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thebac
12-02-2003, 12:42 PM
Can Antonio McDyess save the Knicks?

NEW YORK -- The crowd in Madison Square Garden is chanting again.

For the first time in a long time, however, they aren't screaming "Fire Layden!"

Antonio McDyess is about to play his first game since March of 2002. The crowd at the Garden on this cool December night can barely contain itself. The atmosphere is electric.

During pregame warm-ups the crowd starts chanting his name. McDyess, overcome with emotion, actually walks off the court just before tip off and runs back into the tunnel, tears welling up in his eyes. Pistons GM Joe Dumars stops and asks McDyess if everything is OK. McDyess just puts up his hand and keeps walking.

No one knows how to read the tears. Did McDyess just suffer another heart wrenching setback or was the significance of the moment tearing at McDyess' heart strings?

"I sat back and said to myself, 'I never expected to be back on the court,' " McDyess told reporters after the game. "Honestly, there were times I thought I was going to have to retire and give up."

Within minutes McDyess composes himself and walks back onto the court.

When Knicks coach Don Chaney tells McDyess to get off the bench with three minutes left in the first quarter, the crowd erupts. Ten seconds later, before McDyess has a chance to get in the game, Chaney calls him back over to the bench to a chorus of boos.

Antonio McDyess
Power Forward
New York Knicks
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
1 2.0 3.0 1.0 .000 .500



Eventually, McDyess will get in the game. His two points and three rebounds in 13 minutes may not be much cause for celebration in most cities, but for the snake bitten Knicks, the fact that McDyess walked off the court under his own power after the game is reason enough to party.

"I think I'm going to be all right," he said. "Actually, I really think I'm going to be all right. Physically, everything was in place, my bounce, everything, running. I feel like I'm going to be pretty good."

Knicks president Scott Layden stands in the tunnel wearing his traditional FDNY hat and an untraditional big smile. Layden appears to be more at ease than I've seen him in the last two years.

The usually close-to-the-vest Layden leans against the wall, stops beat writers walking by and gives a warm hello, cracks a joke or two and acts like, for at least one day, the weight of the world isn't on his shoulders.

Layden's hallmark acquisition during his tenure with the Knicks, McDyess, is back and with him comes the return of hope for millions of Knicks fans.

Playing alongside Layden's other summer acquisitions -- Dikembe Mutombo and Keith Van Horn -- the Knicks now have one of the biggest front lines in the NBA. Slowly but surely the Knicks are starting to turn their fortunes around, and Layden believes that a healthy McDyess is the missing piece of the puzzle.

"We're not naive, but as of late we've played well," Layden tells Insider in an exclusive interview. "Getting Antonio back should give us a big boost. We are encouraged by the signs we see. Now with Antonio back, we feel we can be very good."

With the exception of McDyess, no one feels better about his comeback than Layden.

A year and a half ago, Layden traded oft-injured center Marcus Camby and the draft rights to Nene Hilario to the Nuggets for McDyess, the rights to Frank Williams and the Nuggets' 2003 second-round pick (who ultimately became Maciej Lampe).

The trade was considered a coup at the time, but like so many things under Layden's tenure in New York, the enthusiasm quickly eroded into cynicism when McDyess shattered an already fragile knee in training camp last year and sat out the entire season.

With a bloated payroll filled with bench players making all-star money, Layden looked like he was backed into a corner this summer. Trade rumor after trade rumor fell on deaf ears and the Knicks' heralded second-round pick, Milos Vujanic, decided to stay in Europe another year. The draft yielded yet another undersized power forward, Mike Sweetney, and two 7-foot teenagers from Europe who were years away, and the Knicks struck out in the free-agent market.



LaydenSurrounded by an aggressive New York press that quickly tired of Layden's stoic demeanor and bad karma, the chants of "Fire Layden!" were about the only thing that sparked any type of passion in Knicks fans.
Layden, however, wouldn't flinch.

"You always look forward," Layden said. "We knew Antonio was coming back and it was a little unfair to judge the team without him. He's going to play a big role for us. It will take him a while to get back into the system, but we're going to be alright."

Layden just may be right this time.

If McDyess stays healthy (still a big if) he gives the Knicks that athletic power forward the team has coveted for years. After a rough start, Dikembe Mutombo is starting to resemble the NBA Defensive Player of the Year again. Over his last four games, he's averaged 12.8 ppg, 14.8 rpg and 2.8 bpg and did a number on the Pistons' Ben Wallace on Monday night.

Allan Houston can still score in bunches, Kurt Thomas ranks fifth in the league in rebounding at 10.7 rpg, Van Horn hasn't been the flop in New York folks predicted he would be, the combo of Charlie Ward, Howard Eisley and a much improved Frank Williams are holding their own at the point and the Knicks have a pretty deep, if expensive, bench with Shandon Anderson, Clarence Weatherspoon, Michael Doleac, Ward and Williams.

The Knicks have won four of their last six, all against solid opponents. The team now faces a brutal five-game Western Conference road trip, but with the return of McDyess, the Knicks feel they will eventually be able to kick it up another notch.

Meanwhile, the Knicks of the future are starting to fall into place. Vujanic is wowing scouts on an even bigger stage in Italy this year. Williams is now getting regular playing time in Chaney's rotation and has had several spectacular outings. Sweetney, Lampe and Slavko Vranes are mired on the injured list right now, but the coaches claim each player is progressing nicely. At least the semblance of a youth movement is beginning to take place right under the critics' noses.

"People are missing the fact that we've had an eye on developing younger players," Layden said. "But at the same time, my job is to put a basketball team on the floor that has a chance to win."

In fact, for once, the Knicks may have too much of a good thing going. Rumors are already swirling in the New York tabloids that the long rumored combination of Thomas and Ward may finally be traded if Williams and McDyess both continue to perform well.

"The question you haven't asked, or want to ask, now that you have all these guys, when's the next trade," Layden told Insider. "The answer to that is that if there's something out there that will improve the team, we're going to look at it."

Sounds like Layden is ready to add a little fuel to the hot stove. The Knicks have been linked to talk with the Bulls for Jamal Crawford and the Raptors for Morris Peterson in recent weeks. With the Bulls-Raptors recent swap, Toronto is looking for a big man. What about a Peterson-for-Michael Doleac swap? They say every trade rumor at some point makes a stop in New York. . .

"It either runs through New York or through your column," Layden says with a smile. "That's just the nature of New York."

So is the biting criticism that seems to have dogged Layden since he first joined the Knicks in 1997.

"People are frustrated by my lack of communication, but my intention isn't to frustrate people, it's just my nature," Layden said recently in an interview with the New York Times. "I take very serious the information I have, and I'm not anxious to share that."

Fair enough. Monday night Layden predictably deflects all questions about trade scenarios, free agents or the status of his rookies or the future. He does, however, answer one question about himself.

When asked if he felt any personal satisfaction over the fact that the Knicks are starting to prove a lot of folks wrong, he pauses and with a twinkle in his eye says, "I feel great."

No one is pulling for Layden more than McDyess. "He took a chance on me and I'd love to give him the success he deserves," McDyess said. "That's a lot of pressure on me, but I guess that's why he brought me here."

They say that most people wilt within seconds under the intense heat produced by the New York media magnifying glass. But for one night at least, for McDyess and Layden, the warmth has to feel pretty good.

Around the League


-Despite all the enthusiasm surrounding McDyess' return, don't expect coach Don Chaney to give him big minutes anytime soon. McDyess played 13 minutes on Monday and expects to get around the same number of minutes for the next week or so until everyone's comfortable that his knee is sound.
"It's weird," Chaney said, "because as a coach, you want to keep your best players out on the court as long as they can go. You hate to set limits for them."

"I could have played longer," McDyess said. "But I didn't want to push it."


-Layden was also adamant that we take coach Don Chaney off the Insider hot seat list.
"We're well coached," Layden said. "We have the coach that we want in place. He's the right guy for the job. I'm his biggest fan. Sincerely with what's going on here, he's the right guy for the job."


-Keep watching things in Boston between Paul Pierce, coach Jim O'Brien and team president Danny Ainge. The Celtics are in a tailspin, their offense is going nowhere and Pierce is getting frustrated with the team's inability to do anything without him. Insider wrote last week that O'Brien was one of the coaches on the hot seat. Here's why.
Paul Pierce
Shooting Guard
Boston Celtics
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
17 22.3 7.1 5.5 .405 .846



"It's very frustrating," Pierce told the Boston Herald. "Too many times we get stagnant on offense. A lot of guys depend on me to make a play every time down the court, and it puts a lot of pressure on me. We have to step up, each and every one of us as individuals, and not depend on me as much. I know I carry a heavy load on this ball club, but it has to be a team effort if we are going to be consistent and win ball games."

Without Antoine Walker, O'Brien hasn't been able to come up with, or the players have been unable to execute, any semblance of an offense that doesn't include Pierce.

"It's definitely a different flow," he said. "I don't think we understand how to play without me yet. I think that's going to be the key for us all year, because the good teams in this league know how to play without their star player in the game, and that's what we have to do because we're talented enough."


-The honeymoon between new head coach Scott Skiles and the Baby Bulls is off to a great start. A convincing win for the Bulls on Monday night had everyone singing Skiles' praises.
"Before we came on the court we kept calling ourselves the new Bulls," Eddy Curry, who had 22 points, told the Chicago Tribune. "It's like we were reborn."

"With coach Skiles' system and the new guys, it fits our team so much better," Jamal Crawford said after dropping 30 points on the Bucks. "That's the most comfortable I've been in four years here. I feel very comfortable off the ball. Kirk [Hinrich] takes a lot of pressure off me, and he's fun to play with."

"Playing point guard under a point guard coach is an advantage," said Kirk Hinrich, who had six points and eight assists. "He was a great player in this league for so many years, so that will help in the point guard aspect. I'm not trying to kiss up to him. I just want to learn as much as possible from him."

Even Scottie Pippen was impressed.

"Those two guys [Crawford and Curry], along with Kirk Hinrich, are the future of this franchise," Pippen said. "It was good to see those guys out there building some chemistry together after one game and having fun and come away with a convincing win."


-Knicks president Scott Layden believes strongly second-round pick Milos Vujanic made the right decision by staying in Europe another season.
"The one thing he is doing is playing 40 minutes a game at a high level against very good competition," Layden told Insider. "There's certainly a benefit . That should help him down the road."

The Knicks have a logjam at point guard as it is and Layden has been unable to find a deal for Charlie Ward that's been acceptable to him. So instead of languishing on the bench with Maciej Lampe and Slavko Vranes, Vujanic is averaging 34 mpg and 14.7 ppg in Euroleague play for one of the top teams in Europe.

While Layden had nothing new to report on when Vujanic will ultimately join the Knicks (there has been some talk that he may choose to play one more season for Bologna) Layden sounded convinced that next year he'd be wearing a Knicks uniform.

"He's going to play here," Layden said. "We want him and he wants to be here. We'll get that worked out. His game is getting better, he's improving all of the time. That's important for everyone concerned."


-While we're on the subject of draft picks still playing overseas, the Pistons are thrilled with the play of their other first-round pick, Carlos Delfino. Delfino just happens to be the teammate of Vujanic and is also seeing big time minutes for Skipper Bologna.
While his numbers in Euroleague play (12.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.0 apg) won't blow anyone away, like Vujanic, at least he's getting playing time against top talent. Right now the only run Darko Milicic is getting is in practice and during shoot arounds.

"People forget that Darko really hasn't played that much period," Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "Last year his team spent half the time trying to hide the kid from NBA scouts. He's doing fine in practice, he just needs a lot of game experience."

So are the Pistons going to give it to him? "That's tough because he's not ready," Brown said. "It's a strange tight rope you have to walk."


The Good, the Bad, the Kitchen Sink

Here we are, six weeks in, wondering if I'm going to have to wait 'till Christmas to see the Cavs win their first one on the road or the Magic win their first one at home before LeBron and crew head to Orlando for a Dec. 25 date.

The Good

Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers



IversonWeek's work: 2-2 record, 30 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 5.2 apg, 2.2 spg, 8 triples, 45% shooting
Allen Iverson scores 30. Allen Iverson scores 40. Allen Iverson scores 50. Only this time, those 30-, 40- and 50-point games are putting him a full 3.6 points ahead of the next highest guy in the scoring column (last year's king Tracy McGrady). To put that into perspective, Zach Randolph is scoring less than four points per game less than McGrady and he's No. 13 on the same list.

Voshon Lenard, Denver Nuggets
Week's work: 3-0 record, 21.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1 apg, 0.6 spg, 10 triples, 50% Shooting
Last year, Denver went 17-65 and only one Nugget averaged more than 11 points per game, and a lot of good it did that guy who now plays for the Orlando Magic. This year, the Nuggets are 10-6 . . . I SAID THE NUGGETS ARE 10-6 . . . And there are five players averaging 11 or more points, led last week by Lenard, who was a second-round draft pick, did time in the CBA and has changed uniforms four times in his eight NBA seasons but would do anything to stay out of Orlando, himself.

Mike Bibby, Sacramento Kings
Week's work: 3-0 record, 16 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 6 apg, 1.6 spg, 5 triples, 57% shooting
The hottest team in the league is not in Los Angeles and the hottest point guard in same said league is not in New Orleans. The Kings have now won eight games in a row and Mike Bibby is shooting a career-high 48 percent from the field, career-best 4 6 percent from distance and 81 percent from the line. Compare that to the Lakers' current six-game streak and Baron Davis' 40 percent from the field, 38 percent from distance and 60 percent from the line.

Devean George, Los Angeles Lakers
Week's work: 3-0 record, 13.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 4 triples, 61% shooting
Shaq and Kobe were great. Karl and Gary make them greater. But if the fifth starter in this bunch continues to average double digits while shooting 79 percent from the field (George was 15-for-19 on the week before the Lakers squashed the Pacers) then they could very well become the greatest.

The Bad

Bonzi Wells, Portland Trail Blazers



WellsWeak work: 1-1 record, 2.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2 apg, 0spg, 0 bpg, 13% shooting
Small children growing up in the Northwest will hear stories for years to come about the basketball player who didn't listen to his parents and was never seen or heard from again.

Tyronn Lue, Orlando Magic
Weak work: 0-3 record, 7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 4 apg, 0.3 spg, 30% shooting
All Tyronn ever did was help guard Allen Iverson a few years ago when Derek Fisher and Kobe got tired during the NBA Finals. But then the Wizards had to go and give him a contract and a starting position, followed by the Magic, followed by 15 losses in a row and we've got to put him here for putting up numbers that were better than he ever accumulated for the Lakers in the first place.

Kelvin Cato, Houston Rockets
Weak work: 1-3 record, 3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.2 spg, 0.2 bpg, 25% shooting
Once blocked 11 shots in a single NCAA game followed by eight blocks in a single NBA game and had 24 of them in the first 12 games this season. Too bad he had a grand total of one in the next four just as Houston folk were starting to name twin babies after him and Yao.

Ronald Murray, Seattle SuperSonics
Weak work: 0-3 record, 10.6 ppg, 6 rpg, 1 apg, 0.6 spg, 29% shooting
After scoring 20 or more points in 10 of 11 games, Flip hits his first slump on the chin by going three straight games without reaching that plateau. But, fear not, there are definite signs he's working his way out of his shooting slump. On Tuesday, he went 4-for-17. On Friday, he went 4-for-14. On Saturday, he went 4-for-12. When next we talk, he should be at a respectable 4-for-7 or 8 and we can start working on his defense or lack thereof.

The Ugly



CambySure, the Nuggets are winning. Sure, Marcus Camby has played in all 16 of their games after missing 106 of them over the last two seasons. And sure, Mr. Camby is blocking lots of shots and grabbing lots of rebounds.
But after averaging 14.8 points per game on 48 percent shooting as a rookie and 10.9 points per game on his career on 46 percent shooting, he has cracked the double digit column only one time this entire season and is averaging a scant 4.4 points per game on 30 percent shooting after scoring only one point against the Clippers on Friday night before leaving the game with a strained groin.

The Kitchen Sink

KNICK OF TIME
In the seven games that the New York Knicks have won this year, Dikembe Mutombo has played an average of 31.6 minutes and tallied 9.4 points and 9.4 boards per contest. In their 10 losses, Mutombo has averaged 20.8 minutes, 6.1 points and 5.5 rebounds. In fact, when Mutombo playes 30 or more minutes, the Knicks are 5-1. When he plays less than that, they are 2-9.

PEJA TO THE POINT
Not only is Peja Stojakovic the fourth-highest scorer in the NBA right now at 23.3 points per game, but there are only three players in the entire league shooting better than his 53 percent from the field and only one player who has made more triples than his 36 in 16 games. By comparison, those three players scoring more points are shooting a combined 41 percent from the field while those three players with higher shooting percentages have made a combined 31 triples.

FREE SPREE



SprewellUsed to be that Latrell Sprewell could smell the rim from a block away and there wasn't anything you or I could do to keep him away from it. But times have changed.
Already four times this season, he has failed to get to the free-throw line once and the result has been a grand total of 18 points in those four contests despite playing 152 minutes. Two of those occurrences came last week as he was held scoreless against the Pacers and managed only five points against the Knicks before forcing his way into the paint and being awarded 12 free throws the following game against the Grizzlies. As a result, he scored 24 points and the Timberwolves won their only game of the week.

LESS IS MORE
Two years ago, we thought Al Harrington might very well win the Sixthman of the Year Award. Last year, we thought he might finally win his starting position. This year, we're not sure if the Indiana Pacers really want him to get any better at all because in the three games the team has dropped this season, he's averaged a whopping 20.3 points per game on 53 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent shooting from distance.

But in the 14 games that the Pacers have won this year, Harrington has averaged 10.7 points per game on 39 percent shooting from the field and 9 percent shooting from distance.

AIR APPARENT
Michael Jordan, No. 3 pick in the 1984 draft and former Wizard franchise player.
Last year: 20 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.4 bpg, 44% shooting

Gilbert Arenas, No. 31 pick in the 2001 draft and current Wizard franchise player.
This year: 20.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.9 spg, 0.2 bpg, 41% shooting

PAYBACK SPECIAL
New Orleans Hornets (11-6) versus Chicago Bulls (4-12)
Saturday, Dec. 6 in Chicago at 8:30 pm EST

Remember when the Bulls tried to blame all those losses on poor Tim Floyd. Well, now that they've gotten rid of another coach and Floyd's old boss, they should be just about ready to blame yet another lose on him, too.

THE END

"If you beat the quote-unquote teams you're supposed to beat and you lose to the best teams, then you're no good. If you beat the good teams and you lose to the not-so-good teams, you're no good. So if you ever lose, you're no good. It doesn't matter who you lose to."

Rocket coach Jeff Van Gundy on why there have been no truly great teams in the NBA since the 1972 Dolphins.

Mailbag: No 'D' in Sacramento

There's a lot happening in the Association this week, with the Raptors and Bulls finally pulling the trigger on the trade of Jalen Rose & Co. for Antonio Davis & Co.; the potential return of Antonio McDyess to the Knicks, and Sunday's showdown between the Lakers and Pacers.
On top of that, Scott Skiles will be making his debut with the Bulls, and there are still plenty of other trades, teams, and players to speculate about. We'll try to use Mondays to catch up on your e-mail from the previous week.

Greg:
Why does it seem as though you hate the Kings? Is there someone in that organization you don't get along with?
Bobby
Merced, Calif.

Bobby: Let me start by saying I think they have, in the Maloof brothers, as good an ownership group as there is in the league. They have great stars in C-Webb and Peja, and their supporting cast -- with Bobby Jackson, Mike Bibby, Vlade and the addition of Brad Miller -- is very good. I really like their team and the way they play so unselfishly.

The problem is that if you look at the last 10 champions in the NBA, the one constant they had that this great Kings team doesn't is that their best player was also the most dominant defensive player in the league (Tim Duncan in San Antonio, Shaq in L.A., Jordan in Chicago, and Hakeem in Houston). All those teams could score, but they won so many games with their defense at critical junctures. That is the one concern for the Kings -- their best players are not instinctively defensive-minded. That said, they could be the first to break that string.



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LeBron James
Point Guard
Cleveland Cavaliers
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
17 17.5 7.0 6.4 .419 .699


Greg:
How can you say LeBron James is easily the rookie of the year over Carmelo Anthony? James is second in the league in total minutes, and his stats aren't as good as 'Melo's. Also, 'Melo has made the Nuggets a totally different team that is winning now.
Clay
Huntington Beach, Calif.

Well Clay,
Carmelo is a super talent, but if you compare the rosters, Denver has added a list of solid veterans who previously have had huge impacts on winning teams -- Andre Miller, Earl Boykins, Voshon Lenard and a healthy Marcus Camby. Also, the fact the Nuggets have had some stability with their head coach means they simply have a better basketball team. You have to give Paul Silas some time to figure out what direction this franchise is headed in from a personnel standpoint (remember, he has to deal with the Ricky Davis dilemma). And while you have to credit Carmelo for having an impact, don't think it's completely because of him.

As for stats, Lebron shoots a higher percentage from the field and 3-point range, averages more rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and scoring. He also averages more turnovers than Carmelo, and 'Melo shoots better from the free throw line. But overall, I still give the edge to LeBron, though Carmelo is right there, and I love them both.



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Greg:
What about Jerry Sloan for coach of the Year?
Jay Furca
Murray, Utah

Jay:
I think he is the leading candidate right now, because of the way his team is not only competing but winning games, which is still the hardest thing in sports to do, and Sloan has proven his worth as a top notch coach.



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Greg:
Erick Dampier
Center
Golden State Warriors
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
15 12.3 14.0 0.7 .490 .551


What about Erick Dampier as an early standout, leading the league in rebounding and having outplayed every center he has faced this year, including a dominant performance against Shaq.
Matthew Epstein
Boston, Mass.

Matthew:
I agree he has been a huge plus for the injury-hampered Warriors. He is without question the MVP of that team and gives all the Warriora fans out there a reason for optimism.



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Greg:
Zach Randolph
Power Forward
Portland Trail Blazers
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
15 20.7 11.2 2.7 .513 .788


As a Trail Blazers fan, I'm surprised at the lack of attention Zach Randolph is getting. He's averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds per game but has yet to earn any praise from the national media because of the circumstances surrounding this team. He is by far the most improved player this year, and in my eyes, if he continues these numbers, deserves a spot on that deep West all-star bench. If not, he at least deserves the most improved player award.
Adam Schaefer
Portland, Ore.

Adam:
I agree with your assessment of his talent and your recognition that maybe the exposure has not come because of all the issues surrounding that team. But Zach Randolph is a stud and a guy with a great work ethic, and it's about time we tip our cap to him.

Thanks for all the great stuff, and keep sending the e-mail as we continue to see what develops in the NBA this season.


Peep Show
By Terry Brown
NBA Insider
Tuesday, December 2
Updated: December 2
9:00 AM ET


Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Garnett doesn't care how good looking Wally Szczerbiak or Troy Hudson might be. If they're hurt, there's nothing he can do for them or vice versa. "If you're in street clothes and you're not a coach, I don't really look at you," Garnett said in the Minnesota Star Tribune. "And it's not any disrespect to those guys. But it's almost like a tease. When you see a chick in the front row and she's hot -- you don't want to tease yourself. I want to stay focused on who I've got, encourage them and try to motivate them." Both Szczerbiak and Hudson started last year but have been unable to play a single minute this year with injuries.

Chicago Bulls: Tyson Chandler has already missed seven of 17 games so far this season and is finally admitting that his sore back is going to keep him out of even more. "It's pretty painful, and it's not getting better," Chandler said in the Chicago Tribune. "I know it will heal. It's just a matter of when and what it's going to take." He was placed in injured reserve recently, meaning he will miss at least the next five games. "I work hard to be on the court, and I go through a lot of pain when I'm out there," Chandler said. "I don't worry about people judging my character. I know what my character is."

Houston Rockets: Houston may have the tallest guy in the league on its roster but it's the little things that have killed the Rockets on their 1-4 road trip. "It really felt like a training camp practice, where we did a lot of things to help us pay attention to details," Maurice Taylor said in the Houston Chronicle. "When you're in a slump and not playing well, you always go back to your basics, because once you get your basics in line and get back to the things that had you winning in the first place, it helps you. You've got to go back to the little things, because it's not really any large things that are hurting us. It's not passing the ball well, mishandling the ball, free throws. It's the little stuff like that that is killing us. I think sometimes with the season being so long and you not having a lot of practices, you get away from the little things sometimes and just focus on the big things, which is the games."

Orlando Magic: The drama continues as does the 15-game losing streak. "I didn't want Darrell [Armstrong] back," fired Magic coach Doc Rivers told the N.Y. Post. "He's my all-time favorite player, but the only way to take a step forward was to have Tracy McGrady leading the team. Darrell was a strong leader and a good leader for nine seasons. But the only way to advance to the next level was to have your best player as captain . . . Obviously, we would've been better with Darrell. I could see we needed his direction and energy. But all summer he said he felt he should start and would not come back as a backup." Rumors suggested general manager John Gabriel let Armstrong go to undermine Rivers this season.



Indiana Pacers: Ron Artest has a secret and Pacer fans aren't going to like it because it involves a sore back that he's been hiding for a few games now. "I've been playing with it for a while but it's just too sore right now," said Artest in the Indianapolis Star after missing Monday's game. He also said that he'd play in Wednesday game against the Blazers.

Cleveland Cavaliers: It's easy come, easy go in Cleveland these days as the Cavs announced the return of Carlos Boozer from injury just as they said DiSagana Diop would not play for a while after injuring his knee. "It will be good to have him back out there," coach Paul Silas said of Boozer in the Plain Dealer. "I think we probably would have won three or four of those games had he been in there." Boozer had missed a total of six games.