Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
Here is how things look in the NBA after the shortest month of the year.
1. Los Angeles Lakers – (45-15, Last Month: 2nd) – Kobe Bryantmissed five games due to a combination of injuries in February, with a sore tendon in his ankle being the primary issue. The Lakers responded very well to the challenge of playing without their super star and leader by going 4-1 including three double-digit wins over contenders in the West (A 17 point win in Portland, a 12 point win against the Spurs, and a 15 point win in Utah). Their only loss came against the Boston Celtics and it came by just one point. L.A. had the ball on the final possession but the lack of Bryant down the stretch forced Derek Fisher into taking the final shot and it wasn’t a good look. When Bryant returned a few days ago against Memphis, he hit the game winner and dropped 32 points, seven rebounds and six assists. In his first four games back (3-1), Bryant has struggled with his shot (other than the Memphis game) but has made up for it with some excellent defense and great facilitating. It must be mentioned that Lamar Odomwas absolutely brilliant in Bryant’s absence, averaging 15 points and 15 boards a game, including a 22 rebound game against Portland.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers- (46-14, Last Month: 1st) – The Cavs drop a spot partly because of the Lakers’ impressive play without Kobe and partly because of a three game slip that showed they are beatable. The three loses came to Denver at home and Charlotte and Orlando on the road. LeBron James got outdueled by Carmelo Anthonyagainst Denver, was close to shut down versus the Bobcats and missed some shots in Orlando. Other than that, he was the best player on the planet. He averaged a monster line of 33 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, two steals and half a block while shooting 51% from the field (though he shot a poor 31% from three including games of 1-9 against the Nugs and 1-6 against the Magic) and 80% from the line. They traded for Antawn Jamison at the deadline for almost nothing, but its too early to tell how he fits in with the team. My thoughts: if he can hit the corner three and role to the rim for James’ alley-oops he should do fine. However, I’m not so sure J.J. Hicksondoesn’t bring just as much to the table. The question over this month will be how the Cavs play without Shaq, who will have surgery on his right thumb and will miss six to eight weeks. Also worth monitoring: When Big Z comes back to the team.
3. Denver Nuggets- (39-20, Last Month: 3rd) – Denver had an odd month. They lost to a couple of poor teams like the Spurs and Wizards, lost to a couple of contenders in Utah and the Lakers, but also beat the team with the best record in the NBA in their building. Thanks to a game-winner by Carmelo that was in the face of LeBron, the Nuggets took home one of the most impressive wins of the season. Earlier in the month they beat the Lakers in L.A., blew out Dallas and, after losing to the Wizards, followed up the Cavs win with a victory over Boston. Chauncey Billupscarried the Nuggets offensively in February, averaging 23 points and six assists a game while shooting 46% from the field, 47% from three and 90% from the line. One problem the Nuggets will have to solve is how the Lakers handled Carmelo in their game yesterday. Melo was held to 14 points from the field on 19 shots, was forced into eight turnovers and fouled out of the game. Ron Artestlooked the best he had all season on defense by shutting down Melo and rendering him ineffective. Maybe there isn’t a way to fix this, but the Nuggets better hope there is.
4. Orlando Magic – (40-20, Last Month: 4th) – Overall, Orlando had a great month. They had three losses, two of which are excusable (in Cleveland and in New Orleans, this was the game in which David West went off). The loss against the Wizards? Eh. It happens, I suppose. To balance it out, the Magic also had impressive wins over Cleveland, Chicago, New Orleans and the Celtics. The majority of their success came thanks to Dwight Howard. Howard had an absolutely amazing month, averaging 22 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks a game while shooting 61% from the field. Over the course of the month you could see Howard’s maturity rise little by little. He became more persistent in his pursuit of the basketball, expanded his game to include a 13-foot bank shot and had his best month from the free throw line on the year (68%). If Howard keeps this up, everyone will stop writing columns about his lack of nastiness and more about his overall understanding and dominance of the game.
5. Dallas Mavericks- (38-21, Last Month: 6th) – As one of the hottest teams in basketball, the Mavericks are really starting to look good. Well, they have always been good, but now they are starting to look like they have the pieces to compete for an NBA Championship. Dallas lost four games, three to good teams on the road (Utah, Denver and Oklahoma City) and one to Minnesota. I’m happy to look past that considering they have one six straight over the Suns, Magic, Heat, Pacers, Lakers and Hawks. Dirk Nowitzki just doesn’t stop playing at an extremely high level. Dirk is so underrated in my opinion. 25 points and seven boards on 47% shooting from the field for a seven footer that does his work on the perimeter? And a 97% (Yes, 97%) conversion rate from the free throw line. We already know what Jason Kidd is doing at 36-years of age. Distributing, shooting his best numbers from three and playing smart defense. On the trade front: While Caron Butler was the center piece of the deal that sent Josh Howard to Washington, I think that Brendan Haywood will end up being the most important player in the deal. In his first seven games in Dallas, Haywood is averaging 10 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 shot blocks a game. I love his game.
6. Utah Jazz- (38-21, Last Month: 8th) – Utah is going to be a tough out this year. They are one of the most offensively efficient teams in the entire league, they play with heart, and they are one of the best rebounding squads in the league. They went 10-3 in February, with loses to Atlanta, the Lakers (without Kobe) and Sacramento, but wins against Dallas, Denver, Portland, New Orleans and Houston (twice). Power forward Carlos Boozerhad an outstanding month, averaging 21 points and 13 rebounds and shooting 60% from the field. Boozer was a pivotal point in the offense and went off for 22 points and 23 rebounds against the Blazers, 34 points and 14 rebounds against the Clippers and 33 points and 16 boards against the Bobcats. At the deadline, the Jazz traded away swingman Ronnie Brewer to the Grizzlies in a financially driven move.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder – (35-23, Last Month: 14th) – Though Kevin Durant’s monstrous streak of 29 straight games of 25+ points came to end, the Thunder had an excellent run. Durant had an off month, failing to continue his almost impossible trend of getting better each month. However, if 30 points (44% from the field), nine rebounds, three assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks a game are off numbers for a 21 year old, you are in pretty good shape. When Durant wasn’t superhuman, Russell Westbrook made the difference. Westbrook averaged 19 points (the second highest monthly total of his career), 10 assists (the highest monthly total of his career), and seven rebounds (also the highest monthly total of his career) a game in February and shot career high 46% from the field. Not a bad combination of guys to have for the next 10 years.
8. Atlanta Hawks – (37-21, Last Month: 5th) – Atlanta had five tough losses in February, though two of them came to teams ranked above them (Oklahoma City and Dallas). The other three? Miami, Phoenix and Golden State. I can live with the Suns (ranked just behind them) and maybe the Heat, but their loss in Golden State was bad. They let a rookie dominate them in the fourth, allowed a smaller Monta Ellisdefend their best player and got out hustled by a D-Leaguer on the boards. Their victories weren’t that impressive, either. Their one quality win came against the Jazz, but other than that it was the Clippers twice, the Timberwolves and a couple of others. However, thanks to Boston’s fall, they have put themselves in position to be the third best team in the East by season’s end. Josh Smith’s monthly line was sick: 18 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a block a game with 55% field goal shooting.
9. Phoenix Suns – (37-24, Last Month: 15th) – Amongst all the talk of Amare Stoudemirebeing traded, it seems that most forgot that the Suns aren’t a bad team. The Suns decided to keep Stoudemire and seem to have the pieces to compete in the first couple of rounds of the playoffs. Amare seemed motivated by the trade talk and put together an excellent month. He averaged 25 points, 10 boards and a block a game and had some pretty beastly dunks thanks to the pick and roll with Steve Nash. I know that LeBron and Amare in the pick and roll would have been deadly, but I’m not sure anyone does it better than Nash and Amare, especially considering Nash’s effectiveness with the jump shot.
10. Portland Trail Blazers – (35-27, Last Month: 9th) – Portland had a down stretch. Brandon Roymissed some games, they lost to some pretty good teams (Lakers, Jazz, and Thunder all without Roy, Celtics and Jazz with a recovering Roy), and they tried to find some continuity in the lowpost. Roy played in seven of the 13 February games for the Blazers, four were wins and three were losses. He’s slowly getting back into game shape, and, once he is fully recovered, the Blazers should look like a very complete team. As the team’s leading option with Roy out, LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 21 points, nine rebounds, and over a half a block per game. Though he shot over 50%, he seemed to struggle at times. Portland dealt Steve Blake and Travis Outlawto the Clippers for Marcus Camby at the deadline. In six games with the team, Camby is averaging 11 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has also got injured in a game against the Nets. Scary.
11. Chicago Bulls – (31-28, Last Month: 17th) – Chicago looks pretty good. They dealt John Salmons at the deadline, but got back two players that can help them. Hakim Warrickis an athletic monster that can get to the rim, rebound and play defense and Flip Murray (in the Tyrus Thomas deal) can score in bunches off the bench. Add that to a starting line-up that includes a top five point guard in Derrick Rose, one of the top rebounders in the game in Joakim Noah, one of the best rookies in the league in Taj Gibson, the best three-point shooter in the history of their franchise in Kirk Hinrich and a checkbook that can be used to pull two high quality free agents this summer. Chicago basketball is going places over the next three years.
12. Boston Celtics- (36-21, Last Month: 7th) – This is the lowest you’ll see a legit title contender. I know that Paul Pierce missed a lot of games, but come on. Losses to the Nets, Cavs (a blowout), Magic, Hornets and Nuggets are bad enough but when you barely beat a Kobe-less Laker team, barely escape the Knicks at home and barely beat the Kings, you just aren’t a good basketball team. Kevin Garnett doesn’t look the same. Ray Allen has his moments, but it’s not the Ray we saw against Chicago last post-season. And, for all the good he does, Rajon Rondo cannot carry a team because of his lack of scoring ability from outside the paint. Maybe as the days go on Nate Robinson starts to get more acclimated with the system but that’s not something you want to be riding on if you want to win a title.
13. Toronto Raptors – (31-27, Last Month: 18th) – The Raps were headed for an alright month. They had a chance to crack the sweet six with a eight win stretch. After starting off 3-2 against some bad teams other than Memphis (lost to Indiana, beat the Nets, Kings and 76ers), Chris Boshhurt his ankle and missed the final five games of the month. Until the injury, Bosh was averaging 29 points, 11 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a game. Nonetheless, the Raptors struggled in Bosh’s absence. They beat the Nets and Wizards and took the Cavs to OT, but got outplayed by the Blazers and Thunder. Let me point this out: Jarrett Jack is a good point guard in this league. 13 points, seven assists, three rebounds a game in February with 50% shooting from the field and from three.
14. Milwaukee Bucks – (30-29, Last Month: 21st) – I’m sold on the Bucks. I think they are going to finish the season as the fifth seed and beat Boston in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. High praise for a team that seemed to fade asBrandon Jenning‘s became less of a national factor or deserved praise for a team that has built themselves quite the foundation? I think it’s the latter. Jennings is still learning. He’s stopped trying to be the primary scorer on the team and really listened to his coaches. Now Jennings is a pass-first player that can hit the three in the flow of the offense and hit a mid-range jumper in the pick and roll. Now Milwaukee is running their offense through center Andrew Bogut, one of the best kept secrets in the national scheme. Here’s a center that scores with a variety of moves in the lowpost, is one of the best all-around defensive players in the league and has an Alaskan Huskie as a pet. What’s not to like. For the season, Bogut is averaging 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 2.3 shot blocks a game all while ranking third in the NBA in charges drawn. The new wrinkle to the Bucks is John Salmons. Though he was struggling with the Bulls, Salmons fits right in with the Bucks replacing the 20ppg scorer that was Michael Redd. He’s averaged about 16 a game in seven games with the team (six wins, one overtime loss), including a 32 point, eight rebound, four assist game against Atlanta yesterday. Final note: Jerry Stackhouse isn’t bad for a 35-year old that’s played close to 900 career games.
15. New Orleans Hornets – (31-29, Last Month: 11th) – The analogy I would use to describe the Hornets situation is the 2008 New England Patriots. Tom Brady goes down, Matt Cassel comes in. You replace either the first or second best QB in the league with a guy who came in and nearly took the Patriots to the playoffs, putting up more than respectable numbers along the way. Mark my words, the Hornets will start next season with the best point guard of the generation (Chris Paul) and the 10th best point guard in the NBA (Darren Collison) on their roster. Now, in the Patriots’ case, they had to trade Cassel because, in the NFL, you can’t play two QB’s at once or even in the same game.
The Hornets will have to make a tough decision. Do they trade Chris Paul for two superstars (O.J. Mayoand Rudy Gay, for example)? Do they trade Collison to get CP3 an all-star or just below all-star caliber shooting guard/small forward (again, I’ll use Rudy Gay as an example)? Or do the Hornets allow Collison and Paul to play together and form, perhaps, the best point guard duo ever? I want the latter to happen. I pray the Hornets don’t trade the best point guard of this generation and I wish the Hornets wouldn’t give away a top point guard talent that has worked so well with Paul on and off the court.
The one guarantee at the moment is that Collison is one heck of player and maybe already a top 10 point guard. He averaged 22 points, eight assists, four rebounds and two steals in February, shot 50% from the floor, 38% from three and 83% from the line. His turnovers are high but that’s nitpicking considering the job he has done to replace the best point guard in the league. The emergence of a pretty reliable jumpshot has made me fall in love with this kid. There are so many qualities of Paul I see in DC, with the willingness to take over a game when he needs to and the “down but not out” fighting spirit he has being keys. Just last night, Collison led the Hornets back from down 25 to down just four. He finished with a career high 35 points on 15-of-21 shooting (71%) from the field.
16. Charlotte Bobcats – (28-29, Last Month: 16th) – Charlotte had a rough go of things in February. Though they did beat Cleveland, Charlotte had two three game losing streaks in February. I’m sure they will recover from it, but, as of right now, they sit just a half a game ahead of Miami for the eighth seed.
17. Memphis Grizzlies – (30-29, Last Month: 12th) – I’m not gonna count this team out. They have two of the best post players in the game and they have two explosive wing scorers that can carry this team for a 10-game stretch if they get going. They don’t have too bad of a schedule down the stretch and the talent is there. Of course, Hasheem Thabeet will be an intriguing story to watch over the next couple of months.
18. Houston Rockets – (29-29, Last Month: 13th) – Over the past couple of games, Kevin Martin has looked perfect with this team. He hit open jumpers, created his own looks and got to the foul line (27 free throw attempts in two games). One came in a win over the Spurs and another came in a blowout loss to the Jazz. The difference? The Rockets are going to get pushed around by teams in the post now that Carl Landry is gone. Its not as if Landry was an excellent defender (or even a good one) by any stretch, but his physicality in the lowpost led to a high rebound percentage and a tough attitude. Shane Battier, Trevor Ariza and Jared Jeffries are all known as excellent defenders but none of them bring the physical presence that Landry brought.
19. Miami Heat – (29-31, Last Month: 19th) – A lot of up and downs for Miami in February. They started off with four straight losses, then won five in a row and then lost four in a row again. Their final four losses can be attributed to Dwyane Wade either not playing or playing at less than 100%. With the way that the Bucks are playing, I can see the Heat missing the playoffs. It all depends on how Wade recovers from this calf injury and if the Bobcats continue their defensive dominance.
20. San Antonio Spurs- (33-24, Last Month: 10th) – I don’t think that the Spurs are going to make the playoffs. They looked good against Phoenix today but I think that a freak injury or a slew of bad games will put this veteran team into a hole that they can’t get themselves out of. DeJuan Blair is still one of my favorites in the league and George Hill showed me some things when he filled in for an injured Tony Parker, but the Spurs just aren’t built to win right now.
21. Los Angeles Clippers- (24-34, Last Month: 20th) – Not a lot has changed in ClipperLand since last month. They won some games, lost some games, but didn’t generate any national story lines. Well, there was the story that, should they make the playoffs, that Blake Griffincould play this season. Riiight.
22. Detroit Pistons – (21-38, Last Month: 27th) – 6-7 for February? Not bad at all. Sure, two of those wins came against the Nets, but they are wins and they matter when you’re the Pistons. Richard Hamiltonaveraged 20 points a game for the month. I want to see him take 15 shots a game on a contender. I think he can be effective with an offense that needs a wing scorer. I wouldn’t trade Collison for Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey if I were the Hornets but I would accept that deal if I were the Pistons.
23. Philadelphia 76ers- (22-36, Last Month: 28th) – A five spot increase for the Sixers thanks to a four-game winning streak over three quality teams (Chicago, Houston and the Hornets) and the T’Wolves. Andre Iguodalastayed in Philly at the deadline and put together averages of 17 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and two steals a game. Quality numbers. Collison for Iggy and fellow Bruin Jrue Holiday? Perhaps, but Iguodala’s contract doesn’t help. I like the 76ers new guard line-up of Holiday and Lou Williams. Williams is an underdog for faster player in the league.
24. Golden State Warriors - (17-41, Last Month: 25th) – This team is fun to watch. They may not have a lot of wins, but I sure do feel like they have a shot at every game because of their rookie point guard Stephen Curry. He’s not my rookie of the year, but he’s in the discussion. Averages of 22 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals in February for Curry including 47% shooting from the field and 90% shooting from the stripe. Curry’s game against the Clippers was one of the best rookie games of all-time, as he exploded for 36 points, 13 assists and 10 boards.
25. Washington Wizards – (21-36, Last Month: 24th) – I am starting to think the Wizards are the Clippers of the Eastern Conference. The whole Gilbert Arenas thing, getting nothing in return for Antawn Jamison, and then having Josh Howard go down for the year with an injury just a couple of games into his Wizards career (he wasn’t looking that bad, either). One positive:Andray Blatcheis playing like a beast with his new minutes. In his past seven games, Blatche is averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds. The show he put on against the Nets yesterday was quite amusing and refreshing. He’s just 23 years old and I think he can be doing this kind of thing for a while. Who knew Washington was so stacked at center? Oh wait, I did.
26. New York Knicks – (20-38, Last Month: 23rd) – David Lee is going to be a fine addition to a contender next season. Not a popular scenario by any stretch but how about Lee and Rudy Gay to Miami to play with Wade. They keep Jermaine O’Neal and Michael Beasley, get an amazing rebounder and a scoring forward that can alleviate pressure from Wade. Oh wait, this is the Knicks spot? Um, Tracy McGrady looks nice. He’s been getting to the rim nicely and drawing fouls. Sergio Rodriguez looks good, too. Can hit the three, is a pesky defender and can create some shots for his teammates.
27. Indiana Pacers – (20-39, Last Month: 26th) – In checking to see when Danny Granger would be able to get out of Indiana and go elsewhere to be a second option on a contender (San Antonio seemed perfect in my mind), I realized he is signed through 2014. Not good for Danny.
28. Sacramento Kings – (20-39, Last Month: 22nd) – Tyreke Evans had a superb month. 20 points, seven assists, six rebounds, and a steal a game with 51% field goal shooting are very impressive numbers for a 20-year old. The only problem? Unlike when Evans was doing that early in the season, the Kings went 4-9 in February and are falling off the radar. He’s the only reason to watch Kings games now with Martin gone. Speaking of Martin, the guy they got for him, Carl Landry, has averaged 15 points and seven rebounds in five games.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves- (14-47, Last Month: 29th) – I’m not sure what Kurt Rambis is doing with his rotations and starting line-up. I understand having Kevin Loveas a sparkplug on the bench, but this isn’t the Lakers. You can’t make Love into Lamar Odom without Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Al Jeffersoncan be considered close or equal to Bynum but when Ryan Hollins is the other starter, you have to start Love. Also bad news, Jefferson was arrested Sunday morning for driving drunk and will miss two games.
30. New Jersey Nets – (6-53, Last Month: 30th) – Evan Turner’s stats: 20 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals, and one block a game; 54% field goal shooting, 24% three-point shooting, and 74% free throw shooting. John Wall’s stats: 17 points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals and one half of a block a game; 45% field goal shooting, 32% three-point shooting and 79% free throw shooting.
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James was the best player on the planet for February without a doubt. Kobe was out with injury again, and James took advantage by throwing up ridiculous numbers and racking up wins. James has a PER rating of 31.76 right now, which is just .13 away from Michael Jordan’s all-time record of 31.89 in 1987-88 when he averaged 35-6-6. I think he gets there with a dominant March. 35-12-8 is attainable for this guy. If he gets there in March and maintains 30-8-8 in April, it might be the greatest regular season performance ever. Runner-up: Kevin Durant.
Defensive Player of the Year: I’m going all out of the ordinary for this month. Bogut, as I mentioned before, is rebounding, blocking shots, swiping at balls that opposing centers bring too low and taking charges. Love what he is doing. Runner-up: Dwight Howard.
Rookie of the Year: Darren Collison has won me over in many ways. I have an emotional connections to that Hornets duo point guards. He’s been putting up numbers that are very close to Evans if not better and he is doing it without being the primary option and he’s doing it in a playoff race. Runner-up: A very close second for Evans with Curry in third.
Coach of the Year: Consistency, toughness and heart are three qualities you will always see in a Jerry Sloan coached team. These Jazz are no different and the talent on their roster has put them in position to have homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. Runner-up: Scott Brooks of the Thunder deserves a lot of credit.
Most Improved Player of the Year: After hearing the idea on the Basketball Jones, I pondered it, researched it and watched some game film. Ultimately I decided Goran Dragic could have the Suns in the playoffs as their starting point guard sometime down the line and I think that he has learned a lot from Steve Nash as Sun. He can shoot from three, play the off guard, run the offense. He’s very talented and has worked hard to get minutes this season. Runner-up: Kevin Durant. Also, J.J. Redick deserves a vote.
Sixth Man of the Year: How about Lamar Odom? With Landry starting in Sacramento now and Jamal Crawford getting less publicity, why not take the only reliable bench player on the best team in the league? Odom has earned the award with his play of late. Here’s to him not falling off the table in March. Runner-up: It’s Crawford, but Jason Terry is coming on again.
First Team All-NBA
Guard: Kobe Bryant
Guard: Dwyane Wade
Forward: Kevin Durant
Forward: LeBron James
Center: Dwight Howard
Second Team All-NBA
Guard: Deron Williams
Guard: Brandon Roy
Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Forward: Dirk Nowitzki
Center: Andrew Bogut
Third Team All-NBA
Guard: Steve Nash
Guard: Joe Johnson
Forward: Josh Smith
Forward: Chris Bosh
Center: David Lee
Guard: Rajon Rondo
Guard: Thabo Sefolosha
Forward: Kevin Durant
Forward: Gerald Wallace
Center: Dwight Howard