Around the NBA
Charlotte’s gamble of taking on Nazr Mohammed’s contract has worked out well so far. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
The Hawks are rolling with four straight wins to move over .500 on the season. Yes, this is definitely among the most improved teams in the NBA. On the down side, top scorer Joe Johnson’s shooting has been awful this year. The club’s second leading scorer, Josh Smith, has been even worse. Meanwhile, Shelden Williams has regressed and, after getting carjacked last week, he might be even more out of it for the next little while (although he did put up a strong game on Wednesday).
The team was able to continue rolling without Ray Allen (ankle), but when he returned Wednesday, they went down, ending a nine-game winning streak. On the plus side, Allen sure didn’t look rusty, pouring in 24 points and hauling in five boards. Boston is going to be tested over the next couple of weeks, so we’ll see what this team is made of, although the club looked tremendously strong Friday against the Bulls.
The Bobcats decided to take on Nazr Mohammed’s bulky contract because they needed size. So far, it’s worked out great. Charlotte has won two straight, and Mohammed has been on fire, making him one of the most popular pick ups on waiver wires everywhere. If he can avoid foul trouble, he’ll be even more valuable.
The Bulls looked to have turned things around, going 7-4 after their awful start, but then they ran into the Boston buzzsaw last night. A few more stinkers like that, and the Kobe Bryant to Chicago rumours will start to heat up again.
The Cavs have yet to have their real team together for a long enough stretch to know if they are still as good as last year, when they were the Eastern Conference Champions. LeBron James missed some time, as did Larry Hughes and Anderson Varejao. And Donyell Marshall is still out, and it may just be a matter of time before he’ll need surgery. Okay, so King James is doing his thing with three straight games over 30 points and 26 rebounds over that stretch, but Hughes is struggling badly. Varejao, despite some worse than usual FT shooting, hasn’t looked rusty at all, and is coming off a double-double and he helped Cleveland win two of its past three games, putting the club back in a playoff spot. Ya gotta love the weak-ass East, where even a modest winning streak can vault you up the standings.
The real Mavericks look like they are back, winning four straight, including a huge win over Phoenix on Wednesday. Josh Howard, who has avoided major injuries so far this season, has really stepped up. His blocks are down (just one in the past five games), but his offense is vastly improved. Dallas plays the majority of its upcoming schedule at home, where it is very difficult to beat, so expect the Mavs’ turnaround to continue.
Denver, one of the streakier teams in the NBA, got back in the W column Thursday by beating the Rockets in OT. When the Nuggets are losing, it’s generally been to good clubs, and given the club’s 11-4 home record, getting to the playoffs shouldn’t be a problem. However, if Denver plans on doing something come post-season time, it better improve upon that 4-6 road mark. Anthony Carter, despite his game-winner Thursday, has struggled offensively in the past couple of games, and with Chucky Atkins expected back, Carter will soon be bench-bound.
Lost in the Celtic hoopla, Detroit has been playing fantastic ball this season. Wednesday, the world finally noticed as it handed Boston its first home loss of the season. Getting rid of Mohammed was a real bonus for the Pistons, who added depth in Primoz Brezec and Walter Herrmann. Neither player has seen much, if any, action yet, but these two will have an impact on Detroit.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have gone 9-5 since their awful 0-6 start. You never know when this club is going to go back into the tank, however, as they tend to be among the most inconsistent teams in the NBA. It has another two road games coming up on what’s been a pretty easy trip so far, so maybe Golden State can keep the good times rolling. The Warriors will need to stay sharp to keep pace with the surging Lakers.
It’s Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming and….? This team has dropped three straight and looks to be in serious trouble. And now T-Mac is MIA because of his knee. Yao, meanwhile, is playing serious, serious minutes, so I’m worried about his ability to stay healthy all season. Bonzi Wells has picked up the pace the past couple of games with T-Mac hurting, and Houston needs more of that if it hopes to turn things around.
Jermaine O’Neal is starting to put up some points, and with nine rebounds in his last game and seven blocks over the past two, we’re finally beginning to see the J.O. we’ve been used to. But can he stay healthy enough to play even 70 games this season? That’s the key for O’Neal and the Pacers. Their road play has been amazing (8-5), but this team needs to take care of business at home (6-7) to make a move up the standings. Other than two against the Pistons, Indy has a nice sked coming up, so it has a chance to overtake Toronto for fourth place in the East.
Los Angeles Clippers
Injuries have made this season a write-off for the Clippers pretty well before it began. With three straight losses in the books and upcoming games against San Antonio followed by a home and home vs. the Suns, things don’t look rosy in the Clips’ immediate future. LA is desperate for some offense, having been held under 90 points nine times already. A healthy Sam Cassell (calf) would be a good start, but that’s been a rarity this season.
Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers lost to Cleveland Thursday, but are on a 6-2 roll, the only other loss in this run coming with Kobe Bryant dealing with a groin injury. The injury has slowed down Kobe the past couple of games, no doubt, but overall, he’s been healthy so far this season. There’s talk that Andrew Bynum will head to the bench when Kwame Brown returns, but that would be unwise. Bynum has become a bigger part of the Laker offense this season, and I love the fact that he’s getting to the charity stripe more lately. This kid is maturing before our very eyes.
Pau Gasol (toe) returned to action last night, and while he did a good job on the boards, he looked rusty offensively, sinking just 4-of-14. Gasol’s not getting the same kind of touches he did last year during his breakout season. Still, Memphis is holding its own, with wins over Orlando and San Antonio over the past four games. The Grizz have a three-game homestand coming up, so perhaps they can get on a bit of a roll here. Rudy Gay has settled in very nicely as a full-time starter, showing much improved shooting this season and generally more consistent game-by-game results.
That Smush Parker signing has worked out well, hasn’t it? What an albatross he’s been. Meanwhile, the Heat’s biggest issue last season – lack of production from the PG spot – continues to haunt this team. Miami didn’t really think Smush would solve that, did it? The Heat has dropped two straight, and has the Jazz coming to town next.
Thanks to an 8-3 home record, the Bucks have improved quite a bit this year. But they are not going anywhere with that 2-12 road mark. And with two of the next three on the road, that final playoff spot could start to slip further and further out of their reach. Perimeter defense, people! Milwaukee is dead last in the NBA by allowing its opponents to can 39 per cent from beyond the arc.
The T-Wolves are looking like they will run away with the title as the NBA’s worst team this year. Losing to the Sonics by 11 at home proved that. With a five-game road trip kicking off, Minny will be getting worse before it gets better. On the plus side, Antoine Walker exploded from downtown last night, canning six treys. Unfortunately, his rebounding numbers have slipped for the fourth straight year, making him useless in all but the very deepest of leagues.
New Jersey Nets
Well, they beat the Heat in OT, but losing to the Knicks and the Kings spoke volumes about how far this team has to go still. Richard Jefferson is the man this year, and he has been lighting it up the past couple of games. His 3-point shooting has been crap this year, but he’s never shot better from the charity stripe and that’s helped RJ pour in an average of 25 points per game. Meanwhile, can one-time all-star Jamaal Magloire sink any lower? He’s barely getting any touches when he does play, and who can blame the Nets? The dude is sinking just 27.9 per cent of his shots – from the centre position. Uh, yeah.
New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets have been spinning their wheels after a hot start, but in fairness, they’ve had to play some tough teams. In fact, just one of the Hornets’ losses this season has come against a sub-.500 team. Chris Paul is sinking everything these days; his shooting is dramatically improved this season.
New York Knicks
Stephon Marbury, who has missed seven of the last 10 while dealing with the death of his father, is still an uncertain start on Sunday. Even when he’s played, Marbury is not logging the kind of minutes that would allow him to be a big factor, and this current streak of inactivity won’t help in that regard as he’ll be slipping out of game shape. The Knicks have actually held their own recently, but they have the Lakers coming up and then have to travel to Orlando. Eddy Curry looked to be shaking his offensive slump, but he’s gone back into the tank the past couple of games. He’s been healthy this year, but completely ineffective, especially at the line, where he’s shooting a career-worst 57 per cent.
Remember when the Magic got out of the gates quick last year, only to fade, thanks to some crappy backcourt play? Are we seeing a similar phenomenon this year? Well, it beat the Rockets in Houston Wednesday, but it was just Orlando’s second win in the last seven games. With games coming up against Utah and Boston, it’s a bad time for the Magic to be going into the tank. Still, the brightest sign here is that this team is 13-4 on the road.
The Sixers were cooking, winning five of six, but have hit a two-game skid and now face a very tough schedule over the next few weeks, so they could find themselves buried quickly. I’d like to see Jason Smith get some more PT; he occasionally flashes an offensive touch, but is simply not playing enough to be a real factor. As Philly works its way further away from a playoff spot, expect the rook to get more of a chance.
The Suns have lost four of six and have a couple of tough games coming up. Leandro Barbosa and Raja Bell are each struggling from the beyond the arc, so they better get their act together if Phoenix is going to end this skid.
Portland Trail Blazers
The youth and talent on this team are overwhelming. And just imagine if Greg Oden weren’t out for the season. Oh man, the Blazers look like they are capable of being a winning team this year, especially given their current roll of nine straight wins. Portland is currently in a playoff position, while the Jazz is looking in from the outside. What’s the dealio, here?
The Kings are actually doing quite well considering all their health woes. They’ve won four of their past six, and have a four-game homestand coming up. Unfortunately, the visitors include Denver, Boston and Phoenix. How about Beno Udrih and his outside game? Six treys on Wednesday night? Woah. Life as a starter has definitely agreed with Udrih.
San Antonio Spurs
With Tony Parker and Tim Duncan sidelined with ankle woes, the Spurs have struggled. Duncan’s back now, but the team has dropped four of five. On the plus side, Parker is expected back Saturday and the team’s schedule looks very favourable.
After a butt-ugly 2-14 start, the Sonics have gone 6-5 and with three of their next four at home, they have a chance to make up more ground. Still, even with this recent hot streak, only two teams are worse in the whole NBA. Super rookie Kevin Durant is coming off a huge game against the Raps, shooting well (11-of-18) on his way to 27 points with three assists and a steal. Unfortunately, Durant’s turnover problem reared its ugly head again. The kid still has plenty of work to do on his shooting (40.5 per cent from the floor), but at 44.4 per cent over the last five, he’s headed in the right direction.
If Toronto could only figure out how to beat Boston (0-3), it might have a chance in the Atlantic Division. The Raps have a very challenging road trip ahead of them, so staying above the .500 mark is going to be tough, especially when they have to play teams like the surging Blazers as they did the other night.
The Jazz is a mess right now, having dropped eight of its past nine games. Utah has played extremely well at home, winning nine of 11, but on the road, the team has struggled badly. With three of its next four away from Salt Lake City, things don’t look promising for a quick turnaround for the Jazz woes. Hopefully Utah hit rock bottom after blowing a 12-point lead with six minutes to play in Charlotte on Wednesday.
With nine of its 13 games at home this month, the Wizards have been able to turn around a sloppy start. However, they’ve dropped their past two and now head out on the road for three games. And with both Gilbert Arenas and Antonio Daniels out, Roger Mason Jr. is starting at PG for Washington. Yes, you read that right.