Howard rises after huge game; McGrady joins top 20
Posted: Friday January 12, 2007 4:01PM; Updated: Friday January 12, 2007 4:09PM
One can only observe so many hours of pro basketball -- and the clatter of the breathless cable television ads imploring us to watch one superstar try his hand at besting another -- before standing up and shouting at the cat resting on the living room's other sofa, "It's all about the team, dangit!" And we gave it a good shout, too, in our best stentorian tone. Usually we're full of mordant cynicism when watching these games (and begging Dwyane Wade to call his own number), but every so often you have to pretend that the supporting cast matters. This week is as good as any to try on that ethos for size.
Nowitzki outscored Tim Duncan 36-18 in Dallas' impressive win at San Antonio. His Mavericks have also won 15 of 16, and would be boasting a 16-game winning streak had Smush Parker not gotten away with a clear shooting foul on Jason Terry late in a Mavericks loss to the Lakers last week. Nowkitzki is averaging 23.9 points and 9.3 rebounds for the season. Meanwhile, the Mavs are about to face their biggest challenge of the season: seven straight games against potential playoff teams, with Miami (at 15-19, but with Shaquille O'Neal expected to return within days) as its easiest foe.
Wade is averaging 31 points (on 52 percent shooting), eight assists and five rebounds in two games since returning from a wrist injury. The Heat won both games, and though they're about to welcome back O'Neal, they're not out of the woods just yet. Wade should be commended for leading this team to a 15-19 mark through all that storm and stress, but even with a healthy Shaq and the return of some role players, this is still a squad that has major, major holes to deal with on both ends of the court.
The Timberwolves have won four of five in the new year, losing only a one-point heartbreaker to the Clippers on Wednesday, and KG has played as well as anyone in 2007. Garnett has contributed 25.8 points, 15 boards, five assists and two blocks per game since the ball dropped in Times Square. Good news or bad news? The 17-16 start will probably delude Kevin McHale into thinking that this oddball group of Timberwolves is a contender on the make rather than a team that needs to rebuild, and convince him to pass on looking for suitors for Garnett (or any of Minnesota's other veterans).
San Antonio is the only team residing in the top five of both offensive (third) and defensive (second) efficiency, and Duncan is the biggest reason why. The anchor down low is averaging 19.9 points and 10.1 rebounds while continuing to showcase an on-again (like hitting 6-of-8 against the Blazers on Tuesday), off-again (like hitting 3-of-10 against the Nuggets the next night) stroke from the free throw line.
Arenas had his issues Wednesday with Chicago's Kirk Hinrich (my choice for All-NBA Defensive First Team, playing out of position at off guard), missing 11-of-16 shots, but he scored seven big points down the stretch as the Wizards held on to win. He moved above the 30-point-per-game barrier while Washington continues to duke it out with a recharged Orlando team for the Southeast Division lead. He also threw some cracker of a 25th birthday shindig, apparently, but didn't deem the guy who writes SI.com's NBA Player Rankings important enough for an invite. Thus, the drop to fifth this week. I guess we're even now.
Nash has upped his averages to a career-high 19.6 points and 11.3 assists as the Suns have won eight in a row. Though you can't argue with the results right now, Nash's increased reliance on the three-pointer is a little worrisome; he's averaged 6.2 attempts in his last 11 games (his career mark is 3.1). Though Nash is shooting an outrageous percentage (50.9) from deep, you wonder how this will affect his stamina during those absurdly sweet early summer nights when he'll be asked to do his damage in the face of playoff defense.
Now that the Bulls have hit the skids and Detroit is without Chauncey Billups, the Cavaliers have made an early-January push to take hold of the Central Division lead. Though LeBron's veteran help may not boast championship-worthy talent (or contribution levels), it doesn't make many mistakes: Cleveland has averaged 12.3 turnovers over its last six games. We'd like to see LeBron boost his rebounding average (6.7) a bit, however. On a team that struggles to score, he can really aid in the fast-break department with a bit of Nowitzki-style baseline-to-baseline play.
The Lakers are a pretty solid team when they move the ball on offense, and at least attempt to defend. The Lakers have had their moments defensively, but they stunk up the joint while losing to Memphis on Wednesday, giving up a prorated 113 points per 100 possessions to the Grizzlies (who average 107.4 per 100 on the season) and allowing themselves to be swept up into a fast-paced game. The defensive wasn't much better in a loss to the Rockets the next night. Their passing also was way off against the Rockets as the Lakers managed 14 team assists (they average 23.3), which no doubt aided in the 34 percent mark from the floor. Look for Kobe (28 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists for the season) to start imposing his will on the roster over the next few weeks.
OK, we know both teams shot better than 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line, and we're aware that Dallas outrebounded Utah only 33-28 on Tuesday. But shouldn't Boozer have brought in more than four rebounds in the Jazz's loss, considering he played 43 minutes and that he averages 11.6 for the season? We get the feeling that Utah missed a chance to send a shockwave throughout the NBA with that game, instead taking their place among Dallas' many vanquished foes.
Though they didn't exactly take on a murderer's row (Orlando, Miami, Washington, Atlanta, New Orleans, Minnesota), the Clippers still broke even on a recent road trip in which Sam Cassell looked healthy and Brand was dominant at times. "At times" is the operative phrase here because the Clips' performance was reminiscent of their runs last season, when Brand (though in the midst of a career scoring season) could mix up stretches of monster play with allowances for Cassell to get his transition looks and Cuttino Mobley and/or Corey Maggette the occasional attempt at putting up big points on just a few attempts from the floor. Maggette scored 21 on just 10 shots in the win over Minnesota on Wednesday.