Heat Continue To Rise, Lawrence Frank Benches Nets Stars Again, Wolves Stay Hot

Thomas HalzackAnalyst IJanuary 27, 2009

Who wants to be a coach? These guys do. Spoelstra, Skiles, Adelman, Frank, Porter, McHale, DiLeo, Brooks are having varying success with their teams. Let's see how well they are doing.


Miami Heat (24-19) Take Down Atlanta Hawks (26-18): 95-79

The Hawks experienced a first half beat down that was the worst in Hawk history. In a 15 turnover first half, the Hawks scored just 27 points – a new all time low. Even the Antoine Walker 13 win team of 2004-5 didn’t do that.

The surprise is that they got up off the canvas and closed to within 7 at 64-57, before the Heat took off on an 8-2 run that included a Dwyane Wade block of Josh Smith in the lane to pull away for good.

Both these teams are ahead of pre-season predictions, including mine. The Hawks are intriguing to watch while the Erik Spoelstra coached Heat continue to surprise. Kudos to Erik with a what appears to be a fine coaching job in his first gig as head coach.

Dwyane Wade’s play is catapulting this team forward. That and a surprisingly cohesive team defense. The Hawks continue to grow from last year’s effort, while having mediocre success winning without key players.

Without center Al Horford for the last nine games, they haven’t been able to beat a team over .500. But they are beating all of them under .500. Unheralded 6’ 10" Solomon Jones is 12 of 15 shooting over the last 4 games in limited minutes.

Atlanta is holding onto the lucky 4th seed in the east, which means they would avoid Boston, Cleveland, and Orlando in the first round.

Former Celtic malcontent center Mark Blount made a rare appearance for Miami. Maybe they are showcasing him for Boston. I hear Danny needs a big man.

If the Celtics added Blount, Antoine Walker and Stephon Marbury, could Doc Rivers could sue Danny Ainge for mental cruelty?

Would it come under President Obama's new stricter definition of torture?


Minnesota Timberwolves (16-27) Step On Redd-less Milwaukee Bucks (22-26)

With these two teams, it is about the coaching.

Now a league best 10-2 in 2009, the lowly Timberwolves won’t have the top teams shaking in their boots, but they are playing pretty good ball. We all point to the weak record of their opponents, but they are 2-2 against teams over .500 in that stretch. The ball is moving in the offense, and players are looking for each other. Kevin McHale, the reluctant head coach, is doing well enough to be re-hired if this keeps up. That is not something he really wants. The ironies of life.

Intense, scrappy Bucks Coach Scott Skiles would hear of no excuse making, though they were without Andrew Bogut and now, scoring leader Michael Redd for the season. After being down by 15 points in the 4th, they closed to within 5 (81-76) on a 13-3 spurt, before Al Jefferson righted the ship for Minny. Ryan Gomes made a big three pointer with 1:46 left on a kick out from Jefferson. An area of improvement for Al is reading double teams and seeing the floor better this season. His assist numbers should start to go up.

Taking over a 25-56 team from last season, ‘Spike’ Skiles has the Bucks record up to 22-26. It will be interesting to watch how much he can get out of this unit with Redd out for the rest of the year. Whatever it is, it will be more than most coaches could.

Scott, don’t hit me for calling you ‘Spike’, okay?


Phoenix Suns (25-18) Pick on Washington Wizards (9-35): 103-87

Call him the center of attention. The Suns are a team torn between two playing styles. With Shaq making a case for playing slow down, half court ball, some say the Suns are setting in the west. Is Amare Stoudamire ungrateful for getting the chance to deal from power forward, his natural position? As it was in Dallas, Steve Nash looks far more human and underutilized when the game slows down.

It is Terry Porter’s dilemma. While I was open to seeing how this could work out when Shaq arrived, the question of vastly differing styles was obvious. It is still an Unsolved Mystery.

Shaq bullied up on Andre Blatchely for 29 points, and says he is in his best shape in two years. The Suns went 3-3 on a long road trip. Nash was classic Nash in this game with 15 assists. Amare added 22 points. Leandro Barbosa drained 23 points off the bench

It is the Butler (28 pts.) and Jamison Show (27 pts.) for Washington fans. In fairness, Blatchely is learning to be more consistent and the Wiz were actually up by one point when he was in the game.

The Wizards just can’t wait for this season to end. Caron Butler finally learned how to pass the ball again recently. He had a spell around mid January with two assists total in three games.

Even an Obama stimulus package might not help this team. If he wasn’t busy already, Barack might be able to make this team as a guard.


New York Knickerbockers (19-25) Outwork the Houston Rockets (28-18): 104-98

The Yao Ming-less Rockets (sore right knee) started Luis Scola at center, who provided a double double (16 pts./14 boards). But the Rockets could not keep the Knicks out of the middle where they scored 48 points to Houston’s 34. The Knicks had 14 fast break points to the Rockets’ 5.

Versatile Knick forward Wilson Chandler was demoted from the starting line-up and responded with a solid game. He made a big three pointer with about two minutes left gave the Knicks the lead for good at 97-96. He contributed 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in 28 minutes. Knick reserve guard Nate Robinson has found the range recently and led the Knicks with 19 points. Chris Duhon has proved himself to a credible starting point guard this year and added 12 points and 11 assists.

M.A.S.H. brothers Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest both played, but not very well, as they shot a combined 11 of 39 from the field for 31 points. Coach Rick Adelman has done as well as can be expected with this team considering the ever present injuries to his three stars. Visions of competing for a championship seem remote at this time.


New Orleans Hornets (27-14) Drub Philadelphia 76ers (21-22): 101-86

Sixer coach Tony Dileo's dilemma is the same as the Suns' Terry Porter's.

Even without David West and Tyson Chandler, the Hornets had enough to take down the visiting Sixers. Philly has Elton Brand back and are trying to figure out how to incorporate him into its offense. It is a similar problem to the Suns. Half court big man on a running team. What is a coach to do? Many, including myself, thought this would be a good fit. Time will tell.

The league’s best point guard, Chris Paul, had a triple double while three Hornet starters (Butler, Armstrong, Stojakovic) had zero assists. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before.

Philadelphia was led by Thaddeus Young with 22 points, and Andre Miller with 19.


Oklahoma City (10-35) Beats Slumping New Jersey Nets (20-25): 94-85

OKC Coach Scott Brooks is getting results. Net Coach Larry Frank is not, and is right.

The Nets have lost 7 of 9, and once again the team’s two main players didn’t bring it. Coach Larry Frank has been highly criticized by some for his benching of Vince Carter and Devin Harris for the entire second half in a putrid showing against the Celtics on January 15. This time they made it through 3 quarters.

It was déjà vu all over again, as Harris and Carter brought little, shot 6 of 29 and finished on the pine. The Nets bench players made a 4th quarter run to close an unforgivable 30 point deficit to a 9 win team to seven points in the final minute. The Nets role players caused the Thunder to put Kevin Durant back on the floor with a 31-12 pounding in the last period.

I don’t know what is wrong in the swampland, but if it’s a Vince Carter let down, many expected that from the start. He has been quite the team leader for much of the season from what I read. Closer evaluation required.

Nenad Krystic has keyed the Thunder’s turnaround. They are a remarkable 7-6 since the deft shooting 7’ Yugoslavian center joined the team.

Second year star-in-the-making Kevin Durant led a balanced Thunder attack with 18 points, while rookie 7’ center Brook Lopez led the Nets with 18 points.

This article appeared on Foxsports.com.



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