Gameday Dish: Mike and Marv call Heat-Spurs on NYE

Dick Clarke doesn’t have anything on Marv and me. We’ll be ringing in the new decade watching two of the most prominent players of the last ten years face off: Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan.

Wade’s supporting cast has taken a step forward this year with the addition of a revived Jason Richardson and much improved play from Michael Beasley, while the Spurs are just beginning to show the signs of a team that many predicted would challenge the Lakers for the top spot in the West. Though the Spurs have yet to prove themselves against teams with winning records (they’ve only beat Dallas and Houston), I expect we’ll see them continue their recent run and play their best ball in the second half of the season.

Duncan is still playing at an all-world level, Ginobli and Parker are returning to full strength, and Jefferson, McDyess, and impressive rookie DeJuan Blair are becoming more comfortable in Pop’s system. And just in case watching Wade and Duncan isn’t compelling enough, I’m sure you’ll want to tune in and find out which tie the fans selected for me to wear during tonight’s broadcast? And will Marv don a Tux? Tune in to TNT at 7 p.m.  ET to find out.

Mike’s Take: The West Factor

It was an ugly game last night, but championship teams find ways to win these games and Cleveland, with new cast members, found a way to dominate Atlanta in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. Neither LeBron nor Joe Johnson had it going, but the Cavs stepped up as a team on defense and had role players come to the fore while the Hawks came undone. Besides the tremendous defense, Delonte West was a key to the victory, just as he was last year when the Cavs swept the Hawks out of the playoffs.

When Delonte is healthy and getting minutes he changes the complexion of this Cleveland team. He’s a tremendous athlete with a high basketball IQ who’s not afraid of the big moment. We saw his toughness on display last night when he dunked on Josh Smith who’s second in the league in blocks. Cleveland knows what they will get from LeBron, Z, Mo Williams and Varejao, but Delonte is the X factor. If he continues to perform at a high level this could be the year that LeBron and company are crowned champs.

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Czar Asks You

At the beginning of the season we thought the East was a three-way race between the Cavs, Celtics and Magic, but the Hawks have crashed the party. This week’s back-to-back battle of my former teams, Cavs and Hawks, will help show us if Atlanta is the real thing. Do you think the Hawks are legit contenders?

Mike’s Take: Brook Lopez

The Nets were dealt another loss last night at the hands of OKC. Kevin Durant gave an Iceman-esque performance, stealthily putting up 40 smooth ones. That’s four games in a row with 30+ points. The Thunder are on pace to add 20 wins to last year’s total and are clearly a young, talented team that is developing into a contender. On the court they’re a confident crew that plays an athletic brand of basketball, and they’re developing winning habits under Coach Scott Brooks.

On the other side the losing is taking a toll on the Nets. One player in particular is their sophomore Center Brook Lopez. He has struggled in his last few games, not due to a lack of effort, but because he’s a passionate player who is frustrated by the mounting losses and the way defenses have adjusted to take him off his game. As a result he hasn’t been able to score and contribute the way he was doing earlier in the season.

To get back on track Lopez too must make adjustments and find other ways to score so that he won’t be forced to operate against the opposing team’s set defense. Running the floor hard to get easy baskets in transition, hitting the offensive boards to get easy points off follow-ups and tip-ins, and creating opportunities to get to the free throw line will help Lopez produce better numbers and contribute to his team’s success.

Brook is still very young and this is part of the maturation process for him.  With players returning from injury Lopez doesn’t need to carry the team.  As Brook and the Nets discover the right formula and the right points distribution, we will see Brook return to All-Star form and the Nets get back to their winning ways.

Around the League

Ultimate Fighters

In spite of losing five rotation players, including both centers, to a relentless onslaught of injuries, the battle scarred Blazers continue to fight through adversity and find ways to win.  Last week they strung together four wins in a row over quality teams, including an improbable win over Dallas with Roy out due to a shoulder injury.  If the playoffs started today the Blazers would be seeded fourth in the competitive West.  You have to admire the team’s gumption, which is an extension of Coach McMillan’s “no excuses” attitude (even McMillan is nursing a ruptured Achilles tendon) and a testament to the team’s resolve, toughness and pride.

The Man with a Christmas Plan

Can’t overlook LeBron’s big week: He led his team to a 3-1 record on the road, topping it off with a triple-double against Sacramento and a Christmas day upset of the  Lakers. But this week’s nod goes to Brandon Roy. On Christmas day, Roy’s tremendous performance had to be the biggest gift for NBA fans.  If you didn’t already know Roy is the real deal you do now: Having missed the Spurs matchup due to a shoulder strain Roy returned to the starting lineup with a fury and a thin brace at home against Denver. He scored 41 points, had four assists and grabbed six rebounds, blazing the victory trail to Portland’s fourth win in a row on Christmas day. Unselfish, Roy carries his team offensively, plays defense, comes up big in clutch moments and fills the box score.

Wow Shot of the Week

Baron Davis capped off a big performance sinking the game winning, fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to give the Clippers a 92-90 win over the Boston Celtics at the Staples Center.

Holiday Dud

Lakers fans got the equivalent of coal in their stockings on Christmas day.  The featured match-up was a disappointment as the reigning NBA champs didn’t show up playing championship caliber ball. Instead the Cavs dominated from start to finish and managed to upset the Lakers 102-87 in Los Angeles. But I’m sure Phil Jackson will utilize the trial to motivate his team down the stretch and to resolve weaknesses the Cavs were able to exploit.