Posted: Monday March 7, 2005 3:57PM; Updated: Monday March 7, 2005 3:57PM
The Week That Was
The suddenly struggling Cavaliers have won only once since the All-Star break.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
A combination of new players in new cities wearing new uniforms, a series of nagging injuries to key players on strong teams and big minutes afforded to one-time bench fodder sent the NBA on its ear last week. As a result, three of the hottest teams in the East in February are now nursing losing streaks, with the Pistons and Bulls dropping three in a row, and the reeling Cavaliers falling six straight times.
The struggles seem to run the length of the Central Division. Indiana's Pacers lost Jermaine O'Neal for at least five games with a right shoulder injury, and promptly fell out of the playoff picture by losing three of four. Their lone win came over a Portland Trail Blazers squad that seems ripe for contraction. With the removal of the only person in the Trail Blazers family -- Mo Cheeks -- who seemed to genuinely care about winning, the time is right for Portland's players to be set free to pursue other interests while their franchise is be put on a five-year probation and its accomplishments (from the Cheeks era) stricken from the record books.
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On paper, home wins over Atlanta and Indiana coupled with a road conquest over the Clippers may not seem like much, but the Nuggets continue to add to the league's longest winning streak (six games), and are showing serious growth. Wins over the Hawks and Clippers may not be much to crow about, but they are exactly the sort of teams the previously underachieving Nuggets wouldn't have gotten up for in November and December.
The good times should continue with a schedule that provides the Nuggets the rarest of gifts -- time off. This late in the season, practice days are worth their weight in gold to NBA teams (assuming you use the appropriate scale), with some squads only able to conduct four or five practices over the course of 30-day span. This week, while most of their contemporaries will have to drag their weary bodies from city to city, Denver has four potential practice dates from Tuesday to Friday, after hosting the Blazers in what should be an easy home scrum on Monday night. But with dates in Texas against San Antonio and in Colorado against the Suns on back-to-back nights next weekend, the Nuggets will need the break.
Miami three wins last week over the Nets, Kings and Cavaliers were impressive enough, but dispatching the trio by an average of 19 points per game sent a message. If Phil Jackson is to be believed, Shaquille O'Neal (who turned 33 on Sunday) is ready to turn it on in anticipation of the playoffs. We'll have ample opportunity to observe his return to form, as the Heat have seven more national TV appearances this month, starting with Monday's home tilt with the 76ers on NBA TV.