View Full Version : NBA Insider Dec 5

01-05-2004, 02:31 PM
Note: obviously written before the Marbury trade.

Magic, Suns still have reason to hope

Welcome to 2004. A new year and with it, new hope. A time for reflection on what the past year has brought and meditation on what the new year could bring.

For basketball fans, it's time to dream, cross your fingers and hope that with strong enough new year resolutions and a little luck your team has the fortitude to turn it around in time.

In Insider's Week 10 wrap, we explore the playoff chances for every team in the league. Here's the good news: We're roughly 35 games into the regular season and no one is out of the running for a playoff spot yet.

-The NBA's worst team, the Magic (8-26), are just seven and half games out of the eighth playoff spot in the East. Tracy McGrady hasn't been himself, Juwan Howard has been awful and a coaching change 11 games into the season seemed to capsize the Magic. If John Gabriel can find a way to, via trade, turn Howard and Gordan Giricek into another prime-time player to pair with McGrady and Drew Gooden, there's no reason the Magic couldn't make a late push for the playoffs.

-The lowly Hawks are just six games out. It's tougher to diagnose the Hawks' problem. Their three most talented players -- Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff, Jason Terry -- are all having decent seasons. But the team has zero chemistry. A coaching change may make a little difference, but chances are GM Billy Knight, or whoever the new ownership pegs to turn around the Hawks, will probably have to blow the team apart to change the culture of losing in Atlanta. In other words, the Hawks are a long shot to make the playoffs without major changes.

-The struggling Cavs, Bulls and Wizards? Just five games behind the eighth-place 76ers. If LeBron James keeps improving at the clip he's on, and if the Cavs get a healthy Dajuan Wagner back, there's no reason that the Cavs couldn't make the push. The Bulls look better under the leadership of Scott Skiles, but so far, that hasn't translated into wins. Once Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler are both healthy and contributing, I still think the Bulls have enough talent (and now toughness) to make a push for the eighth spot in the East. The Wizards are a little tougher. We said before the season that Kwame Brown would be the key, and his numbers so far (8.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) explain part of the Wizards' woes. But if the team can ever get Jerry Stackhouse back, keep Gilbert Arenas healthy and get Kwame playing well, it isn't inconceivable that the Wizards could make the playoffs, but it is a long shot at this point.

-The Knicks, despite a huge front office shake-up, are just two games out of eighth place. Inserting Frank Williams as the starting point guard has helped the team, and Isiah's presence seems to have inspired something extraordinary in Keith Van Horn. If Thomas can package together Antonio McDyess and Charlie Ward for someone like Rasheed Wallace -- watch out.

-The Heat, despite losing a Hall of Fame coach, are just one game off the Sixers' pace, and really seem to be clicking of late. Lamar Odom and rookie Dwyane Wade have both been great, and Eddie Jones and point guard Rafer Alston have held their own. The key will be Caron Butler. He's been awful in the 21 games he's played for the Heat this season. Once he's healthy and Stan Van Gundy figures out a way to work him into the offense, the Heat should be in serious contention for a playoff spot with one big caveat -- their starting five has to stay healthy. The Heat have zero depth right now and can't afford a big injury to one of their starters.

Western front

The race is even tighter out West, where just seven games separate the best team in the league, the Kings, from the eighth-seeded Sonics. The West is running roughshod over the East right now. Currently, there are only three teams, the Sonics, Warriors and Suns, with losing records against the East right now. That means everyone is beating up on each other out West, which should open up the door for one or two sleepers to sneak their way into the playoffs.

The last-place Suns are just five-and-a-half games behind the eighth-place Sonics for that last playoff berth in the West. Preseason predictions had the Suns as a lock for the sixth seed in the West. They've already gone through a new coach, but that's had only a marginal effect on the team. The return of Amare Stoudemire and Zarko Carbarkapa from injury will make the biggest difference. Stoudemire was the team's best player before the injury. Now that his teammates have had to step up without him, the Suns still have enough talent to make a push in the West.

Golden State, which owns the second-worst record in the West, is just two-and-half games off the Sonics' pace. The Warriors are heading the wrong direction at the moment. They've lost five straight and seven of their last 10. The play of Nick Van Exel will be key. He struggled in December and is off to a shaky start in January. How will his knee hold up, averaging 30 plus minutes a game? Remember, his stellar playoff performance in Dallas last spring was grounded largely in the fact that Van Exel played limited minutes during the regular season and was fresh. If the Warriors are going to make a playoff run, they'll need him now. Will he have anything left down the stretch?

The Clippers are just one-and-half games back. The good news for Donald Sterling is that his team is 8-5 since Elton Brand came back and really started to play well. That includes two wins over the Mavs, and wins over the Nuggets and Lakers. Their core of Brand, Corey Maggette and Quentin Richardson has been as tough as any three in the league. They still need lots of help at the point and in the middle, but so far the Big Three have been enough to get the Clips over the hump most nights.

The Blazers? Just one game away despite a steady flow of chaos in the locker room. Zach Randolph's huge year has made up for the departures of Bonzi Wells, Scottie Pippen and Arvydas Sabonis. If the Blazers keep Rasheed Wallace, they have as good a shot at the playoffs as anyone. If they move him, the playoff streak probably ends, but the real rebuilding of the Blazers will finally have begun.

The Grizzlies and Jazz are half-game back. That's the good news. The bad news is that both teams have been struggling of late. The Grizz have lost seven of their last nine with their only two wins coming over Utah and Orlando. The team has been in a funk ever since point guard Jason Williams returned to the lineup. It's tough to project the Grizzlies long term at the moment. Jerry West is working the phones trying to make another big deal, so who knows what this team will look like in February. An injury to Matt Harpring has been a death blow to the Jazz. The team managed just 63 points against the Rockets on Saturday and will struggle to replace his scoring and toughness in the lineup.
Utah and the emergence of Andrei Kirilenko has been the real Cinderella story of the season, but the Jazz don't have the depth to sustain a big injury to someone like Harpring or Kirilenko.

Room for improvement

For those of you cheering for teams already in the playoff hunt, the good news is that your team can play better.

The Kings have the best record in the NBA and Chris Webber has yet to play a game.

The Lakers are one game behind them despite injuries to Karl Malone and Shaquille O'Neal and the cloud of Kobe Bryant's rape trial hanging over everyone's head.

The Spurs have rebounded from a terrible start to win 13 of their last 14.

The T-Wolves have won nine of their last 10 without two starters, Wally Szczerbiak or Michael Olowokandi.

The Mavs' all-star squad still hasn't clicked. Dirk Nowitzki is having a down year, Michael Finley has missed considerable time and the Mavs still don't have a center worth writing about. If Mark Cuban can find a little extra magic and get a guy like Zydrunas Ilgauskas from the Cavs, the Mavs should be set.

The Nuggets are rolling, but you get the feeling they'll be even tougher now that Carmelo Anthony is getting more consistent. I don't think the Nuggets are a fluke. They have the best home-court advantage in the NBA and they hustle harder than any team in the league. If they stay healthy, I think they'll hold onto one of those playoff spots in the West.

The Rockets are in the playoff hunt despite and off year from Steve Francis as he tries to adapt to Jeff Van Gundy's more rigid system.

Right now, the Sonics are in even though their best player, Ray Allen, has played just two weeks of ball. The team is 4-2 with Allen back and looks pretty good. If Sonics GM Rick Sund can find a way to package Ronald Murray or Vladimir Radmanovic with one of his higher-priced players like Brent Barry or Jerome James and get a top-notch power forward or point guard in return, the Sonics should be in a position to roll in the West.
Back East, the difference between the haves and have nots is even tighter.

The Pacers are comfortably in first despite blowups by their second-best player, Ron Artest, and a terrible start by the guy they traded Brad Miller for -- Scot Pollard. If Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird can find a way to move some of their frontcourt talent for a little backcourt help, the Pacers look like the team to beat in the East.

A few weeks ago, many were questioning whether Pistons president Joe Dumars made a few bad moves this summer, but five straight wins by the Pistons now have them back in second place in the East; and they still haven't gotten any production from their No. 2 pick in the draft.

The Hornets are tied with the Pistons for second place in the East and they're doing it without, arguably, their best player, Jamal Mashburn.

The Nets have rebounded from a terrible start to win eight of their last 10. Coach Byron Scott saved his neck by caving into some of the demands of his players and the move seems to be working. The Nets are playing inspired ball at the moment and Kidd looks like he's in MVP form again.

The Raptors are in fifth place despite a major mid-season trade. Donyell Marshall and Jalen Rose have fixed their scoring problems, but you still worry about their ability to get anything done in the middle.

The Bucks, who Insider had pegged as the worst team in the East this season, have been great, and they're doing it without a huge contribution from one of their best young players, Desmond Mason.

The Celtics are in seventh place and are doing it in the midst of a major roster overhaul. If Ricky Davis can ever find his rhythm coming off the bench, and if Walter McCarty can keep shooting like 3s like he is, the Celts may be able to hang on to a their seventh seed.

The Sixers, in eighth place, have been playing without either Allen Iverson, Glenn Robinson or Derrick Coleman all season. Once everyone is healthy they have enough veteran talent to improve their playoff standing.

What does all of this translate into? Hope for fans in all 29 NBA cities. Happy New Year.

Allen forces Murray into the trunk:

We knew once Ray Allen returned that Sonics phenom Ronald Murray would take a hit in minutes and his nearly 20 ppg scoring average, but who knew it would be this bad. Coach Nate McMillan started decreasing Murray's playing time in December, but Murray dropped 24 points and 10 assists on the Nuggets the game before Allen's return. Allen returned to the lineup on Dec. 23 and Murray posted a nice 17-point night in a win over the Suns. Since then, he's been averaging just six ppg from the Sonics.
Ronald Murray
Shooting Guard
Seattle SuperSonics

31 16.5 2.9 2.9 .412 .696

So much for the two playing together. Meanwhile, Allen has totally returned to form, putting up 22 ppg, 4.8 apg and 4.2 rpg in the last six games. The team is 4-2 since Allen's return and coach Nate McMillian has shown no signs that he's going to start playing Allen and Murray together more. In the Sonics' loss to the Clippers on Sunday night, Murray played just 13 minutes and went 0-for-6 from the field. Remember, this is the guy who scored 20 points or more in 10 of his first 11 games.

Keep watching this situation in Seattle. Several teams are very high on Murray and would be willing to swallow one of the Sonics' over priced centers to get him. If GM Rick Sund can find a solution that addresses their needs at the four (Vladimir Radmanovic has been awful the last five games, shooting just over 30 percent from the field), he should pull the trigger before Murray fades from everyone's mind.

Sam the Man:

Does any point guard in the West deserve a spot in the All-Star Game more than Sam Cassell this year? Cassell has been amazing for the Wolves so far this year, averaging a career-high in points (20.5 ppg), field goal percentage (51 percent) and 3-point percentage (40 percent). Add in 7.5 apg and a stellar 3.12 assist-to-turn over ratio and you can easily make the argument that he's the best point guard in the West this year.
Sam Cassell
Point Guard
Minnesota Timberwolves

32 20.5 3.3 7.5 .507 .815

Steve Nash, Stephon Marbury, Mike Bibby, Andre Miller, Tony Parker and Gary Payton are his closest competitors, but only Payton has had a more dramatic impact on his team among West point guards. Payton has a +19.6 plus/minus rating at the moment. Cassell's +13.7 plus/minus rating is second among West point guards. The next closest guard is Marbury with a +6 rating.

The even better news for Wolves fans is that Cassell continues to get better. He averaged 18.1 ppg and seven apg on 48 percent shooting in November. In December he upped the averages to 23.8 ppg and eight apg on 54 percent shooting from the field. In his first two games in January he's upped it again to 24.5 ppg on 59 percent shooting from the field.

Cassell already has one vote, from coach Flip Saunders. "I don't know how he couldn't be an All-Star," Saunders told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "There might not be -- right now, from beginning to end -- anyone who has played more consistent as a point guard in the league."

Cassell agrees, though he feels that he's been underrated his whole career: "I've been doing the same thing for seven years. The numbers have been there, the winning percentage has been there. I can't worry about nothing I can't control.

"If it happens to be this year, it will be well-deserved, I think. But who knows, man, who knows? I'm going with Kevin Garnett anyway. If I'm going to be on the court or be in the stands, I'm going with Kevin."

Garnett is a pretty good choice, by the way. He leads all players in the NBA with a +19.8 plus/minus rating.

Is Richardson Queuing up for a big deal this summer?

What a week for the Clippers' Quentin Richardson. He's averaging 25 ppg and 8.4 rpg over his last five, including an amazing 44-point, 10-rebound, five-3-pointer effort over the Nuggets on New Year's Eve.
Quentin Richardson
Shooting Guard
Los Angeles Clippers

30 18.4 6.8 2.1 .400 .758

Coach Mike Dunleavy, however, says that Richardson is just scratching the surface. "I expect him to grow a lot more [as a player]," Dunleavy told the L.A. Times. "I don't think he's anywhere near as good as he can be&.One of the things he's got to get better at, he's got to become efficient at getting better shots. He takes shots that you would consider to be questionable at times, but based on his ability to make shots he gets an opportunity to test the waters. He's got a pretty pure stroke when he's got it going, but you've got to learn how to manufacture shots when you're not going good, whether it be in the post, taking the ball to the basket, offensive rebounding or better open shots."

Richardson hits the free-agent market next summer as a restricted free agent. Expect him to get plenty of looks from teams like Denver, which covets his toughness (Dunleavy calls him a "power guard) and outside shooting stroke. The Clippers are said to be looking very seriously at making a run at Kobe Bryant. If a team comes with a big offer sheet early, they may be able to steal Richardson away.

Richardson is just happy that the Clippers' fortunes finally seem to be turning. "The atmosphere is definitely better. Guys feel like we're moving in the right direction, with them signing EB and Corey&. I mean, my first choice, obviously, is to stay here. I like it here, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen. I'm just waiting to see, playing it out."

Is Tinsley out of Carlisle's doghouse?

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle wasn't a big fan of Jamaal Tinsley's game. When Tinsley was finally activated last week, he was out of Carlisle's dog house by necessity. With Kenny Anderson injured and Anthony Johnson hobbling, Carlisle needed Tinsley as much as he hated to admit it.
Jamaal Tinsley
Point Guard
Indiana Pacers

10 5.4 2.2 4.1 .351 .800

Given the chance, Tinsley has shined for the Pacers. He's started the last three games for the Pacers and put up an impressive 11.3 ppg, 8.3 apg and 4.7 rpg during those games -- all Pacer wins. His 18-point, nine-assist, five-rebound game versus Baron Davis should be enough to convince Carlisle to give Tinsley a longer look. But so far, Carlisle's been silent on the issue.

Jermaine O'Neal, who's been miffed all season by Tinsley's demotion, has gone out of his way to let everyone know that he believes that "Jamaal's the most talented point guard that we have."

Tinsley certainly gives the Pacers a boost offensively. While he still has a questionable jumper, his ability to motor up and down the floor gets the Pacers running, something O'Neal and Ron Artest have been begging Carlisle to let them do. The team has struggled to grind it out in the half-court offense and Tinsley gives them chances at easy buckets. Defensively, Tinsley can be disruptive as well.

Over the course of the past week Carlisle has called Tinsley the difference and claimed that "You can't put a price on what that does for your team." Strong words coming from a guy who had buried Tinsley on the injured list most of the season. With Johnson getting healthy and Anderson on the mend, is Tinsley doomed to go back to playing third string?

"I'm just playing the role they give me," he told the Indianapolis Star. "Like I said, ain't nothing going to break me. I just wait for my number to be called.. It's a coaching decision. Whatever makes the team work, if that helps, I'll roll with it."

Peep Show

Philadelphia 76ers: Allen Iverson is back, but that doesn't mean he's happy. "I honestly didn't want to feel I had to rush back," Iverson said in the Philadelphia Daily News. "I found out a lot about being injured, [more] than at any time before, because it was like we were struggling and people were getting antsy, people that I thought cared about me [who were] only worried about wins and losses. I just found out a lot about a lot of people during that time. It made me look at people a different way. I felt like, by me being hurt, people had a problem with it. I never thought that would be an issue. I thought some people that I thought cared about me, I felt that they only cared about me for what I can do with this [basketball] right here." Iverson wouldn't name names but did say he has no problem with new head coach Randy Ayers.

Sacramento Kings: Many think Ray Allen is best shooter in the NBA. Well, Ray thinks the Kings' Peja Stojakovic is. "We're totally different," Allen said in the Seattle Times. "Our shots are totally different. He has a very awkward shot where he brings it from the left side of his body and when he shoots it, it always looks like it's going from left to right. But he practices. He works hard. And that's where it pays off. He's not blessed to shoot. He's just blessed to work at it."

New York Knicks: There isn't much head coach Don Chaney can do about Antonio McDyess' physical condition, but he can help out mentally. "I just reassured him [he's] on the floor to help the team," Chaney said in the New York Post. "Obviously he's not going to bring his full game because he's not 100 percent but having him on the floor rebounding and scoring is going to help us." New boss Isiah Thomas agreed, though there are constant rumors of the forward being traded. "We want to get better from within. Antonio is a big part of what we're trying to do. We need him, but we need him feeling better about himself."

Los Angeles Lakers: Karl Malone is mortal, and now on the injured reserve list for the first time in is career. "I hate it," Malone said in the Los Angeles Times. "But, in the long run, I think it's the smart thing to do. I was putting pressure on me, on the training staff, on Phil Jackson maybe coaching a different way, all because I never wanted to be on the injured list. I hadn't resigned myself to the injured list, but I didn't want to hold another player back, Rick Fox or Jamal, either&. In hindsight, maybe we should have started the injured list at the Seattle game." He is expected back on Jan. 14 after sitting out the mandatory five games.

New Jersey Nets: Eddie Griffin officially becomes a Net on Wednesday, an active NBA player near the end of the month and then a defendant in court on assault and marijuana charges sometime in between. "We'll have him obviously do a lot of things on the offensive end, try to get him familiar with what we do," head coach Byron Scott said in the New York Post. "We'll see what kind of shape he's in. If he's not in the type of shape we hope he can be in, then everyday he'll be with Rich [Dalatri, strength coach] also."

San Antonio Spurs: The San Antonio Express News is reporting that Manu Ginobili will be placed on the injured reserve list for a strained lower back and will miss the next five games. He was hurt during Saturday's loss to the Sixers and will be replaced by guard Alex Garcia.

01-05-2004, 03:11 PM
danke again, thebac i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif
hmmm seems like knicks better win cuz they dont have much young players/draft picks