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Friday, November 04, 2005

Will Shaq's Injury Tip the East's Balance of Power?

Indiana opened the third straight night of nationally televised doubleheaders with a 105-102 win in Miami. Indiana led by as many as 14 but the Heat had cut the margin to 91-88 with 6:35 left in the fourth quarter when Shaquille O'Neal landed on Ron Artest's foot, sprained his ankle and had to leave the game. Recently retired Pacer legend Reggie Miller made his TNT debut as a game commentator two nights after his first appearance as a TNT studio analyst. Miller maintains that the Pacers have the deepest roster in the league and are capable of winning the NBA championship. The way that the Pacers beat a lead-footed Heat team up and down the court for the first three quarters of the game made those words seem prophetic and made one wonder why Miller did not stick around for one more year to try to win his first NBA title. Then Miami rediscovered that Shaq is in fact on the team and began delivering the ball to him inside. Shaq either scored, drew a foul or passed to an open cutter, the Heat made a run and it seemed that Indiana's earlier efforts might be in vain. Shaq's injury cost us the opportunity to see how these teams would perform down the stretch in a close game with each squad at full strength. Of course, if Shaq has to miss a substantial number of games it could cost Miami a lot more than that. Preliminary X-rays did not find a break, so Shaq is the proverbial "day-to-day."

Jermaine O'Neal led the Pacers with 27 points and Ron Artest contributed 22 points along with his customarily strong defense. Dwyane Wade had 31 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for Miami and his attempt at a tying three pointer at the buzzer went halfway down before rimming out. Shaq had 18 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots. Jason Williams "contributed" 1-8 shooting from the field, scoring three points with two assists. Perhaps someone can explain why he had eight field goal attempts in 26 minutes and Shaq had 12 field goal attempts in 29 minutes. Am I the only person who thinks that when Williams launches a long jumper with 15-plus seconds on the shot clock and Shaq waiting in vain for the ball in the low post that a trap door should immediately open on the court and send Williams straight to the Heat bench?

In TNT's second game, Phoenix ran the Lakers into the ground, 122-112. Kobe Bryant was sensational again, scoring 39 points while grabbing seven rebounds and dishing off five assists. He shot 13-26 from the field and 13-14 from the free throw line. Lamar Odom also had a strong game in defeat--23 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists. New Laker point guard Smush Parker scored 21 points and seems to be a major upgrade over Chucky Atkins. No other Laker scored in double figures but more troubling than that for Coach Phil Jackson is that his team allowed Phoenix to shoot .506 from the field. Shawn Marion led seven Phoenix double-figure scorers with 30 points and 11 rebounds, while Steve Nash had 12 points, 17 assists and six rebounds.

Even without the injured Amare Stoudemire, the Suns are a potent team. I am incredulous that some analysts talk of Phoenix trying to hang around .500 until Stoudemire returns; Phoenix is still one of the better teams in the league and can finish in the top 4-5 in the West with its current roster. The Suns still have league MVP Nash, All-Star Marion and an above average supporting cast. Most teams will find it difficult to keep up with Phoenix' uptempo style. Of course, teams with the ability to slow the pace of the game will cause Phoenix a lot of trouble and the Suns will also suffer even more than most teams when they have to play four games in five nights and are simply too exhausted to push the ball effectively.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:04 AM


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