Jesse – NBA

CELTS TAKE NINTH STRAIGHT – DEC. 11

The Cavs might be looking shaky, but one of their main rivals in East is anything but at the moment.

The Boston Celtics reeled off their ninth straight win on Thursday night against the Washington Wizards to improve to an East-best 18-4 on the season. That string came after a loss at home to Orlando.

The knock on the Celts at this point would be that while they beat Cleveland to open the season, they’ve also lost to Phoenix, Orlando and Atlanta — the best teams on their schedule thus far.

The positives? There are plenty. Rasheed Wallace has fit in nicely so far, and Boston has five players averaging in double figures this year (Sheed is almost there, too, at 9.1 ppg). With a healthy Kevin Garnett and the emergence of Rajon Rondo the last few years, the Celtics legitimately have four players capable of taking over games and a slew of options should one of the big guns have an off night. The other part of that equation, of course, is that all those guys are buying in on the defensive end, where Boston leads the NBA by giving up only 90.5 points a game.

With that kind of balance, the wins should keep flowing all season long. Keep an eye out, though, for some of the big games coming up on the schedule — starting with the Orlando Magic on Christmas day. Because while everything looks good on paper thus far, beating the big boys is still a key part to the championship equation.

IS THIS A DIFFERENT CAVS TEAM? – Dec. 10

It’s now 22 games or so into the season, which is more than a quarter of the way through. What does that mean? It means it’s time to dig around the leagues for some trends that might not hold true in the long run, but are sure entertaining to ponder with a decent sample size to back up the theories. Question No. 1 — what’s up with the Cavs?

Cleveland has now lost two in a row after tonight’s 95-85 defeat to the Rockets and sits at 15-7 overall on the season. Not a bad record by any stretch, but this isn’t a team that’s OK with being good. Take a look at this squad. At this point, do you really think they’ve improved enough from last year’s Cleveland team to jump to the next level and knock off an Orlando or a Boston to make it to the Finals? Do they match up with the Lakers (who look every bit the title contender at 17-3 with 10 straight wins)? At 15-7, that’s questionable. It’s good but not great, and good isn’t going to stop a repeat of last year’s scene with LeBron James storming off the floor following the Game 6 loss to the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.

With 11.2 points and 6.6 rebounds a game, Shaq is contributing. But considering he put up 17.8 and 8.4 last year, this isn’t exactly the key addition on the stat sheet that Cleveland was looking for. Thus far, the impact has really been in name and buzz alone. LeBron continues to be a star and Mo Williams is a passable secondary scorer at 16.8 points a game, but nothing really jumps out about this team 22 games in. They’ve split their team games against the East’s elite (loss to Boston, win vs. Orlando), but haven’t gotten up for several games against far less talented teams. That could make a difference when we talk home-court advantage later down the road.

Keep an eye out for the Cavs in a few weeks. There’s a stretch at the end of the month when they play the Lakers, the Rockets and the Hawks twice in a span of six days. That should be a decent measuring stick to see exactly where they are.

BLAZERS DROPPING LIKE FLIES – Dec. 6

The ghost of Sam Bowie lives.

These Portland Trail Blazers just can’t buy a break, with the latest blow coming in the form of a fractured left patella (knee cap) for Greg Oden that will probably end his season (will, according to an article in The Oregonian).

You have to start wondering whether it’s just not in the cards for the big man. Look at the the contact with Aaron Brooks on the play that did the damage. We’re talking MINIMAL, MINIMAL contact, and his right leg came down first. It’s a move NBA players make every day, with far more contact. The replay makes it look like the two players barely brushed legs, and yet Oden ends up with a major injury. And of course Portland fans also have to live with the fact that Kevin Durant came after Oden in the draft and is developing into one of the league’s premier stars already, bringing back Bowie/MJ references.

To make it worse, Oden was starting to come into his own and was putting up 11.1 ppg and 8.5 rpg while blocking 2.5 shots. Another bigtime setback for a franchise that many people thought could take a big step toward joining the West’s elite this season. Now it’s a very similar team to last year’s, and Brandon Roy will again be called upon to carry this young group even more (though he does have another veteran in Andre Miller).

And that’s far from the only injury. Check out all the casualties in this Oregonian article, with Nicolas Batum and Travis Outlaw out with their own respective surgeries. The kicker, though, came this week when coach Nate McMillan tore his Achilles tendon while suiting up to play with his team in practice because of their limited numbers. He’s not making this next road trip with the Blazers. What a horrific and freakish start to the beginning of the season, and you have to wonder how this team will respond — more accurately, how it CAN respond with the limited numbers/depleted personnel. A positive could be getting Jerryd Bayless some more time on the floor, but that’s digging pretty deep.

KOBE BANKS IT IN……DISGUSTING

Oh, Kobe, you were so freaking close.

In the wake of his ridiculous, logic-defying, physics-confounding, completely and utterly unfair running bank 3-pointer to beat poor Dwayne Wade and the heart-broken Miami Heat, No. 24 decided to come clean.

“It was the luckiest shot I’ve ever taken, by far,” he told the Associated Press.

Thank God. Enough of you Adam Morrisons (remember Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State on national TV) trying to act like you called it, you were going for the glass…blahblahblahblah we can’t hear you because the BS is too loud.

Just say you’re lucky. You weren’t trying to do it, didn’t even think of hitting the glass and if you’re truthful, have actually never tried to bank  anything over 19 feet.

But then Kobe kept going.

“It felt good, (but) I just couldn’t believe this ball might go in on this shot.”

Felt good? FELT GOOD? Lordy. Since when has anything that hits glass (i.e. Would be an airball if it wasn’t from straight on) “felt good.”

What a terrible way to end a game.  Wade is required to say exactly what he did afterwards – great players make great shots, you like your chances when that happens, etc.

But read between the lines: they should be required to give us that victory, and banked jumpers are the devil’s work.

Agreed, but alas, that is the craziness of sports and the reason we keep watching and yelling and kicking things and screaming for joy when it’s our team that banks in the winner. That doesn’t make it right, but to use the cliche-est of all sports cliches, it is what it is.

But what a downer for Wade, who had his team come out flat the night before against Denver and has carried them to the brink of a big victory on the road before Kobe pulls out a rabbit. Tough break for the Heat, though perhaps it was just karma coming back around after Wade’s recent Orlando airball that Michael Beasley dunked home for the winner.

In the night’s other supernatural happening, the Nets managed to finally win a game. And yes, the rumor is that there was actually another team on the court. Should beating the Charlotte Bobcats actually count….another question entirely. Still, a nice game from Brook Lopez (31 and 14).

Another nice road win for the Celts, too, against an improved Thunder team.

CELTS CRUISE TO WIN IN SAN ANTONIO

Boston went into San Antonio and showed exactly why it has a good chance to make it back to The Finals this summer. Kevin Garnett was big again with 20 points, seven boards and five assists, and the Celts used their trademark defense to force 18 SA turnovers and hold the Spurs to 42 percent shooting in the 90-83 win.

Someone should keep track of how many balls this team deflects on the defensive end — they’re long enough to get any team out of its comfort zone. Eight blocks tonight, too, and four of them came from recent addition Rasheed Wallace (also 13 points).

In other action, Denver cruised despite a little K-Mart blowup/ejection, and Golden State lost a chance to tie or win the game against Houston with Monta Ellis decided to try and make a last-second move without dribbling.

Last thought of the night: DeJuan Blair, 18 points and 11 boards. Another slick draft steal from Popovich and Co.

NBA ROUNDUP — DEC. 3

With nothing to ground-breaking happening at the moment, here are a few little tidbits from around the league.

LeBron not so sure about the dunk contest

LeBron James is apparently not so pumped about the dunk contest anymore, deciding to bring his interest level down to a tentative “50-50.” Just two letters for LeBron to ponder — M.   J. His Airness won two dunk contests (participating in three) when he was still a young buck back in the late 1980s, creating some of his more iconic moments in the process (mainly the free-throw line takeoff that came to adorn an endless number of walls). Even Kobe Bryant did it in 1997. The point is, the great ones do it at least once and usually come out with some memorable moves that stay attached to them for a while. James is quoted as saying he doesn’t know if the contest can go back to its golden years. He’s absolutely right….if the best dunkers of his era aren’t willing to participate.

Have no fear…..

All is right with the world for at least another year — Jerry Sloan will be the Jazz coach in 2010-11. The man has coached the Utah Jazz for about as long as I’ve been alive. In a professional sports world that is constantly based on coaching changes and a “what have you done for me lately” attitude, this is by far one of the more underrated accomplishments out there.

Tonight’s matchups

Excuse the Houston-Golden State yawner and turn to TNT’s doubleheader. Besides the immeasurable entertainment value coming from Charles Barkley, there’s a couple of intriguing gmes on tap.

Boston at San Antonio, 8 p.m. EST – A good chance for the Spurs to finally put one altogether and show that this new Richard Jefferson combination is going to work. Should be an intense game with plenty of good defense for those fans tired of the high-scoring affairs like the 146 Atlanta dropped on the Raptors the other night. Pick: Boston by 5

Miami at Denver, 10:30 p.m. – Fun East vs. West showdown between two of the upper-level contenders in both conferences. Miami has been a tough team to figure out thus far, but perhaps this game will provide a little more clarity. Pick: Denver by 17

–Jesse Baumgartner

NETS ALL ALONE…….AT THE BOTTOM

Give the Nets a little credit — at least they’re original. They didn’t cop out and just tie the record for season-opening losses, choosing to share their epic level of futility with another team. Nope, they went for the glory. 0-18, an NBA record.

Since they now have a couple good chances to break the streak with games against the Bobcats and Knicks, let’s take this chance to assess exactly how terrible this team is.

1) They have an incredible chance to break the record for fewest amount of games played before winning the division becomes mathematically impossible. After 18 games played, they’re currently 14 games out of first place (Boston is 4-14).

2) Their god-awfulness has infected the entire division. The Atlantic is usually subpar to begin with, but Toronto owns second place by a solid 1.5 games with a 7-13 record. The four teams other than the Celts have a combined 16 wins.

3) They’ve turned one of the NBA’s bright rising stars, and one 2008-09’s breakout surprises, Devin Harris, into a sidenote that nobody cares about. Plus they’ve infected him, too, since he’s currently shooting 36.1 percent and less than 20 percent from downtown.

4) Tonight’s record-setting 117-101 loss to Dallas was only their second game over 100 points this season.

The amazing thing is, this team does have a few pieces when you look toward the future. Harris was a stud last year, Brook Lopez is putting up 18.2 and 8.9, and Chris Douglas-Roberts is showing he could be an OK scorer (though it’s hard to tell, since someone has to score on this team). Plus Terrance Williams could develop into a versatile threat, thought it’s hard to know if he can become enough of a scorer to fulfill his potential.

Also, keep in mind that this Nets team has lost its 18 games by an average of 11.33 points. So while it’s an incredible display of terrible basketball, they’re not getting shellacked by 30 every night, either.

But silver lining aside, this is ugly for all involved.

–Jesse Baumgartner

COLANGELO ELECTED CHAIRMAN

Quick news flash. Jerry Colangelo has been named chairman of the Hall of Fame. Just add it to the ridiculous number of titles he’s held in the basketball world.

IVERSON HEADING BACK TO PHILLY

AI to Philly.

Give it a second. Mull your mind over it a few times,

and let it sink in a little.

AI to Philly…..

Just sounds right, doesn’t it? Allen Iverson was never a Nugget. Never a Piston. Lord knows he was never a Grizzlie, which he probably realized about five minutes into his first practice (practice?).  For 10-plus years AI was the 76ers, still is if you’re truthful. No one thinks Andre Igoudala, or Elton Brand (though they might think terrible basketball). It’s AI’s city and has been ever since he stepped out of Georgetown and froze MJ with a crossover kids are still trying to duplicate.

After failing to stick with three different teams, Allen Iverson is heading back to the Sixers.

When you think AI, you don’t think role player with Carmelo or a failed experiment in Detroit. You think Game 1 of the Finals as he steps over Tyronn Lue after icing the game with a sweet baseline jumper. You think 1-on-5 and all the Sixers teams he carried on his back. You think lord-what-a-ball-hog-why-does-he-shoot-so-much-OHMYGOD-HE-JUST-WENT-FOR-58. Yes, he wanted to win, and yes, he tried to sacrifice on those other teams, but there’s no extricating his identity from Philadelphia. So it’s fitting that Iverson finds himself coming back now, with his career winding down and few teams willing to take on a super ego who can’t deal with coming off the bench.

Philly has nothing to lose. They’re a pathetic 5-13, and maybe a little scoring will help right the ship. If not, they’ll still send AI off with a few memorable scoring sprees that remind us of what he was for so long, and how ridiculously amazing it is that he got a team to the Finals in the first place. AI tried to be the wily veteran, the glue guy who gives up a ton to try and finally get his ring. But that’s not him. He made himself by wanting the ball and going for broke with the Sixers year after year despite the lack of talent around him.

AI coming home won’t affect the playoff picture, and probably means little outside of its personal significance in bookmarking the end of his career.  Still, it just feels right.

–Jesse Baumgartner

NBA POWER RANKINGS WEEK 6

#1) L.A. Lakers (14-3): Haven’t had the toughest schedule yet with so many home games, but getting it done. Upcoming road trip will be a test. Artest seems to be fitting in OK, but is this team that much better, and can Kobe make them want it as much as him again?

#2) Boston (14-4): One number. 30.6. As in the number of minutes Kevin Garnett is playing. If he’s healthy, this team can defend its way back into the Finals.

#3) Orlando (14-4): Vinsanity seems to be fitting in just fine thus far, and the Magic have pulled out some big wins at Boston, at Atlanta and against Phoenix. If they can just get Jameer Nelson to stay healthy, this group is going to be a tough out come playoff time. Not that we don’t all love our daily dose of J-Will.

#4) Atlanta (12-5): Their resume is littered with quality wins thus far, but now they’ve lost three of the last four.

#5) Phoenix (14-4): Nash has this group rolling right now, but check back in when they hit the 40-game mark.

#6) Cleveland (12-5): Good wins at Orlando and Miami. Terrible loss to Charlotte. Good win against the Mavericks. It’s hard to dissect this team too much right now without seeing more of Shaq. Speaking of which, it’ll be interesting to evaluate this period of his career in a few years and see how much he helped these teams when all is said and done.

#7) Denver (13-5): It’s hard not to like this team. A dynamic scorer in Anthony, a defensive spark in Birdman, a quality, veteran point in Billups. Plus, Ty Lawson got put in a perfect situation with this open style of play. Question: How valuable of a piece is J.R. Smith to this team?

#8) Dallas (13-5): The road win against the Lakers is the only thing we really know about this team. Do Marion and Gooden really push them up that much from last season?

#9) Portland (12-5): Oden had definitely improved, but this team hasn’t made the leap that last year suggested might be coming. Perhaps another year away from jumping to the top 6 or so.

#10) San Antonio (9-6): Only here because of a lack of a better team. The Spurs have the pieces but haven’t gelled yet. Give it time, though.

-Jesse Baumgartner

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