.

Duncan has never been quite as physically overpowering as O’Neal but he has been much more durable and consistent and he has had a much greater impact at the defensive end of the court. Duncan made the All-NBA First Team in each of his first eight seasons and he has earned nine total First Team selections but he has also made the All-Defensive First Team seven times (in addition to three Second Team nods), something that O’Neal has not done even once (he made the Second Team three times). Duncan won back to back regular season MVPs in 2002 and 2003 and has matched O’Neal by winning three Finals MVPs. His peak value season was 2001-02, when he averaged a career-high 25.5 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 3.7 apg and 2.5 bpg. Duncan is several years younger than O’Neal and is still operating at or near an MVP level, so it is quite possible that he will finish his career with more championships than O’Neal.

Sometimes it seems like people forget that Kobe Bryant is already a three-time NBA champion, which means he has as many rings as Larry Bird, one more than Wilt Chamberlain and two more than Oscar Robertson or Jerry West. It’s not like Bryant just went along for the ride when the Lakers won those championships; he was an All-NBA player, an All-Defensive Team member and an MVP candidate for those teams, the leading playmaker who also was counted on to score in the clutch, a role that O’Neal could not regularly handle due to his poor free throw shooting. Bryant has been widely recognized for years as the best player in the NBA in terms of his overall skill set—quite simply, he has no weaknesses, while even the great O’Neal and Duncan struggle in a few areas (free throw shooting for both, conditioning and defense for O’Neal).

Bryant has repeatedly gone on scoring binges that surpass anything done by players not named Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor or Michael Jordan. His 81 point game against Toronto a couple years ago electrified the basketball world and is second only to Chamberlain’s legendary 100 point outburst. Bryant is the only player other than Chamberlain to average 40-plus ppg for an entire calendar month more than once and he trails only Chamberlain and Jordan on the career list for most 40 point games. His abilities as a scorer are so obvious and overwhelming that it is very easy to overlook how complete his total game is. During the 2007 FIBA Americas tournament, Bryant willingly accepted a lesser scoring role in order to concentrate on completely shutting down the best perimeter player on the opposing team and his competitiveness played a key role in Team USA’s gold medal triumph. Bryant’s peak value season is probably 2005-06, when he had his 81 point game en route to winning the first of his two scoring titles with a career-high 35.4 ppg average. He also averaged 5.3 rpg and 4.5 apg and earned selection to both the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive First Team. The Lakers now have built a solid team around him for the first time since trading O’Neal away, so this year’s Western Conference playoffs could feature some intriguing matchups between O’Neal’s Suns, Duncan’s Spurs and Bryant’s Lakers.

Some may argue that LeBron James has not been around long enough or accomplished enough to warrant being included with O’Neal, Duncan and Bryant—let alone the 10 Pantheon members—but I think that if James’ career ended right now he’d be looked at as a Gale Sayers-type, a player who put up Hall of Fame worthy numbers in a brief period of time. While Bryant channels the scoring exploits of Chamberlain, Baylor and Jordan, James reprises the combined scoring/passing ability showcased by Oscar Robertson. He already has two top five finishes in MVP voting and may very well capture his first MVP this season. James has averaged 27.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 6.5 apg so far in his career and his playoff numbers are even better: 27.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 7.1 apg. His 48 point performance at Detroit in game five of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals will forever be one of the signature playoff performances in league history. James’ only weaknesses now are defense and perimeter shooting. He has made great strides on defense—even demanding to guard the opposing team’s top player down the stretch at times—and he has demonstrated a willingness to work hard on his outside shot. Bryant and James are the two best players in the NBA right now and it would be a real treat for basketball fans if we get to see them battle against each other in the NBA Finals.

Observant readers may recall that in Part I of this series I mentioned a fifth player, Dwyane Wade, as a possible future Pantheon member. Part I came out in the wake of the 2006 NBA Finals, when Wade put on a performance for the ages while leading the Miami Heat to the franchise’s first championship. Since that time, Wade has battled injuries and his Heat suffered a first round sweep at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, which seemed like quite an embarrassment for a defending champion to endure—until this season’s debacle, when Miami stunningly became the worst team in the NBA. Wade has yet to make the All-NBA First Team even once, nor has he ever finished in the top five in MVP voting; in fact, he has never received even one first place vote in MVP balloting. Those are subjective measurements but the reality is that Wade has not established himself as an elite player in today’s game, let alone an all-time great. It is not yet clear if Wade will create a legacy that stands on its own or if he will mainly be remembered as the driving force behind O’Neal’s fourth title but someone who was not able to sustain that high level of play.


1) Part I of this series can be found here, Part II is here, Part III is here and Part IV is here.

2) This article adapts and slightly modifies ideas that I first explored in the following two posts:

The Greatest Basketball Players of All-Time, Part I

The Greatest Basketball Players of All-Time, Part II

3) The NBA 50th Anniversary Team, including the list of voters and links to biographies of each player:


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posted by David Friedman @ 11:21 PM


Thursday, February 14, 2008

All-Star Weekend is Almost Here!

Soon I will be arriving in New Orleans to cover NBA All-Star Weekend for HoopsHype.com. You can find my daily reports from the 2006 and 2007 All-Star Weekends on the right hand side of the main page of 20 Second Timeout. Here is the link to my story about the ABA Reunion that was held during the 2005 All-Star Weekend:

We Are Family

Check back here throughout the weekend for the links to my HoopsHype reports from New Orleans.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:34 AM


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

NBA Leaderboard, Part XIV

After decades of watching the NBA as a fan and years of covering the NBA as a writer, I still don't quite understand the inner workings of the minds of the MVP voters. Kobe Bryant is widely acknowledged as the league's best player but he was "disqualified" from winning the MVP the past few years because of his team's record. Last I checked, his skills are still intact and his team is on pace for 55 wins. Why isn't he widely considered to be the MVP front runner this season? LeBron James' case was supposedly made by his team's poor performance during the six games that he missed, even though other key rotation players also missed those games and even though the team just got blown out with him playing and some of those players--most notably Anderson Varejao--out of action. Kevin Garnett's case consists of Boston's turnaround this season--but that turnaround is continuing even in his absence due to outstanding play by Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and the bench, plus the team's commitment to defense this season. I'm still saying the same thing that I've said for more than two years--Kobe Bryant is the NBA's best player and therefore he should win the MVP. James is not far behind Bryant and Garnett is having a very good season but now that the Lakers' record has caught up with Bryant's excellence there is no reason to deny Bryant this honor.

Best Five Records

1) Boston Celtics, 40-9
2) Phoenix Suns, 36-15
3) Detroit Pistons, 38-13
4) New Orleans, 35-15
5) Dallas Mavericks, 34-17

The Detroit Pistons are riding the league's best current winning streak--nine games--and have closed to within three games of the Boston Celtics, who have won four in a row despite the absence of the injured Kevin Garnett. The Orlando Magic have lost two in a row and are 10 games behind Boston, so the race for the best record in the East is between Boston and Detroit. Out west, there is a real dogfight between Phoenix, New Orleans, Dallas, Utah, the L.A. Lakers and San Antonio, six teams that are separated by only 3.5 games in the standings. It is funny to hear commentators talk at various times about what is supposedly wrong with Dallas, Utah and San Antonio, because any of those teams could end up finishing with the best record in the conference.

Top Ten Scorers (and a few other notables)

1) LeBron James, CLE 30.1 ppg
2) Kobe Bryant, LAL 28.0 ppg
3) Allen Iverson, DEN 26.8 ppg
4) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 26.2 ppg
5) Dwyane Wade, MIA 24.1 ppg
6) Richard Jefferson, NJN 23.4 ppg
7) Amare Stoudemire, PHX 23.1 ppg
8) Michael Redd, MIL 22.6 ppg
9) Chris Bosh, MIA 22.4 ppg
10) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 22.2 ppg
11) Yao Ming, HOU 22.1 ppg

24) Paul Pierce, BOS 20.4 ppg

34) Kevin Durant, SEA 19.4 ppg
35) Kevin Garnett, BOS 19.2 ppg

40) Ray Allen, BOS 18.4 ppg

Kobe Bryant had been gaining some ground on LeBron James but after Bryant dislocated his right pinkie finger he had a couple low scoring games that shaved about half a point off of his average. Bryant is still firmly in second place, but Carmelo Anthony's career-high 49 point game helped him to close in on his Denver teammate Allen Iverson, who has been holding down third place for a while. Overall, there was not much movement in the top ten.

Top Ten Rebounders (and a few other notables)

1) Marcus Camby, DEN 14.5 rpg
2) Dwight Howard, ORL 14.8 rpg
3) Chris Kaman, LAC 13.6 rpg
4) Tyson Chandler, NOH 12.4 rpg
5) Al Jefferson, MIN 12.1 rpg
6) Tim Duncan, SAS 11.4 rpg
7) Emeka Okafor, CHA 10.9 rpg
8) Carlos Boozer, UTA 10.8 rpg
9) Yao Ming, HOU 10.7 rpg
10) Antawn Jamison, WAS 10.4 rpg

13) Al Horford, ATL 10.0 rpg

24) Ben Wallace, CHI 8.8 rpg

27) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 8.6 rpg

32) Jason Kidd, NJN 8.1 rpg

Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy briefly benched Dwight Howard because Van Gundy felt that Howard has become too focused on his scoring at the expense of his rebounding and defense. Some statistical proof of that can be found in the fact that Marcus Camby inched past Howard to take the lead in the race for the rebounding crown. Howard has had early leads in previous rebounding races only to fade down the stretch and he is running out of time if he wants to become the youngest rebounding champion in NBA history.

As proof that raw statistics don't mean everything, consider that Al Jefferson (21.4 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 1.39 bpg) is outscoring and outrebounding Kevin Garnett (19.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.41 bpg) and is blocking virtually the same number of shots. Jefferson certainly looks like a future All-Star but would anyone really take Jefferson over Garnett right now? I do like the fact that Jefferson can score on the block without using fadeaway moves but his numbers are helped a bit by the lack of talent around him, while Garnett's numbers are lowered because he is sharing the load with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

Top Ten Playmakers

1) Steve Nash, PHX 11.7 apg
2) Chris Paul, NOH 10.9 apg
3) Jason Kidd, NJN 10.4 apg
4) Deron Williams, UTA 9.7 apg
5) Jose Calderon, TOR 8.8 apg
6) Jamaal Tinsley, IND 8.4 apg
7) Baron Davis, GSW 8.0 apg
8) Allen Iverson, DEN 7.3 apg
9) LeBron James, CLE 7.2 apg
10) Chauncey Billups, DET 7.1 apg

Allen Iverson jumped back into the top ten, bumping out Raymond Felton, but other than that there were not many changes on this leaderboard.

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:51 AM


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

MVP/RoY Rankings, Part VI

The sixth edition of the blogger MVP/RoY rankings has just been posted at Hardwood Paroxysm

Here are links to the previous five editions:

MVP/RoY rankings, Part I

MVP/RoY rankings, Part II

MVP/RoY rankings, Part III

MVP/RoY rankings, Part IV

MVP/RoY rankings, Part V.

Here is my complete ballot exactly as I submitted it (MVP and RoY votes are scored on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 and 5-4-3-2-1 basis respectively, so Bryant is my top MVP pick and Durant is my top RoY pick):

10-Kobe Bryant: Kobe "Nine Fingered" Bryant is still getting it done at both ends of the court despite a dislocated pinkie finger on his shooting hand. With Gasol on the scene, Kobe seems to be enjoying himself more than he has in years. Everyone knows that Kobe is the best player in the league, so with the Lakers on course to win at least 50 games the MVP voters have no more excuses to ignore him.
9-LeBron James: He has future MVP written all over him. However, that stat about Cleveland's record without him this season is more than a little deceptive: Anderson Varejao missed most of those games, too; the Cavs sorely missed the Brazilian's rebounding, defense and energy in those games, and they miss those things now, as we saw when Houston outrebounded the Cavs by 20 last week, beating Cleveland despite a great game by LeBron.
8-Dwight Howard: He is within striking distance of 22 ppg, 15 rpg and .600 FG shooting, impressive numbers for a player who is still developing a post up game.
7-Kevin Garnett: The MVP award is his to lose in terms of the mainstream media voters but I still would not take him over the physically dominant Howard, let alone the wondrously gifted Kobe and LeBron.
6-Tim Duncan: He just keeps chugging along and most people will not notice him until the playoff field thins out and the Spurs are still standing.
5-Chris Paul: Deron Williams lit him up recently but Paul outplayed Steve Nash in an exciting game soon after that and Paul has been the best point guard in the league so far this season.
4-Dirk Nowitzki: Until he leads the Mavs to a title he will have his doubters, even though he has taken a team to the Finals, unlike former MVPs KG and Nash.
3-Steve Nash: It will be interesting to watch the on and off court chemistry he develops with Shaq.
2-Amare Stoudemire: He is already very good but Shaq has declared that he wants to turn Amare into the best power forward in the league.
1-Allen Iverson: He is still a great scorer and his passing is underrated: Iverson put up at least 10 assists in four of Denver's first five games in February.


5-Kevin Durant: No one is really thrilled to pick him and yet most of us can't bring ourselves to elevate Horford's near double double averages over Durant's raw scoring numbers.
4-Al Horford: He dropped 15 and 20 on the Lakers--a few more games like that would put him ahead of Durant, who needs two weeks to get 20 rebounds and over 20 shots to get 15 points.
3-Sean Williams: His offensive game consists mainly of dunking but he brings energy, rebounding and shot blocking off of the bench.
2-Luis Scola: His numbers have been going up steadily during the season.
1-Jamario Moon: Like Williams, a great leaper who is putting up good rebounding and shot blocking numbers.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:35 AM


Discussing the Pantheon, Recent NBA Trades on Gotham Hoops Live

Mike Silva of Gotham Hoops Live recently interviewed me to talk about my five part Pantheon series and the recent trades involving Pau Gasol and Shaquille O'Neal. You can listen to the show by clicking on the following link:

Gotham Hoops Live, 2/11/08

In my previous appearance on GHL, I compared the 1992 Dream Team to the current Team USA squad and talked about labor relations pioneers in the NBA, including Chet Walker and the "NBA 14." You can listen to that broadcast by clicking on this link:

Gotham Hoops Live, 12/23/07

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:17 AM


Monday, February 11, 2008

Lakers Continue to Pillage the Eastern Conference

The L.A. Lakers' supposed death march through the Eastern Conference is actually reviving their season; they improved to 5-2 on their nine game road trip with a 104-94 win in Miami. Kobe Bryant had an extremely efficient 33 points on 10-15 field goal shooting, adding five assists and some excellent defense versus Dwyane Wade, who finished with 19 points and nine assists but shot 7-17 from the field and committed nine turnovers. Lamar Odom added 15 points, 18 rebounds and six assists, once again tantalizing fans and making them wonder why he does not play that way consistently. Pau Gasol had 12 points and seven rebounds. Shawn Marion contributed 15 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocked shots in his Miami debut.

The Lakers are 3-1 since Gasol joined the team. During the ABC telecast, Hubie Brown, who coached Gasol in Memphis, described his former player as "an outstanding athlete who is extremely cerebral and who has great hands. He is an excellent passer. He's a wonderful team player to play with because he will give the ball up but at the end of the game he gives them a guy who can score the ball." All of the attributes that Brown mentioned have been on display during Gasol's brief run with the Lakers. His ability to score down the stretch of games is particularly significant because that means that opposing teams can no longer simply load up their defenses to stop Bryant. Miami cut a 17 point fourth quarter lead to 96-90 but Bryant and Gasol stemmed the tide with back to back field goals; Bryant's turnaround jumper from the right block made the score 98-90 and a couple possessions later Gasol's hook shot from the left block put the Lakers ahead 100-94.

Bryant showed no ill effects from the dislocated right pinkie finger that is still being taped to his ring finger. He made a number of spectacular plays throughout the game, including a driving fast break dunk early in the contest and a sweeping left handed hook shot that put the Lakers up 96-79 with 5:52 to go in the game. Bryant is probably the only right handed shooting guard who not only can shoot a left handed hook but is confident enough to do it in a game. Brown repeatedly emphasized that the Lakers rank among the league leaders in scoring and assists. Bryant is the team's primary playmaker in addition to being its best scorer, so he clearly sets the tone of unselfishness that permeates throughout the roster. Brown and Jeff Van Gundy are two analysts who routinely point out that Bryant consistently makes the right pass out of double team situations in order to create open shots for his teammates, whether Bryant gets credited for assists on such plays or merely gets the "hockey assist" by making a pass that starts a chain reaction of ball movement that breaks down the opposing team's defense.

Wade has had some high scoring games against the Lakers before--usually as a result of atrocious pick and roll defense by Lakers' big men--but that was not the case this time. It is not often that Wade tries to break down Bryant in a one on one situation--and this game offered a couple examples why. On the final Miami possession of the third quarter, Wade operated in a 1-4 set against Bryant, who completely stymied him at every turn, ultimately forcing a traveling violation. As Brown put it, "Give Kobe a lot of credit. He stayed with all of the changing of hands, the crossover--he played it beautifully." In the NBA, great offensive players almost always have the advantage in one on one situations, which is why so many teams use the 1-4 set--one player dribbling at the top of the key, two players on each wing waiting to receive a pass for an open shot if their man double teams the dribbler--to get an open shot at the end of quarters. Near the end of the game, Bryant cleanly picked Wade's pocket and stole the ball from him while Wade was dribbling. The way that Bryant accepts the challenge of guarding the other team's best perimeter player sets a great example for the rest of the Lakers.

Although Miami lost, the Heat seem to be energized by the addition of Marion, which says as much about the departed Shaquille O'Neal as it does about Marion. O'Neal played a vital role in helping Miami to win the 2006 championship but he really did not do much for the team after that and the Heat are fortunate to acquire Marion for him. Whether or not O'Neal turns out to be the missing piece for the Phoenix Suns, it is clear that his time in Miami had more than run its course.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:08 AM


Celtics Beat Spurs 98-90, Improve to 5-2 Without Garnett

The addition of Kevin Garnett is obviously the biggest single offseason move that the Boston Celtics made but their league-leading record is not solely based on his production. An abdominal strain has caused him to miss seven games but after Sunday's 98-90 victory over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs the Celtics improved to 5-2 without Garnett. Paul Pierce opened the game by quickly scoring 14 points on 5-5 shooting and he finished with a game-high 35 points while shooting 11-18 from the field. The Spurs tried various defenders on him, including Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili, but no one was able to contain him. Ray Allen (19 points) and Eddie House (10 points) were the only other double figure scorers for the Celtics, although rookie Glen "Big Baby" Davis had a strong game off of the bench with nine points, eight rebounds, three steals and good defense against Tim Duncan. Despite Davis' efforts, Duncan still finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots. Ginobili had 22 points, four rebounds and four assists. It is worth noting that the Spurs were without the services of injured point guard Tony Parker, the 2007 NBA Finals MVP. The newly signed Damon Stoudamire (eight points on 3-11 shooting) hardly replaced Parker's normal production.

The "secret" to Boston's success this season is actually not a secret at all: the Celtics are at or near the top of the NBA in virtually every measurement of team defense. Last year, the Celtics were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, so it is only natural that a lot of this improvement has been credited to Garnett, a perennial member of the All-Defensive Team--but the interesting thing is that the Celtics are still playing good defense even without him on the court. Many members of the media have apparently already decided that Garnett should win this year's MVP, so rather than trying to figure out the technical reasons for Boston's excellent defense we are told that Garnett's mere presence is inspiring the team; that's pretty funny considering that, unlike most injured players, he does not even sit on the bench during the games. I guess he is using psychic inspiration. I don't doubt that Garnett's energy and his passion for playing defense have had a positive impact on the team during practices but inspiration alone does not hold the Spurs to .443 shooting or outrebound them 46-37. No, what has happened in Boston is that young players who were not interested in playing defense have been shipped out and replaced by a group of players who are committed to playing defense on a nightly basis. Even Pierce and Allen, hardly great defenders for most of their careers, have bought into competing hard at that end of the court. During the telecast, Jeff Van Gundy made the interesting point that it is harder to make a bad offensive player into a good one than it is to transform someone into a good defender. He did not explain why this is the case but I think that a big part of the reason is that being a good offensive player requires a certain set of skills--ballhandling, passing, shooting--that some players never develop but that being a good defensive player is largely a question of how hard a player competes on a nightly basis. This season, even the Boston players who are not great individual defenders are competing very hard on defense. This has been true since opening day; I saw the Celtics in person for the first time this season when they beat Indiana on November 13 and one of the things that struck me the most about that game is the team's level of defensive intensity. We don't even talk about such things regarding the Spurs, because playing good defense and playing hard every game are essential parts of their identity as a team; it remains to be seen if Boston can perform this way under playoff pressure.

Every once in a while, a study pops up that purports to identify the best clutch players in the NBA based on their field goal percentages in the final moments of close games. I have never put much credence in those stats because the sample size is invariably small and no effort is made to put the numbers in context. The ending of this game provided more justification for my skepticism. In the final :48 of regulation, Ginobili missed three three point shots. Does that mean that he is a poor performer in the clutch? No, the poor performers are all on the bench at that time. There is a reason that Ginobili ended up taking those shots--he is the player on his team who is most likely to make them. Such shots tend to be tightly contested and are often fired in desperation because there is not enough time left to pass the ball and continue to run a play. Rick Barry once told me that the only stat that he considers to be pure is free throw percentage. That may sound self serving because he was a great free throw shooter but his reasoning makes some sense: Barry said that virtually every other stat can be misleading, noting that field goal percentage does not indicate a player's shooting range, rebounding can be padded by tipping one's own misses and that assists, steals and blocked shots are subjectively determined by scorekeepers. It would be interesting to know the free throw percentages for top players in the fourth quarter or even in the last two minutes, particularly if the sample size is large enough to be significant--but field goal percentage in such situations does not really tell us all that much. Stoudamire missed a three pointer at the buzzer that could have made the final score 98-93. If he makes that shot is he more "clutch" than Ginobili? There is an understandable fascination with buzzer beaters and last second shots but in many cases games are won because of shots that are made a bit earlier in the fourth quarter--and if a great player makes enough of those then his team will not need for him to make big shots in the last two minutes.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:46 AM


Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Carmelo Anthony is on Fire and Kobe Bryant is the Best Nine Fingered Player in the World

In this "better late than never" edition of "The Score, The Key Stat, The Bottom Line," we will discuss some of the action from Thursday and Friday, including Carmelo Anthony's career game, Kobe Bryant playing with one hand (or at least one finger) tied behind his back, playing uptempo ball against Golden State and Jason Kidd's triple doubles.

The Score: Denver 111, Washington 100

The Key Stat: Carmelo Anthony scored a career-high 49 points on blistering 19-25 field goal shooting. In the first 15 minutes of the game, Anthony shot 11-12 from the field and outscored Washington 26-22.

The Bottom Line: Anthony is something to behold as a scorer. He is a master of several different fakes, his ballhandling skills are good, he is strong and he is a deadly shooter inside of 20 feet. Of course, in this game it helped that he was going against Washington's kiddie corps instead of injured All-Star Caron Butler; the Wizards have done just fine this season without Gilbert Arenas but they are 1-5 in games that Butler has missed.

During the ESPN telecast, Hubie Brown asked a significant question about Denver's high scoring duo of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson: "How many points are they giving up at the other end of the court against the plus-.500 teams?" That said, Brown noted that Iverson's body of work is incredible, particularly in terms of his career scoring total, his high number of free throw attempts per game and the staggering amount of minutes he has played (and continues to play). I've said it before and I'll say it again: Iverson is the most amazing athlete I have ever seen perform in person. He is not the greatest basketball player I have ever seen--although he is obviously a great player--but for someone who is barely 6-0, 170 to do what he does is simply remarkable. Anthony stole the show with his scoring and shooting but Iverson made his presence felt, too: 18 points on 7-9 shooting, 11 assists, four rebounds.

The Score: L.A. Lakers 117, Orlando 113

The Key Stat: Great players have the ability to play hurt and to adjust their games to compensate for their injuries. Kobe Bryant's dislocated pinkie finger on his shooting hand affected his shooting touch initially but he has worked his way through this problem without missing any games and against Orlando he led the Lakers with 36 points and 10 rebounds, adding six assists.

The Bottom Line: Bryant threw down some vintage dunks in this game but his impact went well beyond both the stat sheet and the highlight reel. Bill Walton said that Bryant's performance versus Orlando was "a defensive lockdown of epic proportions...Kobe Bryant was Bill Russell and Hakeem Olajuwon combined down the stretch on the defensive end." OK, that is a bit of Waltonesque hyperbole but Bryant did come up big at both ends of the court in a road game against one of the better Eastern Conference teams. This epic road trip was supposed to be the death of the Lakers sans Andrew Bynum but Bryant has made sure that won't be the case. Of course, in recent games he has received help from newly acquired former All-Star Pau Gasol, who had 30 points and nine rebounds in this game, shooting 12-15 from the field. Teams have to choose now whether to double team Kobe or double team Gasol but both players are great passers in addition to being accomplished scorers, so whoever is open will get--and make--the shot.

The Score: Chicago 114, Golden State 108

The Key Stat: Chicago shot .561 from the field and 5-9 (.555) from three point range, while Golden State shot .432 from the field and 7-28 (.250) from three point range.

The Bottom Line: Golden State Coach Don Nelson wants his team to play at a fast pace but I have mentioned on several occasions that teams should not be afraid to run right back at the Warriors. Golden State is not a great defensive team--particularly in transition--but they have a lot of quick athletes who can be pesky in the halfcourt, getting deflections and steals. It is much easier to score on Golden State in transition than to engage in "trench warfare" in the halfcourt. When the Warriors get the ball they will almost always go quickly and shoot the first open shot, whether or not it is a good one. Teams that run right back at them can trade made layups for missed three pointers (just look at the field goal percentages cited above). The Bulls raced out to a 32-18 first quarter lead and TNT's Mike Fratello noted, "Part of it is they are doing so well at the offensive end there are no easy baskets for Golden State." If the Dallas Mavericks would have done that consistently they would would have beaten the Warriors in last year's playoffs.

Chris Webber was a non-factor while playing less than 13 minutes in the first game of his second stint with the Warriors (four points, two assists, one rebound). Like Phoenix adding Shaq, the Warriors signed Webber because they realized that they have to have at least one legit big guy roaming the paint. The Warriors are truly becoming "Suns lite," with Baron Davis and Webber serving as the ersatz Steve Nash and Shaquille O'Neal.

The Score: New Jersey 104, Charlotte 90

The Key Stat: Jason Kidd notched the 99th triple double of his career (19 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds). He leads the NBA with 12 triple doubles this season.

The Bottom Line: Kidd has caught some flak because he has made it clear that he wants to be traded but no one can say that he is giving less than 100% effort when he is on the court. The soon to be 35 year old is averaging 11.3 ppg, 10.3 apg and 8.1 rpg. His field goal shooting is not great but it never has been--and his percentages from three point range (.355) and the free throw line (.811) are both better than his career norms. The reality is that if the financial end can be worked out in terms of matching contracts then it does make sense for the Nets to part ways with Kidd. New Jersey is not a contending team and could use some fresh blood to rebuild, while Kidd still has more than enough game left to really help a good team.

Quote of the Week:

During TNT's broadcast of Thursday's Chicago-Golden State game, the subject of Chris Webber's return to the Warriors for a second go around with Coach Don Nelson led Reggie Miller to ask Mike Fratello about any players he coached on two separate occasions. Apparently, this brought back some very bad memories for the Czar of the Telestrator, who declared, "I only had Bonzi (Wells) one time--and that was enough." Miller said that he hoped Wells was not watching the telecast but Fratello did not back down, saying that he hoped and thought that Wells was indeed watching the game.

Quote of the Week, Part II:

Bill Walton offered these words of wisdom right after Anthony told Ric Bucher at halftime of the Nuggets-Wizards game that no one can guard him one on one: "Nice bit of humility in the halftime interview by Carmelo Anthony. Denver--capable but inconsistent, dangerous but not elite--for a team that leads the NBA in excuses, they're not going anywhere until Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson begin playing just a nominal bit of contain defense." Walton gets carried away sometimes but those seven words--"capable but inconsistent, dangerous but not elite"--are a perfect description of the Nuggets.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:22 AM