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thebac
11-26-2003, 12:35 PM
Christmas comes early for Lakers

The Orlando Magic defeated the New York Knicks on opening night to start the season 1-0 and tied for the best record in the league.

I'm scanning December schedules for every NBA team trying to figure out who has the most road games, who plays the toughest opponents and which team has to go back to back most often in order to rank the upcoming schedules.

When I get to New York's schedule, I notice the same Knicks that lost to Orlando beat Sacramento a week later. And those same Kings ended up beating the Detroit Pistons, who later defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, who beat the defending NBA champion Spurs on Nov. 6.

So, the Magic beat the Knicks, who beat the Kings, who beat the Pistons, who beat the Lakers, who beat the Spurs.

I take one more look at those schedules and smile ear to ear as I circle Dec. 26 -- the Orlando Magic travel to San Antonio to take on the Spurs in what has to be billed as an NBA Finals preview. Doesn't it?

Five easiest December schedules

1. Los Angeles Lakers
Strength of Schedule: 12 (4 road, 8 quality)
The Lakers get the first two days of December off. They also get the last three days of December off. In between, they make only four road trips, and only one after Dec. 13 -- a cab ride up to Oakland. Sure, they have nationally televised games against the Spurs and Mavs, and then that Christmas gig with the Rockets, but those are the only kinds of things that interest four Hall of Famers these days. Besides, they should be well rested and ready for the cameras after 20 days off and only 11 games scheduled this month.

2. Dallas Mavericks
Strength of Schedule: 12 (6 road, 6 quality)
The Mavericks are absolutely crushing teams at home. Not only are they 7-0, but take away that three-point win over the Spurs and their average margin of victory is 15.8 points. And don't look for things to change too much in December, as home dates with the Wizards, Magic, Raptors, Clippers, Grizzlies and Bucks won't be much of a test. On the flip side, Dallas isn't doing too well on the road, but they do have very winnable games against the Clippers and Celtics and have no trip longer than two games.

3. Philadelphia 76ers
Strength of Schedule: 12 (7 road, 5 quality)
Six of their first eight December games are against teams that didn't qualify for the playoffs last year, with one of their "quality games" being against Utah in Philly. And that doesn't even count a game against Atlanta to finish the month of November. We're talking Miami, Orlando, Chicago and Cleveland (the four worst teams in the Eastern Conference, with a combined 12-44 record). They do finish the month on a tough, four-game Western Conference swing, but they have only three road games before Dec. 26.

4. Washington Wizards
Strength of Schedule: 13 (8 road, 5 quality)
The problem is going to be just getting to December and surviving the first week or so. Currently, the Wizards have lost six of their last eight, with games against the Lakers, Pistons, Mavs and Pacers (most of them on the road) before they get to the soft, chewy center of their schedule. But after Dec. 9, their next nine opponents have a combined record of 41-82. Even better news: The four road games in that span are against teams with a combined 8-17 home record (Knicks, Nets, Heat and Bulls).

5. Detroit Pistons
Strength of Schedule: 13 (6 road, 7 quality)
Only two teams will play fewer road games than the Pistons in December, and the Pistons have only two sets of back-to-back games, the first starting in Cleveland and the other ending in Atlanta. But don't say they didn't earn it, after playing 10 of their first 18 games on the road.

Five toughest December schedules

25. Los Angeles Clippers
Strength of Schedule: 18 (5 road, 13 quality)
The Clippers will play a total of 16 games in the month of December, and 13 of them will be against teams that currently have a winning record. Six of those opponents are lined up in succession, followed by a brutal swing through Texas that begins with back-to-back games in Houston and Dallas, then ends in San Antonio. They do have a lot of home games, including three against the Cavs, Bucks and Raptors, But if they lose those, this could be one sorry New Year's Eve -- especially considering they're already on a four-game skid with two Nov. games to play.

26. Memphis Grizzlies
Strength of Schedule: 18 (9 road, 9 quality)
The upstart Griz have proven they can win on the road. They've proven they can win against good opponents. But now we'll get to see if they can win on the road against good opponents. Memphis plays two sets of four-games-in-five-days. You heard right. From Dec. 12-16, the Grizzlies have four games (two on the road). Then from Dec. 19-23 they have another four, three on the road. Get through that and they still have the Mavs and Pacers on the road.

27. Houston Rockets
Strength of Schedule: 20 (7 road, 13 quality)
On Friday, Dec. 19, the Rockets host the Clippers, and they better take a breath there. Because other than that, Houston's only other game against a losing team is on the road on the second day of a back-to-back at the tail-end of a three-game road trip. And just to get into December they have to play eight of 10 on the road, including a five-game trip, and, well, Merry Christmas -- you get the Lakers on national TV in L.A. on Christmas day and play the next night in Denver.

28. Boston Celtics
Strength of Schedule: 20 (8 road, 12 quality)
Currently, Boston is 2-0 against Western Conference opponents, including a big win over the Kings at home. But don't count on that being the case come 2004. The Celtics face 11 of their 17 December games against West foes, including the Lakers, Mavs and T-Wolves.

29. Phoenix Suns
Strength of Schedule: 20 (10 road, 10 quality)
There are, at last look, 31 days in December. The Suns will play on 17 of them, with 10 games on the road and 10 part of back-to-back scenarios. By Dec. 14, the Suns already will have played nine games (six of them on the road), with another eight from Dec. 16-29 (four of them on the road). And these road trips range from Boston to Miami to Seattle to L.A. I guess Maine, Alaska, Cuba and Tijuana were all booked. That's 17 games in 29 days involving 11 different airports (assuming all the Suns stay in Phoenix for the holidays). Sure they have Christmas and New Year's off -- they have to sleep sometime.

Brown not expecting warm welcome

In his second coming to the City of Brotherly Love, Larry Brown is forcing Sixer fans everywhere to decide if he is the franchise's former savior or the devil, himself.

"Well, based on a lot of things I've heard, I'm not expecting a real nice welcome," said Brown in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "But that's just part of the job. Those six years might have been my fondest years. I loved living in Philly. I look back at coaches like John Calipari, Gar Heard, Mo Cheeks and Randy Ayers who all became head coaches. My players got great contracts. Guys that have moved on got great contracts. We went from a team that was not well-respected to a team that is really well-respected.

"So, I kind of feel good about all those things. I feel bad about the way things were perceived after I left. Those guys mean a lot to me."

Brown returns to the city tonight, but as the first-year head coach of the Detroit Pistons, the very same team that eliminated the Sixers last year in the playoffs.


Larry Brown considers his stay in Philly a success.
It's so bad that he's even asked his family to stay away from the game despite the fact that they remain Philly residents.

"I asked them not to come, but they all want to come," Brown said in the Philadelphia Daily News. "It's going to be emotional for me, because I spent 6 years and I loved it, and my family's here, and the Eagles are 8-3. Watching some of those players on the other side, and Randy [Ayers, the Sixers' coach], I'm going to feel pretty proud in a lot of ways as well...

"Knowing the fans here, I'm sure the ones that cheered real loudly for us for 6 years are going to probably cheer loudly in the other direction. But that's OK. The reason I loved it so much here was because of those people and their passion for the game and the fact that they cared about the Sixers. So whatever reception I get, I'm sure is going to be deserved."

The Detroit Free Press points out that Brown has been the former coach now for 10 different college or professional basketball teams but says he has "never experienced the fallout after leaving a team that he has in the past five months."

And that's because beyond the positive turnaround in the standings during his tenure, the trip to the NBA Finals, the ongoing success of his former assistant coaches and the tens of millions of dollars that many of his players made, Brown, right or wrong, was at odds with Allen Iverson, not only a cultural icon in Philly but perhaps the most popular basketball player in America.

His former general manager will admit that he owes his current status in Philly to Brown. His former assistant coach who is now the Sixers head coach will speak of him fondly.

But Iverson is still in Philly and he still owns the city. And despite injuries to his shoulder and knee, despite the fact that the Sixers played Tuesday night, he states loud and clear that it would take hospitalization to keep him off the floor tonight.

You've heard Iverson call him the "enemy." You've heard Eric Snow use the same word.

"The only regret I have is, I think, some of the things I probably could have nipped in the bud a little sooner," Brown said. "But I don't know. I don't know if that would have changed anything. This is a pretty successful franchise. Had we been healthy in some areas, you never how far this group could have gone. Then again, I remember when I came here, what this was like, what this building was like. I'm proud of what we all were able to do to restore the pride in this franchise. From that standpoint, you don't have any regrets."

Future dim in New Jersey

In a season that has gone from bad to worse, the New Jersey Nets have seen the risk they took in signing Alonzo Mourning rewarded with the worst possible outcome Monday.


MourningIt's a sad day in the NBA when one of the league's ultimate warriors has to step away because of an illness. In the end, though, even a player as intimidating as Mourning has to be more concerned for the life he is living than the game he loves. And with a kidney transplant his only hope for survival, it was time to walk away.
It's a troubling scenario for a team struggling with some recent personnel moves that could come back to haunt them, not only this year but also in the future. The potential sale of the franchise and a possible new home are looming, as well, making this a very critical time for a team that just two seasons ago looked to be one of the biggest success stories in professional sports.

Three seasons ago this team was 26-56 and pulled the trade that brought them their savior in Jason Kidd, the best runner of the fast break since Magic Johnson. That move, and the trade that netted them Jason Collins and Richard Jefferson for Eddie Griffin, put them on the road to success, helping them reach the finals the past two seasons. The turnaround really came at a critical time, when a new arena and new ownership were being discussed and financial troubles continued to escalate.

Dikembe Mutombo
Center
New York Knicks
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
13 5.8 5.5 0.5 .492 .722


But the success also masked some of the moves that ultimately could spell the demise of this franchise. Some of the concerns I raised over certain moves are coming to pass. The first was the trade of Keith Van Horn for Dikembe Mutombo. Now everyone knows there was dissension among Van Horn and his teammates, and something was going to give. But the questions of whether Dikembe was the solution, and whether the price the organization had to pay was too high, are the real issues. Because at the end of the day, the Nets spent more than $50 million for a guy to lead cheers on the bench, even when he was healthy. That is a huge price to pay.

Of course, buying Mutombo out to save $7 million when they knew the risk of Alonzo's health is another issue entirely. At that point, they might have been better served to try and recoup some of that investment as an insurance policy in case the worst case scenario did play itself out.

You really don't have to get into the other issues of Chris Childs and Rodney Rogers (although in fairness, Rogers has been injured and unable to really contribute consistently), but those excuses won't be in play if Byron Scott is fired and made the scapegoat.

The bottom line, though, is that the team's biggest issues were never addressed. The Nets have not developed the ability to score in the half court with a solid post game that demands a double team and they have not become deadly enough shooting from the perimeter to open up the half court so Kidd has more freedom to create.

Jason Kidd
Point Guard
New Jersey Nets
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
11 16.8 6.5 9.6 .374 .833


The blueprint to defeat the Nets was mapped out over the last two years: Take away their transition game and force them to beat you in the half court, and you can be successful.

There are other issues as well, with Kidd being worn out and the team suffering such a huge drop-off when he's out of the game. This team, unlike Indiana, Detroit and even New Orleans, was never that talented overall. They have great chemistry and, as I said earlier, a guy who gets other people as many easy baskets as anyone who has ever played the game.

But because this league is so competitive, you always have to be forward-thinking. When you make moves to win today and then don't win, you pay dearly in the future. That's the position the Nets are in, and they will be hard-pressed to regain their status as the beasts of the east.


Peep Show

Washington Wizards: Gilbert Arenas will tell you that he's 100 percent and ready to play again after severely straining his abdominal muscle a few days ago but he'd be lying. "You always like the fact that a guy thinks he's ready to contribute," general manager Ernie Grunfeld said in the Washington Times. "We're just going to have to monitor the situation. You have to be careful with it and not think that he's 100 percent if he's not. If he is, he's the one that knows." He has been placed on the injured list which usually requires a player to sit out five games but since the Wizards have only 11 players on their roster, he can return sooner.

San Antonio Spurs: Back up point guard Anthony Carter is down again after being back up again after hurting his knee during the second game of the season. "I can't do nothing about it," Carter said in the San Antonio Express News. "We've tried everything. Medication. Rest. Some strengthening exercises. It's just not working right now." The Spurs are now openly wondering if the extent of tendinitis problems was not kept hidden from them when they signed the veteran player during the off season. "I didn't come here to sit on the side and watch the game from the baseline," said Carter. "I came here to play and to try to win. I'm in a new situation, trying to jump-start my career again. This is just a big disappointment."

Philadelphia 76ers: Glenn Robinson only wishes it was a normal ankle injury that has been keeping him out of all these games. "I thought it was just a regular ankle sprain, and that was like four weeks ago," Robinson said in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Each day is getting more and more frustrating. I started out well, but it was still giving me trouble. I thought it would get better, within at least seven to eight days, like a normal sprain. But after 10 days, it was actually worse." He was placed in injured reserve Tuesday.

Utah Jazz: The Deseret News is reporting that center Keon Clark could miss up to three months of action after undergoing ankle surgery in Los Angeles recently. The original diagnosis called for a six week rehab stint but doctors say that will happen under a best case scenario and don't expect it here.

Boston Celtics: By the looks of things, center Raef LaFrentz feels better today than he did yesterday but not nearly as good as he will tomorrow. "If it goes according to plan," head coach Jim O'Brien said in the Boston Globe, "he will practice with us on Thanksgiving and try to be ready for Friday. That was not the case yesterday." LaFrentz has been out with tendinitis in his right knee since November 14.

Miami Heat: Head coach Stan Van Gundy got tired of watching his small forward labor up and down the court on his surgically repaired left knee so he's decided to sit Caron Butler so that this thing doesn't become mental. "He's still got a significant strength deficit in his left leg," head coach Stan Van Gundy said in the Sun Sentinel. "The knee itself is fine, but he's got a real strength deficit, which is affecting his quickness and explosion. He's obviously got a conditioning problem, as well." Van Gundy will give him a couple games rest and then decide on a game to game basis from there.

superheadcat
11-26-2003, 01:37 PM
hey, mavs have 2 meetings with lakers, 1 with kings, blazer, and t-pups during december, how is that 2nd easiest?

kingrex
11-26-2003, 04:56 PM
How can any schedule in the Midwest Division be considered easy, unless they're playing a stretch with all east coast teams only.

superheadcat
11-26-2003, 06:06 PM
on 2nd thought, the better a team is, the easier its schedule will be, regardless of the opponents.
i'll bet for mj's bulls, their schedule was easy every month.

so, i'll agree maybe mavs' schedule IS easy.