Sixers show no signs of a slowdown
Sports Illustrated senior writer Phil Taylor will answer your NBA questions every week during the season. Click here to send him a question.
We're past the midway point of the season and not only have the 76ers not come back to earth, they seem to be getting stronger. They're on the verge of running away with the Atlantic Division, and their gritty win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden Thursday was the kind of victory that championship-caliber clubs put together. Ryan R. from Calgary wants to know if Philly would have any chance in the Finals against any of the big, bad Western teams. Logic tells me the Sixers are too much of a one-man offense to go all the way in the postseason, when teams can really focus in on how to keep keep that one man (in the this case, Allen Iverson) under control. But then I watch the 76ers play and I see guys like George Lynch, Aaron McKie and Theo Ratliff making big shots in clutch situations. On paper it doesn't look as if the Sixers will be able to match up against whichever team comes out of the West, but the way they've been playing defense, winning on the road and getting just enough offense out of their role players tells me this is one of those teams whose whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Do I think they would beat the Western finalist? No. Do I think whichever team beat them would know it had been in a dogfight of a series? Yes. On to other topics:
I've been watching NBA games since the days of Kareem, Magic and Bird, and I
know a walk when I see one. But somehow the game has changed. I see most players
getting away with extra steps when they go up for layups or when they shuffle
their feet before taking their first step to dribble (see Shaq), which was a
definite walk call in the '80s. Is this one of David Stern's ways of increasing
In almost every game I watch there are at least six or seven walking violations that aren't called. I saw Allan Houston catch a pass against the 76ers on Thursday night and take a hop, skip and a jump before he decided to put the ball on the floor. But I don't think letting players get away with it is any sort of conscious effort to improve scoring. The refs have been loose on walking calls for a long time. Michael Jordan, as great as he was, traveled so blatantly with some of his first steps that he should have carried luggage. And don't let your heroes from the '80s off the hook so easily, either. Go back and look at some tapes and you'll see that it wasn't unusual for the refs to let Magic and Bird slide from time to time.
With all the talk about Shaq's free-throw woes, has no one noticed that Tim
Duncan is hitting about 55 percent from the line? He's only a high-60's career
free-throw shooter as well. What is wrong with Tim? That has to make a
difference in how teams approach playing him .
Funny, isn't it, how Duncan is shooting almost as poorly from the line as Shaq, yet no one is accusing him of being lazy and not practicing his free throws enough? In fairness to Duncan, this is the first year he's been so bad at the line. He shot a career-best 76.1 percent last year. I certainly can't tell you what's wrong with him because Duncan himself doesn't even know. He does admit, though, that his problems are completely psychological. I don't see anyone going to a Hack-a-Tim strategy yet, though. There's something about Duncan that makes you think that if he needs to knock down a couple of free throws in a crucial situation, he'll do it.
Now that both Allen Iverson and Chris Webber have their respective teams at
the top of their respective divisions, will they finally be seriously considered
for the MVP award?
Absolutely. If the season ended today they would finish 1-2 in the balloting, although I'm not sure in what order. I would take Webber because he plays a position that's loaded with high-caliber competition, but I wouldn't argue with anyone who picked Iverson. By the way, remember when CNN/SI's Fred Hickman took so much heat for voting for The Answer instead of Shaq for MVP last year? Maybe Fred was a visionary, a year ahead of his time.
When the 2001 All-Star 3-point shootout takes place on February 10, will Dirk
Nowitzki be the first center ever to participate? In a related question, with
his spread-out game, could Nowitzki become a league-leading scorer in the next
couple of seasons?
Nowitzki isn't a technically a center, although he may wind up in the pivot occasionally. At 7 feet, however, he is the tallest player ever to participate in the 3-point shootout. (I'm predicting another European to win, though: the Kings' Peja Stojakovic). I don't see Nowitzki leading the league in scoring partly because, with Michael Finley and Steve Nash, he's far from being the only offensive weapon the Mavericks have. Nowitzki's versatility means he's more likely to lead the league in triple doubles than in scoring.
Do you feel it's time to eliminate aging NBA standouts from the All-Star
game? I feel that guys like John Stockton and Karl Malone have proven themselves
already and should step aside for players like Steve Francis, Antonio McDyess
and Antawn Jamison.
I'd like to see more young players in the game. The three you mentioned should all be in this year's contest, but only McDyess made it. Stockton wasn't selected this time around, but Malone was, and even the Mailman himself admits he probably hasn't played well enough this season to deserve the nod. Ideally, you want a mix of established stars with whom fans are familiar and younger, up-and-coming guys. But when it comes down to a close call between a player going for his 12th All-Star game and a player going for his first or second, I'd lean toward the younger guy.
Your suggestions for improving the NBA All-Star game make a lot of sense, and
I was wondering what it would take for the league to actually consider using
them? I read a lot of sound suggestions by SI writers about all major sports,
but rarely see them instituted. Are the powers-that-be of pro sports
really that reluctant to take fans' wishes into account when planning schedules
and All-Star events?
It's not so much that pro sports officials don't want to be responsive to the fans' wishes, it's more that they often seem to think they need unanimous agreement to make a significant change. As long as one or two owners, coaches or GMs are against a given move, it doesn't matter how strongly the fans or the media support it. That's one reason the illegal defense rules, which many people think are unnecessary, haven't been abolished. As for taking my suggestions, nobody listens to advice from sportswriters, Joe. Not even our kids.
What do you think of the Othella Harrington-for-Erick Strickland trade? I think
this could be a big help to the Knicks. When Harrington was on a decent Houston
team, he played well. I think being on the lowly Grizzlies contributed to his
poor play. Also, is this just the beginning of a house cleaning in
It was a great trade for the Knicks. Strickland was giving them very little off the bench, and Harrington gives them more size, which they desperately need, and athleticism. He may help them in another way, too. The Knicks are stockpiling pieces that they might be able to use in a sign-and-trade deal for Chris Webber this summer, and they may have added Harrington with that in mind, as well.
Click here to send Phil Taylor a question or comment.