East vs. West
The road to the NBA Championship runs through the Lakers. They are the champs. But Cleveland has laid the groundwork in the regular season, beating L.A. twice.
The Cavs have evolved as a team this season. LeBron is playing at an even higher level than last year and his teammates are following his lead. The addition of Shaq is working — he fits in with the team and has become, in his words, that “high level role player.”
Last week’s rematch against the Lakers, despite Mo Williams and Jamario Moon being out, was a good way for the Cavs to measure their progress. I know Kobe is fighting through injuries and it looks like Artest is playing hurt as well.
But the Cavs outplayed the Lakers and were able to break down the tough Laker D and on the other side to get some big stops. Looking back at the season series, the Cavs played better team ball and were having more fun on the court. It’s only the regular season, but it could be a sign of things to come for LeBron and company.
The Lakers on the other hand have to be concerned with two things: getting their hunger back and getting healthy. After the Cavs game Kobe alluded to the team not being as hungry as last year — maybe getting their rings quelled the fire in their bellies? I think that’ll change after the All-Star break.
But more importantly, it remains to be seen if lingering back troubles will restrict Kobe’s mobility and explosiveness and how much his shooting will be affected by the prosthetic he’s wearing on his finger. Kobe is as fierce a competitor as any we have in the league and in spite of these hindrances, came away from Sunday’s one-point loss to the Raptors just one assist shy of a triple-double with 27 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and nine assists. On Monday avid basketball fan President Obama hosted the 2009 NBA champs at the White House and gave a nod to Kobe for his MVP performance in the Finals.
From Cubs to Grizzlies
After the failed Iverson experiment, the Grizzlies have come together and are playing winning basketball. With the right chemistry they’ve done a complete 180 from their 1-8 nosedive in November. At 23-19 they are fighting for a playoff spot.
A big reason for the turnaround is Zach Randolph. He’s having a monster year. He’s always been a big numbers guy but this year he’s leading the young team and is deserving of an All-Star spot. The Griz are also getting big years out of OJ Mayo, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay. Gay knocked down a huge jumper with the clock running down to seal a hard fought victory over the Thunder last week.
And that’s what’s impresses me about the Griz — they keep notching big wins. In December they were 9-4 with wins over the Cavs, Mavericks, Nuggets and Heat. During January, Memphis has already beaten the Suns (twice), Spurs, Jazz and Trail Blazers. They are a serious team and if they can keep their young nucleus together they’ll be knocking down the old guard’s door sooner than later.
The Bruise Crew
What do Brandon Roy, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Mo Williams, Delonte West, Leandro Barbosa, Raymond Felton, Eric Gordon, Jerryd Bayless, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Gordon all have in common? All missed games last week or played through tough injuries.
It feels like the injured list is more crowded this year than usual. And it’s seems precariously full of star players. I know a lot of guys are looking forward to the All-Star break to heal up and get ready to make their run in the second half. Not least among them must be Nate McMillan.
I can’t remember a team suffering more injuries than the Blazers have this year and my hat goes off to Nate and his staff for holding the team together and winning. To manage to keep his team in playoff position in the very competitive Western Conference, with all the lost man games and an ever changing line-up, is incredible. Well done coach.
Hope for Haiti
Looking back on last week it’s hard not to think about what’s happening in Haiti. The reports of the destruction are astounding. But they are outdone by the fortitude and resilience of the Haitian people. The Hope for Haiti telethon did a wonderful job of raising money and awareness. And in the NBA players are continuing to rally support for the Hatians on and off the courts.
After Monday’s game Samuel Dalembert made a trip to his native Haiti to witness first-hand what is happening. On Wednesday he returned with a gut wrenching report just minutes before the 76ers game in which he scored 10 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. Sam has donated $130,000 to UNICEF personally and is working on raising more for the relief efforts.
Around the league Dwayne Wade and Alonzo Mourning raised over $800,000. And several players pledged to donate $1,000 for every point they scored during games in a bid to raise a minimum of $500,000 for the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. Rebuilding Haiti is going to require a long-term commitment from all of us. If you’d like to donate call 1-877-99-HAITI in US/Canada, or go to www.hopeforhaitinow.org or www.yele.org.