Posted: Monday February 28, 2005 5:08PM; Updated: Monday February 28, 2005 5:08PM
The Week That Was
With Antoine Walker back in the fold, the Celtics' playoff chances are looking up.
Kent Horner/NBAE via Getty Images
The week saw tangible evidence of on-court growth for several up-and-coming teams, promising an ever-tightening set of playoff races. And while I'm no fan of needless personnel movement, the fact that 33 players changed uniforms over a 24-hour period raised the interest level of even a jaundiced profaner like myself.
San Antonio, virtually tied with Phoenix for the best record in the West, added a center that (statistically, at least) dwarfs the output of their incumbent starter, while relieving the team of its most taxing contract. The prime cut of the East, Miami's Heat, won two of four without Shaquille O'Neal, and both losses came on the road in overtime. Better yet, the Heat added two veterans who may have enough cache to sway a call or two on the road next May in Auburn Hills. Cap space was acquired, ambitions were made clear, and rosters were set. We've got a fun two months ahead of us.
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While the longest winning-streak in the NBA belongs to the Pistons -- who couldn't screw up if they tried at this point -- and the Bulls continue to roll -- winning six of seven -- it's the Boston Celtics who are worth keeping an eye on. After losing three of four heading into last Thursday's trade deadline, the C's made a move for Antoine Walker, then promptly won road games over the Jazz and Steve Nash-less Suns. Both wins were probably due more to the buzz surrounding the addition of a player of Walker's caliber than chemistry, but as the god feelings even out, the Celts will need to rely more and more on Walker's impressive skill set.
Walker provides Boston with the sort of all-around derring-do they'll need to hold off a 76ers squad that suddenly lacks depth. Boston will take bad shots, turn the ball over and drive their opponents batty due to the inability to plan for such a helter-skelter style of play. Above all, the C's will be a lot of fun -- maybe not nearly as much as they were in Sunday night's classic against the Suns -- but a lot more than they were in the first two months of the season. That, in itself, is worth all the expiring contracts in the land.
Out West, the Denver Nuggets are flying high on the glorious wings of a three-game winning streak, with wins over the Walker-less Celtics, the banged-up Memphis Grizzlies and a New Orleans Hornets team that sometimes fields more than three NBA players at a time. No biggie, I grok. But their March schedule finds the Nuggets playing 10 of their next 14 games at home -- in that thin Denver air that Allen Iverson kept complaining about All-Star weekend -- against a series of very-beatable teams. And though two of the road games are tests in San Antonio and Phoenix, the other two in L.A. against the Clippers and in Utah versus the Jazz, and both of those clubs have their minds set on 2005-06.
Behind coach George Karl (10-4 as Nuggets coach) Denver is just two games out of that final playoff spot in the West, and with the eighth-seeded Lakers acting as flaky as ever, it should be a real dogfight from here on out.
After an eight-game winning streak, the Rockets came spiraling back to Earth following the All-Star break, losing a close one to the SuperSonics, suffering a blowout loss in San Antonio and tasting a frustrating defeat at the hands of the visiting Jazz. Comfortably ensconced in the West's sixth spot, the Rockets were able to weather the tough times while realizing they needed some help for the ailing Bob Sura. Hence the move to acquire Mike James from the Bucks, who should help Houston prevent any similar slides in the future.