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thebac
02-24-2004, 01:07 PM
Can the Blazers or Sonics crack the top eight?

Change can be a beautiful thing, especially if you're one of thousands of fans watching Blazers GM John Nash conduct a DEA-like raid on the scourge of the city.

In a matter of months the Jail Blazers have been dissolved. No Rasheed Wallace to scapegoat. No Bonzi Wells and his demonic flying spit bombs to dodge. No Jeff McInnis to deliver the daily dose of pouting.


Time is running out for coach Maurice Cheeks and the Blazers.
Maurice Cheeks is smiling once again. Giggling, in fact, when he hears his new star, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, is willing to come off the bench in an effort to protect the fragile ego of Zach Randolph.

Damon Stoudamire and Dale Davis are suddenly on their best behavior. Theo Ratliff is swatting shots in ways that haven't been seen in Portland in a decade. Darius Miles is flying through the rafters the way he once did in with the Clippers.

Everything is fine now in Portland ... almost. There is that 20-season string of playoff appearances at stake. In the midst of the massive clean-up project, has anyone bothered to look at the standings?

If you have, you need to focus pretty far off in the distance to see the Nuggets, Rockets and Grizzlies racing away with the Western Conference's final three playoff spots. All three teams are playing well right now. None are showing signs of slowing down.

The Blazers might finally have fixed what's wrong in the locker room, community and even on the floor -- but have the changes come too late to keep the playoff streak intact?

Blazers fans probably won't like the answer. The good news is, they have plenty of experience dealing with bad news.

Today, Insider breaks down the playoff hunt in the West. Barring some sort of major collapse or injury by a team, chances are things will be wrapped up here in the next few weeks.

1. Sacramento Kings
Projected Record: 60-22
Current Record: 40-14 (No. 1)
Vlade Divac is averaging more assists per game than most point guards in the league (an amazing 10.2 over his last five games). Brad Miller is right behind him. Peja Stojakvoic has been hearing M-V-P chants in the distance. Mike Bibby has a new swagger in his step this year. And did we mention in six games Chris Webber is coming back from season-long injury exile? The Kings are clicking right now, and while their window appears to be closing, this team looks poised to go all the way this year.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves
Projected Record: 59-23
Current Record: 40-16 (No. 2)
When the smoke clears, Kevin Garnett, if he can keep it up, will be the league's MVP. Not only has he turned in yet another of the most complete performances the NBA has ever seen, he's been a leader this season, setting a tone for veterans like Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell that has brought the best out of both. Now that Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi are finally back, Flip Saunders has 26 games to try to meld them into the mix. It may produce a few rough spots along the way, but the ultimate prize is June, and for the first time in his career Garnett seems to have a supporting cast that can get him out of the first round.

3. Los Angeles Lakers
Projected Record: 53-29
Current Record:35-19 (No. 4)
We we're premature in handing them the NBA championship before the season even started, and we're just as premature to write them off after things haven't gone as planned. The reality is that when the Lakers are healthy, there isn't a more formidable starting five in the NBA. But balance that with the other reality -- so much turmoil and so little time actually playing together -- and a big question remains: Will a true team emerge, or are the Lakers just a nice collection of great players each trying to get his own?

4. San Antonio Spurs
Projected Record: 52-30
Current Record: 37-19 (No. 3)
It seems like the Spurs are a step behind this year. They miss Stephen Jackson. They miss David Robinson. Rasho Nesterovic, Robert Horry and Hedo Turkoglu have been solid replacements, but the magic isn't there this year. The Spurs will be dangerous contenders as long as Tim Duncan is breathing, but their shot at a repeat doesn't look great right now.

5. Dallas Mavericks
Projected Record: 51-31
Current Record: 35-20 (No. 5)
Too much of a good thing? That seems to be what plagues the Mavs. We said at the start of the season that if they found a way to jell, they could end up with the best record in the league. So far they've found ways to co-exist ... but the cohesion still isn't there. There's something about this team that just isn't right, and if Don Nelson doesn't figure it out soon, he'll be the fall guy. I've got a hint for him. Tell Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison to give Dirk Nowitzki the ball. When he's on fire, no one can stop the Mavs. When he's standing in the corner watching Walker chuck up 3s, the whole team really goes to waste.

6. Memphis Grizzlies
Projected Record: 48-34
Current Record: 34-22 (No. 6)
Jerry West has outdone himself here. If the Grizzlies keep up this pace, shouldn't we just rename the executive of the year award after him? West quietly and subtly has turned the Grizzlies from the most hapless franchise in the league into a solid basketball team in a little more than a year. They play hard (at home and, more importantly, on the road), have a cool style and have numerous assets to pawn off this summer in search of a true superstar. No one wants to play this team in the first round of the playoffs. I can't think of a higher compliment to West than that.

7. Denver Nuggets
Projected Record: 46-36
Current Record: 32-26 (No. 8)
Speaking of great front-office work, Kiki Vandeweghe's Nuggets are right up there with West's Grizzlies. The Nuggets were the worst team in the league last year and are now fighting for a No. 6 seed in the West. Unbelievable. They've done it with great play from rookie Carmelo Anthony and solid contributions from role players like Andre Miller, Voshon Lenard, Marcus Camby and Nene Hilario. The future is bright in Denver, and for the first time in a long time, that includes a visit to the playoffs.

8. Houston Rockets
Projected Record: 46-36
Current Record: 32-23 (No. 7)
Jeff Van Gundy took the keys out of Steve Francis' hand and put them in Yao's. The results were shaky early on, but lately Van Gundy looks pretty wise. Yao is starting to explode. In February he's averaging 20.8 ppg and 8.1 rpg on 58 percent shooting from the field. Francis has really had to tone down his game to make it happen, but the results of late have been pretty impressive. I still think the Rockets are actually the weakest team of the lot, but with a big, seven-game lead over the Blazers, they should be able to fight Portland off for the final playoff spot. It would take a 19-8 run by the Blazers to get by the Rockets, if Houston wins 46 games.

Around the League


Will Mehmet want to stay? Pistons president Joe Dumars has already gone on record that he wants to re-sign Mehmet Okur and Rasheed Wallace this summer. To do it, Dumars is either going to have to clear more cap room or convince one of them to take Detroit's mid-level exception.
Mehmet Okur
Forward-Center
Detroit Pistons
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
55 9.9 6.5 1.0 .457 .786



If Okur agreed to a starting salary of around $5.5 million (or whatever the mid-level exception turns out to be), the Pistons could exercise their early Bird rights on Okur, giving him the flexibility to opt out next summer when he will have his full Bird rights and could sign for a much bigger number.

But what if he doesn't want to sign at all? Okur has had a great relationship with the Pistons, but if Rasheed is in the team's long-term plans, playing the same position and a similar style, is it possible Okur would want out?

"It's really too early to know Mehmet's options this summer," Marc Fleisher, Okur's agent, told Insider. "I think we'll be looking very carefully at the role he plays and the minutes he gets for the rest of the season. He's happy in general with his situation in Detroit, but I think he needs to understand what his role will be in the future before he re-signs."

Fleisher claims that a "number" of teams are interested in Okur at contracts that exceed the mid-level exception. Insider talked to two GMs who spoke, on condition of anonymity, about his prospects this summer.

"He'll be in a tough position," one GM said. "Everybody likes him, and he's a good fit on several teams who really need a mobile big man. But at what price? His numbers suggest that a salary right around the mid-level is probably too high. Now that everyone knows the Pistons can match, I think teams will shy away from making him a priority. You don't want to overpay, and even if you do, the Pistons probably match."

That may be an understatement. Dumars told Insider over the weekend the Pistons will match "any offer" for Okur.

However another GM still thinks other teams will make a run. "Several teams have so much cap room I think they'd be willing to risk it," another GM told Insider. "What you'd try to do is force the Pistons' hand early. If Rasheed has a big year there, there will be a lot of pressure on Dumars to re-sign him."

All of this for a young 7-footer averaging just 10 points and 6.6 rebounds per game? Absolutely.

"Okur is going to be a star in the league," one scout told Insider. "I really believe that. He's so tough and mobile, and he's a good rebounder. Teams need size, and this guy really has the whole package. It's just a matter of time before he breaks out."


Brown, Arenas feuding: The losses are taking their toll in Washington, and Kwame Brown, of all people, has had it. Brown put together a string of impressive performances while Gilbert Arenas sat on the injured list. Since Arenas has returned, Brown's numbers have been all over the board.
Kwame Brown
Power Forward
Washington Wizards
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
54 10.4 7.0 1.5 .483 .742



After a game against Bucks on Sunday in which Brown got just four shots, he blasted his teammates for not passing the ball.

"To me, it seems like guys are going out just to get numbers. ... If you look at the little bit of wins we do have, we have 20-plus assists," Brown told the Washington Post. "In games where we're getting killed, we have one guy with OK numbers, but he's shooting. We don't pass the ball, we don't share, we don't play like a team. We got guys whining and complaining about offense, and that's not basketball. It makes me sick."

The dig appeared to be directed at Arenas, who wasn't happy when he heard the quote.

"Everybody's getting the same amount of touches," Arenas told the Post. "If you ain't converting, you ain't converting. Last time I checked, I passed [Brown] the ball six, seven times. He passed it to somebody else, right under the basket. So, I don't know where he's coming from with that. I guess he didn't have 20 tonight."

Coach Eddie Jordan wasn't happy when he heard the comments, but Brown claims something had to be said, and no one else was saying it.

"It can't come from me," Brown said Sunday night. "People don't respect me. I'm a third-year guy. It's got to come from a coach. We've got guys in here seven-, six-year vets. They've got to step up to the plate."

Arenas agreed. Though with just two-and-half seasons of experience himself, he isn't the seven- or six-year vet Brown is referring to.

"This is our job," Arenas said. "We have to come out and play hard every minute we're out there. It has nothing to do with the coaching staff. It has nothing to do with anything. Individually you have to do what it takes to stay focused for 48 minutes."


Ainge blames weather, media, style of play for Celtics' woes: Celtics vice president Danny Ainge is under fire, and he's grasping for an explanation as to why he broke up a playoff team and turned it into lottery fodder this year. The fact the Celtics never had a real shot to win a title (which is true) is probably enough of an excuse. But Ainge has tried that line of reasoning, and no one seems satisfied. Monday he came up with a more interesting explanation.
"I got a lot of feedback last year in my conversations with players and agents, and they told me some interesting things," Ainge told the Boston Herald. "They told me they didn't like the way the Celtics play, and they didn't like the weather and the media and fan pressures in Boston. And guys just didn't like a team that had players that didn't share the ball. Those were the sad realities of what I discovered when I took over this team last summer.

"So I figured there's nothing I can do about the weather and nothing I can do about the media scrutiny, but we can do something about the style of play. We have to create an environment that people want to come to."

Ainge claims he believes a team can win an NBA title by running. He's trying to put a style in place that's attractive to players who want to do that.

"Realistically, we're not going to recruit the best players in free agency," Ainge told the Herald. "We're not going to be able to get Shaq or Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett, but there are a lot of players you can get in our price range that have four or five or more teams wanting them. Then it becomes a matter of the things we've talked about, and I was finding the Celtics weren't their first choice. They weren't the second choice. They weren't the third choice.

"The young players of today don't know who Cedric Maxwell and Tommy Heinsohn and Bob Cousy were. The 16 championship banners just don't mean enough. These guys want to go somewhere where they can play a style of basketball that's going to fit them. They also want to be on a winning team and a team that plays unselfish and a team that plays exciting basketball.

"There's not a player that you've ever asked what kind of team they wanted to play for and had them say, 'I want to play on a defensive team that walks the ball up the court.' There's not one player I've ever met who says that.''

Can Ainge get all of that by blowing up the roster? The same players who like to push the ball are usually the ones who like to hog it, too. Adding guys like Ricky Davis, who has a big-time selfish reputation, doesn't appear to fit the mold.


Divac gives an assist: Has any center in the NBA racked up more assists than Vlade Divac has in a five-game period? Divac is averaging 10.2 apg in the last five games and an amazing 8.3 apg for the entire month of February. We did some digging and couldn't find a center in the last decade who had such a hot streak passing the ball.
Divac may be 36 years old, but the way he's playing someone will throw some money his direction this summer when he becomes a free agent. That stat is just too good to be true.

The Good, the Bad, the Kitchen Sink

Still can't figure out how the Orlando Magic can give up 127 points to the Bucks on Tuesday and then only 77 to Jazz on Wednesday as Tracy McGrady hangs 84 on the scoreboard in less than 24 hours.

The Good
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Week's work: 4-0, 33.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 7.5 apg, 2.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 59.7% shooting
With court dates, fuzzy injuries and a free-agent agenda, the Lakers knew all along that they weren't going to be getting Kobe in quantity this season. Last week, they certainly got him in quality and there wasn't anything Warriors, Sixers or Suns could do about it. Now, let's see what kind of drama awaits with the Kings and Nets on back-to-back nights this week.

Elton Brand, Los Angeles Clippers
Week's work: 2-1 record, 29.6 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2 spg, 4.6 bpg, 55.7% shooting
If this were the Major Leagues, this guy would be an MVP candidate and fitted for pinstripes already.

Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Week's work: 3-0, 27 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3 apg, 0.6 spg, 1 bpg, 59.1% shooting
At halftime of last Saturday's game against the Nuggets, Wade had already chalked up 12 points when the Miami scoreboard flashed a commentator saying how much better Wade was than Carmelo Anthony. Twenty-four minutes of game time later, Wade scored another 16 points on 8-for-14 shooting in the second half and Kevin Frazier was booking a flight for Vegas.

James Posey, Memphis Grizzlies
Week's work: 3-0, 21.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 2 apg, 2.3 spg, 0.6 bpg, 56.2% shooting
You don't make the playoffs in the Western Conference without a bona fide superstar unless you've got seven guys nearly averaging double-digits. And you don't get within two games of home-court advantage unless one of those guys just so happens to be your defensive stopper as your team goes on an 8-1 February tear.

The Bad
Steve Francis, Houston Rockets
Weak work: 2-1 record, 11 ppg, 6 rpg, 7.3 apg, 2 spg, 0 bpg, 30.2% shooting
Sure, the Rockets won two games last week but you can thank Yao Ming, Cuttino Mobley and Clutch the Bear before patting Francis on the back. In their first win against the Wizards, he was the fourth-highest scorer on the team with five buckets to go along with four turnovers. In their second win against the Hawks, he was the fifth-best scorer after going 1-for-10 from long range. And, believe it or not, it gets worse. In their one loss this week, Francis finished with six points in 38 minutes.

Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons
Weak work: 1-3 record, 5.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 21.2% shooting
The only reason this kid made it back into the starting rotation was because the guy supposedly putting heat on him, Darvin Ham, spent 44 minutes on the floor in three games and scored a total of two points, which makes Prince's 7-for-33 week a bonus. But that was before the Pistons picked up a pair of Air Force Ones that could play both forward positions as well as center.

Antonio Davis, Chicago Bulls
Weak work: 1-2 record, 3.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.6 bpg, 17.8% shooting
His Chicago numbers are nearly identical to those in Toronto this season, but not the expression on his face and it's showing.

Carlos Arroyo, Utah Jazz
Weak work: 1-3 record, 9.7 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 0.5 spg, 0 bpg, 32.5% shooting
Two years ago, as a rookie, this kid scored a total of 30 points all season. The fact that he scored 39 points last week alone and still make the bad side of this list is, perhaps, a bigger compliment than if we were to ever place him on the good side for nearly averaging double-digits.

The Ugly

The Denver Nuggets just lost to the Orlando Magic, the worst team in the NBA, by four and then the Miami Heat, a team seven games under .500, by 16. And that was the easy part of their schedule.

Their next seven games are all against teams that are currently playoff qualified, including the defending champion Spurs, Eastern-leading Pacers, red-hot Nets, Lakers and Pistons. And right after that, six of their next seven games are on the road.

Currently, the Nuggets are the eighth-seeded team in the West and are five games ahead of the Blazers and Jazz in the win column. It gets real ugly, though, when you consider that the both of those teams are fighting to reserve playoff runs that extend to 21 and 20 seasons, respectively.

The Kitchen Sink

RETURN OF THE KING
Everybody's been watching Sacramento's Brad Miller while waiting for Chris Webber that we almost missed Vlade Divac coming within three measly rebounds of averaging a triple-double in last week's four-game set.

And if the 41 points, 37 rebounds and 40 assists weren't enough to get your attention, then the eight blocks and six steals should have been. For the year, the 36-year-old who blew out candles on Feb. 2 is averaging a career-high 5.9 assists a game (14th in the league) to lead the Kings and all non-guards in the NBA.

For the month, he is averaging 8.3 assists per game which, extended out over an entire season, would place him third overall in the NBA behind only Jason Kidd (9.7 apg) and Stephon Marbury (8.6 apg).

FAST EDDIE
Recently released Eddie Griffin didn't play a split second for the New Jersey Nets but still collected a $125,000 check from them because back on Dec. 4 of 2000, he recorded the first triple-double in Seton Hall history against Norfolk State and we can't get the thought of a 6-foot-10 kid who also averages more than an NBA 3-pointer a game out of our heads.

AINGE INQUISITION
We know new Celtic general manager Danny Ainge is trying. But for which team? Since deciding that Boston needed to be a more offensive-orientated team, Ainge has made several trades and chased off former head coach Jim O'Brien. The result has been a definite increase in point production. Before the purging, a typical Celtic game consisted of about 190 points on the scoreboard with the Celtics losing by an average of 1.2 points after scoring 94.2.

Now, a typical Celtic game consists of about 199 points. The problem, though, is that Boston's average margin of defeat is now a whopping 7.7 points per game after scoring 95.5. And that's because Ainge's new team is giving up an astonishing 103.2 points per game over the last eight under interim head coach John Carroll.

Last week alone, they gave up 442 points in four losses and that was after surrendering 107 points to a Chicago team that averages 89.5. And in those four most recent losses, the opposing teams shot a combined 50.3 percent from the field. To put that in perspective, the Minnesota Timberwolves are currently leading the league in that category at 46.8 percent.

A-B-Z
Paul Silas tried to make it as simple as possible for his center, Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Play better defense and play more minutes. Well, prior to the month of February, Z averaged about 1.9 blocks per game. In February, he's averaged a hefty 3.3 blocks per game to bring his season average to 2.2 and 10th in the league.

And Silas has made good on his promise. After averaging 27 minutes per game in January, Z is now at 36 for February. And in the Cavs last two games, he played 82 minutes, scoring 47 points and grabbing 27 rebounds on 60 percent shooting. And not so coincidently, he also tallied five blocks and two steals in those wins against the Spurs and Knicks.

AN APPLE A DAY
The New York Knicks are currently the sixth-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, one game ahead of the Miami Heat and 1 games ahead of the Toronto Raptors. Just behind them are the Sixers (2 back of NY), Celtics (3 back of NY) and Cavs (4 back of NY). The scary thing for New Yorkers, though, is that 15 of their remaining 25 games are on the road. Miami and Boston have only 11. Philly has 12 while Toronto and Cleveland have 13.

SNUBBED
Stephon Jackson, since the All Star Break
24 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2 spg, 0.2 bpg, 48.5% shooting

Ricky Davis, since the All Star Break
19.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.2 bpg, 58.3% shooting

EN FUEGO SPECIAL
New Jersey Nets (34-20) versus Minnesota Timberwolves (40-16)
Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2004 in Minneapolis at 8 pm EST on NBALP

The Nets, currently the hottest team in the league, should be on a 14-0 run by the time they touch down at the Target Center where the Timberwolves, formerly the hottest team in the league, will still be smarting from that two-point loss at home to the Spurs.

The End
"There's a plate and a couple of screws -- they took the screws out of my head and put them in my hand."

Jalen Rose after finding out he had four broken bones in his left hand but still not sure if his career-low 38 percent shooting this season is a mental or physical problem.


Peep Show

Washington Wizards: Point guard Gilbert Arenas had a mouthful for teammate Kwame Brown. "To tell you the truth, I don't know what he's looking for," Arenas said in the Washington Times. "He gets the ball as much as anybody else. No one else is complaining. Most of the time I'm giving him the ball. He said people were worried about numbers. If you're worried about touches, then obviously you're worried about numbers. I just say do what it takes for your team to win. Look, when I'm having a bad game or somebody else is having a bad game and he has 20 [points], I don't hear him complaining." Then it got personal. "Maybe he sees all those guys who came out of high school and turned into studs, and he's a little bit frustrated over that because he feels he needs to be there," Arenas said. "And we want him to get there. I'm going to try my best to get him there." Then it got even worse. "This stuff, we'll get past it," Arenas said. "Right now we're all forcing things, probably trying to do more than we can because we want to get out of this. We're going to have our differences. This is what happens on bad teams."

New Jersey Nets: Forget the NBA. Lawrence Frank is out to break the record for the best start in pro sports history, currently tied with Joe Morgan of the 1988 Red Sox and James Price of the 1884 New York Gothams at 13 wins. "Any time you have success, there's a tendency to think big picture because you think you're gonna be there, that you've arrived," Frank said in the N.Y. Post. "But we understand we've got to earn our way every day. You're not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow, you're just worried about today." Jason Kidd agreed. "Accountability and communication, that's the two biggest things," said Kidd. "And the swagger and confidence everybody has. It's a matter of understanding what's at stake and being focused. Those are the things that stand out the most."

Boston Celtics: Far be it for Danny Ainge to blame himself for the current Celtic mess when he's still got the weather to point at. "I got a lot of feedback last year in my conversations with players and agents, and they told me some interesting things," Ainge said in the Boston Herald. "They told me they didn't like the way the Celtics play and they didn't like the weather and the media and fan pressures in Boston. And guys just didn't like a team that had players that didn't share the ball. Those were the sad realities of what I discovered when I took over this team last summer. So I figured there's nothing I can do about the weather and nothing I can do about the media scrutiny, but we can do something about the style of play. We have to create an environment that people want to come to."

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers know they haven't really beaten anybody yet but at least they're not beating themselves. "We're starting to get in a rhythm now, and everybody's starting to play," Gary Payton said in the Los Angeles Daily News. "We're being unselfish. Everybody's giving everybody the ball, everybody's getting good looks and we're playing defense. And that's the best part about it. As soon as Karl gets back, we'll try to just fit him in, and hopefully we'll get him in the same rhythm we are in right now."

Indiana Pacers: Even Ron Artest can see a good side to his injury that may force him to miss the rest of the regular season. "It's giving Jonathan Bender a chance to shine," Artest said in the Indianapolis Star. "Even though I can play defense, Jonathan Bender has the same effect on the defensive end that I have, because he changes shots. I'm keeping guys out of the paint, but he's changing shots. We need J.B. This is a chance for him to get out there and play. It's a good chance for (Croshere), too. Everybody needs to step up, so when I do come back they'll be stepping up and I'll be back also." Even if it means the all-star will be coming off the bench when he does return. "Whatever it takes," he said. "If the team is rolling along, I'll do whatever it takes to get victories."

Denver Nuggets: Who would have thought anyone would be using these three words in the same sentence . . . Nuggets . . . Grizzlies . . . and playoffs. "You could tell there's something going on between us and the Grizzlies," Carmelo Anthony said in the Denver Post of Monday night's game. "Just the energy in the air when we step on the court and the ball goes up ... This felt like a playoff game tonight, Game 1 of a seven-game series." Marcus Camby had even another word after the Nuggets dropped their third game in a row. "The schedule's not in our favor," Camby said. "We have to get off this schneid, especially with Portland playing so well. It's dwindling."

grndmstr_c
02-24-2004, 01:22 PM
He's right about Toine needing to give the ball to Dirk, but the fact that he lumped AJ of the better than 50% shooting in with Walker makes me think he was only right about Walker by accident. Come one Chad. Is it that hard to actually look up a player's stats?

MikeB
02-24-2004, 01:33 PM
[quote]
Today, Insider breaks down the playoff hunt in the West. Barring some sort of major collapse or injury by a team, chances are things will be wrapped up here in the next few weeks.

1. Sacramento Kings
Projected Record: 60-22
Current Record: 40-14 (No. 1)
Vlade Divac is averaging more assists per game than most point guards in the league (an amazing 10.2 over his last five games). Brad Miller is right behind him. Peja Stojakvoic has been hearing M-V-P chants in the distance. Mike Bibby has a new swagger in his step this year. And did we mention in six games Chris Webber is coming back from season-long injury exile? The Kings are clicking right now, and while their window appears to be closing, this team looks poised to go all the way this year.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves
Projected Record: 59-23
Current Record: 40-16 (No. 2)
When the smoke clears, Kevin Garnett, if he can keep it up, will be the league's MVP. Not only has he turned in yet another of the most complete performances the NBA has ever seen, he's been a leader this season, setting a tone for veterans like Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell that has brought the best out of both. Now that Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi are finally back, Flip Saunders has 26 games to try to meld them into the mix. It may produce a few rough spots along the way, but the ultimate prize is June, and for the first time in his career Garnett seems to have a supporting cast that can get him out of the first round.

3. Los Angeles Lakers
Projected Record: 53-29
Current Record:35-19 (No. 4)
We we're premature in handing them the NBA championship before the season even started, and we're just as premature to write them off after things haven't gone as planned. The reality is that when the Lakers are healthy, there isn't a more formidable starting five in the NBA. But balance that with the other reality -- so much turmoil and so little time actually playing together -- and a big question remains: Will a true team emerge, or are the Lakers just a nice collection of great players each trying to get his own?

4. San Antonio Spurs
Projected Record: 52-30
Current Record: 37-19 (No. 3)
It seems like the Spurs are a step behind this year. They miss Stephen Jackson. They miss David Robinson. Rasho Nesterovic, Robert Horry and Hedo Turkoglu have been solid replacements, but the magic isn't there this year. The Spurs will be dangerous contenders as long as Tim Duncan is breathing, but their shot at a repeat doesn't look great right now.

5. Dallas Mavericks
Projected Record: 51-31
Current Record: 35-20 (No. 5)
Too much of a good thing? That seems to be what plagues the Mavs. We said at the start of the season that if they found a way to jell, they could end up with the best record in the league. So far they've found ways to co-exist ... but the cohesion still isn't there. There's something about this team that just isn't right, and if Don Nelson doesn't figure it out soon, he'll be the fall guy. I've got a hint for him. Tell Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison to give Dirk Nowitzki the ball. When he's on fire, no one can stop the Mavs. When he's standing in the corner watching Walker chuck up 3s, the whole team really goes to waste.

6. Memphis Grizzlies
Projected Record: 48-34
Current Record: 34-22 (No. 6)
Jerry West has outdone himself here. If the Grizzlies keep up this pace, shouldn't we just rename the executive of the year award after him? West quietly and subtly has turned the Grizzlies from the most hapless franchise in the league into a solid basketball team in a little more than a year. They play hard (at home and, more importantly, on the road), have a cool style and have numerous assets to pawn off this summer in search of a true superstar. No one wants to play this team in the first round of the playoffs. I can't think of a higher compliment to West than that.

7. Denver Nuggets
Projected Record: 46-36
Current Record: 32-26 (No. 8)
Speaking of great front-office work, Kiki Vandeweghe's Nuggets are right up there with West's Grizzlies. The Nuggets were the worst team in the league last year and are now fighting for a No. 6 seed in the West. Unbelievable. They've done it with great play from rookie Carmelo Anthony and solid contributions from role players like Andre Miller, Voshon Lenard, Marcus Camby and Nene Hilario. The future is bright in Denver, and for the first time in a long time, that includes a visit to the playoffs.

8. Houston Rockets
Projected Record: 46-36
Current Record: 32-23 (No. 7)
Jeff Van Gundy took the keys out of Steve Francis' hand and put them in Yao's. The results were shaky early on, but lately Van Gundy looks pretty wise. Yao is starting to explode. In February he's averaging 20.8 ppg and 8.1 rpg on 58 percent shooting from the field. Francis has really had to tone down his game to make it happen, but the results of late have been pretty impressive. I still think the Rockets are actually the weakest team of the lot, but with a big, seven-game lead over the Blazers, they should be able to fight Portland off for the final playoff spot. It would take a 19-8 run by the Blazers to get by the Rockets, if Houston wins 46 games.


The Insider doesn't think much of Dallas or SA...here is the stretch run for the supposed 8 west seeds:

1)Sac 20-6 - a .769% clip when they are at .741 now, this seems a little strong to me. Ok...ALOT strong to me. They love them some Queens.
2)Minny 19-7 - a .731% clip when they are at .714 now. They love them some Wolves too...typical front runner mentality.
3)Lakers 18-10 - about the same as they are now....reasonable?
4)Spurs 15-11 a .576% clip...as compared to .661% now...uh huh, sure. Spurs are gonna slump down the stretch...yeah right.
5)MAVS 16-11 a .592% clip...as compared to .636% now....seems Texas gets no respect still...not just the Mavs
6)Grizz 14-12...HUH?...barely over 500 when they are playing 600 ball...odd
7)Nugz 14-10...almost exactly in line with where Houston is now...but the Nugz are slipping lately...to hit this they will have to improve
8)Rox 14-13...once again no faith in Texas

Insider don't know squat! i/expressions/face-icon-small-disgusted.gif

ddh33
02-24-2004, 03:40 PM
You mean someone thinks this team is better when Dirk is the focus?

I really do still have high hopes for this team, but I actually agree with one of the things mentioned in the article. Something still doesn't seem exactly right about this team. Maybe they get it figured out though.

LRB
02-24-2004, 04:33 PM
You mean someone thinks this team is better when Dirk is the focus?

Now if we can just get Nellie on board with the idea.