Off the Glass
Time to gaze into the crystal ball for second-half predictionsPosted: Wednesday February 12, 2003 8:02 PM
By Paul Forrester, Special to SI.com
Now that we've finally unglued our eyeballs off of the TV screen following Mariah Carey's halftime "show," OTG wanted to try a little something different on, too. Don't run. The Wizards dress is staying in Mariah's closet. But a wizard's hat is ours. How else can I make predictions for the season's second half and be taken seriously?
Darius Miles will round into formNow that John Lucas is no longer bailing water out of Cleveland's sinking ship, Miles has returned to his natural forward role under new coach Keith Smart. The change has already started paying off. In eight games before the All-Star break, Miles shot 50 percent from the floor and at least 55 percent in six of those eight contests.
Smart seems to favor Dajuan Wagner learning the NBA game from the bench while Smush Parker gets some time at the point. Although Wagner's and Ricky Davis' scoring had made them the focus of the Cleveland offense under Lucas, it is Miles who holds the key to the Cavs' future. He's got more natural ability than anyone on the roster. Smart seems to understand this, coaxing Miles to put in extra shooting on off days. Eureka!
Portland will not implodeAlthough the Trail Blazers have already had a few run-ins with the local authorities, things have calmed down off the court and, most importantly, on the court over the last few weeks. With Scottie Pippen and Derek Anderson running the offense, Maurice Cheeks appears to have forged some semblance of peace on a team constructed for fantasy play more than actual play.
Capable of contributing in any number of categories, the two veterans offer some sense of leadership on the floor while getting the ball to the Blazers' biggest weapons, Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells. Cheeks' rotation doesn't leave a whole lot of crumbs for potentially productive players such as Jeff McInnis, Damon Stoudamire or Antonio Daniels but it has the team winning with little more than Wallace T to pay. With success on the court, OTG bets Portland won't be looking for ways to escape off the court.
Washington will not make the playoffsNice try, MJ, but the fairy tale ends with the regular season. With Orlando mentally coming to grips that Grant Hill is done, the Magic will fix their rotation around the parts they have, which should squeeze them into at least the eighth spot, assuming Tracy McGrady's back holds up.
For as much as everyone wants to put the Wizards in the playoffs, they just don't have enough pieces. Kwame Brown is still developing -- when his confidence isn't being hammered by Jordan or coach Doug Collins. Neither Tyronn Lue (the new starter) nor Larry Hughes is a legit point guard. Both are capable of the big game on occasion, but neither has the ability to direct on offense consistently.
As was all too apparent in the All-Star Game, Jordan's will has a lot more juice left than his ability. But considering that it was MJ who hired the coach and will probably be running the front office next year, it will be Jordan's show come crunch time. This is a great idea if Washington played its games on Mother Goose's court. This isn't such a great idea when a more capable Jerry Stackhouse is available and you play games in front of paying fans.
Minnesota will finish with a better record than San AntonioWith Wally Szczerbiak becoming ever healthier, OTG foresees a thaw in the chilly relationship Wally World has had with Kevin Garnett. Saddled with little more than some limited help from Rasho Nesterovic, Garnett will come to appreciate the defensive attention Wally and his sharp shooting (48.5 percent) will draw.
With the emergence of Nesterovic this season as something more than a Shaquille O'Neal punching bag, the T'wolves now boast one of the more complete front lines in the division. Although he will never make anyone forget a healthy Terrell Brandon, Troy Hudson has done a pretty effective job of running the team, averaging 5.3 assists a night.
The rest of the team is made up of spare parts, but when the engine is an all-everything Garnett (whose numbers should improve with a little less defensive attention), Minnesota has the wheels to give Dallas something to think about.
This isn't to say the Spurs are in for tumble but with David Robinson test-driving his rocking chair with a bad back for much of the season's second half, Tim Duncan has no safety net down low. That means the reigning MVP will feel the heat of a lot of collapsing defenses. Duncan can fight through a lot of this (as the Admiral has largely been a figurehead the past few years) but he'll need help from his other safety valves, Tony Parker and Stephen Jackson, both of whom are solid but inconsistent ("Welcome to San Antonio Mr. Kidd.")
Indiana will win the Eastern ConferenceThis isn't really much of a stretch seeing as how the Pacers are already leading the conference standings but, unlike last year, we don't see New Jersey getting in their way. Top-to-bottom, the Pacers have everything: two low-post studs in Jermaine O'Neal and Brad Miller; outside shooting with Reggie Miller and Ron Artest; a solid, pass-first point guard in Jamaal Tinsley; and a nasty defensive streak personified in Artest and taught by coach Isiah Thomas, who has imbued his club with the tenacity and pettiness toward other teams that gets under other players' skins.
Let's not forget a bench with some players (Al Harrington and Ron Mercer) who could be starting on some other teams. Thomas may have his detractors (and OTG has been one of them in the past) but he deserves credit for not messing up this talent base.
And, yes, the Lakers will win the WestAssuming Shaq's toe doesn't put the Daddy down, no team will stop Los Angeles with their annual appointment in June. Yes, the supporting staff is getting older and less effective but I think the current group has just enough juice left for another run. If Phil Jackson can get Jud Buechler multiple rings, he can do the same for Samaki Walker.
The problem for the Sacramentos and Dallases of the NBA world are twofold --Shaq and Kobe. No one in the league has devised a solution to the Daddy that doesn't involve tranquilizer darts and no one in the league has devised a solution to stopping Bryant, who has been playing out of his mind with Shaq now rounding into form.
OTG answers your questions
As we ran through a lot of the mail last week, and this week's column is sure to generate plenty of arguments, we'll dig back into a satchel next time.