Rookie coach has Heat rising (cont.)
Al Jefferson's ire. In the two games since he was snubbed for the All-Star Game, the Timberwolves' big man has torched the Lakers and Celtics for 34 points apiece. He also blocked four shots in each game, averaged 12.0 rebounds and shot a combined 58.3 percent from the field. Maybe Western Conference coaches did the Wolves a favor by excluding Big Al from the midseason showcase in Phoenix.
Mike D'Antoni's coaching chops. As the Knicks claw their way into the East playoff race with a 6-1 stretch, the Suns are sinking into the abyss of team meetings, trade rumors and five losses in their last seven games. Do you think Phoenix might regret all but driving D'Antoni to the airport last May?
Magic representation at All-Star weekend. Orlando is the only team with three players -- Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis -- voted into the All-Star Game. Howard also will defend his dunk-contest title and serve as an assistant coach in the Rookie Challenge.
Joe Johnson's shooting eye. Looking for a reason why the Hawks went 6-9 in January? How about an All-Star guard who shot 37.4 percent in those 15 games? Or one who averaged only 17.6 points over the same period after averaging more than 22 heading into the New Year?
The Raptors' future. Eleven games under .500. Fans booing. A huge summer addition (Jermaine O'Neal) who is already on the trading block. For a team hearing the ticking clock of Chris Bosh's impending free agency, this season is not shaping up as the kind of advertisement needed to keep the Olympic star.
The state of the Jazz. Andrei Kirilenko (ankle surgery) is the latest player to go down for Utah, which has lost five of six games. ''Bottom line, we've got to stop being so soft as a team,'' point guard Deron Williams said after Saturday's 122-108 loss at Portland. "Teams push us around, and we don't push back. We're lying down and letting them walk all over us.''
After a slow start to his career, point guard Russell Westbrook (15.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists) is showing why the Thunder selected him with the fourth pick in the 2008 draft. An NBA scout assesses Westbrook's game.
"He's going to be a very good player, and he is now. He can really get to the rim on anybody going north to south. This kid has a great body, good foot quickness, solid ball-handling and he can move his feet and defend. The knock on him is his jump shot, which is average at best now. That can come over time; he's got good mechanics. But he has to work on his ability to hit the perimeter shot so that defenders can respect him as a shooter and not just as a penetrator."
They said it
"You want the grade up till today? What's the lowest grade you can give? This has been a disaster. It's embarrassing. ... They were mailing it in, and I felt like standing up and booing along with everybody else."
"We didn't play team ball. We were very selfish tonight. They were able to capitalize on our selfishness. We have to decide whether we're going to play one-on-one or we're going to pass the ball to each other and play team ball. [We're] not playing with energy on both ends, being lazy, not running up and down the court, not sharing the basketball, not setting solid screens, it's just selfishness."
"It's not going to be a difficult negotiation. I'll just go to Danny [Ainge] and say, 'I don't want to go anywhere else. Please re-sign me.' If he says yes, that'd be great. If he says no, that's when I'll probably have to start begging."
Yahoo!: Interesting analysis of how Shaquille O'Neal's resurgence isn't all good for the Suns.
Basketball Prospectus: Its advanced statistics page is up and running.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: He may not run the most successful franchise, but owner Sen. Herb Kohl may be the only thing keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee.
1. What is it with struggling teams and silly policies? Bulls players have grumbled about coach Vinny Del Negro's rule prohibiting pregame eating in the locker room. Meanwhile, new Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said last week that the team would eliminate the common NBA practice of providing players with meals before and after practice. "They're grown men," Hollins told reporters. "It's not the team's responsibility to treat them like kids." These annoying attempts at instilling discipline don't hide what players on bad teams need -- inspiration.
2. Permit me one off-the-wall idea: Get rid of the All-Star Game. Players compete with all the intensity of a Rucker League game, the game is tucked away on cable on a Sunday night, and the looming trade deadline generates a lot more interesting conversation. How we'd fix it? Start with a red-carpet arrival. Who wouldn't tune in to see the latest in NBA fashion? Second, make All-Star Saturday the main event; maybe then the LeBrons and Kobes would compete in the dunk contest. Finally, have some sort of awards ceremony a la the Academy Awards. Hand out the usual trophies from last season as well as a few quirky ones, such as best dunk. Are you telling me you wouldn't tune in to see Shaq present the MVP award to Kobe?
3. The tough-guy routine Pistons rookie coach Michael Curry is using to attack the anonymous player who told the New York Post that the team has lost confidence in him is doomed to failure. With little track record and a veteran roster stung by its impending breakup, Curry can only alienate his team more by asking for names.