There were three interesting blowouts and a close game with a league star sitting out in yesterday’s play.
Philadelphia’s Heavenly Fixers – Marreese Speights and Thaddeus Young
The 6’ 10" rookie from Florida, Marreese Speights, put on quite a show, with an assortment of put-backs, dunks, alley-oops, and even jumpshots for a career high 24 points on 11-14 shooting. While other rookies are getting the attention, Speights has been a solid addition with a bright future for the Sixers. His performance in this game overshadowed teammate Thaddeus Young’s 25-point performance.
The Sixers ran past the Suns for a 108-91 win. Not too long ago, this would have been a track meet for both teams.
Meet the future of the 76ers. In fact, with Elton Brand out for the year, the future is now. Speights and Young are growing by the month. Andre Miller remains the constant through everything. 6’ 1" scoring point guard Louis Williams adds punch, move Andre Iguodala back to option one, and bring Reggie Evans’ energy off the bench and you have a playoff team on the rise.
Underachieving Samuel Dalembert is an overpriced version of Kendrick Perkins, but like Perkins, plays a vital role.
Celtics and Lakers Successfully Adding Stars Made It Look Easy
It wasn’t supposed to be this way…with either team. I can’t remember when so many top NBA players changed teams in the offseason. Adding high profile players Elton Brand and Shaquille O’Neal hasn’t worked for either the Sixers or the Suns.
One team is making progress. The other team is making…. other plans.
Philly on the Rise
Surprise. This Philadelphia 76er team (26-24) is again looking to make the playoffs. They are currently seventh in the east and gaining ground. They are 13–4 recently and have won three-straight after destroying the erratic Phoenix Suns (28-22). They are two games over .500 for the first time this season.
They were expected to be a dominant, rising team in the Eastern Conference with free agent Monsieur Elton Brand. Maurice Cheeks (fired) was unable to blend in Brand (out with injury for the season) and both are gone. Replacement Coach Tony DiLeo took awhile, but the team has taken off again, playing its signature fast breaking style that was so successful last season.
What hasn’t been fixed is the problem that Brand was signed for. The Sixers are a poor halfcourt team with weak outside shooting and that hurts them in the playoffs. At least now, the playoffs are back in the picture.
It’s been a strange road for this franchise since they jettisoned Allen Iverson, and Chris Webber. But it has been interesting to say the least. Maurice Cheeks directed a post Iverson resurgence, led by Andre Iguodala. That resurgence stumbled when Cheeks was unable to incorporate highly sought free agent Elton Brand. Many thought he was fired too soon. But give interim coach DiLeo some credit. While the original playoff problems remain, he has the team playing well again.
Iguodala hasn’t proved he can be go-to guy in playoff pressure. At least now, the team is together for another year and he has a few more options to help him out.
The Suns drafted Robin Lopez, instead of Marreese Speights at No. 15, and the 76ers took Speights at No. 16. While Lopez may someday be a good player. Speights is making his presence known now.
The Shaq-adelic Experiment in Phoenix has been a bad fit. As expected by many, the plodding O’Neal doesn’t fit with the rest of a high octane D’Antoni team. A further attempt to re-structure the team by trade, sending unhappy Raja Bell and underused Boris Diaw to the Bobcats for Jason Richardson hasn’t helped.
Kerr-rageous or Kerr-razy trade?
Correct or Kerr-wrecked? It seemed a bad idea from the beginning, but I was willing to give it a chance. Hey, maybe they knew something I didn’t. Shaq’s All Star year and illusionary renaissance notwithstanding, (he is not very good defensively anymore), GM Steve Kerr says he takes full responsibility and he should. It was Steve’s decision that Kerr-tailed this team. (OK. I’ll stop now.)
The Suns still have the league’s third best offense (104.9 pts) and the best shooting percentage (49.6) in the league, due partly to Shaq’s .585 shooting, but they have the sixth worst defense (103.2 pts) and are currently in the eighth playoff slot with a 28-22 (.560) record.
They won’t finish as well as last season 55-27 (.671) last year. Ironies of ironies, if they hold off Utah and stay at the eighth spot, it will be an emotionally charged playoff series against the Lakers and Kobe Bryant for the Big Aristotle.
Shaq’s performance on the second nights of back-to-back games has been so sloth-like, that Coach Terry Porter was keeping him out of those games completely for a while. Last night’s game against one the league best running teams showed why. The game was over early as they blew by Shaq and the Suns. O’Neal played only 21 minutes with 10 rebounds and seven points
Porter was given was a difficult assignment to blend an aging Shaq with the team he had inherited. The team is doing some soul searching, and is now openly entertaining trade possibilities for their prized possession, young stud Amar’e Stoudemire. The Suns appear to want to reduce costs and want expiring contracts, young players and/or draft picks for Amar’e.
I’d guess it is Shaq they would rather move, but who would take him at $20 mil. for this year and next? He can only play in a halfcourt offense. The idea was that all he had to do was rebound to get the break going.
Now the team is trying to rebound from that move and is stuck halfway between two worlds. The Suns are halfway pregnant. The future direction of the franchise is a bit unclear at the moment and will remain so, as long as Shaq remains. Any short term changes should consider emphasizing the league’s iconic big man’s remaining strengths. Shaq would most likely revolt at reduced minutes. But you can count him gone after next year.
Blowout No. 2
Could the Charlotte Bobcats actually make the playoffs this year?
The Brown Bobcats
Charlotte Bobcats (20-31) pummeled the Los Angeles Clippers (12-40) by 94-73 last night behind a newly constructed Larry Brown team with a more balanced scoring attack (five players in double figures, led by Emeka Okafor with 19 points). They play solid defense and are already a pesky team. They are only 3.5 games behind New Jersey and Milwaukee as we speak.
I think that may be expecting too much this season, but for the first time, they are finally getting something out of the talent that is here. These Bobcats are definitely Brown in color. With Larry doing the teaching, Raymond Felton is playing better ball and Brown’s personal draft selection D.J. Augustin has a bright future.
The rumor is that the Bobcats were all set to take center Brook Lopez, until guard centric Brown stepped in. Okafor could use the help. That one looks like a good debate for years to come.
Michael Jordan apparently picks coaches better than he does draft picks. (Remember Kwame Brown?) He sent Adam Morrison to the Lakers for Vladimir Radmanovic, who scored 13 points in his Bobcat debut.
The Clippers are finally getting healthy with Marcus Camby, Baron Davis, and Zach Randolph all back. This team has an excellent talent base, but Davis is the key and he is a difficult player to handle. He didn’t get along with Paul Silas, Mike Montgomery, Byron Scott, and now Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy and he have a tenuous working relationship. Davis simply takes too many ill-advised shots and doesn’t show enough court discipline with this team.
Blowout No. 3
The Milwaukee Bucks Dismantle the Houston Rockets: 124-112
It was not that close. The Rockets made up 10 points in a meaningless fourth quarter. It looks like all the preseason worries about these Rockets are coming true. Artest can’t shut up. The three stars can’t stay healthy.
Locker room bickering is starting to affect the team’s play.
Once a solid defensive team, they gave up an insane 124 points to a Buck team without Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut, and Luke Ridnour.
From the Bucks’ point of view, you have to like what Scott Skiles has been able to do with this team. Richard Jefferson had 25 points and is matched by Charlie Villanueva, who proves he can fill it up big time since becoming a starter. Ramon Sessions led with 26 points (44 the other night) and is a natural scorer. Charlie Bell adds 21 off the bench. What’s not to like?
So they learn to play defense next year, okay?
In the only close contest of the night, but in some ways, the least interesting, the Grizzlies took down the Hornets who played without suspended forward David West, injured guard Chris Paul, and injured center Tyson Chandler. That they almost won is a testament to the team.
Or maybe it says something about how far the Memphis team still needs to go. They were without Rudy Gay as well.
All Eyes on Mike Conley
Since Lionel Hollins has taken over the Memphis team, he is attempting to move to a more balanced scoring attack. He is also giving Mike Conley room and minutes to grow. The experiment is still early, but there are finally signs of improvement from Greg Oden’s college point guard friend. Fantasy players can safely add Mike to their team.
Can he direct an NBA team? We will know more about that in April. Signs are encouraging. The Grizz have won four of their last five after a 12-game losing streak. Conley is averaging 6.7 assists over his last seven games and now the team is winning.
The Hornets have disappointed a bit this year. They are the worst rebounding team in the league (38.4 per game) and they have to get healthy. They are 14-14 without Chris Paul.
That is it for this week. Same time, same channel next week.