Arenasárises to No. 4 with hot run for surging Wizards
Posted: Friday January 5, 2007 5:14PM; Updated: Friday January 12, 2007 3:22PM
The NBA's injury bug is starting to frustrate. Not only has it taken its toll on some of the league's best teams, but it's also starting to shake the infrastructure of these vaunted and venerated Player Rankings. No Yao Ming, no Pau Gasol, no Shaquille O'Neal, no Carmelo Anthony (he pulled a hamstring running from Jared Jeffries), no Paul Pierce, no Chauncey Billups, no Chris Paul, no Chris Bosh, no Rashard Lewis -- we're too close to having to throw ináDevin Brown atáNo. 20 just to round out the list, and nobody wants that. Devin Brown doesn't even want that.
As Mavericks coach Avery Johnson continues to deaden the pace (Dallas is 28th in possessions per game, down from ninth two seasons ago and second in 2003-04), Nowitzki's per game stats (23.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists) have taken a little hit. And yet, he has gracefully allowed his younger teammates a chance to shine, and the Mavs have won 12 in a row for the second time this season. Still, if Dirk is hurting, then he'll have to get right quickly. Dallas plays eight of its next 11 on the road, with nine games coming against teams currently in the playoff bracket.
Though San Antonio had the NBA's best record for a stretch, it had lost four of seven entering Friday night's home matchup with Dallas. Duncan's minutes are starting to rise. Coach Gregg Popovich has been limiting Duncan's minutes for a while -- he hasn't averaged more than 35 a game since 2003-04 and is playing 34 a night this season -- but Duncan has exceeded 35 in three of his last five games. Good thing, because winning the Southwest Division is critical. San Antonio still leads the league in point differential at 8.8 per game.
D-Wade gets an injury pass partially because he's an MVP candidate (improving on his sublime 2005-06 performance) but mainly because we can't imagine what it's like to play for a team like the Heat. Other beleaguered franchise players may have to deal with lesser talents in the supporting cast, but Wade's the only one who has to deal with lesser talents playing pathetic ball while showcasing a dangerously distorted sense of entitlement. Luckily for Wade, president Pat Riley has taken James Posey and Antoine Walker off the bench. Sadly for Wade, Riles has also excused himself from the pine.
More than any other team we can think of, the Wizards take the lead from their mercurial superstar. Other squads live and die off of the production of their go-to guy, but these Wizards actually take their lead from whatever mood Agent Zero comes to work in. When he's bouncy, popping in jumpers and having fun with the game, Washington tends to make the extra pass, run with a purpose and pay attention on defense. Luckily for Wizards fans, Arenas has been brilliant since Thanksgiving, and Washington has moved into first place in the Southeast Division.
This guy is just sickeningly good on the boards; he's averaging 12.4 a game, and the fewest he's had in a game is nine. Nine. Garnett has the Timberwolves in the playoffs if David Stern went nutty and ended the season tonight, an amazing accomplishment considering the fact that each of Minnesota's regulars outside of Mark Blount are having their worst season in years, and rookie Randy Foye is just starting to find his way. KG is averaging 22.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.83 blocks and 1.2 steals for the season.
Possibly taking his cue from Sacramento's ultraefficient Kevin Martin, Kobe Bean scored his 42 points on just 21 shots in a win at Sacramento on Thursday. He was also finding shooters, notching nine assists to go along with 10 rebounds. Most important, Kobe found a way to stop himself from snapping at point guard Smush Parker, whose goofball improvisations on offense and pitiful screen/roll defense nearly allowed the Kings to pull out a comeback victory.
We promised ourselves not to touch upon this microfiber vs. leather business as gimmick fodder for a column, but in light of Phoenix's last two road wins, it has become increasingly harder to ignore. After averaging 26 points (on 59 percent shooting) over the last five games of 2006, Nash has shot 41 percent and averaged 13 points in two close wins over Chicago and Toronto. Those two road contests, as you've been told by every other media outlet in David Stern's green world, have taken place with the new (old) leather ball in play. Now, on to the dress code ...
LeBron's 80-foot heave-and-swish against the Celtics on Wednesday was pretty sweet, and his overall touch from long range has improved. LBJ has made 10-of-19 three-pointers over his last six games, which is good news for a player whose legs are obviously tired. Cleveland has won five of those six games; the only stinker was a loss in Chicago on LeBron's birthday in which he got to the line just three times (missing each freebie) in 40 minutes.
People tend to forget that, despite a strong start to the 2004-05 season and a fine finish to 2005-06, Boozer has had a lot of making up to do in the eyes of Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. This has nothing to do with Sloan's old-school mind-set; it just tends to be the case when your highest-paid player appears in just 84 games over two seasons. Boozer's minutes per game average jumped up two minutes from November to December, he's rewarded Sloan with sound play (21.7 points, 11.7 boards, three assists) all season, and the Jazz hardly appear ready to give up the lead in the Northwest just yet.
The Suns were well on their way toward their worst offensive showing of the season Tuesday, scoring just 63 points through three quarters against the Bulls, when Stoudemire started to find holes in Chicago's defensive schemes. Whenever Ben Wallace helped to deter Phoenix's screen/roll attack, Stoudemire went to the boards, and acted as the catalyst in the Suns comeback win. He ended the night with 24 points and 18 rebounds, and he's averaged 21.2 points and 12.6 boards over his last five games.