Around the League

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.

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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.

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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.

Comments

  1. Keith says:

    Mike I’ve watched you for many years, as a coach and commentator, and you have never ever, even come close to liking the Lakers.
    With that said the road to the championship still goes through LA
    Last year I thought that the Cavs could taken down the Lakers for the ring. But there problem is getting out of the East, and I dont think they have fix that problem yet. There championship games will be getting that done first.
    I have been a fan of the NBA since I was 7 years old, and one thing I know for sure is you have to learn how to Win a championship. There are very few teams that have won a championship there first time in the finals
    Go easy Mike I still follow you
    peace

  2. What do I mean with this comment? The NBA elite has being hard at work to always get the elite teams(big market) to win titles ie. Celtics,Lakers, Cleveland I think you got the idea here. I mean excuse me but when a non-elite team like the Spurs or Miami are on top then the discussion is not this big. The Cavs are playing well but I don’t believe that they will prevail because they don’t have the mental toughness to prevail with team like Boston, Orlando or Atlanta which in fact Atlanta is playing better basketball than Cleveland without an elite player. Once Lebron makes his move and leaves Cleveland then the media and the NBA elite will drop them off on the corner and pick up the next elite team even after they are defeated this year the winner will not get the credit they deserve because they are not elite.

    Respectfully and with indignation
    The Hammer!

  3. The Rock says:

    @ The Czar Mike Fratello, thanks for the love for my hometown team the Cavs. I have seen every game and agree this team is much sounder defensively with Shaq clogging the middle bringing the much needed toughness the Cavs lacked last season. The Cavs have upgraded their size and 3pt shooting over last year as well and because of it should be playing in the NBA Finals as long as they stay fairly healthy. Cleveland has the X factor with LeBron and that gives them an edge over all their Eastern Conference rivals, though Boston, Orlando, and Atlanta will not be pushovers.

    @Keith, The Cavs have been to the NBA Finals and lost to the Spurs, so there goes your theory.

    @ The Hammer, Cleveland went into Atlanta and won a game going away against the Hawks holding them scoreless for almost ten minutes to start the 4th qtr. Check the Standings for the last 10, 20, or 30 games and you will see the Cavs outplaying the Hawks anyway you want to slice it. And as for your mental toughness comment, it only shows your true ignorance of this Cavs team.

  4. George says:

    Orlando beat LA twice last year in the regular season also and we see what happened in the finals. They were beat in 5. The regular season means nothing. Im from Chicago(how about those bulls lately), but I dont see any team in the league beating a healthy Lakers team in a 7 game serious. A healthy Lakers team will repeat this year.

  5. A rNDm guy says:

    I love Kobe’s game, but I think with an injured finger the logic is too keep your teammates involved. As a scorer, you score a couple times, then take advantage of extra defensive attention and get assists. He did it in Toronto, but aside from then, he’s shooting too much, and he’s not shooting well.
    As for LeBron, I generally sided with Kobe in the Kobe-LeBron debates, but as of now, it’s LeBron. Come playoffs that may change, but for now he’s the man. If the playoffs started now, with the Cavs energy, I’d bet on them taking home the hardware.
    LeBron’s game is advancing nicely, but I still don’t like the jumpshot though, it is sometimes reminiscent of my shot and that is in sometimes not a good thing. But, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Long as he hits those threes, he can keep taking them. Once that stops, get to the hole.
    I think Kobe needs to give his finger some rest, even if it’s just a week, it could be the difference between a championship and getting sweeped come finals in June.
    Kobe does need to stop forcing up so many shots though. I do that too sometimes so don’t think I’m blind to my shortcomings.

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