Suns' Nash, Stoudemire and Marion all rank in top 15
Posted: Friday January 19, 2007 5:05PM; Updated: Friday January 19, 2007 6:03PM
We'll get right to the point with this: NBA players are locked into some sort of internal conflict that's alternately infuriating and entertaining. They have to keep tabs on each other, stopping themselves from dragging their heels while waiting for the pigskin practitioners to finish their little run, reminding themselves to entertain while the nation's eyes are focused elsewhere.
They're also pushing each other to better things. Steve Nash has everyone running. Gilbert Arenas has Kobe Bryant rethinking his tone. Dirk Nowitzki wants to drive nowadays while Dwyane Wade tinkers with that dodgy jumper. It's a good time to be a star with a conscience, and an even better time to be a fan with a cable connection and/or a courtside seat.
Nowitzki takes the top spot again, barely holding off Wade, following a brilliant week since the last batch of Player Rankings. In four games (four Dallas wins), Dirk averaged 34.5 points, 10.8 boards, four assists, a block and fewer than two (!) turnovers. His play down the stretch of a comeback win over the Toronto Raptors -- a game in which he sat out for a grand total of 95 seconds -- was a brilliant bit of work. His Mavericks are on pace for 66 wins.
Didn't mind making the noise, and hardly mind retelling the story for the faithful reader(s): Wade tossed in a body-reversed runner off glass during Thursday's win over Indiana that made me gasp like a teeny bopper at a Herman's Hermits (or whatever the kids jive to these days) concert. No boffin in all of Florida would recommend the sort of spin Wade put on the leather for any sort of recreational activity, but you can't argue with the results, or Wade's January averages of 30.7 points, 8.5 assists, 2.7 steals.
The season has nearly reached the halfway point, and the Minnesota Timberwolves (the ones who employ some of the sounder minds of our generation, including Ricky Davis, Eddie Griffin, Mark Blount and Mike James) are three games over .500, and have won seven of nine in January. Garnett is averaging 24.6 points, 14.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.7 blocks and a steal during that stretch. Just something to think about the next time you hear someone trumping Arenas for the MVP award.
We're not sure what to make of the talk surrounding a third straight MVP trophy for Nash, but then again, we're never sure what to make of that award -- which is exactly how the NBA (with its vague guidelines on what exactly constitutes a most valuable player) wants it. Either way, the Suns are still the NBA's most entertaining night out, and Nash is the biggest reason why they've won 11 in a row. His numbers (shooting percentages, per-game averages, overall efficiency) are up across the board, and though Phoenix's defense is down a bit from where it was in January 2006, Nash's individual defense has perked up over the last two months.
He's far too young to be taking on the graybeard role, but Bryant's beaten-but-unbowed tone (picked up by the TNT mics) toward the end of Dallas' blowout win over the Lakers on Thursday night reminded us of a kind of Magic candidness. Earvin Johnson was nearly 32 when he refused to complain about a "butt-whippin'" the Chicago Bulls gave his Lakers in Game 4 of the 1991 NBA Finals. Though the 28-year-old Bryant still reminds at times of the young colt we saw debut in 1996, his newfound sense of patience, tact, poise and reason is more than welcome. And, you watch: It will pay off soon enough.
The Spurs' 4-5 January record may look awfully ordinary, but they've little reason to fret. Throw away the team's listless 12-point loss to the Bulls, and the Spurs have lost the other four games by a combined 15 points. However, they did lose a chance to make a little hay before the schedule-makers have their way with them. Duncan and the Spurs will play their last home game for 24 days against the Grizzlies on Jan. 26.
LeBron's Cavaliers are still in first place, but you get the feeling this team is about the third-best club the tough Central Division has to offer. James' play has remained strong all season, but his team struggles if his jump shot isn't on; he's missed missed 15 of his last 21 from long range, and Cleveland lost three of four over the stretch. And James doesn't appear to have the energy (or, perish the thought, the interest) in dominating other areas besides scoring in order to push the Cavs over the top. Though often compared to Oscar Robertson, James has only three double-digit assist games all season, and has topped 10 rebounds just once.
You wouldn't think it, not with the way the mere mention of something called a "Gilbert Arenas" just seems to bring a smile to the face of young and old alike, but Agent Zero has been struggling recently. Take out Monday's win over the Jazz, and Arenas averaged 19 points on 29 percent shooting in four games (two wins) since Jan. 10. Of course, he drops a Forget-Me-Now in our drink with that 51-point explosion against Utah, nailing a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer and at once making everything all right.
With the Clippers still a couple of games out of the playoff bracket, Brand's workload doesn't figure to lighten any as this season drones on, and we wonder how long he can keep it up. Brand played deep into the playoffs last season, spent the summer working with Team USA and now averages 38 minutes a game. And as Los Angeles gets more and more desperate (and playoff outsiders like the Nuggets, Hornets and Warriors figure to improve), he'll be asked to play deeper and deeper into games.
Boozer has had a strong January, showing remarkable consistency as coach Jerry Sloan continues to afford him more and more minutes for the Northwest-leading Jazz. Though the team has dropped five of eight this month, Boozer has averaged 25.4 points and 12.3 rebounds. Still, though shot-blocking isn't exactly this power forward's forte, does it make sense that his last block was recorded on Dec. 17? Luke Ridnour has had four rejections since then.