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12-22-2003, 12:55 PM
Better off without them?

A big injury to a star player can turn even the best of teams into bottom feeders. But that's not exactly true this year. A few teams -- the Kings and Grizzlies come to mind -- are actually playing better without a key player.

Of course, that leads us to the obvious bar room debate -- are the Kings better off without Chris Webber? Would the Grizzlies be smart just to leave Jason Williams on the injured list for the next few months? Are there other teams out there that might be better if one of their top players stayed on the IL?

Insider breaks down the NBA at Week 8, including five teams that may be better off without an injured star; the second coming of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade; Donald Sterling's big payoff and one big reason why it may be too early to write off the Magic just yet.

Better off dead? What I'm about to say goes against everything we think we know about the NBA. You know the mantra by now. Stars win championships. Point guards lead their teams to victory. You need veterans to take home a ring. Low-post bangers and perimeter sharp shooters are essential to any team wants to still be playing in June.
Maybe. But for teams like the Kings, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Knicks and Timberwolves, watch them play and dominate without a key player and then ask yourself -- will they be as good when the guy making $15 million returns? The answer isn't always as cut-and-dry as it appears.

Better off without Chris Webber?

Chris Webber
Power Forward
Sacramento Kings

- - - - - -

Yes: The Kings have the second-best record in the NBA (19-6) without Webber. They rank first in the NBA in points scored. In Webber's absence, Brad Miller has moved from center to power forward and put up career numbers -- 15.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 5 apg and 1.5 bpg on 53 percent shooting from the field. The combo of Vlade Divac and Miller anchoring the middle gives Sacramento one of the biggest, best passing front lines in the NBA. The loss of Webber has also forced Peja Stojakovic to take his game to another level. His 24.3 ppg and 5.7 rpg on 50 percent shooting are all career highs. When Webber comes back, will the chemistry this group has developed fade? Webber demanded 21.4 shots per game last season to get to his 23 ppg average. He needs those shots to get into his game. Stojakovic needs just 17 shots per game to average 24.3 ppg. And Miller, who has similar numbers to Webber last season in every category but points, needs just 11.1 shots per game. When you factor in that Miller shoots 16 percentage points higher than Webber from the line, who do you want taking shots in the fourth quarter?

No: When he's healthy, Webber is one of the most dominant power forwards in the NBA. He's more athletic than Miller, a better defender and a better low-post scorer. With so many perimeter options for the Kings, Webber's presence on the block may actually give players like Stojakovic and Miller more wide open looks. Besides, it won't be Miller who sees a cut in playing time. Divac is 35 years old and tends to wear out toward the end of the season if forced to play heavy minutes. He's averaging around 29 mpg right now, a little too much for coach Rick Adelman's taste. When Webber comes back, look for Adelman to cut Divac's minutes down to between 20 and 25 a game to keep him fresh for a playoff run.

Better off without Jason Williams?

Jason Williams
Point Guard
Memphis Grizzlies

17 10.9 1.4 6.9 .405 .842

Yes: The Grizzlies were 6-8 before Williams injured his back on Nov. 29th. With Williams out, Earl Watson and Mike Miller took over point guard duties and went on a five game winning streak. By the time Williams came back, the Grizzlies had gone 8-2 without him in the lineup. During that stretch, Watson did an incredible job running the point, averaging eight apg, and Miller transformed into a point forward, upping his numbers from 3.2 apg to 7.3 apg during those 10 games. Those numbers aren't the only thing Hubie Brown likes. Watson is a much tougher defender and rebounder than Williams. The Grizzlies showed a big improvement on the defensive end during that 10-game stretch without suffering a major let down in points scored. Racking up a 100 points a game may be the Grizzlies' strength, but the added backcourt toughness Watson brings turns them from an up-and-comer into a playoff contender.

No: Williams wasn't really at fault for any of the Grizzlies' first eight losses and he hit a couple of key fourth-quarter shots that helped Memphis pull out some of their first six wins. While Williams isn't a great defender, he a more proficient scorer, does a better job of getting the Grizzlies out on the break and his assist-to-turnover ratio (4.21) is second best in the NBA. Brown may be better off continuing to rotate the two depending on matchups. When he needs the extra defensive help, Watson gets the call. When he needs a little juice in the offense, Williams runs the show.

Better off without Michael Finley?

Michael Finley
Dallas Mavericks

21 17.3 4.8 2.9 .443 .845

Yes: Expendable may be the better word. For the second time in as many years, Mavericks fans wonder aloud why Mark Cuban doesn't trade away Finley and get some low-post help for the team. Last year, it was the play of Nick Van Exel that appeared to make Finley expendable. This year, it's the play of rookie Josh Howard. While Howard isn't the offensive powerhouse that Finley can be, he's younger, more athletic, a better rebounder and a tougher defender. Since Finley went down with a sprained toe on Dec. 10th, Howard is averaging 13 ppg and nine rpg on 45 percent shooting from the field. His defense on Kobe Bryant last week (Bryant went just 4-or-18 from the field) was a big reason the Mavs beat the Lakers in L.A. for the first time in 13 years. With so many players on this team who can score (Dirk Nowitzki, Antoine Walker, Antawn Jamison, Steve Nash) aren't the Mavs better off putting at least one young defender in the lineup -- especially if trading Finley could net the Mavs a veteran big man to do some of the dirty work in the paint?

No: Take a look at the Mavs' record without Finley -- 2-3. Those losses came at the hands of the Celtics, T-Wolves and Clippers. The Mavs gave up an average of 111.3 ppg during those three games. Howard may be a good defender, but his presence isn't enough to slow down the opponents of the Mavs. And don't forget that Finley is a proven all-star while Howard, a rookie, still has a long way to go. Rookies tend to hit the wall late in the season because of the enormous amount of games played. Mark Cuban wants his team in the Finals this year. Having Howard as a support is nice and should lessen the minutes Finley has to play -- keeping him fresh for the playoffs. But come playoff time, who would you rather have on the floor late in the game?

Better off without Antonio McDyess?

Antonio McDyess
Power Forward
New York Knicks

11 10.3 6.9 1.2 .456 .594

Yes: For a full year and half we had to suffer through the almost daily updates in the New York media about McDyess' knee. Now that he's back, what's the big deal? The Knicks are 3-8 since Dice returned. While you can see that the rust is coming off more and more every game, it's also pretty clear that McDyess doesn't have the same explosiveness he had before the injury. His return has also caused a rift between Kurt Thomas, the team's best rebounder, and coach Don Chaney. Chaney benched Thomas for McDyess last week, prompting Thomas to begin talking trade. Would the Knicks be better off trading McDyess now (his $13.5 million come off the books this summer) and trying to get someone like Zydrunas Ilgauskas in return?

No: Give McDyess time. He's getting better and better every game and it's just a matter of time before he starts feeling like his old self. He's led the team in rebounding in three of the last four games and played a season-high 37 minutes versus the Hawks on Saturday. In that game he scored 19 points on Shareef Abdur-Rahim and was as active on the boards (4 offensive rebounds) as he's been all year. The Knicks still have time to turn their season around and giving up on McDyess now would almost guarantee that they'll miss the playoffs for another season.

Better off without Wally Szczerbiak?

Yes: This year's Timberwolves are a chemistry explosion waiting to happen. So far Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell have gotten along great. But can that trio really handle the return of Wally and Troy Hudson? Combined, Garnett, Spree and Cassell are averaging a total of 52 shots a game and everyone seems happy. Once Hudson is healthy you can add another eight to 10 shots to that total. Will there be any shots left for Wally? But that's not the biggest issue for Flip Saunders. Garnett doesn't like Wally, and now that he has teammates he knows he can win with, will Garnett go back to freezing out Wally like he did two seasons ago? If Szczerbiak comes back and tries to take over as the Wolves' second option on offense, the friction created could set the whole team up in flames. Now that medical reports suggest that he might be out until the All-Star break, are the Wolves better off trying to trade Wally (it will be difficult because of his base-year status) for another big man given Michael Olowokandi's uncertain health?

No: Personalities aside, the Wolves need Wally. They don't have anyone who can knock down the 3 with an regularity. Cassell is their best 3-point shooter, but he's hitting only 38 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Sprewell's shooting just 27 percent from 3 this year. Szczerbiak shot 42 percent from 3-point land last year and hit plenty of clutch shots for the Wolves down the stretch. If the T-Wolves really want to get out of the first round this season, they'll need a sharp shooter to break down the steady diet of zone defense they'll see in the playoffs.

Rookie Players of the Week: A few weeks ago we were marveling at how quickly this year's rookie class was maturing. This week, we're no longer questioning whether this is one of the best rookie classes ever. Last week, two rookies, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, weren't just great rookies. They were as good as anyone in the NBA, and at least one of them should walk away with player of the week honors this week.
Here are their stat lines:

LeBron: 4 games, 28 ppg, 6 apg, 51% shooting
Dwyane: 4 games, 27 ppg, 5.5 apg, 56% shooting

The key for both players has been a shift in roles. With Ricky Davis gone, Cavs coach Paul Silas is no longer asking LeBron to fit in. Silas and LeBron's teammates have seen enough to understand that on most nights, he's the best player on the floor. The trade of Davis wasn't just the result of an obvious rift between Silas and Davis. Silas felt LeBron was ready to take over and didn't want him to hesitate just because Davis was pouting. With Davis gone, the transition was easier. LeBron's development since the trade is enough to justify it. I can't name 15 players in the NBA who are better. Can you?

For Wade, Stan Van Gundy's decision to take the pressure off of Wade to run the offense freed him up to do what he does best -- score at will with one of the quickest first steps of anyone in the league. Wade's play has been so solid over the past few weeks that several NBA scouts have started referring to him as a "smarter" Allen Iverson. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I think it has a lot to do with Wade's shot selection and ability to get his teammates involved while still playing his game.

Sterling cashing in with Brand, Maggette:

What a difference a Brand name makes. After years of keeping a death grip on his wallet and going generic at every turn, Clippers Scrooge Donald Sterling finally bit the bullet and spent some money last summer, committing almost $150 million to Elton Brand and Corey Maggette.
Clippers insiders then sat, in fear, waiting to see the results. Sterling made it clear to management that if he spent the money, he better see results. A Brand injury in the first game, coupled with a 6-11 start for the Clips had everyone in L.A. sweating a bit. Not only could the axe fall from Sterling if the team, despite the infusion of cash, under performed. But it also meant that they'd probably be unable to convince Sterling to spend the rest of the money it took to make the Clippers into a contender.

From that perspective, thank the lord for the return of Brand. It took Brand a few games to get his feet under him, but since a Dec. 9th loss to the Kings in Sacramento, the Clippers have been one of the best teams in the NBA. The team is 5-1 since that point with two impressive wins over the Mavericks and victories over the Suns, Hornets and Bucks. During that steak, Brand has been on fire, averaging 19 ppg and 14 rpg.

And for the first time in his career, he's getting help. Maggette continues to turn himself into an all-star, averaging 20.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg and 3.7 apg during the six-game stretch. Quentin Richardson is also blossoming, averaging 16.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg and shooting a sizzling 42 percent from downtown.

The team also feels that it has its center of the future in Chris Kaman, adequate back-ups in Peja Drobnjak and Melvin Ely, and a dangerous sixth man in Chris Wilcox.

While no one in L.A. expects the team to compete for a championship, Sterling has seen enough improvement to seriously consider spending even more money in 2004. There are some who feel that had the Clips persuaded Gilbert Arenas to come to L.A., they'd be one of the best teams in the NBA right now. A quick look at the Clippers' roster shows surprising depth at every position but point guard. So far, second-year guard Marko Jaric has been spotty. He's looked great at times, terrible at others.

If the team can't convince Kobe Bryant to make the leap next summer (it could get as far as $13 million under the cap), look for the Clips to re-sign Richardson and then use some of that left over money to try and outbid the Bulls for the services of Jamal Crawford.

It's all Gooden:

A few weeks ago, when the Magic were 1-19 with no end to the losing in sight, it seemed pretty safe to write the team off for the rest of the season. No team has ever come back from that bad of a start to make the playoffs. Of course, when's the last time that you can remember a division like the Atlantic that still doesn't sport a team with a winning record two months into the season?
Drew Gooden
Orlando Magic

28 12.8 8.2 1.4 .438 .660

The good news for the Magic is that since their awful start, they've gone 6-2, albeit against less-than-stellar competition. Now, at 7-21, the Magic are just seven games out of first place and have the second-best eight-game record of anyone in their division.

It should come as no surprise that Tracy McGrady's back to his old self during that stretch, averaging 24.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 7 apg.

"We look like a team," McGrady said. "We look like a different team."

But how about second-year forward Drew Gooden? After a slow, slow start in November (9.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg on 37% shooting) he's caught fire in December. Gooden is averaging 15.9 ppg and 9.6 rpg on 50 percent shooting in December. Throw out two really bad games against the Mavs and Wizards in December, and those numbers jump to 18.3 ppg and 11.1 rpg. Gooden has seven double-doubles in December. And here's the big stat, Gooden's doing all of this from off the bench.

"I don't think it matters to him whether he starts or comes off the bench," coach Johnny Davis said of Gooden. "He gives you the same performance, and certainly that speaks to his professionalism, knowing that this is what he needs to do to help the team. He's embraced that role, and as we speak, that's where he'll be."

Gooden doesn't address all of their problems. He's still a pretty soft defender who spends too much time on the perimeter on offense, but at least it's a start. Last year McGrady led all Magic rebounders at 6.5 rpg. With the Magic on the verge of sending Donnell Harvey to the Suns for Robert Archibald (the deal can't be completed until Tuesday) and GM John Gabriel trying to find a taker for Juwan Howard, the team is hopeful it can find a center to help out Gooden defensively.

Jiri or Ricky?

It was pretty safe assumption that when the Celtics traded for Ricky Davis that we'd actually get to see him in the starting lineup. Forget about it. Young Jiri Welsch continues to light things up for the Celtics, keeping Ricky planted firmly in the second unit. His 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting was the key to a Celtics win over the Mavericks last week. And he's been the most consistent 3-point shooter on the team of late.
"He's doing so many important things for us," coach Jim O'Brien told the Boston Globe. "The other thing is that I think people think they can go at him, like they're going to post him or isolate him, but he's a good defensive player. He has been such a key element to our team, for him to be a part of what right now is a first-place team.

"And I have made no bones about it . . . I had no idea who this kid was prior to him coming to Dallas. I didn't know what he looked like, I didn't know his skills. To [executive director of basketball operations] Danny Ainge's credit, he really thought highly of this guy and made sure we had him in this trade, and it has paid tremendous dividends."

Honeymoon over in Toronto:

The Raptors roared out to a 5-0 start after shipping Antonio Davis and Jerome Williams to the Bulls for Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall. But since that streak, the team is just 1-5 and is getting killed on the boards. Over the past five games, only the Suns and Warriors have given up more rebounds per game.
They're even getting outrebounded by bad rebounding teams like the Celtics and Magic.

"Inside, we're getting beat up," coach Kevin O'Neill told the Toronto Star. "Chris (Bosh) and Lonny (Baxter, who had four rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench) are young guys who are forced to play better guys night in and night out. And when they have to do that, that's going to take a toll on those guys.

"There's a myriad of problems on the defensive end and the boards. ... We need to have our perimeter (players) give us four or five rebounds apiece."

Ilgauskas hustling?

Whether it was the trade rumors or the example of players like Eric Williams, Paul Silas saw a different Zydrunas Ilgauskas last week. Ilgauskas is averaging 16.3 ppg and 10 rpg since the trade that sent Ricky Davis packing to Boston.
"The last few games he has really picked up his intensity," Silas told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I think the guys we brought in are helping him there because they play so hard, he's got to pick it up or he stands out like a sore thumb.

"But I thought he played excellent [Saturday] on both ends. He really shored up the middle for us, and when we needed him to score, he scored. It was just a terrific game for Z."

Z said the pleadings of Silas for him to play defense finally sunk in.

"I got the point," Ilgauskas admitted. "If you're not playing defense, you're not going to play at all. I got taken out a couple times in previous games. It gives you extra incentive. Not that I didn't try before, but now I'm more focused."

Ilgauskas said Williams, Battie and Brown brought a defensive mindset with them from Boston.

"Those guys help a lot," he said. "We gave up scoring, but we picked up defense. Defense is not one person. It's a team defense. Sometimes it's hard to pick it up. It's easy to point out one guy who is struggling. But right now, we're helping each other. If someone gets beat, someone else is right there to help."

McGrady brings Magic back to life

Is there something in the water down in Florida that has both the Magic and Heat playing like playoff teams? And can either really make it? Well, in the Atlantic Division it is not out of the realm of possibility.
Let's look at the Magic and what has contributed to their great play of late and why even Harry Houdini would have to be proud. It all starts with Tracy McGrady, a player with obvious talent but who had yet to grasp the role of being a leader. That is, until he spoke up and called out both himself and his teammates for selfish play and lack of effort on the defensive end.

T-Mac, because of his great talent, was expected to automatically take over the reigns of leadership left by Darrel Armstrong's departure, and he struggled mightily early on. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to be both "The Man" and "The Leader." They are not one and the same, and Tracy is just now starting to feel comfortable in the leadership role. Remember, he still is only 24 years old, and even though he has been in this league six years, he is just now taking that next step in his maturation process, and it's the most difficult step.

Tracy McGrady
Shooting Guard
Orlando Magic

27 24.8 6.6 5.8 .414 .824

To date McGrady's time has been spent developing his individual talent and ability to become a great player, and leadership was left to others. That's typical for young players, even special ones. The hardest thing is to take the leap to being a leader, which is not just calling out your teammates but also setting the example by how you conduct yourself every day in practice and during games. You have to show that winning is priority No. 1, and only then will players follow.

Not everyone is a born leader, and it is even more difficult when you struggle. Real leadership is needed most during times of adversity (I'd say a 19-game losing streak qualifies as hard times), and also are the times when everyone points the finger at the best player, and in this case a still developing and maturing one.

But this adversity either makes or breaks you, and Tracy has responded in a way that will garner a lot of respect from his teammates and also will help him grow into the role of leader. You can't just say to a young player, "You're the leader," because the other players are not always quick to accept that, and you won't know that until you struggle, which they obviously did.

But this entire ordeal could turn out to be the defining moment in this young man's career. He will remember how difficult this stretch was and how those who were so quick to bestow praise also were quick to turn on him. But he also should grow and continue to welcome the responsibility instead of shying away from it as he did after Doc Rivers' dismissal.

I applaud the young man's response. He is showing his true character by answering the critics with a dedication and growth that could take his game and franchise to even greater heights.

Rod Strickland
Point Guard
Orlando Magic

13 6.0 2.3 3.3 .500 .688

Now, it takes more than the great Tracy McGrady to help this team win 6 of 8. Another key has been the play of Rod Strickland, a player with a questionable past but unquestioned ability. He has been able to solidify the backcourt and make the game easier for everyone else, especially Drew Gooden, Gordan Giricek and Juwan Howard.

A lack of a true point guard to start the season really stunted this young team's growth. But as Strickland has gotten more and more comfortable with Johnny Davis' system, the old man (37) has been a stabilizing force and has allowed Tracy to be Tracy. Whether or not he can make it through the season is another issue.

This is how a lot of people thought the Magic could play, and no one thought they could ever start 1-19. But in this game, you are what your record says you are, and it's up to the Magic to change that.

The Good, the Bad, the Kitchen Sink

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . the uniform Kevin Garnett was wearing last Thursday when he tallied 35 points, 10 boards, 10 assists, two steals, two blocks and one triple as the starting center.

The Good

Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

DuncanWeek's work: 4-0 record, 26 ppg, 14 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 3 bpg, 53% shooting
This week, he scored a total of 104 points. Big Deal. But it is once you realize that his team scored a total of 339 in its four wins to extend its winning streak to 10. That means Mr. Duncan, all by himself, scored 31 percent of his team's points. The even more amazing thing is that on the season, he's taking only 21 percent of his team's shots. By comparison, Allen Iverson scores 32 percent of his team's points but takes 33 percent of his team's shots.

Sam Cassell, Minnesota Timberwolves
Week's work: 4-0 record, 24 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 7.7 apg, 1 spg, 6 triples, 60% shooting
Don't look so surprised. Sam I Am is one shot short of shooting 50 percent on the season and a mere seven points away (513 points in 26 games) from averaging 20 a game for a team with a better record than the Rockets, Suns, Mavs, Nets and Bucks. Those are the teams, by the way, that thought they were better at one time or another without him.

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Week's work: 2-2 record, 28 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 6 apg, 2.2 spg, 1.2 bpg, 7 triples, 52% shooting
He can pass, he can score, he can board. And with his team yet to win a single game on the road before Friday, he tallied 36 points with five triples against the Sixers in Philly and then 32 points with 10 dimes against the Bulls in Chicago less than 24 hours later to go along with 10 boards on the weekend to give his team its first two away wins of his era.

Drew Gooden, Orlando Magic
Week's work: 3-1 record, 19.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.2 spg, 2.5 bpg, 52% shooting
You may have thought he'd score 20 a game. Even may have thought he'd average 10 boards a game. But after averaging three-quarters of a steal per game last year and half a block to boot, you may never have thought he'd average a full steal and 1.2 blocks per game this season much less what he did this last week.

The Bad

Yao Ming, Houston Rockets

YaoWeak work: 2-2 record, 14.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.2 bpg, 66% shooting
Somewhere between becoming the second-best center in the league and promoting world peace, Yao found out he was only the third-best scorer on his team. And it's getting worse. Take away his game against the Clippers in which he went toe to toe with rookie Chris Kaman and the 7-foot-6 center spent 78 minutes on the floor in the other three games last week and grabbed only 12 rebounds and blocked only four shots. And speaking of the first-best center in the league, guess who just ordered Chinese take out for Christmas.

David Wesley, New Orleans Hornets
Weak work: 1-3 record, 10.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.2 bpg, 32% shooting
Mr. Wesley took 19 3-pointers last week and made three of them as the Hornets lost by 11, 22 and 29 and there wasn't anything Baron Davis, 10-for-37 from 3-point range, or Darrell Armstrong, 15-for-44 from the field, could do about it, either.

Jake Voskuhl, Phoenix Suns
Weak work: 2-2 record, 2.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.5 bpg, 36% shooting
I'm not saying this Jake is the next Shaquille O'Neal. But at this rate, he's not even the next Jake Tsakalidas. In 95 minutes last week, he scored a total of 10 points, missing 9 of 14 shots, while committing 20 personal fouls.

Stephen Jackson, Atlanta Hawks
Weak work: 0-4 record, 11.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.3 spg, 34% shooting
It's official. Stephen Jackson has gone from playing small forward for the World Champion San Antonio Spurs to playing small forward for the last-place Atlanta Hawks. And all he's got to show for it is three more shots a game and a shooting percentage only his mother could love.

The Ugly

The Sacramento King point guard combination of Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson has tallied a combined 187 assists in 1,372 minutes so far this season while the center combination of Brad Miller and Vlade Divac has tallied 243 assists in 1,600 minutes. In other words, the point guards are averaging an assist every 7 minutes, 20 seconds while the centers are averaging an assist every 6 minutes, 36 seconds.

The Indiana Pacers are rebounding in more ways than one this season. Not only have they yet to lose back-to-back games this year but they've done so by controlling the boards. After each loss so far, the Pacers have won the following game by an average of 10 points per contest by also averaging 9.2 more rebounds per game. In those seven games following losses, the Pacers have totaled 319 boards to their opponents' 255. By comparison, they are outrebounding their opponents by an average margin of 1.9 on the season.

The toughest division in the NBA thus far is the Midwest with teams combining for an overall record of 111-76 for a winning mark of 59 percent. They are followed by the Pacific Division with a record of 96-80 for a 55 percent winning mark. In the Eastern Conference, the Central Division is at 103-115 and 47 percent while the Atlantic Division is at 75-114 and 39 percent.


NowitzkiDallas Maverick Dirk Nowitzki just finished having the worst week of the worst month in what could become the worst season of his illustrious career sans his rookie stint. So far this season, he's shooting 42 percent from the field, 26 percent from distance and 84 percent from the line. But so far in December, he's shooting 35 percent from the field, 25 percent from distance and 80 percent from the line. Last week, he shot 31 percent from the field, 21 percent from distance and 77 percent from the line. Over his career, for the record, he's a 46 percent shooter from the field, 37 percent from distance and 84 percent from the line.

The Chicago Bulls have yet to win a single game against a Western Conference opponent, playing a total of 10 interconference games and losing each one by an average of 13.3 points. They've yet to reach the 100-point plateau against any of them while giving up an average of 103 points.

In his first five games back, New York power forward Antonio McDyess tallied 36 points and 29 rebounds on 42 percent shooting and the Knicks went 0-5. In his last five games, he's tallied 67 points and 43 rebounds on 49 percent shooting while the Knicks have gone 3-2.

Jermaine O'Neal, former Beast of the East
This year in Indiana: 20.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.7 spg, 2.7 bpg, 44% shooting

Donyell Marshall, new Beast of the East
This year in Toronto: 20.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.6 bpg, 54% shooting

Minnesota Timberwolves (17-9) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (12-13)
Friday, Dec. 26, in Minneapolis, 9:30 p.m. EST on ESPN2

Game in and game out, Zach Randolph of the Blazers has been beating up on opposing power forwards, wearing them down power dribble after power dribble while playing 39.5 minutes per game. He's also shooting 51 percent from the field. He's also averaging four offensive rebounds per game for second-best in the NBA. He's also yet to go head up with one Kevin Garnett, who is also averaging 39.6 minutes per game and leading the league with 14 rebounds per game and 10.9 defensive rebounds per game.


"I'm probably still as crazy as ever. I'll try to keep going until someone sticks a fork in me."

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich confusing an eating utensil with Tim Duncan's contract, which the two-time MVP can opt out of at the same time Pop's new extension expires.

Peep Show

Boston Celtics: Head coach Jim O'Brien just can't wait to get on a first-name basis with Ricky Davis and vice-versa. "He's a very good offensive player," said O'Brien in the Boston Globe. "I expect that he's going to have many nights where he's going to be the high scorer for our team. It's tough to get acclimated. He's not in any flow right now, nor should he be. He's just not comfortable right now. When he becomes comfortable, and I want that to be fairly quickly, then I think we'll be a difficult team to guard when we bring him off the bench. But right now, he's thinking too much instead of just using his instincts."

Dallas Mavericks: Michael Finley isn't quite sure what hurt more, playing injured or watching his team lose from the bench. "This stretch when we lost a lot of games, just watching it, my toe seems to hurt even more," Finley said in the Dallas Morning News. "I want to be a part of this process because I think it's very important. When I come back, it's going to be important to step in right away and establish my leadership role on the team and get this team going in the right direction." Finley expects to suit up and play in the team's upcoming Tuesday game after putting himself through rigorous practices. "He looked good," assistant coach Donnie Nelson said. "He was moving with a lot of energy."

Detroit Pistons: After committing four fouls, missing two free throws and causing a lane violation, rookie Darko Milicic, the No. 2 pick of the draft, was put back in Detroit's latest game and scored the team's final bucket. "The fans going crazy for me was a great feeling," Milicic said in the Detroit Free Press. "We played a great game as a team and for me to play six minutes is good. I got a little too aggressive out there, but Coach took me out to settle me down."

San Antonio Spurs: The last thing head coach Gregg Popovich wants for his team is a little rest and relaxation while it's riding a 10-game win streak. "We finally get the time off," Pop said in the San Antonio express News, "and it's the last thing we need. We need to keep playing and have that flow. You can't control it, but it would have been better for us to have the time off at the beginning of the year." The Spurs play only four games in the next 15 days and the players aren't complaining. "It's been so crazy at the beginning of the season," Tim Duncan said. "It seems like we've been going non-stop. To get some time at home and some relaxation time is great. Hopefully, we won't lose our edge at all."

New York Knicks: Antonio McDyess will tell you that the Knicks don't need any new players. They just need the old Keith Van Horn. "I couldn't believe how well he was shooting," said McDyess in the New York Times after they beat the Hawks. "It was unconscious-like. When he got it in his hands, just pulling up, it wasn't hitting rim or nothing, straight net. I tell him all the time: 'Just play that way all the time, Keith. Play your game. You know what you can do.' If he continues to play like that he'll be a big help to us." But it was all new for at least their coach. "I've never seen him actually that assertive in wanting the ball," Don Chaney said. "I'd like to see him that way all the time."

12-22-2003, 01:00 PM
Rod&scorched: always nice to know my post-count padding posts are appreciated i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif

Anyway, lots on the Mavs today. I tend to agree with the "No" view on Fin. I like the fact that JHo is learning and all and think he'll be important in the future, but in the playoffs, I wouldn't want to miss Fin. Not yet.

LeBron is blowing up. He surprises me, even more than Yao did last year.

Speaking of Yao, he needs to stay out of foul trouble and take more shots. Anyone else think he might have a similar problem to Dirk's, in that he's not assertive enough? Even in a bad week, he averages 14 PPG on 66% shooting!

Speaking of Dirk, we're obviously not the only ones that have noticed his sucky play of late (or most of this season, really).

And Jiri (as mentioned in another thread) is coming along nicely, heh?