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01-22-2004, 12:32 PM
Hornets running out of healthy bodies

By all indications, the left ankle Baron Davis injured against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday will be fine. Now, all they've got to worry about is Davis, himself, and the 41 minutes a game he's logging as it is.

"I'm feeling a little better today," Davis said in the Times Picayune. "I thought it was bad because I heard it pop. Even Sam Cassell heard it. But the X-rays were negative. I'll just try to get treatment and get it better. There wasn't too much swelling, and that was a positive thing. I'm walking on it and can stand on one leg, so that's good.

"Day-to-day and keep getting treatment. . . . that's all I can do. It doesn't bother me. I'm straight. We'll see what it's like at game time. If I'm able to run on it and jog and push off on it, then I'll play. There's a possibility, depending on how fast I recover and the strength of the ankle, if I can maneuver and move laterally."

Baron Davis
Point Guard
New Orleans Hornets

41 23.4 4.2 8.0 .387 .639

The Hornets are reporting that Davis may even be able to play in their next game, which just so happens to be tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. But you've got to wonder if, in the long run, the team would be better if its point guard took a break.

Remember, it wasn't to long ago that Davis was being heralded as the front-runner for the MVP award. It was early in the season, but it was also one guy single handidly putting up and making all those 3s, handing out all those assists and nabbing all those steals.

The Hornets shot out to a 9-3 start, followed by an 8-4 run. But then the minutes starting catching up with Davis and New Orleans has gone 6-11 since.

And just look at Davis' individual numbers.

Between November and December, his scoring has fallen from 25.1 points per game to 22.8 while his shooting has gone from 41 percent from the field to 37 percent. And then from December to January, his assists have gone from 8.7 a game to 6.2 while his steals have gone from 2.5 to 1.6.

Of course, he still ranks fifth in the NBA in points, second in steals and third in assists, but that could very well be because he's also ranked third in the NBA in minutes played (at 1,676) and minutes per game (at 40.9).

For the last four seasons, the poor guy has averaged 39.5 minutes per game.

And it's not as if Davis doesn't have a track record of injury or history of being run down by a long regular season and spent by playoffs. He severely tore the ACL in his left knee during his college days and missed a total of 32 games last season.

The problem, though, is that Jamal Mashburn has yet to suit up at all for the Hornets this year due to a knee injury of his own. Courtney Alexander went down during the preseason with an Achilles tendon injury and is out for the entire year. David Wesley is out indefinitely because of a badly sprained toe, and both veteran Sean Rooks and rookie David West are both down with injuries.

If Davis is also out, then that would leave the team with only eight healthy bodies.

"We've just got to bounce back and be ready," Davis said shortly after injuring his knee. "Something like this happens, and we've had some misfortune."

Unfortunately for the Hornets, they've been hit hardest as their Central Division rivals are peaking. The Detroit Pistons had won 13 games in a row before Tuesday night while the Pacers, with the best record in the Eastern Conference at 33-11, have now won nine of their last 10.

The Hornets, meanwhile, have lost six of their last 10 and are now 8 games behind Indiana with their bench looking more and more like a M.A.S.H. unit and their immediate hopes possibly dependant on 10-day contracts.

"We've got a list of about 15 names," general manager Bob Bass said. "We've got that flexibility. But I don't think we'll have anything done before the game (tonight). Baron's doubtful, but it doesn't seem to be as bad as we thought. We'll continue to look at the possibilities."

Pistons firing on all cylinders

The Pistons are hot, having won 13 in a row, and while you can point to a variety of reasons for their success, there is truly one that stands out in my mind above all else -- Chauncey Billups.
Chauncey Billups
Point Guard
Detroit Pistons

42 18.3 3.7 5.4 .391 .887

His numbers are not overwhelming -- 18.3 points, 43.5 percent from 3-point range, 5.4 assists -- but what he has done to help this team win games cannot be discounted. I was talking with Larry Brown a couple of days ago, and he spoke of how much he loves his team. They show up and work hard in practice every day, always trying to improve. He doesn't have to go to the training room and coerce players to the practice floor. This team gets it.

Brown's biggest concern is that he has so many players who have great ability that it is difficult to get everyone involved. It's the first time he has had this many good players, and at times it is difficult to coach a team like this. Not only is everyone capable of playing, but everyone is deserving, as well.

Sounds like a great problem, but that's what it can be if you don't have players willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team. That's where Mr. Billups has figured out how the little things from the point guard position go a long way in the overall success of a team.

Chauncey is a scoring point guard who in order to be effective individually has to feel comfortable with his ability to launch 3s at will. That's a difficult proposition for any team, but especially one that has championship aspirations. While Larry does not want to impede Billups' freedom, he knows a team functions best when its best players make sacrifices. In Chauncey's case, it's the commitment on the defensive end and his willingness to make the extra pass.

Billups has earned his teammates' trust with tough play on the defensive end.
That is how you get your teammates to compete unconditionally -- when they believe you are playing to win and are giving of yourself for the team. It's called chemistry, and that's how you develop it. The best teams in the league have it, and the Pistons are once again one of them.

When players compete, they want to know their teammates are willing to do the right thing. When a player is open, you pass him the ball. Maybe he isn't as good a shooter as you are, but it's the right play to make. You have to then trust him to make the right play. When players trust one another, they perform better. They make better decisions, and good things happen on the basketball floor. It's contagious.

Good teams have players who play to their strengths, and more often than not those players will work harder to make winning plays. The best teams don't always have the most talented players, but they always have smart players -- guys who play to their strengths and make more good plays than bad ones because of it.

It's hard to beat teams when guys make the right play, because even when mistakes are made, players know the intention was unselfish and in the best interest of the team. When you have this, mistakes actually motivate teams to play harder.

That's what has been so impressive in watching the Pistons. They really trust one another on the basketball floor, and it shows at the moment of truth. Against the Spurs the other night, Chauncey struggled with his shot the first three quarters but continued to play the game at both ends. His teammates trusted him down the stretch, and he delivered, scoring the final 10 points in leading them to victory. That trust breeds confidence, and a confident team with great chemistry is hard to beat.

Kudos to Chauncey and the Pistons for playing the game the right way. A lot of good things will happen on the basketball floor when that happens. When you take talent and add some trust, you develop chemistry, which in turn gives confidence, and that, my friends, is a recipe for success that more teams should follow.

Rumor Central


Eddy Curry


Jan. 21 - On Tuesday Insider first reported that Bulls GM John Paxson had recently dangled Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler in trade discussions. While sources claimed that Paxson was in no way giving the Baby Bulls away, the fact that the two were no longer untouchable was significant. Paxson essentially confirmed the story in Wednesday's editions of the Chicago Sun-Times. "I played with one guy who was untouchable or untradeable," Paxson said of Michael Jordan. "There are maybe a handful of guys in the league right now who fit in that category. The fact we're 12-29 answers whether any of our guys are untouchable."
While Paxson said he's not inclined to deal Curry or Chandler, he's got to start looking at the opportunities. "I'm disappointed, and I know our fans are disappointed," Paxson said. "But I can't afford to panic. When you look at our two big, young kids, it's hard to make an argument to give up on them. They're still in their infancy in this league. . . I'm not panicking. But I'm not going to be super-cautious, either. You just have to believe that what you do will significantly help your team."

Marshall logging career high in minutes

Having a solid starting five in the NBA is a good thing.

But having the Dallas Mavericks defeat the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference playoffs last year partly because of an injury to Chris Webber isn't. Neither is the San Antonio Spurs defeating those same Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals last year partly because of an injury to Dirk Nowitzki.

Or didn't you notice that Webber had played 39.6 minutes a game last regular season despite the Kings having one of the deepest rotations in the league. Or that Dirk Nowitzki also played 39 minutes a game despite the Mavs possibly having an even deeper rotation than the Kings.

This year, Dirk is playing about a minute less than last year and Webber has yet to return from his injury.

So as we near the halfway point of the season, we decided to take a look at which teams are pushing their starters the hardest by averaging all five of their minutes-per-game numbers and which teams are conserving their energy by design or injury default.

Hardest Working Starting 5

1. Toronto Raptors
Numbers: 35.6 average minutes
It's taken 10 seasons and five different teams but forward Donyell Marshall is finally being appreciated. After averaging 28 minutes a game for his career, Marshall is now playing a career-high 39.3. Jalen Rose is getting even more time at 39.7 minutes per game, and those two are new on the team after arriving from Chicago via trade. The two old guys who also happen to be the most injured, Vince Carter and Alvin Williams, are logging 36.6 and 30.6 minutes each, so it doesn't come as no surprise that rookie Chris Bosh is at a hearty 33 minutes a game. What is a surprise is that former starters like Morris Peterson, Lamond Murray and Michael Curry are getting so little time.

2. Portland Trail Blazers
Numbers: 35.5 average minutes
Remember when the free-spending Paul Whitsitt had players stacked three and four deep on this team at each position? Well, those days are over. Just ask new star Zach Randolph, playing 39.7 minutes a game or former star Rasheed Wallace, playing 38.5 minutes a game despite constant rumors that he's being traded from the team. Those are career highs for both of them. Damon Stoudemire, the subject of trade talks since last season, is playing 37.6 minutes a game, which is more than he ever has in Portland. And while the injured Derek Anderson may not have a choice to sit on the bench, Ruben Patterson may have something else on his mind as he scrapes away for only 23 minutes a game off the bench despite shooting a team-high 55 percent from the field.

3. Houston Rockets
Numbers: 35.4 average minutes
Steve Francis may not be getting as many shots as he used to with Yao Ming around, but the Rockets still expect him to log some heavy minutes. The all-star point guard has never played less than 36 minutes a game in his career and, this season, is at 39.6 while his backcourt partner, Cuttino Mobley, is at 39.7. That's no surprise for either player since both have played more minutes in previous seasons, but Jim Jackson, a full-time starter for the first time in four years spanning four different teams, is now getting 36.7 minutes per game, which is the most he's had in six seasons. Bookend those three with Yao Ming and Kelvin Cato and there are only two other Rocket players who even have a start for the team on the season and it's only one a piece.

4. New Jersey Nets
Numbers: 35.14 average minutes
If center Jason Collins were able to hold up his end of the deal, this starting rotation of Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Kerry Kittles would be at the top of this list. Those four are averaging 36.5 minutes a game. Collins may be posting a career-high 29.5 minutes a game (coinciding with the retirement of Alonzo Mourning), but it's still bringing this average down a bit. Not even former Sixthman of the Year Rodney Rogers or mainstay Lucious Harris have been able to crack the lineup for more than 19 minutes a game despite the fact that Harris was a double-digit scorer last year and Rogers a year before that.

5. Philadelphia 76ers
Numbers: 35.1 average minutes
No one plays more minutes than Allen Iverson. And it's starting to show. After logging 42.5 minutes a game last year in all 82 contests, Iverson has increased it to 42.9 this year, a league high, and, as a result, has had to sit out 12 games already with injuries. But the fact is, every starter on this team aside from Eric Snow has spent significant time on the injured list with Glenn Robinson, Kenny Thomas and Derrick Coleman missing a combined 37 games. Despite those staggering numbers in a season only 41-games old for the Sixers, those players continue to log heavy minutes when able with key reserves Marc Jackson going from 33 minutes a game to only 20 when changing from starter to bench player and Aaron McKie going from 36 minutes a game to only 26 under the same circumstances.

Most Rested Starting 5

29. Memphis Grizzlies
Numbers: 28.7 average minutes
No one stretches a rotation like Hubie Brown has this year. Eight Grizzly players are averaging 22 minutes a game or more with big men Bo Outlaw and Jake Tsakalidas at another combined 28. In all, 10 different players have started for the Griz this season and that figure doesn't include Bonzi Wells, who is second on the team in scoring. And as a result, no single player averages more than Pau Gasol's 32.1 a game. Only one other player averages more than 29.3. In fact, it's hard to tell the difference between the time for the starting five and then next four guys off the bench averaging 22.8 per game.

28. Washington Wizards
Numbers: 29.1 average minutes
Only one player on this entire roster has started every game for this team and it isn't star Gilbert Arenas or former No. 1 draft pick Kwame Brown or even the retired Michael Jordan. It's Larry Hughes. And the season's only 40 games old for these guys. But it may take another 40 just for new head coach Eddie Jordan to somehow make sense of this roster with Arenas only able to play in 20 game so far this year with injury and Brown warranting only 26.7 minutes a game for inefficiency. So far, it's 11 different starters coming up with only 12 different wins on the season.

27. Boston Celtics
Numbers: 29.4 average minutes
This is what happens when the team's second-best player gets traded right before the start of the season and the team gets a brand new second-leading scorer less than a month ago while the starting center gets suspended for substance abuse and the new center, recently traded for, gets put on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Paul Pierce ends up averaging 38.8 minutes a game while no one else on the team logs more than 30.8. Pierce also ends up shooting a career-low 40 percent from the field and scoring only 23.1 a game after being at 26 the previous two seasons. Believe it or not, this is exactly how Danny Ainge drew it up.

26. Cleveland Cavaliers
Numbers: 30.1 average minutes
Last year, they limited Zydrunas Ilgauskas' minutes because they were afraid of re-occurring injury. This year, they're limiting Ilgauskas' minutes because the opposing center's re-occurring scoring. Either way, the high-scoring center logged 30 minutes a game. This year, he's at 29. Ricky Davis is gone. Kedrick Brown and Eric Williams are new. DaJuan Wagner is just off the injured list. So while you knew this team would be centered on LeBron James, you still have to be surprised that the rookie phenom has already logged 438 more minutes than the next player on the team despite the fact that the team has played only 40 games.

25. Orlando Magic
Numbers: 30.3 average minutes
With Drew Gooden coming off the bench and Andrew DeClercq starting at center, this team has never been more of a one-man show than it is now. There is no sense of itself aside from the fact that Tracy McGrady is the second-leading scorer in the NBA and fourth on the list of minutes played per game which partially explains why Gooden is playing 30 minutes a game and DeClercq is at 14.7. Other inconsistencies include Juwan Howard's shooting, McGrady's back and, oh, yeah, that 19-game losing streak at the start of the season.