Articles By Corby Yarbrough

All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/familiar-no-1-halfway

As teams in the NBA reach the halfway point of their season this week — 41 down, 41 to go — a familiar team is back atop the Athlon Sports Power Rankings.

The San Antonio Spurs return to the top for the first time since Week 6. They have the best record in the league at the halfway mark (35-6 entering their Jan. 19 game with Toronto) and have won their last six contests. They enter Jan. 19 games five games ahead of the Lakers for the top seed in the Western Conference. The next closest contenders are Oklahoma City and Utah at eight games back and the reeling Dallas Mavericks at 8.5 back.

Boston, which has hung around as the top three spots virtually all season, sits at No. 2 and are the best team in the Eastern Conference at 31-9 entering its Jan. 19 game against Detroit. The Celtics are in a much tighter race for the top spot in the East. They lead Miami by two games for the No. 1 spot, but Chicago, Atlanta and Orlando are all within 5.5 games as of Jan. 18.

The top five spots in the rankings reflect how the seedings currently sit through 41 games. The Heat are ranked third, followed by the Lakers at four, the Bulls at 5.

Orlando, Oklahoma City, Utah, Dallas and New Orleans round out this week's top 10.

While the top of this week's rankings reflect those of the standings, this is a down week for match ups of top-10 teams. There are only six as a matter of fact.

The Mavericks, 2-8 in their last 10 games, are part of the first two match ups, but certainly cannot be considered challengers in either game the way they have played as of late. They play host to the Lakers on Jan. 19 — 8-2 in their last 10 — and then travel to Chicago the following night. The Bulls are 7-3 in their last 10, are 18-3 at home and coming off wins over Miami and Boston the last two times they played at the United Center.

Utah is also not that hot right now. The Jazz fell at 12-27 Washington on MLK Day and will travel to Boston for a Friday night tilt. The Celtics are 19-3 at their place.

San Antonio travels to New Orleans on Jan. 22. It will be the fourth meeting of the year between the two teams. New Orleans won the first meeting — the second game of the year as part of the Hornets' 8-0 start — but have fallen in the las two meetings by an average of 19.5 points.

The Hornets then get Oklahoma City in New Orleans on Jan. 24. The Thunder have won the first two meetings this season.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 19:24
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-western-conference-notes/team-wire

News, notes and nuggets from the teams of the Western Conference.

With their record setting 112-57 victory vs. Cleveland on Jan. 11, the Lakers recorded their league-leading seventh wire-to-wire win of the season.

Getting to seven wire-to-wire victories in just 39 games matches the Lakers regular season total from all of last season.

This season, the Lakers lead the Celtics (6), Spurs (5), Hawks (4) and Bucks (4) in wire-to-wire victories through games played by Jan. 13.

After winning 17 of 18 games and improving to 24-5, the Mavericks are just 2-6 in their last eight games without forward Dirk Nowitzki (sprained right knee). With the loss to Indiana on Jan. 12, Dallas recorded three straight losses for the second time this season. Prior to losing three consecutive games from Dec. 28-Jan. 1, the last time the Mavericks dropped three straight was from Jan. 28-Feb. 1, 2010.

Last season, Stephen Curry became the first rookie in NBA history to shoot at least 45 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 85 percent from the free throw line (minimum 100 3-point and free throw attempts), and he is doing it again this season. Curry is shooting 46.2 percent from the field, 41.1 percent from beyond the arc and 92.3 percent from the charity stripe (second in NBA).

The Rockets have allowed at least 100 points in each of their last nine games. It stands as the longest such streak since a run of nine in a row back in 1991-92. The last time Houston allowed an opponent to reach the century mark in 10 or more straight games was in 1987-88 (10 in a row from Feb. 9-26, 1988.

The Clippers earned their second win of the season when allowing over 100 points when they defeated Miami 111-105 on Jan. 12. The Clippers are now 2-17 this season when allowing 100 points or more.

The Hornets won seven of the last 11 games. The Hornets have held opponents to 90 or fewer points 16 times this season, including five of the last seven games. New Orleans is 15-1 in those games.

Jared Dudley
has nine career scoring efforts of 19 or more points. Five of those nine have come in the last 11 games. Dudley has five career 20-point games, four of which have come this season, all in the last 11 games. Dudley is averaging a career-high 9.5 points.  

Seven of Portland’s next nine games will be at the home. The Trail Blazers play more home games in January (nine) that any other month this season. They are one of only five teams that have already played 22 road games entering Jan. 14. Portland played seven of its 15 Eastern Conference road games only 19 games into the season. The Trail Blazers contested 16 of their first 26 games on the road.

This season, Tony Parker is averaging 17.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 7.0 assists, while shooting 50.7 percent from the field. Parker and Steve Nash are the only two players in the NBA this season to average at least 15.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists, while shooting at least 50.0 percent from the field. Parker’s assists (7.0) and steals (1.41) season averages are career highs.

Al Jefferson
is currently averaging 2.0 blocks a game, the most by a Jazz player since the 2006-07 season when Andrei Kirilenko averaged 2.1. Jefferson’s 2.0 average is also the highest by a Jazz center since the 1999-00 season when Greg Ostertag notched 2.1 blocks per game.
DeMarcus Cousins
has totaled 18 points in the last two games after averaging 21.2 in the previous six games. Meanwhile, Tyreke Evans has totaled 56 points in the last two games he has played in after totaling 18 points in the previous two games.

Post date: Friday, January 14, 2011 - 19:53
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-eastern-conference-notes/dj-double

News, notes and nuggets from the teams of the Eastern Conference.

D.J. Augustin has scored in double figures in eight straight games, marking the longest double-figure scoring streak of his career. Augustin previously scored in double figures in seven straight games Nov. 18-29, 2008.

During the current eight-game stretch, Augustin is averaging 19.9 points on .495 shooting from the field (51-103), including .477 from beyond the 3-point line (21-44), and .923 from the free-throw line (36-39). Augustin posted season highs in scoring in consecutive games during the streak, tallying 28 points on Dec. 29 against Cleveland after totaling 27 points Dec. 27 against Detroit. Augustin made 10 field goals in each of those two games, tying his career high.

It was the second time in his career that he has had consecutive games of 20 points or more. He previously did so on November 18 and 21, 2008, when he scored 21 points against Dallas and 26 points against Atlanta.   

Ray  Allen
 is having one of the best shooting years of his career from beyond the arc this season and is closing in on Reggie Miller’s 3-point record for most threes made in a career. Miller holds the all‐time record  with 2,560 makes. Allen currently has 2,526 makes for his career and is just 34 away. Allen is being helped  by the fact that he is currently shooting 46.6 percent from beyond the arc, the best of his illustrious  career…He has only been over the 40-percent mark five times in his career with his career high coming during the 2001‐02 season with Milwaukee when he recorded a 43.4 clip from beyond the arc. 

In his last 19 games, Ronnie Brewer has registered 38 steals (2.00 spg). He’s averaging a team-high 1.53 steals per game on the year, also good for 16th best in the league as entering games on Jan. 14.

Ramon Sessions
scored 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting and added four assists in 26 minutes off the bench against the Lakers. In his last eight games, Sessions is averaging 13.6 points on .507 (36-71) shooting and 5.4 assists per game in 26.9 minutes per game.

Rookie Paul George entered the Pacers' game with Dallas on Jan. 12 having shot 1-of-7 from 3-point range in his previous five games and having made 8-of-32 from 3 in the first 14 games of his pro career. Against the Mavericks, George exploded for a bench-leading and career-high 16 points on 6-of-9 field goals and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. That tied the most 3-pointers by any member of the Pacers in the last nine games — since James Posey shot 5-of-7 against New Orleans on Dec. 20. Against the Mavericks, George and Brandon Rush shot a combined 6-of-11 from 3 while the rest of the team connected on just 2-of-13.

The Bucks have recorded an equal or greater number of rebounds than their opponents in six of the last seven games. In those games, they are outrebounding their opponents 45.3-41.6 per game. The Bucks rank third in the league in defensive rebound percentage, collecting 76.4 percent of the available boards.

New York’s scoring trio of Amar’e Stoudemire (26.1), Raymond Felton (18.3) and Wilson Chandler (17.7), averages 62.1 points per game, which is the third highest scoring trio in the NBA, behind Miami (69.0) and Oklahoma City (66.1). The duo of Stoudemire and Felton, average 44.4 points, which is fourth most in the NBA.

Seven of the Sixers' 15 wins have been by double-digits and Philly is 4-14 in games decided by eight or fewer points, including 0-7 in games decided by our or fewer points. The 76ers had 15 wins by 10-plus points in 2009-10, compared to 12 by fewer than 10. They are outscoring opponents by 12.8 points a game (192 total) in wins this season compare to 9.3 last season.

Post date: Friday, January 14, 2011 - 19:49
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/heat-rises

Once upon a time there was talk of ...

When are the Miami Heat going to get it together?

When is Pat Riley going to come down from the executive offices to replace Erik Spoelstra?

Should the Heat trade one of the Big Three?

The Heat organization must just sit back and laugh at those questions, comments, etc. that were abound about them as they headed into LeBron James' return to Cleveland on Dec. 2 on the heels of a two-game winning streak.

Well, since leaving Cleveland after a 118-90 drubbing of the Cavaliers, the Heat have lost just once in the last 20 games (96-98 to Dallas) and currently ride a nine-game winning streak into Wednesday's game at the Clippers. They have won 13 in a  row on the road and have three more away from Miami this week — Clippers, Denver and Chicago.

That Jan. 15 game against Chicago is one of just five games between top 10 teams in this week's Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings — a list Miami is on top for the first time this season. They are only the second Eastern Conference team through 12 weeks to take the top spot (Boston in Weeks 8 and 9).

It will be the first meeting between the Bulls and Heat this season. The seventh-ranked Bulls bounced back from terrible road losses to New Jersey and Philadelphia by returning home and defeating Boston Saturday night.

On Jan. 13 the No. 3 Orlando Magic travel to No. 8 Oklahoma City for their first meeting of the season. The Magic, winners of nine in a row, will be coming off a game against No. 11 New Orleans the night before.

Dallas, reeling after the season-ending loss of Caron Butler and the absence of Dirk Nowitzki, are 5-5 in its last 10 games and will travel to No. 2 San Antonio on Jan, 14. It will be the third meeting of the season, a series they have split thus far.

On Monday, Jan. 17, there are two games between top 10 teams. The Magic and fourth-ranked Celtics go at it again, this time in Boston. The two teams met in Orlando on Christmas Day with the Magic winning 86-78.

The fifth-ranked Lakers play host to Oklahoma City in their first meeting since the Thunder took the defending NBA champions to six games in the first round of last year's playoffs.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - 10:44
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-fantasy-dime/bad-gets-worse-cavs

So Anderson Varejao is out for the season. Can it get any worse for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the post-LeBron era?

But the beauty of fantasy, you and your team can just move on and find another replacement. Or someone else in your league might already have that replacement where they can benefit from the injury or trade you what you need. Either way, one of you should benefit in the fantasy world as J.J. Hickson's value increases in the real world.

A torn tendon in Varejao's ankle will sideline the team's leading rebounder and shot blocker for the year, leaving the door wide open for someone else to take care of the inside for the Cavaliers.

Hickson should be that someone else. He is already averaging 10.9 points and 5.5 boards to go with a 44-percent clip from the field. Since the turn of the year (four games for Hickson), he has averaged 17 points, nine boards to go along with 1.3 steals and one block per game. In 21 games as a starter, Hickson has averaged 25 minutes per game, 12.1 points, six boards and shot .447 from the field this season.

He has forward-center eligibility in Yahoo leagues and is still available in 38 percent of Yahoo leagues as of Monday afternoon.
Daniel Gibson
, the Cavs' starting point guard, also has an ankle issue, a sprain that is expected to sideline him for the three games Cleveland has this week. In steps Ramon Sessions.

Sessions has started seven games this season, playing nearly 30 minutes per in those games, scoring 11.9 points with 4.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 0.9 steals. He has also shot a miserable 37 percent from the field in those starts. Overall, Sessions averages 10.2 points, 4.2 assists, 2.8 boards and 43 percent from the field in 22 minutes of action over the 36 games played this season. He is available in 72 percent of Yahoo leagues and can be used at both guard spots.

The Cavs play the Jazz, Lakers and Nuggets this week and score just 94 points per game this season — good for 26th out of 30 teams in the league. So while there may be two openings for Cleveland players on your roster, keep in mind the team's lack of production before you hit "Add Player" to your roster.

Pardon my hack line, but Lakers guard-forward Shannon Brown may be able to do a lot for you with the injury to fellow reserve Matt Barnes (torn meniscus in his left knee).

I had Brown earlier in the season when he was scoring in double digits nine times in November, shooting 48 percent from the field, 95 percent from the stripe with 1.7 3s and 2.7 rebounds during that time. But I bailed after a little slump and it seemed like he and Barnes were canceling each other out when there might have been more consistent options out there.

Now with Barnes expected to miss two months, Brown and his guard-forward eligibility and the fact that the Lakers are starting to score again, makes him a solid pickup option. He is available in 72 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Call me bitter. Hi, I'm bitter.

I was really hoping New Orleans shooting guard Marcus Thornton would cash in on his sleeper status. He walked into the preseason as the starter but lost the job to Marco Belinelli and has not seen the starting lineup all season.

Then I see on one of my go to blogs _ Razzball _ that New Orleans is 4-0 when reserve shooting guard Marcus Thornton plays 21-plus minutes. In those four games, Thornton averages 15 points, five rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.5 steals in those four games. He averages 6.1 points, 2.5 boards, 0.7 assists and 0.3 steals for the entire season.

Belinelli, who earned the starting nod in the preseason and has had it for all 38 games, averages 11.3 points, 2.1 boards, 1.4 assists and 0.6 steals in 28 minutes per game.

So I had to get my Thornton frustration off my chest, and don't look for him to catch fire anytime soon. He hasn't scored in the last four games and has not hit double digits since Dec. 22. He also hasn't played over 10 minutes this calendar year and hasn't hit the teens since Dec. 29 (16:48), which ended a string of eight games where he played less than 16 minutes just once.

Andre Iguodala
has missed the last seven games with an Achilles injury, and may return Tuesday night when the 76ers play the Pacers. He returned to practice Monday, and with just two games this week — also playing Friday against Milwaukee — it is probably not wise to lock Iguodala or any of his replacements (i.e. Andres Nocioni who has averaged 11.4 points, seven rebound and 1.7 assists during those seven games) in to your roster.

While Shawn Marion and Jason Terry see increased production with the absence of Caron Butler (out for season) and Dirk Nowitzki (sore knee), the subject of Nowtizki's return will be answered when you see him on the court.

Nowitzki has missed seven games, and the team starts a three-game week at Indiana Wednesday night. Will the streak reach eight?

"We'll let you know when he's going to play," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle told reporters.

That doesn't do a lot for fantasy players who are trying to set rosters early in the week. I would keep riding the replacement wave of Marion and Terry this week and then see how it pans out when Nowitzki returns — which will affect both Dirk owners and those who have benefited from the depleted Dallas lineup.

Add sprained ankle to the ailments reigning Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans has to deal with.

The point guard has apparently decided to battle through the plantar fasciitis that has plagued him all season, but the ankle may cause him to miss his second straight game when the team plays Washington Tuesday.

This puts Evans' owners in a tough spot. The Kings have a four-game road slate with Washington, Boston, New York and Detroit this week. He is a warrior and his status is only iffy right now for Washington. So I would take as iffy as maybe and then be hopefully for him suiting up for the next three games.

Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu is heating up and his three-position eligibility (SG/SF/PF) is nice too boot.

He has averaged 13.8 points, 6.3 boards, 6.8 assists, 1.6 steals and two 3-pointers a game since the Christmas Day win over Boston (eight games).

Turkoglu is still available in 10 percent of Yahoo leagues, so if you are in one of these leagues go get him.

Minnesota guard-forward Corey Brewer has taken over the starting 2-guard gig from Wes Johnson and is available in 87 percent of Yahoo leagues.

His shooting percentages are terrible (.359 from the field and .254 from 3), career-worst terrible. But in the four games he has managed to start this season, he's shot .395 from the field, .583 from beyond the arc and seen his scoring go from 8.4 to 12.0.

Where Minnesota is different from another terrible team like Cleveland is that the T'Wolves average an eighth-best 102.8 points per game as opposed to a 26th-best 94 a game.

Give Brewer and his guard-forward eligibility a shot this week as the Timberwolves play a three-game week against the Spurs, Wizards and Magic.

Gerald Wallace's ankle has forced him out of the lineup again, this time for the last three games. There's talk that he may return Wednesday against Chicago. That would still give him a three-game week with Boston and the Hornets still to go.

The downside is that these are three defensive minded teams that control possession, so there might not be a lot of opportunities for Wallace. If you have better options, although his high ADP suggest you won't, I would hold off on Wallace.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Monday, January 10, 2011 - 19:54
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-western-conference-notes/odom-reaches-milestone

News, notes and nuggets from the teams of the Western Conference.

With 10 rebounds Jan. 5 at Phoenix, Lamar Odom recorded his 7,000th career rebound, becoming just the 23rd player in NBA history to reach 11,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 3,000 assists and the ninth fastest to do so in terms of games. Only Larry Bird (680 games), Kevin Garnett (681 games), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (691 games), Wilt Chamberlain (691 games), Chris Webber (695), Elgin Baylor (716 games), Bill Russell (746 games) and Charles Barkley (762 games) reached those totals faster than Odom, who did so in 783 career games.

In their victory at New Orleans on December 29th, the Lakers posted season highs for field goal percentage in a quarter (first, .750), half (first, .676) and game (.586) after connecting on only 37.9 percent of their shots in the previous two games combined. Additionally, it was the first time this season that each of the Lakers starters (Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher) shot 50 percent or better from the field in the same game.

Golden State is shooting 40.1 percent from beyond the arc this season, which ranks 1st in the NBA. The Warriors have shot 40 percent or better from three in 19 games this season, including nine games of 50 percent or better. Not only are they shooting a high percentage, but they are making a high number as well. The Warriors average 8.5 made 3-pointers per game, which ranks fifth in the league, and they have made 10-or-more from deep on 14 occasions.

Yao Ming
underwent a successful surgical procedure on Jan. 6 to repair a stress fracture of the medial malleolus in his left ankle. Yao is expected to miss the remainder of the season. Chuck Hayes sustained a moderate to severe right ankle sprain during practice on Dec. 30. He is expected to be sidelined 2-4 weeks before resuming regular basketball activities. Aaron Brooks aggravated his left ankle sprain at Denver (Jan. 3) that he originally sustained at San Antonio (Nov. 6). Brooks is listed as day-to-day.

In the last 12 games (7-5), the Hornets are outscoring their opponents 46.9-44.4 in the second half, winning nine of the last 12 second halves.

Memphis leads the NBA in points in the paint for a second consecutive season, pouring in 48.0 points inside after scoring 51.4 points inside in 2009-10.

The Suns have dropped two-straight and six of their last seven games overall. The Suns are 1-3 (.250) with all three new additions in the lineup. Vince Carter made his debut Dec. 29. The Suns are 2-6 (.250) since their blockbuster trade Dec. 18, including a 1-5 (.167) mark with the three new additions (Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus) available.

Portland has won eight straight games at the Rose Garden, last losing more than a month ago (Nov. 26 vs. New Orleans). The run is the NBA’s third-longest active home winning streak (San Antonio, Atlanta) and Portland’s longest since winning 12 straight at the Rose Garden (Jan. 24-March 9, 2009). The Trail Blazers wrapped up a third straight sweep of a home stand with a 100-85 win on Jan. 2 vs. Houston. The Trail Blazers are now 12-3 at home, equaling their 15-game mark from 2008-09, when Portland won its first seven contests at the Rose Garden. The Trail Blazers also started 12-3 in 2007-08. The last time Portland won more than 12 of its first 15 home contests was 1990-91, when the team started 14-1. The Trail Blazers have scored at least 100 points in nine of 15 home games while reaching the mark six times in 21 tries on the road. The Trail Blazers are one of only three teams in the league that have already played at least 21 road games entering games of Jan. 7.

The Spurs finished 13-2 (.867) in December and 14-1 (.933) in November, which are the best November-December and franchise history. Overall, the Spurs have compiled 13 wins in a month eight times and at least 14 wins in a month seven times. The Spurs' .933 winning percentage in November is the second best winning percentage in any month (with 10 or more victories) in team history.

Rookie Jeremy Evans is making the most of his playing time. Of his 21 field goals so far this season, the 6-9 forward from Western Kentucky has recorded 13 dunks with over half of the slams (7) coming from alley-oop passes from Earl Watson.

Post date: Friday, January 7, 2011 - 18:41
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-eastern-conference-notes/heating-under-40

News, notes and nuggets from the teams of the Eastern Conference.

The Miami Heat held Milwaukee to only 39.7 percent shooting from the field on Jan. 4, marking it as the 11th time this season Miami has held an opponent under 40 percent shooting from the floor as they improved to 11-0 in those contests. Additionally, the Heat has won its last 18 games in which it has held its opponent under 40 percent shooting from the floor.

After a 3-5 start this season at Philips Arena, the Hawks have won their last nine home contests to improve to 12-5. Since the start of the 2008-09 season, Atlanta has recorded a 77-22 (.778) mark on its home court.

Rajon Rondo recorded 22 assists, 12  points, 10 rebounds and six steals against San Antonio on Jan. 5. According to Elias, Rondo became the first player in NBA history to hand out as many as 20 assists, grab 10 or more rebounds and record at least six steals in one game since the NBA started keeping track of steals in the 1973‐74 season. Rondo joined Larry Bird (four times) as the only Celtics players to register a triple‐double against San Antonio and he joined Magic Johnson (Oct. 26, 1980) as the only NBA players to post a triple‐double with as many as six steals against San Antonio.

The Bobcats enter their Jan. 7 game ranked third in the NBA in blocked shots per game (6.28), with Tyrus Thomas (1.59), Nazr Mohammed (1.17) and Gerald Wallace (1.15) each averaging at least one block per game. So far this season, the Bobcats have recorded eight games with at least 10 blocks, which trails only the 2009-10 season (9) as the highest single-season total in franchise history.

The Bulls are 21-4 this season when they hold their opponents under 100 points and 2-8 when they allow 100 or more points.

New York is 20-14 after 34 games, which is their best start to a season since they started the 2000-01 campaign 22-12. The Knicks are 17-6 (.739) over the last 23 games after starting the season 3-8. Last season, they didn’t hit the 20-win mark until a Feb. 26 win at Washington (21st win Mar. 3). They are six games above .500 this late in a season for the first time since the end of the 2000-01 campaign when they were 48-34. New York was 14-20 after 34 games last season and 15-20 after 35 games. The plus-six win increase is fifth best in the NBA.

John Salmons has scored in double digits in the past nine games and in 13 of the past 15. Over the nine most recent games, he leads the Bucks in scoring with 17.9 points and has shot 51.5 percent (17-33) from 3-point range while pulling down 3.2 rebounds and handing out 3.4 assists.

On Jan. 3 vs. Golden State, the Magic had eight players score in double figures, tying a franchise record. It marks the sixth time in team history that eight players scored in double figures during the same game. The last time was Jan. 27, 2009 vs. Indiana. When Orlando has five players or more score in double figures it is 15-3. When the Magic have six or more score 10-plus points, they are 9-1.

Forward Ed Davis and sophomore DeMar DeRozan have excelled over the last five games (Dec. 28-Jan. 5) for the Raptors. The team’s most recent draft picks have combined to average 29.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and shot .513 (58-for-113) from the field. DeRozan currently ranks sixth among sophomore players averaging 14.2 points per game, while Davis ranks fourth among all rookies with 5.9 rebounds and third with a block per game.

After averaging 22.1 points and 8.3 rebounds during the final 32 games of the 2009-10 season, Andray Blatche is picking up where he left off.  Blatche is currently averaging career-highs in points (16.4 ppg), rebounds (8.0 rpg) and free-throw percentage (.781). Blatche has scored 20 or more points in 10 contests and has seven double-doubles.

Post date: Friday, January 7, 2011 - 18:35
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/remember-spurs

For the first time since week 6, the San Antonio Spurs return to the top position in the Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings.

Despite dipping down below 100 points in three of its last four games (average 105.6 this season), San Antonio continues to win. The Spurs have lost just once since Dec. 1 — a 123-101 defeat at Orlando.

They move from the third spot to the top spot, supplanting Southwest and state rival Dallas, who they defeated 99-93 last week. The Mavs fell to No. 4 after losing three of four before disposing of our lowest-ranked team, Cleveland, on Jan. 1 to end the skid.

Miami has moved into the No. 2 spot and still have not lost a game since a 98-96 defeat on Dec. 20 against Dallas — a six-game span.

Boston fell to No. 3 with a  3-2 mark over the last week — losses coming in back-to-back games against Detroit and New Orleans.

Chicago rounds out the top five as winners of five in a row since a Christmas Day loss to New York.

It's a ho-hum week for games between top 10 teams in the Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings.

San Antonio and Boston square off for the first time this season when the Spurs travel to Beantown Jan. 5.

Dallas tries to right the ship when it plays host to No. 9 Oklahoma City Jan. 6. It will be the third meeting of the season; the Mavericks have won the first two by eight and 10. Dallas will also try for the season sweep when it plays host to No. 6 Orlando on Jan. 8. The Mavericks won the first meeting 105-99 on Dec. 21.

Boston and Chicago will also meet for the third time this season when the Celtics travel to the Windy City on Jan. 8. The Celtics won the first two meetings — the first by five, the second by 12 — both of which were in Boston. The Bulls have the second-best home record in the Eastern Conference at 14-3 entering the Jan. 4 game with visiting Toronto.

The No. 8 Lakers and No. 10 New Orleans Hornets meet for the second time in nine days when L.A. plays host this time. The Lakers won the first meeting 103-88 on Dec. 29 in New Orleans.

There are also a few fringe match ups between those teams just outside the top 10 against top 10 teams.

The No. 13 Knicks have certainly had their fair share of high-profile games over the last three weeks. It started with back-to-back losses against visiting Boston and Miami to end an eight-game winning streak, picked back up with back-to-back home wins over Oklahoma City and Chicago before another set of back-to-back losses to Miami and Orlando on the road.

New York gets its chance again this week. It plays host to the Spurs on NBA TV Jan. 4 and closes the week with a Jan. 9 visit to the Lakers.

No. 11 Denver, winners of four in a row, will try to make its way back into the top 10 with a week that includes the Clippers and Kings on the road before closing out against No. 10 New Orleans at home Jan. 9.

After a 5-5 split of the top 10 the last two weeks, the Western Conference reclaims the lead this week with a 6-4 edge.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Tuesday, January 4, 2011 - 18:40
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-fantasy-dime/rudy-rudy-rudy

There are many ways to play fantasy basketball — rotisserie, head to head, lineups that can be changed any time and lineups that lock just prior to Monday night’s tip. With that in mind, Athlon Sports will give you the Fantasy Dime each week. These are 10 things to assist you before you have to lock in that lineup for the week.

Brandon Roy's knee is going to be an issue all season long — or until the Trail Blazers decide to shut him down for the year. That leaves Rudy Fernandez to perhaps be the fantasy beneficiary.

The shooting guard has played no less than 20 minutes since Dec. 15 and in those eight games he is averaging 13.5 points with 2.1 3s a game on 48 percent shooting from the field. He's even contributed over three rebounds (3.1) and assists (3.3) during those eight games to go with 1.1 steals. The Blazers have four games this week, and Fernandez would be a good add. He is available in 85 percent of Yahoo leagues where he has just shooting guard eligibility, but is a pretty good multi-category contributor right now.

Injuries have beset Ryan Anderson this year, but he's healthy at just the right time for the Orlando Magic and your fantasy roster, too.

He has played no less than 19 minutes in the five games since his return from a foot injury and averaged 12.5 points, 1.8 3-pointers a game and six rebounds in that time. With not much to back up Dwight Howard and Brandon Bass battling a knee injury that may or may not sideline him, minutes are in store for Anderson. The Magic have four games this week, and Anderson should be a good play. Hedo Turkoglu could go to the 4 as well, but it's worth the gamble to give Anderson a shot in your lineup.

With Chris Kaman (ankle) still having no timetable for his return, DeAndre Jordan continues to be worthy of a roster spot for the L.A. Clippers.

In his last two outings, Jordan has blocked six and seven shots apiece to go with 12 and five on the boards and six and 14 in scoring department. He's also shot 8-of-9 from the field combined in those two games. Jordan is owned in just 28 percent of Yahoo leagues, and if he can keep up just 75 percent of this effort he's worth a spot.

One problem he has this week: the Clips only play two games. But with Kaman not appearing to be returning anytime soon, it's never bad to have a productive center on the roster.

This one is pretty simple: Rajon Rondo is back for the Celtics so Nate Robinson should be off your roster.

Robinson was a spark for fantasy rosters the first couple of games he stepped in for Rondo, but is not consistent enough to stay on your fantasy roster with Rondo back. Boston coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday's return, if he could get Rondo 40 minutes he would; Rondo played 34. He dished out eight assists in his return. Robinson hasn't dished out that many assists since Nov. 22 when he had 10, and that is the only time Robinson has had more than six this year.

The Celtics play four games this week, so maybe you keep Robinson if you think Rondo could relapse or if four games is too many to log a ton of minutes upon his return. But I doubt it. Move on from Robinson.

Charlotte forward Gerald Wallace is having ankle problems again. He will not play Monday against Miami and may not play the Bobcats' other two games this week. The injury sidelined him for five games from Dec. 15-27 before returning for two games to end the year. He was his old self when he was in the lineup — averaging 14.5 points, nine rebounds and a steal in the two games. Hopefully for "Crash" owners, this won't become a common occurrence.

Veteran Shawn Marion will probably be the hot pickup of the week if he's not already on a roster (he's owned in 65 percent of Yahoo leagues). With the news, or the possibility the news will come that Caron Butler's knee injury will shelve him for quite some time, Marion becomes a hot commodity for the Mavericks.

Marion (thigh) just returned from one-game absence himself, but instantly went to the starting lineup because of Butler's injuries. Marion is the backup for both Butler and the injured Dirk Nowitzki (knee), so he should get plenty of PT this week and in the near future.

Marion was already averaging 27 minutes, 10.2 points and 6.5 boards this season. In five starts this season, Marion averages 30:30 per game with 15 points, 5.6 boards, 1.4 assists, 0.6 blocks while shooting 62 percent from the field.

Indiana's roster rotation has to be one of the most frustrating in fantasy. There's Darren Collison/T.J. Ford at the point, Brandon Rush/Mike Dunleavy at the 2 and now it's Roy Hibbert/Jeff Foster at the center.

Hibbert came off the bench for the first time this season when the Pacers lost to the Knicks Jan. 2. He played 16 minutes despite his replacement Jeff Foster fouling out in 22 minutes of action.

Maybe it's not that big in the grand scheme as it was reported coach Jim O'Brien made the switch for the defensive matchup. But there are a lot of defensive matchup lineup decisions being made in Indiana and it makes setting a fantasy lineup involving Pacers quite a task. And when the team scores just 96.8 points per game, perhaps its best to start moving away from all Pacers until (if ever) a consistent lineup is set.

Andrew Bynum
got his third straight start since returning from injury when the Lakers were drilled by the Grizzlies on Jan. 2. In his three games as a starter, Bynum is averaging 11.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.

I mention Bynum for two reasons: If he is still available for some crazy reason, go get him. Second, what does this mean for Lamar Odom who had been starting in his sted?

Odom's averages of 15.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game will certainly take a hit. His minutes are still up there for now — 30:56 and 28:08, 30:56 and 30:33 in the three games since Bynum took over as starter. But be ready to take a hit and, like me, be thankful that he produced like an All-Star for the first 10 weeks of the season as a late pick and hope he can give glimpses of that over the next 15 weeks.

Seems like there's always a new Toronto player producing each week. I guess it tends to happens when you are one of the 11 teams in the league that are scoring over 100 points per game (while also giving up 104.4).

This week it seems to be DeMar DeRozan. He has started every game this season, but really taken off since a Dec.19 game against the Lakers as a consistent, multi-category producer.

In those six games, DeRozan has averaged 21.8 points on 52 percent shooting from the field and 80 percent from the stripe. He has also added 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and one steal a game.

The Raptors have four games this week — two against defensive-minded Chicago and Boston but another two against not-so defensive-minded Cleveland and Sacramento.

DeRozan's available in 46 percent of Yahoo leagues, and with guard-forward eligibility is a solid add.

Robin Lopez
is the starting center but recently acquired Marcin Gortat is getting the minutes in Phoenix. Perhaps it is because Lopez is coming back from injury or the Suns just want to see what they got in the trade.

Either way, Gortat has seen no less than 27 minutes in the last four games, averaging 11 points and 6.3 boards in that time. Lopez, in that time, is averaging four points and 2.3 boards having played no more than 13 minutes. Channing Frye, who has forward-center eligibility, averaged 31:36 minutes of action in December, but has seen games of 19:!6, 28:10 and 18:25 in his last three outings.

Just by deducing numbers, the Suns seem to be shining on Gortat. You should, too as Phoenix plays three games this week.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Monday, January 3, 2011 - 18:10
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/mavericks-back-top

Dallas resumes the top spot in the Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings this week after Boston had held the No. 1 ranking for the last two weeks. The Celtics, who saw their 14-game winning streak snapped on Christmas by the Orlando Magic, go down to the No. 2 spot.

Dallas, which had been on top the two weeks before the Celtics took over, has won five in a row and nine of its last 10.

San Antonio and New York dominate the key games this week between top 10 teams in the Athlon Sports Power Rankings.

The No. 2 Spurs play host to the No. 6 Lakers on Dec. 28, travel to No. 1 Dallas on Dec. 30 and play host to No. 7 Oklahoma City on Jan. 1.

San Antonio had its 10-game winning streak snapped by Orlando on Dec. 23. This will be the first meeting this season between the Lakers and Spurs, the second with Dallas (the Mavs won 103-94 in Dallas on Nov. 26) and the second with Oklahoma City (the Spurs won 117-104 in Oklahoma City on Nov. 14).

The No. 10 Knicks will get a chance to avenge their loss to Miami when the two meet Dec. 28. Miami won the Dec. 17 outing in New York, 113-91, holding the Knicks under 100 points for the first time since Nov. 27. New York has since gone 2-1 with wins over Oklahoma City and Chicago in its last two games.

No. 4 Miami, which had its 12-game winning streak snapped by Dallas on Dec. 20, has scored victories over Phoenix and Lakers since then.

The Knicks will then head to Central Florida on Dec. 30 to take on an Orlando Magic team that has won its last three after a four-game skid. The ninth-ranked Magic got those wins against San Antonio, Boston and New Jersey. This will be the first meeting of the year between the Knicks and Magic.

There are a few fringe matchups of teams within Athlon's top 10 this week against teams in the 11-15 spots.

No. 13 Denver plays both of the teams just behind it in the power poll. The Nuggets play host to No. 14 Portland Dec. 28 and play host to No. 15 Houston on Jan. 3.

Meanwhile, Portland, which enters the Denver game 6-4 in its last 10 outings, will return home Dec. 30 to play host to No. 5 Utah. Portland is 10-3 at home this season. The Jazz handed the Blazers one of those three losses when they won the first meeting at the Rose Garden (103-94 on Nov. 20), but Portland just defeated Utah at its place Dec. 27 (96-91).

Other fringe games see the erratic New Orleans Hornets, ranked 11th, playing host to the Lakers Dec. 29 and then traveling to Boston Dec. 31. It's the first time the Hornets will clash with L.A. and Boston this year in games involving three teams that started the season equally hot.

The No. 12 Atlanta Hawks, winners of three of the last four, travel to Oklahoma City Dec. 31.

After having the upper hand for the first seven weeks of the season with a majority of its teams in the Athlon Sports Power Rankings top 10, the Western Conference has seen the Eastern Conference make a push the last three weeks. The conferences each have five of their teams in the top 10 for the third week in a row. The Western Conference had seven in the top 10 three times in the first seven weeks and six the other four weeks before the split.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - 13:01
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-fantasy-dime/which-sun-will-rise

There are many ways to play fantasy basketball — rotisserie, head to head, lineups that can be changed any time and lineups that lock just prior to Monday night’s tip. With that in mind, Athlon Sports will give you the Fantasy Dime each week. These are 10 things to assist you before you have to lock in that lineup for the week.

Trades, injuries and a brief emergence have made the wing spot for the Phoenix Suns a confusing one for fantasy players.

Mickael Pietrus and Vince Carter came over in the trade from Orlando two weeks ago. Carter has not played yet due to a knee injury and should be on the shelf for a couple more weeks. Pietrus has started to emerge in the last couple of games. Meanwhile, Jared Dudley, who has shooting guard and both forwards eligibility in Yahoo leagues, was a stud for three games before falling off the map Sunday.

Pietrus played 27 minutes in Sunday's loss to the Clippers, hitting five 3-pointers, shot 64 percent from the field, 100 percent from the stripe and added three boards. Dudley had two of those games before falling off Sunday — hitting seven 3s on Dec. 23 and three on Dec. 20 to go with 12 and five on the rebounding end.

It's a hard call to make which one will emerge and how long will the production be there before Carter comes back. Pietrus might be settling in and Dudley might go back to the reserve role where he was averaging 20 minutes in 25 games.

The Suns have three games this week against Philadelphia, Detroit and Sacramento. If you can take a run at both, give it a shot; if you can't, I would lean toward Dudley and his triple eligibility.

Detroit's Ben Gordon has taken over the starting 2-guard role for the Pistons, and nothing is really different than how he played as a sub. The 2004 first-round pick has played the last three games as a starter, averaging 12 points (a 25-point game along with a seven- and four-point efforts), shooting 14-of-34 (.411) from the field and 5-of-13(.385) from beyond the arc.

For the season, Gordon is averaging 11.7 points, 1.2 3s a game on 45 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc.

The Pistons play three games this week — Charlotte, Boston and Phoenix — but Gordon has done nothing as a starter or reserve on a consistent basis to be considered a reliable fantasy option this season.

So John Wall returned from injury Sunday night after missing five games (knee). The rookie came off the bench to play 19 minutes, score four points, dish out four assists and four turnovers to go along with six rebounds. The 22-percent shooting effort didn't help, either. He has played in 16 of 28 games so far this season, leaving fantasy owners wondering if they can count on him. Well, if he's in the lineup, his talent dictates he has to be in your lineup.

Kirk Hinrich has certainly held down the fort rather well in his absence. Hinrich has scored in double figures in the last five games, averaged nine assists and 4.4 rebounds in that time. His shooting percentages are above 40 percent on most nights. He's healthy, consistent and still worth being in lineups regardless of Wall's availability.

The Wizards have four games this week — Houston, back-to-back against Indiana and New Orleans.

Chauncey Billups
also returned from injury (wrist) last week and showed no signs of being hampered. He scored 24, 30 and 24 points in his last three games on a combined shooting percentage of .541 (20-of-37) and was perfect from the stripe (27-of-27).

Meanwhile, Ty Lawson, his backup, continued to produce as well. In the three games since Billups' return, Lawson scored 14, 19 and 22 points in over 31 minutes of action on average. He continues to shoot high percentages for the most part and contribute the minimal rebounds and assists to remain in real and fantasy lineups.

The Nuggets play three games this week — Portland, Minnesota and Sacramento — and both point guards should remain in your lineup or any lineup.
So Wall and and Billups are back. When is Boston's Rajon Rondo returning from his ankle injury? The Celtics play four games this week, and he might be back Tuesday night against Indiana.

Nate Robinson has continued the trend of backups holding down the fort, albeit not spectacularly enough to warrant lineup consideration once Rondo returns. He has averaged 12 points on a miserable .352 from the field with 3.8 assists and three rebounds on average.

With four games this week, the Celtics might ease Rondo back into the lineup. Plus, with games against the Pacers, Pistons, Hornets and Raptors it is not world beaters Boston is playing. So Robinson should still get his for one more week. Throw both in there, see how Rondo plays this week and then probably move on from Robinson once Rondo is good to go.

Jonny Flynn
is still being eased into the Minnesota rotation as the team's point guard. Since returning Dec. 14 from his hip injury, Flynn has not registered a start and has played no more than 23:52 in a game. He has been in the teens minute-wise five of the seven games. In those seven games, he is averaging 6.1 points, 3.7 assists and 1.7 rebounds on 42 percent shooting from the field.

It is felt that he will eventually get that starting gig back, but eventually is not this week. Luke Ridnour has done a solid job, including a season-high 23 points in the Dec. 26 outing against Cleveland on 58 percent shooting from the field (7-of-12, inlcuding 5-of-5 from 3), 100 percent from the stripe(4-of-4) to go along with six assists and five rebounds.

The Timberwolves play three games this week — New Orleans, Denver and New Jersey — and Ridnour should either stay or get in your lineup until the Flynn minutes are situated.

This one is as easy as it gets. The Dallas Mavericks are one of the league's best teams this week and they get to play five games. So five games in a week should mean everyone gets some fantasy love.

If you are on the fence for some reason about Jason Terry, Caron Butler or any other contributor to the Mavs, even the fringe guys, everyone might be worth a look.

They take on Oklahoma City, Toronto in a back-to-back, San Antonio on Thursday and then close with a back-to-back against Milwaukee and Cleveland.

Charlotte's category stuffer, Gerald Wallace, will miss his fifth straight game with an ankle injury when the Bobcats take to the floor Monday against Detroit. Charlotte has just three games this week, and Wallace is reportedly eyeing a Friday return against Golden State — the team's last game of the week. Needless to say, keep "Crash" out of the lineup this week.

Andrea Bargnani
(strained calf) is expected to miss Toronto's three-game road trip this week (the Raptors return home against Boston Sunday).

Amir Johnson (back) is expected to be a game-time decision for Monday's game against Memphis. The team will also be without Sonny Weems (back) Monday.

So, working backwards, use Linas Kleiza at the guard-forward spot in place of Weems. Kleiza can be a multi-category contributor with his 11.3 points, 4.6 boards, 45 percent shooting from the field and one 3 a game.

Julian Wright should get the time for Johnson. He has averaged 12:18 of action this year with 3.7 points, 1.8 boards and 1.1 assists.

Rookie Ed Davis (19:06 mpg) or Joey Dorsey (11:18 mpg) are expected to start in Bargnani's sted. Neither would be plays any other week than perhaps this week with so many injuries to the Raptors' squad.

Golden State center Andris Biedrins has missed four straight games with an ankle injury. Louis Amundson has started the games in his absence, averaging 4.3 points and four rebounds. Even if Biedrins returns for the team's game against Philly Monday night or the three-game road trip to Atlanta, Charlotte and Miami, he's really only good for rebounds on a consistent basis.  

With injuries to other centers or power forwards that have center eligibility across the league, it's probably better to go find another option this week instead of Biedrins. As the 35th best center in nine-category leagues, it also might be time to cut bait with Biedrins altogether.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Monday, December 27, 2010 - 18:45
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-western-conference-notes/okc-doubles-down

After starting the season a perfect 8-0 when Thabo Sefolosha scores in doubles figures, the Oklahoma City Thunder finally ended up on the losing end despite 11 from him against the Suns Dec. 19.

Last season, it was Nenad Krstic who possessed the magic touch for the Thunder. During the 2009-10 season, the Thunder went 27-3 in games in which Krstic scored 10-plus points.

Sefolosha, who is averaging 6.3 points, 5.4 boards and 1.6 assists for the Thunder in nearly 31 minutes of action this season, has been held to one- and six-point performances in the Thunder's last two outings. They went 1-1 in those two games, including a loss to the New York Knicks in their last game.

However, along with the correlation of double-digit performances from Sefolosha normally equalling wins, the Thunder (20-10) are equally as impressive coming off a loss. The Thunder are 8-1 this season in games after a defeat and they will play host to Denver on Christmas Day. OKC is 10-5 at home, while the Nuggets are 5-5 on the road.

The Nuggets dished out 22 assists against San Antonio on Dec. 22, marking the 13th time this season that Denver has posted 20 or more assists as a team. On the year, the Nuggets are now 13-5 when recording 20-plus assists (including 10-2 at the Pepsi Center).

Dorell Wright
has started all 28 games this season, averaging 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.3 steals in 38.9 minutes per game. Wright averaged 7.1 points last season in Miami, and his 7.5 point increase ranks first in the NBA among players who have appeared in at least 15 games this season.

Clippers forward Blake Griffin recorded his 23rd double-double on Dec. 22, scoring 24 points and grabbing a career-high 18 rebounds. Griffin’s 23 double-doubles is the second highest in the NBA (Kevin Love, first with 25). Griffin now has registered a double-double in 17 straight games, the longest streak in the NBA this season and now the second longest double-double streak for the Clippers in the last 24 years. Michael Cage recorded 19 straight from Dec. 10, 1986-Jan. 16, 1987. Since the 2001-02 season, Griffin’s 17-game double-double streak is the sixth longest in the NBA.

Entering the Lakers' Christmas Day game vs. Miami, Derek Fisher has played in 442 consecutive regular season games dating back to April 15, 2005, the longest consecutive games streak among all active NBA players. Fisher moved into the top position after Portland’s Andre Miller (632) missed the Blazers game against Phoenix (Dec. 7) due to NBA suspension. Additionally, Fisher has started 320 consecutive regular season games dating back to January 15, 2007, tops among all active players by more than a season’s worth of games (second is Houston's Luis Scola). Former Laker A.C. Green holds the NBA record for most consecutive games played with 1,192 dating from Nov. 19, 1986-April 18, 2001 while a member of the Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat.   

Early in the season, Memphis has been involved in some tight finishes. The Grizzlies are tied for second with Charlotte in games decided by three points or less. Memphis is 4-4 in such games. Denver leads the league with nine games decided by three-points or less. The Grizzlies have also gone into overtime on four other occasions, including a double-OT game on Nov. 5 at Phoenix. Memphis is tied with the Detroit Pistons for the most overtime games this season.

The Timberwolves completed their longest road trip of the season Dec. 20 with an 0-6 record, capped by their sixth 20-plus-point loss of the season after a 113-90 defeat to the Clippers. Prior the horrific ending, Minnesota had lost the previous four games of the road trip by two, five, six and nine points. They returned home Dec. 22 to play host to the Utah Jazz, one of seven teams in the NBA with 10-plus road wins, and managed to keep it respectable with a 112-107 defeat.

When Marcus Thornton scores at least 10 points the Hornets are 6-1 this season. In the last two games, Thornton is averaging a team-best 19 points on 16-of-25 (.640) shooting, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range (.714). He is also averaging 4.5 boards, and 1.5 steals. The back-to-back double-digit performances marked the first time since the season opener vs Denver and the next game vs. San Antonio that Thornton has scored 10 or more points in two straight games.  

The Suns played their fourth straight game against a 20-win team on Thursday night when they played host to the Miami Heat. There are just seven 20-win teams in the entire league currently. The Suns fell 95-83, and are 1-3 in those four games against 20-win teams — Dallas, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Miami. The schedule certainly lightens up in regards to 20-win teams. The next four games for the Suns are the Clippers, 76ers, Pistons and Kings, which have combined for 34 wins compared to the 100 the last four opponents had won.

Three of Rudy Fernandez’s four highest scoring games this year have come in the last three contests, where he has averaged 19.3 points. He scored a career-high 26 points on Dec. 17 vs. Minnesota.

Along with putting up more points this season, the Spurs are averaging their highest assists totals in 15 years. Currently, the Spurs are averaging 23.9 assists per game, which ranks third in the NBA. It is the highest assist per game average since the 1995-96 season when the Spurs averaged 24.9 assists. Individually, Tony Parker averages seven assists per game, Manu Ginobili (4.9). The Spurs season-high for assists in a game this year is 32 which occurred on Nov. 20 vs. Cleveland.

Post date: Friday, December 24, 2010 - 14:21
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-eastern-conference-notes/welcome-back-back

By the numbers, the Atlanta Hawks have had one of the most difficult schedules in the NBA so far this season. Atlanta and Cleveland have played the most back-to-backs (10) in the NBA this year. Atlanta is 5-5 on first night, 8-3 on second night; Cleveland is 2-8 on first night, 4-7 on second night.

The Hawks (19-12) opened their season with a pair of back-to-backs in their first five games, winning all five. They also played a six-game slate from Dec. 3-10 where it was nothing but back-to-backs, and they posted a 4-2 record during that stretch. Atlanta has won the back end of its last four back-to-backs and five of its last six.

Atlanta begins another back-to-back Sunday when it travels to New Orleans and Milwaukee, but doesn't have another pair of back-to-backs until a Jan. 17-21 run that will ironically end with New Orleans.

Additionally, the Hawks, Miami and New Jersey are the only teams in the Eastern Conference to have played at least 30 games so far this season.  

The Celtics are currently on a 14-game winning streak, their fifth such streak since the start of the 2007‐08 season. The longest streak was a franchise‐best 19 games from (Nov. 14-Dec. 23, 2008).

The Bulls are 15-3 this season when they hold their opponents under 100 points and 2-6 when they allow 100 or more points.

Richard Hamilton
came off the bench at Toronto Wednesday night to score a game-high 35 points, becoming the first player in Pistons history to score 35 or more points twice as a reserve. He shot 13-of-20 from the field and recorded career highs in 3-pointers made (6) and attempted (10). Hamilton holds the club record for most points by a player off the bench with 38 scored at Milwaukee on Feb. 7, 2009.

LeBron James’ 30-point triple-double (32 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) at New York on Dec. 17 was the 17th triple-double of his career in which he registered at least 30 points. That marks the most 30-point triple-doubles over the last 25 years in the NBA. It also surpasses Michael Jordan and ties Larry Bird and Magic Johnson on the NBA all-time list for triple-doubles with at least 30 points scored, and James is now only four shy of tying Wilt Chamberlain for second place on the NBA’s 30-point triple-double all-time list. Additionally, James became just the fifth New York Knicks opponent in the last 20 years to have recorded a triple-double at Madison Square Garden. The last opponent to have 30 points in a triple-double in MSG was Chuck Person in 1986.

The Bucks have held eight of their last nine opponents under 100 points and have gone 5-4 in that span. Seven of those nine foes were held under their season average going into the game. Orlando scored 85 and averaged 99.3, Miami 88 and 100.7, Indiana 95 and 100.7, Houston 91 and 105.3, San Antonio 92 and 106.4, Utah 95 and 100.2 and L.A. Lakers 79 and 106.4.

New York is second in the NBA with 6.66 blocks per game after coming off two straight seasons in which it ranked 29th (2009-10) and 30th (2008-09) in the league. The franchise never led the league or finished a season ranked in the top five in blocked shots since the stat began being tracked in 1973-74. The Knicks' best finish was sixth in 1989-90 with an average of six blocks per game. Through 29 games, New York recorded 193 blocked shots — a total that took 45 games to reach last season (Jan. 28 vs. Toronto). The Knicks blocked at least six shots in 20 of their first 29 games after hitting the mark 17 times in 82 games last season. Amar’e Stoudemire (seventh, 2.10), Wilson Chandler (16th, 1.62) and Ronny Turiaf (26th, 1.27) all rank among the NBA’s top 26 in blocked shots.

Dwight Howard
has recorded three consecutive games with 20-plus rebounds going into Thursday's game against San Antonio. It marks just the second time in his career that he has accomplished the feat (Dec. 28-31, 2007). The last player with 20-plus rebounds in four straight games was Ben Wallace, who had five such outings from March 12-20, 2003.

Since scoring 100-plus points in five straight games from Nov. 2-10 — the longest span since a six-game stretch from Dec. 14-27, 2005 — the Sixers have scored 100-plus just six times over the past 21 games (93.3 ppg; 1,960 total). Philadelphia has scored below 90 points in three of the past four games and 10 times overall this season (3-7 mark; 3-17 in 2009-10). The Sixers are 6-6 when scoring 100-plus points and 5-12 when scoring below. On the flip side, opponents have scored 100-plus points just four times over the past 18 games (92.6 ppg; 1,667 total) after doing so six times the first 11 games of the season (103.2 ppg). Philly is 11-8 when holding opponents below 100 points this season and 0-10 when giving up 100-plus. Last season, the 76ers were 19-19 when holding opponents below 100 points and 8-36 when the opposition topped the century mark.

Nick Young is providing the Wizards with some offensive power this season. Young is averaging a career-high 14.8 points per game. The fourth-year pro has scored 20 points in a game 12 times this season (nine times off of the bench which leads the NBA). Young scored 30 points against the Lakers Dec. 7 and nailed a career-high six 3-pointers in that contest.

Post date: Thursday, December 23, 2010 - 19:23
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/celtics-remain-no-1

After giving the Eastern Conference its first top-ranked team of the season last week, the Boston Celtics have held on to the spot for Week 9's Athlon Sports Power Rankings.

The Celtics defeated New York, Atlanta and Indiana last week as part of their current 13-game winning streak.  

The top four from last week all remain as the top four.  in the same spots. Dallas, winner of nine of its last 10, remains at No. 2. San Antonio, winners of nine in a row, still hold the third spot. Miami, which had its 12-game winning streak snapped by Dallas on Monday, is still No. 4.

The Lakers and Jazz flipped the Nos. 5 and 6 spots, L.A. moving into the five-spot as winners of eight of its last nine games.

The Orlando Magic, who had been a top-five team a majority of the season, fall out of the top 10 for the first time this season. However, after a major overhaul of the Orlando roster due to trades last weekend, the Magic will have to get their chemistry together before making the push back up to Eastern Conference elite.

And there's no time like the present for the new-look Magic to get started.

They are currently mired in a three-game losing streak and losers of seven of their last eight. Orlando's schedule this week is probably the toughest schedule any team has had this season in relation to the Athlon Sports Power Rankings — and last week was no cake walk, either.

After losing to Denver, upstart Philadelphia and No. 10 Atlanta, the Magic get Orlando Tuesday night, San Antonio Thursday and Boston on Christmas Day. As the Magic begin to develop a chemistry with this roster they can at least take solace in the fact that all three of this week's games are at home where they have won nine of their 16 games.

Christmas Day is certainly where the marquee matchups of the week are. But before we get to the NBA's big day there are also two games on Wednesday that are intriguing. No. 8 Oklahoma City Thunder travel to Madison Square Garden to take on a Knicks team that was riding high this time last week.

The No. 12 Knicks faced Boston, Miami and Cleveland, and what was an eight-game winning streak before Boston has turned into a three-game skid entering the OKC game. It is not going to get any easier for New York as the next 10 games are a gauntlet — OKC, Chicago, Miami, Orlando, Indiana, San Antonio, Phoenix, Lakers, Portland and Utah.

Also on Wednesday, the Spurs play host to No. 9 Denver. The two teams met on Dec. 16 as the Nuggets fell 113-112 at home.

Back to Christmas Day. There are five games on the NBA schedule, all televised on ABC/ESPN.

No. 7 Chicago, which is down Joakim Noah (hand) and a concussed Taj Gibson, travels to Madison Square Garden to tip off the day. The Knicks, behind 16 3-pointers, won the first meeting in Chicago 120-112 on Nov. 4.

Boston travels to Orlando in a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics are the hottest team in the league, while Orlando's roster readjustment issues have been addressed.

Miami travels to the Lakers for the third game of the day. This was the one everyone was waiting for when the schedules were announced. Many people, myself included, thought the Lakers would barely have a blemish on their record when they reached this game. And many others, myself not included, thought Miami would be well on its way to surpassing 72 wins by Christmas Day.

Neither has happened. The Lakers are 21-7 going into the Dec. 21 game with Milwaukee. They have really put it together over the month of December, answering a four-game losing streak by winning eight of their last nine.

The Heat were in the same boat — why aren't they running roughshod over everyone? It took some time for the roster to mesh, but they entered December 10-8 and will go to Phoenix Dec. 23 at 21-9.

Denver, which has no trouble scoring as evidenced in its average of 117.2 over the last five games, will travel to Oklahoma City for the second-to-last Christmas Day game. The Thunder are averaging 107.2 points per game over their last six outings.

Closing out the NBA's Christmas festivities are Portland, which enters the week as the eighth-best team in the Western Conference, going against Golden State, which couldn't even claim to be eighth-best in the Eastern Conference. The two teams just met on Dec. 18 with the Trail Blazers winning 96-95.

Finally, on Dec. 27, the Thunder play host to Dallas for their second meeting of the year. Dallas won the first meeting 111-103 on Nov. 24. OKC begins this week off a 113-110 loss to Phoenix, which snapped a five-game winning streak for the Thunder.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter to send any comments or questions

Post date: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - 17:01
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-fantasy-dime/magic-fantasy

There are many ways to play fantasy basketball — rotisserie, head to head, lineups that can be changed any time and lineups that lock just prior to Monday night’s tip. With that in mind, Athlon Sports will give you the Fantasy Dime each week. These are 10 things to assist you before you have to lock in that lineup for the week.

A three-team trade involving the Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards went down over the weekend and of course that means a shakeup for the player who was traded, the rest of the roster for the team he is coming to and the rest of the roster for the team he departed.

First, for Orlando, which did all the dealing, welcomes four new players (Yahoo eligibility in parenthesis).
Jason Richardson (SG/SF) from Phoenix — Was the Suns' leading scorer and shouldn't slow down in Orlando.
• Hedo Turkoglu (SG/SF/PF) from Phoenix — Had his best numbers in previous Orlando stop.
• Earl Clark (SF/PF) from Phoenix — Has no fantasy value as of now.
Gilbert Arenas (PG/SG) from Washington — Will still come off the bench.
Second, is Phoenix, which received three players from Orlando.
Vince Carter (SG/SF) — Being with Steve Nash can't be all that bad.
Marcin Gortat (C) — Could vie for the starting center job.
Mickael Pietrus (SG/SF) — Solid defender and 3-point shooter.

Third, for Washington, is the one-for-one trade with Orlando.
Rashard Lewis (SF/PF) — I wouldn't expect much outside of 3s.

There are plenty of opinions on how it will affect the players traded and how it will affect what's left on the rosters of the three teams involved. So here's half a Fantasy Dime, a Fantasy Nickel if you will, to give you all the angles of the trade.






With the news that point guard Brandon Jennings will be out 4-6 weeks with foot surgery, Keyon Dooling is expected to step in. The 10th overall pick in the 2000 draft, Dooling has played just 17.3 minutes per games this season, scoring 5.2 a game on .356 from the field, .310 from beyond the arc and .864 from the line. He averages two assists and one rebound. For his career, Dooling averages 19:30 minutes per game, 7.1 points and 2.2 assists. On top of that, the Bucks are the worst scoring team in the league at 91.6 points per game. So keep the Bucks' scoring woes and Dooling's career averages in mind before you run out to the waiver wire and add him.

Anderson Varejao
was the fourth-best player in nine-category leagues. In four games, the Cleveland forward-center averaged 37 minutes and 15.7 points while shooting .563 from the field and .917 from the stripe. He also posted 12.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.7 assists and a steal over the last week. He is still available in 33 percent of Yahoo leagues. The Cavs play three games this week.

Ty Lawson
was the 12th-best player in nine category leagues last week as he filled in for starting Denver point guard Chauncey Billups. While Billups is expected to return midweek, Lawson should still be a safe play this week. He is still available in 74 percent of Yahoo leagues, and if you have a deep enough bench he is certainly worth holding on to. Lawson averaged over 35 minutes in four games over the last week, scoring 18 points per game with 7.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and just 1.0 turnovers. The Nuggets play three games this week against San Antonio, Oklahoma City and a resurgent Philadelphia, so they will need all the offense they can get.

Kyle Lowry
has filled in nicely for Aaron Brooks at the starting point guard spot for Houston. Lowry was the 13th-best nine-category player last week. He averaged over 33 minutes during the four-game stretch, scoring 14.3 points, dishing out 9.3 assists, collecting 2.8 steals and dropping in 1.8 3-pointers a game. Brooks returned to action Dec. 19 and will eventually resume his starting role. The Rockets have just two games left this week, so using either Lowry or Brooks is not suggested if you have better options. But keep an eye on Lowry, available in 44 percent of Yahoo leagues. He has started 19 of 23 games for the Rockets this season for Brooks who has been out since Nov. 6 with an ankle injury. Houston was 0-5 with Brooks as a starter.

Reggie Williams
posted the 23rd-best nine-category week in three games played for Golden State. The guard-forward played over 38 minutes a game, averaging 20.3 points on 3.0 3-pointers a game with 5.3 boards and 3.7 assists. WIlliams also shot .538 from the field and .714 from the stripe. He is still available in 51 percent of Yahoo leagues for a Warriors team that has three games this week — two at their home court against Houston and Portland and one that might as well be when they travel to Sacramento Dec. 21.

Washington's Kirk Hinrich, who has eligibility as a point and shooting guard in both Yahoo and ESPN leagues, is available in 51 percent of Yahoo leagues and 59 of ESPN leagues. The time to go snag Hinrich is now if you haven't already. Constant injuries to rookie guard John Wall, along with his dual eligibility, should have had Hinrich on your roster weeks ago. But now with Wall out indefinitely due to a knee injury and Gilbert Arenas traded away, the minutes are going to continue to be there for Hinrich. He is scoring 10.6 a game on .447 from the field and .850 from the free throw line to go along withh 4.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals.

Mehmet Okur
has returned from his Achilles injury, but the Utah Jazz are easing him into the rotation. In his two games back, the center has logged 11 and 13 minutes. He averages 29 minutes, 13.8 points, 7.1 boards, 1.7 assists for his career, but it is not known how he will be used in the Jazz frontcourt. The acquisition of Al Jefferson in the offseason and the play of Paul Milsap gives Utah a formidable starting inside presence as it is. But solid centers are scarce in fantasy basketball, whether they are coming off the bench or not. Monitor Okur's progress. He is available in 89 percent of ESPN leagues and 60 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Robin Lopez
also returned from injury for the Phoenix Suns. He missed 14 games with a sprained MCL and PCL. Lopez has company in the form of Channing Frye and the newly acquired Marcin Gortat at the center spot for the Suns. Lopez was averaging under 20 minutes prior to the injury, but has played no less than 21:52 in his three games back. He is available in 47 of Yahoo and 78 of ESPN leagues, so like Okur, monitor how he, Frye and Gortat work for Alvin Gentry's Phoenix squad.

Marcus Thornton
was supposed to be a nice sleeper for the New Orleans Hornets this season. Then Marco Belinelli earned the starting 2 guard spot to start the year, the Hornets went on a winning tear and Thornton seemed lost in the mix for the first quarter of the season. But he started to turn it on last week — scoring 19 points and playing nearly 24 minutes on back-to-back occasions. He cooled off Dec. 19 with three points in 13 minutes played in a close loss to Detroit. Thornton can be the occasional spark off the bench, which is where he has been all season, but that spark has also seen 10 occasions in which he saw no minutes and eight others where he didn't register at least 12 minutes of action. He's another monitor and hope that he lives up to his potential as the season wares on.

You'd never sit him unless you have better options or in a one-center league, but I just need a place to overreact about the underperforming Marc Gasol. I drafted Gasol as my first center in a two-center league in the fourth round of the Athlon Sports draft. I was so secure that he would follow up his 2009-10 season of 28 double-doubles that I felt confident that the only legitimate frontcourt partner he would need was JaVale McGee. I took a flier on McGee in the eighth round, not expecting him to be the dependable one — 9.6 points, 8.4 boards and 2.4 blocks. Gasol is averaging 11.6 points 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and has just four double-doubles. He has shot .273, .125, .333 and .250 from the field in the last four games. In the month of December alone last season, Gasol averaged 14.5 points and 10.1 boards. McGee has seven double-doubles already this season, shoots a higher percentage from the field and has turned it over 18 fewer times. I'm not giving up on Gasol, but they are not the numbers I expected from a player I thought was going to raise his game to another level this season.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter to ask any questions or make any comments

Post date: Monday, December 20, 2010 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-western-conference-notes/elite-pgs-face-again

The Miami Heat visiting the New York Knicks tonight will grab the headlines, but the highlight matchup of the night will be that of Deron Williams and Chris Paul.

When Paul's New Orleans Hornets play host to the Utah Jazz and Williams it will be the 16th meeting between the two point guards, drafted third and fourth overall in 2005. Williams, who was the No. 3 pick, has seen his team win 12 of the 15 meetings, but the two have matched up statistically in those 15 games.

Williams averages 17.1 points per meeting on .546 shooting from the field and .488 from 3-point range, to go along with 8.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds. He has recorded at least 10 assists in 10 of the last 11 meetings, and grabbed four consecutive double-doubles when facing Paul.

Paul scores 15.7 points on .416 shooting from the field, .222 from beyond the arc to go with 8.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds per meeting.

Williams is currently sporting a five-game streak of 20-plus points and has scored 30-plus in his last three outings. He is averaging 28.9 points in 52-percent shooting from the field and nine assists in his last five games.

Paul, who scored his 7,000th career point Dec. 10, has scored 20 in two of his last three and in double digits in all but three of the team's 25 games this season, made 56 of his last 58 free throws and is the only player in the NBA season to have eight games with five or more steals.

This will be the second meeting between the two teams this season. Utah won 105-87 in Salt Lake on Nov. 24. Williams had 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting (4-of-5 from 3-point range and 4-of-4 from the line) to go along with 11 assists, five steals and three boards. Paul had 17 points with one 3-pointer on 4-of-8 shooting with nine assists, five steals and three rebounds.

Unfortunately, it is just the matchup of these two teammates that won gold while playing for Team USA squad at the 2008 Olympics — and perhaps the limited minutes return of Utah's Mehmet Okur — that makes this one interesting to watch. The Hornets have won just four times to seven losses since the first meeting, while Utah has won seven of 10 since the Nov. 24 victory.

DALLAS: The Mavericks’ defense has been a huge key to their success this season, but scoring 100-plus has certainly helped. With a 103-98 victory over Portland on Dec. 15, Dallas improved to 13-0 on the year when recording 100-plus points in a game. In the 13 wins, Dallas has shot .492 from the floor, .360 from 3-point range and .811 from the line. The Mavs have held their opponents to an average of 94.9 points and .440 shooting in those 13 100-point efforts. The Mavs were 35-7 (.833) when they scored at least 100 points in a game last season. Only six opponents have recorded 100-plus points against Dallas this season. Dallas is 4-2 in those games.

HOUSTON: With a 118-105 win vs. Sacramento Dec. 14, Houston became winners of its last six home games. The Rockets have now put together a home winning streak of at least six games in each of the past five seasons. It stands as Houston’s best run since accomplishing a similar feat from 1996-97 through 2000-01. Houston's win over Sacramento moved it to 5-1 this season when scoring 100 or more points at home. Overall, the Rockets stand at 107-15 (.877) all-time in games when they hit the century mark at Toyota Center.
Forward Rasual Butler played in his 190th straight game on Dec. 15 in Philadelphia. Since the start of the 2008-09 season, Butler is one of just e NBA players to appear in every possible regular season game possible, joining Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook, O.J. Mayo and Jarrett Jack.

L.A. LAKERS: Kobe Bryant, whose Lakers play in Philadelphia Friday, has played 26 games (22 starts) against his hometown Sixers, averaging 22.8 points per game.  In January of 2006 against Philadelphia, Bryant established a new franchise record for 3-point field goals without a miss, connecting on all seven of his attempts (10th time in NBA history with a minimum of seven attempts). He finished the game with 48 points, one shy of Jerry West’s Lakers series record of 49 points established in February of 1968.  Additionally, Bryant earned the first of his two MVP honors at the 2002 All-Star Game held in Philadelphia.

MEMPHIS: When Zach Randolph goes for at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, everything seems to come together for the Grizzlies. With Randolph averaging 23.6 points and 15.1 rebounds on .588 shooting in his seven 20-10 games, the Grizzlies are 6-1 (compared to a 6-13 mark otherwise). All-time, the Grizzlies are 31-16 when Randolph scores 20-plus points and snares 10-plus boards. He has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in four of his 10 NBA seasons, including last year with Memphis (20.8 points, 11.7 rebounds) in his first All-Star berth. Randolph has gone off for at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game twice this season and has passed Shareef Abdur-Rahim for the most 20-20 games in Grizzlies history (four) with his six career 20-2 performances.

OKLAHOMA CITY: The Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook tandem is currently the highest scoring duo in the league, averaging 50.8 points per game (Bryant and Pau Gasol of the L.A. Lakers rank second with a 46.5 point per game average). If both players were to hit the 24-plus point per game scoring clip at season’s end, Durant and Westbrook would join some elite company. In the last 10 years only the duo of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson in Denver (2006-07) and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in Los Angeles (three seasons; 2000-02) have each finished the season averaging 24-plus points.

PHOENIX: The Suns have used six different starting lineup through 24 games this season after using eight in 82 games last season. So it might not come as a surprise that the Phoenix bench has scored 23 or more points in every game this season. The Suns last opened a season with 24 straight 23-point bench efforts during the 1996-97 campaign (29 straight); the franchise record is 42 during the 1994-95 season.

PORTLAND: Every player to start a game for the Trail Blazers this season has recorded at least one double-double. At least two different players have recorded a double-double in five games this season — LaMarcus Aldridge (9) and Marcus Camby (7).

SACRAMENTO: Kings radio play-by-play announcer Gary Gerould called his 2,000th Kings game on Dec. 8 when the Kings played host to Washington. Gerould has been the “Voice of the Kings” since the team arrived in Sacramento (1985) and is among the top five in longevity among NBA broadcasters.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Friday, December 17, 2010 - 18:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-eastern-conference-notes/it-takes-formula

In the Milwaukee Bucks' 10 wins this season there has been a consistent formula.

At least one player has 15 points, five rebounds and five assists or blocks. Brandon Jennings leads the team with six of these games, Andrew Bogut and John Salmons each have two, and Ersan Ilyasova has chipped in with one. In Monday's win that snapped Dallas' 12-game winning streak, Jennings had his fourth double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 assists, and he grabbed five rebounds.  

Of note on ending the Mavs' streak, it is the fifth time in Bucks history that they have ended a run of at least 12 wins. The most famous instance came when Milwaukee ended the Lakers' NBA-record 33-game winning streak on Jan. 9, 1972. The Bucks also ended 12-plus game streaks by the Celtics (1973, 12), 76ers (1983, 14) and Spurs (2007, 13).

ATLANTA: Josh Smith is seventh in the NBA in blocks per game (2.19), and third in total blocks (57). He already has five games with five or more blocks — the Hawks are 5-0 in those games — after recording just four such games last season. Atlanta is 13-3 this season when he records multiple blocks in a game.

CHARLOTTE: The Bobcats enter Wednesday's game with Memphis with a franchise record of 197-319 through 516 games. Charlotte is four shy of reaching 200. Of the seven expansion teams since 1988, the Bobcats have a chance to be the second-fastest to 200 wins, behind only the Magic, who reached the mark in their 460th game.

CHICAGO: Derrick Rose is currently the only player in the NBA who is averaging 25 points and eight assists per games this season. Last season, Rose was the first Bull to average at least 20 points and six assists since 1991-92, when Michael Jordan (30.1 and 6.1) and Scottie Pippen (21 and 7) each posted those averages.

CLEVELAND: The Cavaliers rank No. 1 in the NBA in bench scoring, averaging 43 points per game. Cleveland's bench has outscored its opponents in all but eight games this season. On the year, the Cavs bench has outscored their opponents 43-32.9 per game.

DETROIT: Pistons rookie center/forward Greg Monroe started his first career NBA game in Minnesota Dec. 10 and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds. The last time a Pistons rookie grabbed 15 rebounds was Nov. 15, 1995 when Theo Ratliff pulled down 15 against Seattle.   

INDIANA: In his first 16 games of the 2010-11 season, Mike Dunleavy blocked just six shots and no more than one in any outing. In the last six games, however, Dunleavy has rejected nine shots and blocked two in four of the last six games.

MIAMI: The Heat are in the midst of a nine-game winning streak, their longest of the season. It's the longest streak for the franchise since winning nine straight from March 20-April 7, 2010. Miami has won all nine by double digits, besting its previous streak of six straight double-digit wins that came Feb. 11-Feb. 23, 1999. The last NBA team to record nine straight double-digit wins was Cleveland (Nov. 22-Dec. 9, 2008). The Heat's current streak of 10-plus-point wins is one shy of the NBA record. That record is held by Houston (2007-08), New Jersey (2003-04) and Washington (1946-47).

NEW JERSEY: Anthony Morrow had made a 3-pointer in 21 straight games before Tuesday night. The sharphsooter played just 33 seconds in New Jersey's loss to Philadelphia and did not get a shot off. He strained his hamstring and will reportedly be out 2-3 weeks. Only two other Nets have ever had a streak of at least 20 games in which they made a 3-point field goal (Jason Kidd and Kerry Kittles).

PHILADELPHIA: Despite a record of 9-15, the Sixers have actually scored 12 more points than the opposition this season and have 55 more field goals made but 103 fewer free throws made. Philadelphia, Indiana and Houston are currently the only teams with losing records that have a positive scoring margin.

TORONTO: Through 25 games, the Raptors' offense ranks eighth in the league in scoring (102.4) while shooting .465 (965-of-2,076) from the field. Fast-break points have played a major part of Toronto’s offense, as they rank first in the league at 19.8 points, accounting for 19.3 per cent of Raptor points.

WASHINGTON: Through the first 23 games of the season, JaVale McGee is averaging career highs in points (10.1), rebounds (8.5) and blocks per game (2.3). McGee has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in nine games this season and has blocked at least one shot in 21 of 23 games played. The third-year center has posted seven double-doubles on the season. McGee ranks second in the NBA in games with four or more blocks with six.


Post date: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - 16:51
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/east-finally-top

Well, it only took until the first quarter of the season was over plus an additional week for the Eastern Conference to finally place a team atop the Athlon Sports Power Rankings.

And it just so happens to be the new hottest team in the NBA as the Boston Celtics, winners of 10 in a row, assume the No. 1 ranking for Week 8. Dallas, the previous No. 1, had its 12-game winning streak snapped Monday night against visiting Milwaukee. The Mavericks slip to the No. 2 spot with their 19-5 mark, four of those losses coming on their home court.

The 19-4 Celtics put their top ranking up against the Eastern Conference's second-best team over the last 10 games when they travel to Madison Square Garden Wednesday night to take on the New York Knicks.

The tenth-ranked Knicks are riding an eight-game winning streak and have lost just once since Nov. 16. That is where their season took a turn for the better. After a 3-8 start to the season, including a six-game losing streak that ended Nov. 17, New York has reeled off 13 wins at an average of 114.4 points per game. Defense is still a question mark as the Knicks have surrendered 107.2 points per game during the 13 wins.

Meanwhile, the Celtics are scoring 100.7 points per game during the 10-game winning streak while allowing just 86.1. Only twice during the 10 games has Boston surrendered over 100 points — 101 to Philadelphia and Toronto.

So it should be a classic matchup of offense versus defense. Boston did score a 105-101 victory when the two teams met Oct. 29. New York has been idle since Sunday's 129-125 home win over Denver, while the Celtics have been off since defeating Charlotte 93-62 on Friday.

There's no reprieve for the Knicks after Boston leaves the Garden as the No. 4 Miami Heat arrive there for a Friday tilt. The Heat are also 9-1 over their last 10 games. The blowout in LeBron James' return to Cleveland certainly seems to have sparked this team as it is in the midst of a nine-game winning streak and has won by an average of 15 points in the six games since the 28-point victory over Cleveland. The Heat will welcome LeBron's former team into Miami on Wednesday before traveling to New York for Friday's game.

The only other matchup of top 10 teams from this week's Athlon Sports Power Rankings comes on Monday when Miami plays host to Dallas. The Mavericks are the last team to defeat the Heat, scoring a 106-95 win in Dallas Nov. 27.

There are four games between teams on the fringe of the top 10 against those inside the top 10.

No. 11 Atlanta, 5-2 since Joe Johnson went out with an elbow injury to start the month, travels to Boston on Thursday. The Hawks also play host to No. 9 Orlando Monday. This will be the third meeting of the season between the Southeast Division rivals; they split the first two.

Orlando, 6-4 in its last 10 games, travels to take on No. 12 Denver, 7-3 in its last 10, tonight on NBATV.  Denver plays host to No. 3 San Antonio, 8-2 in its last 10, on Thursday.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 - 14:15
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-fantasy-dime/splitting-time-not-all-bad

There are many ways to play fantasy basketball — rotisserie, head to head, lineups that can be changed any time and lineups that lock just prior to Monday night’s tip. With that in mind, Athlon Sports will give you the Fantasy Dime each week. These are 10 things to assist you before you have to lock in that lineup for the week.


Last week I wrote of Nicolas Batum being the sleeper pick for the Blazers this season. He was until Wesley Matthews unseated him as the starter in Portland. Now it is Matthews who has clearly placed Batum on the backburner. Batum had four straight games in double digits before sputtering the last two. Meanwhile, Matthews has been the seventh-ranked player in nine-category leagues over the last week and 12th-ranked over the last two weeks. Matthews, over the last week (four games) averaged 35:45 a game, scoring 19.3 points on 2.3 3-pointers a game to go with 2.5, rebounds, assists and steals per game. Portland plays four games this week, and Matthews is available in 39 percent of Yahoo leagues.


Again, back to last week, I wrote of Brandon Rush's surge for the Indiana Pacers in the place of Mike Dunleavy as a starter. Well, starter or not, Dunleavy is still a must play. The Pacers' shooting guard/small forward is Yahoo's 14th-ranked player over the last seven days in a nine-cat and 35th over the last two weeks. Dunleavy averaged 32:15 over a four-game stretch last week, scoring 12.8 points a game with 2.3 3s per contest to go along with 6.5 boards, 2.8 assists, 1.3 blocks and a steal. He does this while shooting .543 from the field and .800 from the stripe. The Pacers play four games this week, albeit against some tough defenses like Chicago, the Lakers and Boston, but Dunleavy should still be in play. Rush is still a solid play, too.


Serge Ibaka, one of the potential breakouts in the paint this season, is starting to play like it consistently. He was the 18th-ranked nine-cat Yahoo player over the last week and 17th over the last two. Ibaka averaged 26:45 over a four-game span last week, scoring 8.5 points on .640 shooting from the field and being perfect from the line. The forward-center also added five boards and 3.5 blocks last week. The Thunder only have three games this week, but they are against defensively challenged teams like Houston, Sacramento and Phoenix.


Nene is playing up to his average draft position of 37 so far. He was the 16th-best player over the last week and seventh over the last two in Yahoo nine-category leagues. In four games last week, the center averaged 35:15 a game with 19 points and 6.8 boards and two assists. He should continue to flourish in the absence of Kenyon Martin and with Chris Andersen nursing another injury. Shooting percentages of .676 from the field and .813 from the free throw line aren't too shabby, either.


Luke Ridnour has certainly benefited from Jonny Flynn's inability to get back in the Minnesota lineup (hip). Ridnour entered the draft season with an ADP of 138 and has been the 23rd-best player over the last week and 32nd over the last two in Yahoo nine-cats. In four games last week, the point guard scored 12.5 points a game, dished out 7.8 assists with 1.3 steals and rebounds in 32:45 of action a game. He also shot .559 from the field and .833 from the stripe. He recorded the Timberwolves' first 10-assist game of the season on Friday night. The Wolves play four games this week against four defensively challenged teams — Golden State, Phoenix, Portland and Denver — and he should be a good play this week.


Ty Lawson has been a good multi-category player while starter Chauncey Billups struggles for the Nuggets. Since the start of the month, Lawson has averaged almost 22 minutes over seven games. He is scoring 9.4 points on .571 shooting from the field with 3.7 assists, 2.3 boards and 1.0 steals during those seven games. Billups is averaging 33:06 per game during the seven December games, but the fast-paced Nuggets are certainly finding time for Lawson to be productive.


Tyreke Evans is expected to miss the next three games for the Sacramento Kings due to plantar fasciitis. The guard has been trying to battle through injuries this season, but will wisely get some rest as there are still 50-plus games to go in the regular season. Point guard Pooh Jeter, a rookie, has started to see more time. He's played double-digit minutes the last five games, scoring in double digits three times while averaging four assists, 2.6 rebounds and 0.8 steals during that time. The Kings play Houston twice along with New Orleans and Oklahoma City this week. Point guards are scarce in most leagues, so give Jeter a shot.


Indiana's Danny Granger (sprained ankle) is a game-time decision for Monday's game against Chicago. The Pacers also play the Lakers, Cavaliers and Celtics this week. Brandon Rush will certainly be a good play if Granger's out on Monday and for any other games he may miss. Of course, over the last seven days it isn't like Granger has been playing up to his pre-draft ranking of eighth overall. He is shooting .388 from the field the last seven days, scoring 19.8 points a game with 1.5 3s, 4.5 boards and 32.8 assists and a steal a game. But that is just a week. Granger is the 25th-best player in Yahoo's nine-cat leagues for the entire season.


If there is a player performing right at where he was projected too it is Atlanta's Jamal Crawford. His pre-draft rank was 79th and that is exactly where he is at for the season. However, with Joe Johnson (elbow) sidelined for the next month or so, the Hawk guard turned into the 15th-best Yahoo player over the last week. The reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year averaged 33:15 over four games last week, scored 22.3 points a game with 1.8 3s, 3.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. is .471 from the field and .857 from the stripe certainly don't hurt.


It seems like there is always a Sixer du jour this season. This time it is shooting guard Jodie Meeks. The second-year player has played in 15 games this season, the last five as a starter. As a starter, Meeks is averaging 31:11 per game, scoring 15.6 points with 3.4 3s made. He is shooting 50 percent from the field, .586 from beyond the arc and .786 from the stripe. He gives you points, 3s made and high percentages. Anything else is a bonus with just 1.4 boards, 0.4 assists and steals. But play him while he's the starter and reap the good categories he gives you.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Monday, December 13, 2010 - 15:13
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-western-conference-notes/western-conference-after-quarter

The 2010-11 NBA regular season hit its quarter mark this week. So it's time to take a look at where each conference stands 20 games in. Below is a breakdown of the Western Conference's frontrunners for MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, team-by-team MVPs, top rookies and an Athlon's Take on each team. Also check out Athlon's Eastern Conference first-quarter report.

Pau Gasol — F/C, LA Lakers
Playing on a bad hamstring, Gasol is tied for second in the league with 15 double-doubles, including 12 in the first 15 games — one more rebound against Golden State would have made it 13. He is among the top 10 in the league in offensive and defensive rebounds, blocks, minutes per game, and player efficiency rating (PER).

Manu Ginobli — SG, San Antonio Spurs
A nine-year veteran, Ginobli has helped the Spurs became a prolific scoring team unlike anything seen out of San Antonio over the last decade. He is the clutch player for the Spurs and has seen many of his numbers go up against those of his career averages.

Dirk Nowitzki — F, Dallas Mavericks
Thirteen years in and he is shooting the best he has in his career — .553 percent from the field, which is 7.8 percentage points higher than his career average. He is scoring 1.9 points per game above his average and has the Mavericks on a nine-game winning streak and as the No. 2 seed through Dec. 6.

Chris Paul — PG, New Orleans Hornets
He is healthy and a healthy Paul means a Paul in the running for the MVP race. The five-year vet is the league's top player in PER and helped get the Hornets off to an 8-0 start. They have stumbled to 5-7 since then, but Paul keeps on trucking, averaging 15.6 points on .469 shooting from the field and 10.4 assists the last 12 games.

Russell Westbrook — PG, Oklahoma City
Maybe he's here because Kevin Durant has been battling injuries, or maybe it's because Westbrook has really established himself as one of the NBA's top point guards. Either way, through the first quarter of the season the second-year player has proven those wrong who thought he was selected too high as the fourth overall pick. He's No. 2 in PER behind Paul and in the top five in minutes, points, assists and steals.

Deron Williams — PG, Utah
Has seen his numbers exceed those of his career in almost every category this year. Williams' takes, makes, percentages, offensive boards, defensive boards, assists, steals and points are all up against those of his previous five years.

Blake Griffin — F/C, LA Clippers
After missing last season with a knee injury, Griffin has taken to the court like a mad man. The rookie from Oklahoma has logged the eighth-most minutes (792), made the sixth-most field goal attempts (173) on the 16th-most attempts (334) to be 14th in total points (445). Griffin has made it to the free throw line a seventh-best 173 times and made a 19th-best 99 of them. He is among the tops in rebounding — second in offensive (86) and fourth in defensive (173) boards. And if spectacular dunks were stats, he'd probably be leading that, too.

If a ball comes off the rim or off the glass, get out of the way, teammates included. Case in point: His 259 rebounds is 55 less than the rest of the starting five currently out there, and his 173 offensive rebounds is 70 more than the rest of the current starting five.

Tyson Chandler — C, Dallas
On his fourth different team since entering the league as the No. 2 overall pick in 2001, Chandler is having a career year, registering the third-best defensive rating in the league. He is grabbing 1.2 more rebounds against his 5.7 defensive rebounds a game career average and maintaining his career average of 1.4 blocks a game. He helps lead a Mavericks defense that allows a Western Conference-best 92.2 points per game and second-best .431 shooting percentage from opponents.

Quarter mark through Monday, Dec. 6

Dallas: 16-4, 2nd in the Southwest Division
MVP: Dirk Nowitzki, PF. The 7-footer continues to lead the way for the Mavericks. He is third in field goals made (192), 11th in attempts (347) and 11th in shooting percentage (.553). He is the league's fifth-best scorer (24.9 ppg) and has the seventh-best PER (24.6).
Top Rookie: Dominique Jones, G, South Florida. The first-round pick has appeared in nine games, but has contributed next to nothing.
Athlon's Take: The Mavericks rode a nine-game win streak into the week. They have beaten almost every contender in the West, and have done so on the road as part of an 8-1 mark. The only contender the Mavs have not faced is the Lakers, which won't happen until Jan. 19 in Dallas. The Mavericks have done all of this by using the fourth-best defense (92.2 ppg) to counter the 18th-best offense (98.1).

Denver: 13-6, 2nd in the Northwest Division
MVP: Carmelo Anthony, F. Despite all the rumors swirling around if, or when, he will leave Denver, Anthony is averaging 22.8 points on .432 shooting from the field, .835 from the stripe along with 8.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. He is the NBA's 10th-best scorer per game (22.8), gets to the line 11th-most (145) in the league and makes the 10th most (121).
Top Rookie: Gary Forbes, G/F, UMass. The 2007-08 A-10 Player of the Year bounced around professionally the last three summers before ultimately landing a spot in the Nuggets training camp. He has turned that opportunity into action in 16 of the team's 19 games, including two starts. He is averaging 12:35 a game, scoring 6.3 points on 41-of-80 shooting. with 2.0 rebounds and 0.6 assists a game.
Athlon's Take: The first three weeks of the season had its ups and downs as the Nuggets went 6-6. Over the last two weeks, however, Denver had not lost a game in seven outings leading up to Dec. 7. If Anthony can stay through this season and the frontcourt eventually gets healthy, the Nuggets could put a scare into some teams in the West. Production similar to that of the first quarter of the season should be expected come the halfway point for the Nuggets.

Golden State: 8-12, 3rd in the Pacific Division
MVP: Monta Ellis, G. It's a tough call between guards Stephen Curry and Ellis, who can score in bunches at a .486 clip, can assist, rebound, steal and plays injured. Ellis will get the MVP nod through the first quarter of the season, but it could just as easily be Curry come the halfway point.
Top Rookie: Jeff Adrien, SF, UConn. The undrafted Adrien saw 4:46 of action over the first eight games, but has turned that into 11:24 per game over the last 12 contests. He narrowly missed a double-double when he had nine points and 10 rebounds against the Lakers on Nov. 21.
Athlon's Take: The Warriors started the season 6-2 with free-agent acquisition David Lee. Then a collision with Wilson Chandler's mouth on Nov. 10 in New York turned out to be an infection in his elbow and Lee was out the next eight games. The Warriors promptly lost seven of those eight before Lee's return n Nov. 27. The post player has no double-doubles since his return, whereas he had six before the injury. There are playmakers on the squad with Lee, Ellis and Curry and Dorell Wright is emerging. But the team does not play defense and that usually won't cut it in a seven-game series.

Houston: 7-13, 5th in the Southwest Division
MVP: Luis Scola, F/C. Scola has improved almost everywhere for the Rockets as compared to a year ago. His scoring (20.3), rebounding (8.7), assists (2.2), blocks (0.7) are all up, while his shooting percentages are down — granted he is taking 2.6 more attempts from the field and 2.8 more attempts from the line a game than he was last season.
Top Rookie: Ishmael Smith, PG, Wake Forest. The undrafted point guard has played in 20 games, starting three of them when both Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry were injured. He is averaging a little over 14 minutes a game with 2.6 assists, 1.6 rebounds, 0.6 steals and 3.3 ppg.
Athlon's Take: As the season began, the Rockets were the "best worst" team in the league after an 0-5 start. They lost to the Lakers, Warriors, Nuggets, Hornets and Spurs by an average of six points before defeating Minnesota by 26 for their first win. Then Houston went through a stretch where it was just a bad team, losing seven of its next 11 to close out November. The Rockets kicked off December with wins over the Lakers, Grizzlies and an OT loss in Chicago. They have battled injuries at the point (Aaron Brooks) and center (Yao Ming) and might suffer the same fate as the Warriors. They are a team that can get it done offensively, but probably don't have the defensive abilities or personnel in the paint to go very far.

L.A. Clippers: 5-17, 4th in the Pacific Division
MVP: See top of the story for all things Griffin.
Top Rookie: Different verse. Same as the first. See top of the story.
Athlon's Take: The Clippers, despite the performances of Griffin and Eric Gordon and the emergence of rookie guard Eric Bledsoe, are a terrible team. They are 22nd in scoring (97.3 ppg) and 23rd in defense (103.5). What you will see if you tune in or attend is a great performance by Griffin and the two Erics conducting the show. There's the chance for a nucleus to be built here, perhaps better than many in years past, but until the Clippers' brass proves it can produce a winner, we will have to say same ol' Clips.

L.A. Lakers: 14-6, 1st in the Pacific Division
MVP: Pau Gasol, PF/C. During the Lakers' 13-2 start that carried them to Thanksgiving, Gasol recorded a double-double in 12 of those games and was one rebound off in another. As banged up as the Laker frontcourt has been, Gasol himself included, with a nagging hamstring, the 7-foot Spainard has been the glue that's kept the ship together. Kobe Bryant scores, it's what he does. But Gasol does that and a lot more.
Top Rookie: Derrick Caracter, PF/C, UTEP. The second-round pick has benefited from the injuries to the Laker frontcourt and seen action in 17 of 20 games. He has not done much with the court time, but it should prove as a valuable learning experience considering the track record of health in the L.A. frontcourt and the need for big men to win a title.
Athlon's Take: How bad is the Pacific Division? So bad that the Lakers can go on a four-game losing streak to end November and still maintain a three-game lead on first place. Granted, an eight-game winning streak to open the season followed by a five-gamer helped build the lead. Injuries to their frontcourt, namely Andrew Bynum and Theo Ratliff, have hurt the Lakers. Gasol and Lamar Odom have battled through nagging injuries as well. There's no doubt that, when fully healthy, the Lakers should be the team to beat in the West. But to note is the four-game losing streak and the fact that no Phil Jackson-coached team has had a four-game skid turn into a championship year. It's happened to the 11-time champion on 11 occasions.

Memphis: 8-14, 4th in the Southwest Division
MVP: Rudy Gay, F. Like Amar'e Stoudemire who signed a max contract for New York when many thought that might have been an economic no-no, Gay has joined Stoudemire in proving his worth. His scoring (21.6), rebounds (6.5), assists (2.6), steals (1.4), blocks (1.3) field goal percentage (.483), 3-point percentage (.408) and free-throw percentage (.833) are all well above career averages. He's also the league leader in minutes played at 892 — a full game and five minutes ahead of second-place Raymond Felton of New York.
Top Rookie: Xavier Henry, SG, Kansas. The first round pick had to be ecstatic that he was averaging just over 13 minutes a game through the first 11 games of the year. But he must have been through the roof when coach Lionel Hollins decided to start him over O.J. Mayo at the 2-guard for the last nine games. He hasn't necessarily dazzled, but he did log a career-high 27:29 of action Dec. 5 and turned that into his best scoring night (17) and assist night (3).
Athlon's Take: The Grizzlies are too inconsistent to be the Oklahoma City of this year. It certainly doesn't help that they are in the Southwest Division where Dallas and San Antonio have decided to try and prove they are the best in the league this year, New Orleans can win in bunches and Houston is always dangerous. Losing streaks of three, four and five through just the first quarter of the season won't get you in the playoffs. For comparison, the Thunder had three three-game skids last season — one each of the first three quarters of the season — not three in the first quarter alone.

Minnesota: 5-16, 5th in the Northwest Division
MVP: Kevin Love, PF/C. To think the season began with a mere 11-point, 10-rebound night for double-double No. 1 of the 2010-11 campaign. Since then, Love has 15 double-doubles, including the last seven straight games through Dec. 6. Lines like 23 and 24, 31 and 31, 32 and 22 and 21 and 22 have peppered the box scores for Love this season. Needless to say, he is the league's leading rebounder — 62 ahead of Blake Griffin. Love gets to the line 13th-best in the league (132) and makes a 12th-best 118 of them. He's also the 18th best scorer at 421 points. To make things even tougher on opponents, he is 8-of-13 from 3-point range in the last two games.
Top Rookie: Wes Johnson, G/F, Syracuse. The fourth overall pick needed just four games before he got into the starting lineup. Oddly enough, he was better on average in the four games as a reserve. He shoots .428 from the field, is averaging 9.3 points, 3.3 boards, 2.0 assists, 0.7 blocks and 0.4 steals in 28:30 per game.
Athlon's Take: Only once have the Timberwolves won consecutive games (Nov. 10 and 12 vs. Sacramento and New York) this season. Two six-game losing streaks have already occurred. They are eighth in in scoring (102.3 ppg) but 29th in defense (109.3). As of the quarter mark of the season, six players were on the injury report, including point guard Jonny Flynn, who has yet to play. On the uptick, the play of Michael Beasley and Darko Milicic has been a pleasant surprise to go along with Love's tremendous stat lines. It's a nucleus to build on, but in the Western Conference you have to build quick.

New Orleans: 13-7, 3rd in the Southwest Division
MVP: Chris Paul, PG. Back from an injury-plagued 2009-10 season, Paul is among the league leaders in PER (first at 27.0), steals (first with 60), assists (third with 207), 3-point percentage (eighth at .489) and free-throw percentage (10th at .903).
Top Rookie: Quincy Poindexter, SF, Washington. The first round pick has played in 13 games, averaging just under 10 minutes a contest with 3.2 points on .486 shooting from the field and .800 from the stripe to go along with 1.4 boards per game.
Athlon's Take: Everyone seems to want to burn the Hornets for their quick start and eventual flame out. Like the Lakers, New Orleans started the season 8-0. Unlike the Lakers, it was not expected. The eight teams the Hornets defeated have combined for 79 wins as of Dec. 6, while the eight teams the Lakers defeated have 60 wins. It took until Nov. 19 — 11 games in — for a team to score 100 against the Hornets. It took one game for that to happen to the Lakers and happened five times during their first eight games. Point being, the Hornets can build on their defensive efforts which are fifth-best in the league (92.7 ppg). It's offensively where New Orleans is going to have to find production — 94.9 a game won't get it done. The Hornets have scored over 100 just five times themselves this season and are mired in a 5-7 slump since the winning streak ended.

Oklahoma City: 14-8, 3rd in the Northwest Division
MVP: Russell Westbrook, PG. It's tough to push the league's top scorer (27.4), Kevin Durant, over for a bit but that's exactly what Westbrook has done with his contributions to the Thunder. He's No. 2 in PER at 25.2 with some spectacular numbers. The second-year man has logged the fourth-most minutes (823), points (521) and assists (190), third-most field goal attempts (394), seventh-most makes (172), third-most free throw attempts (196), is first in makes (171) and second in steals (49). It's a good thing the Thunder have a young point guard that can produce like this while Durant battles knee and ankle injuries, and it keeps OKC in the conversation of having one of the top PGs in the league.
Top Rookie: Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas. The No. 11 overall pick is the only rookie on the roster. He has already done a stint in the D-League and has appeared in just five games for the Thunder — 11 rebounds and five points.
Athlon's Take: An up-and-down first 10 days drew quick criticisms that maybe we were too high on the Thunder after just a 3-3 start. They were the eight seed last year, not the one. But OKC started acting like a top seed from Nov. 10 through Nov. 30. The Thunder reeled off a 9-3 mark in that time. They have settled back down with a 2-2 mark so far in December. OKC is in a tough division with the Jazz and Nuggets as well as tough outs in Minnesota and Portland. The rise from the eighth seed to actually hosting a series may be a stretch, but signature road wins at Boston and Utah have shown this young group can get it done on away from home. The 22nd-ranked defense (103.4 ppg) will have to improve.

Phoenix: 11-9, 2nd in the Pacific Division.
MVP: Steve Nash, PG. Is it any surprise the the former 2005 and 2006 NBA MVP is still the one that makes this team run? He still dishes out the assists — 10.4 per game for second-best in the league — scores 18.2 a game on .504 shooting from the field and .898 from the sripe. Along with Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams, Nash is the only other player averaging a double-double in points and assists this season. At 36 years old, that is a feat he has missed out on just once since 2004-05 (9.7 apg in 2008-09).
Top Rookie: Garret Siler, C, Augusta State. Undrafted in 2009, he went to China last year. He played for the Nets, Magic and Heat during NBA Summer League play before signing a two-year deal with the Suns in September. Unfortunately for Siler, that last paragraph took more time to compile than his contributions this season — eight points, nine boards, two blocks, two assists, a steal and six turnovers in 5:47 of play.
Athlon's Take: These are the Suns we've come to know and love — all offense (ranked first at 109.8 ppg) and no defense (ranked last at 110.4). So hovering right above .500 sounds just about right with that discrepancy. A run to the conference finals is unlikely without any significant presence down low. Even if the Suns were to get there, history has proven in the Nash era that making it on to the NBA Finals is too big a hump. The team has been to three Western Conference Finals since 2004-05 and won a combined five games there.

Portland: 9-11, 4th in the Northwest Division
MVP: Wesley Matthews, G/F. He moved into the starting lineup Nov. 16 and took off. The second-year, undrafted player from Marquette kicked his scoring up 10.7 points, rebounds up 1.6, shooting percentage up 5.7 points and steals up 1.1 per game. Simply put, when Matthews is in the starting lineup better things are happening on offense for the Blazers.
Top Rookie: Armon Johnson, PG, Nevada. The second-round pick appeared in every game through November, averaged 11 minuntes, scoring 4.2 points on .467 shooting with 1.9 assists per game. He has yet to play in December.
Athlon's Take: A three-game win streak tipped off the season, but that was quickly followed by trading wins and losses over the next seven games. The losses eventually became the consistent ones, namely six of them in a row to end November and begin December. Injuries plague the roster, Brandon Roy's knee plagues both himself and the team. A 21.5-point, 4.7-assist, 4.4-rebound guy a year ago, he's now 18.1, 2.7 and 3 this season. If there's one area where the Trail Blazers have been respectable it is on the defensive end. They boast the seventh-best defense at 95.5 points allowed per game. That goes to 99.8 against Western Conference teams, which still isn't bad considering the potent West teams average 101.6 a game.

Sacramento: 4-15, 5th in the Pacific Division
MVP: Tyreke Evans, PG/SG. He's not having as good a season as he did as a rookie in 2009-10. Plantar faciitis is probably the main culprit in his struggles, but he still leads the team in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (5.4), steals (1.5) and is third in total rebounds (86).
Top Rookie: DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Kentucky. The fifth overall pick has seen the attitude problems follow him from college to the pros as many thought they would. Play him as a starter and he's fine — seven games has produced 14.1 points, 7.1 boards, 2.9 assists, 0.6 blocks and steals per game. Play him as a reserve and it's not so good — 12 games have produced 9.7 points, 6.8 boards, 0.8 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.8 steals and his already poor shooting percentages go down from .425 to .384 in the field and .769 to .638 on the stripe. Keep in mind his starter minutes are 24:48 a game while his reserve minutes are 23:53. So he is clearly more motivated to have starter attached to his name even though we are talking about 55 seconds difference.
Athlon's Take: Plain and simple, the Kings are terrible. They score a paltry 93.8 points a game (28th in the league) and surrender 101.5 (18th). They have won just once since Nov. 1 and that was an 86-81 win over a New Jersey team that might be the Eastern Conference version of the Kings. After taking some solace in scoring at least 100 points in the first five games, Sacramento has failed to hit the free-food-for-the-fans mark in 12 of the last 14 games. But for the rookie Cousins, things might be looking up. There's talk of bringing the Kings to Louisville.

San Antonio: 17-3, 1st in the Southwest Division
MVP: Manu Ginobli, SG. One word: Clutch. A nine-year veteran, Ginobli is exceeding many of his averages — scoring is up 5.4, assists are up 1.2, steals are up 0.4, blocks are up 0.1, field goal percentage is up 0.2, 3-point percentage is up 0.6, free throw percentage is up 7.7 points.
Top Rookie: Gary Neal, SG, Towson. The undrafted Neal, who bounced around overseas for four years before signing a three-year deal with the Spurs in July, has played in all 20 games. He scores at 6.6 an outing with 2.4 boards, 1.0 assists, 1.4 3s a game on .422 from beyond the arc, .419 from the field and .875 from the stripe.
Athlon's Take: These aren't your dad's ... OK, maybe your older brother's Spurs. Since the turn of the century, San Antonio has been a team that averages 96.4 points a game, good for around 17th in the league over the last 11 years. Then comes the 2010-11 campaign, where half the roster combines for 52 years of experience and the other half combines for seven years of experience. What do the Spurs do with this mix? Well, they become the fourth-best scoring team in the league at 106.7 points a game. The season has seen a 12-game winning streak, an 8-1 mark on the road and wins over Orlando, Utah, Chicago, Oklahoma City and New Orleans. Two games against Denver, one against Orlando and the first meeting with the Lakers is still to come this month. Take a look at this stretch to get to the halfway point of the season: Play host to the Lakers on Dec. 28 followed by games against Dallas, Oklahoma City, New York, Boston and Indiana before back-to-backs against a tough out T'Wolve team, a defensive-minded team in Milwaukee and then Dallas and Denver again. If 17-3 turns into 34-6 by Jan. 17 and the Spurs stay healthy it's going to be hard not to say they are not the Western Conference favorites.

Utah: 16-6, 1st in the Northwest Division
MVP: Deron Williams, PG. Arguably the most complete point guard in the league, Williams is surpassing career numbers in just about every category. He is up 4.8 points a game, up 0.9 in assists, up a full rebound, up 0.3 in steals while his field goal percentage is up 0.3 points and his free throw percentage is up 5.6 points. Williams is the second-leading assist getter (219), 12th in points (21.8) and 12th in PER (23.6).
Top Rookie: Gordon Hayward, G/F, Butler. The ninth overall pick has played in 18 games, reaching double-digit minutes five times and is averaging 2.1 points to go along with 1.3 rebounds on 41 percent shooting from the field.
Athlon's Take: After a 2-3 start, the Jazz became known as the "Comeback Kids," winning five straight from double-digit deficits. It certainly sparked confidence in the squad, as they are 9-2 since the five-game streak ended, including another seven-game win streak stuck in the middle. Utah has a helluva stretch to begin the second quarter of the season with consecutive games against Miami, Orlando, Dallas, Golden State, New Orleans and Milwaukee. A winning record during that gauntlet would continue to raise the confidence level of the Jazz.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Thursday, December 9, 2010 - 16:54
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-eastern-conference-notes/eastern-conference-after-quarter

The 2010-11 NBA regular season hit its quarter mark this week. So it's time to take a look at where each conference stands 20 games in. Below is a breakdown of the Eastern Conference's frontrunners for MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, team-by-team MVPs, top rookies and an Athlon's Take on each team. Also check out Athlon's Western Conference first-quarter report.

Dwight Howard — C, Orlando Magic

It must be a nice luxury to have Superman. If the team is shooting poorly he can clean the glass and give his guys a second shot. If the team is still shooting poorly, then the ball can just be dumped into Howard and he can take care of the rest. He is among the top five in field goal percentage (.585), rebounds (217), blocks (43) and has a player efficiency rating (PER) of 24.9.

Derrick Rose — PG, Chicago Bulls
So Rose can hit jumpers. I guess hearing that enough times and playing with Team USA in the World Championships in the offseason helped solve some of those issues. Rose carried the Bulls to a 9-6 record in the absence of Carlos Boozer and did so efficiently. He is third in the league in scoring (25.7 ppg) on .462 shooting from the field and .357 from 3. His 25 3s through Sunday are seven less than he had in his first two years combined. He is also 9th in assists (8.1 per game) and 15th in PER (22.1). No Rose, no wins for the Bulls this season.

Amar'e Stoudemire — PF/C, New York Knicks
He got the max contract and he's showing New York what he can do with it. Stoudemire is the sixth-leading scorer in the league, seventh in blocks, 13th in rebounds and 12th in PER. Through Sunday, he has only scored under 20 once since Nov. 12. Even during a six-game skid the Knicks went through, Stoudemire shot 51 percent from the field for 22.6 points with 8.6 boards, and 1.7 blocks a game. Take away Stoudemire and the Knicks certainly aren't the No. 3 scoring team in the league or a team with 12 wins.

John Wall — PG, Washington Wizards

Even missing six games with injuries to his foot and knee, the No. 1 overall pick is killing it both scoring and assisting. He's 13th in the NBA in minutes per game (38.2), seventh in assists per game (8.7) and second in steals per game (2.5).

Dwight Howard — C, Orlando Magic
Need a defensive glass cleaning? Call Howard. He has 166 defensive boards. Need to host a block party? Call Howard. He has 43 swatted shots. Need the top defensive rating in the league? The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year has it at 92.3 — 1.3 ahead of another defensive stalwart in Boston's Kevin Garnett.

Quarter mark through Sunday, Dec. 5

Atlanta 13-8, 2nd in the Southeast Division
MVP: Al Horford, F/C. No. 3 in PER, No. 3 in FG percentage (.598), No. 8 in total rebounds (198). He is among the top 10 in the league with his 10 double-doubles through Dec. 5.
Top Rookie: Jordan Crawford, G, Xavier. The first-round pick has played in nine games, averaging 11:11 minutes per game with 4.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.7 turnovers, 0.2 steals.
Athlon's Take: Elbow surgery for leading scorer and minutes getter Joe Johnson at the beginning of December will have him sidelined 4-6 weeks. The Hawks are a team that could be fighting for the fifth seed, and they will need to hold steady with Johnson out. With teams like the Bulls, Pacers, Bucks and Knicks on its heels, Atlanta could find itself out of the playoffs altogether.

Boston: 16-4, 1st in the Atlantic Division
MVP: Kevin Garnett, PF. Rajon Rondo gets the love running the point because he drives the car, but Garnett is the engine. The 15-year veteran is 19th in FG percentage (.527), second in defensive rebounds (176), ninth in total rebounds (197), 17th in steals (31), second in defensive rating (93.6).
Top Rookie: Erden Semih, F/C, Turkey. The 2008 second round pick has played in 17 games at center for the Celtics. He averages 12 minutes a game, pulling down 2.2 rebounds, 0.3 blocks and 0.9 assists. He should get steady work with the plethora of injuries Boston has at its center position.
Athlon's Take: The Celtics still don't have a fully healthy frontcourt and Rondo has injuries nagging him at the point. Despite all that, Boston in 16-4 with the No. 2 scoring defense (92.1 ppg). The Cs have defeated Miami twice, Chicago twice and Atlanta once. The next big clash is with Orlando on Christmas Day. A win there gives the Celtics victories over every team that could possibly challenge them in a seven-game series.

Charlotte: 7-13, 4th in the Southeast Division
MVP: Gerald Wallace, F. "Crash" continues to get it done on both ends of the court. He logs the 10th-most minutes in the league at 38.7 a game. He is 15th in defensive rebounds (136). while he turns attempts to get to the glass on the other end into free throws. He is 14th in free throws attempted (130) and 17th in makes (100) for a .769 clip. Wallace swats 1.2 shots a game as well as stealing 1.2 balls. He also dishes out 2.4 assists.
Top Rookie: Sheron Collins, PG, Kansas. The former Jayhawk standout went undrafted, and he is getting little time with the Bobcats. He averages a little over two minutes in 12 games played and has connected on just one of eight shots with just five assists.
Athlon's Take: After a 1-6 start, the Bobcats put together back-to-back wins to stop the bleeding. It's the only time Larry Brown's squad has consecutive wins this season. They are ninth in scoring defense (97 ppg) but just 24th in scoring (94.9) themselves. Outside of Stephen Jackson (18.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.1 assist, 1.4 steals) and Wallace, Charlotte is not getting much else.

Chicago: 10-8, 1st in Central Division
MVP: Derrick Rose, PG. So much for shooting woes for Rose. He is sixth in field goals made (169), fourth in field goal attempts (366), third in points per game (25.7), ninth in assists per game (8.1), 15th in PER (22.1).
Top Rookie: Omer Asik, C, Turkey. The 7-foot center, a 2008 second round pick of Portland's, has logged minutes in every game for the Bulls. He averages a little over 12 minutes with 3.1 boards and 0.7 blocks.
Athlon's Take: The Bulls finally got to see their big free-agent acquisition make his debut when Carlos Boozer took to the court Dec. 1. Chicago won its first circus trip in 13 years and managed a 9-6 record in Boozer's absence. The Bulls have no signature wins over legit title contenders through Sunday — with two losses to Boston, a loss to Oklahoma City and a drubbing against Orlando in Boozer's debut with a full roster. The 2-guard spot is where the Bulls must find help. Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, all new pieces this year, have not been consistent answers.

Cleveland: 7-13, 4th in the Central Division
MVP: Anderson Varejao, F/C. If there is an MVP on this roster, he's the closest to it. Maybe the reason Varejao was the only Cav to hug LeBron right before tipoff in there game in Cleveland was so he could whisper: Take me with you. Varejao is 16th in rebounds per game (9.0) and has four double-doubles this year.
Top Rookie: Manny Harris, SG, Michigan. No one is really contributing from the three-man rookie class, but the former Wolverine has logged the most minutes. He's played in five games, averaging 9:18 at 4.0 points per outing.
Athlon's Take: This season will always be defined as the first season without LeBron. When the Cavaliers had a chance to show they could at least tread water without James they failed miserably, losing by 28 in front of a packed home crowd. They followed that up with a 34-point loss to Minnesota and a 10-point loss to Detroit. They are 27th in scoring (94.3) and 19th in scoring defense (102.4). It doesn't look like it's going to get better anytime soon.

Detroit: 7-14, 5th in the Central Division
MVP: Charlie Villanueva, PF. Maybe having a sixth man as your best player through the first quarter of the season is the reason for being seven games under .500. CV is ninth in 3-pointers made (42) and eighth in attempts (105). He also averages 4.8 rebounds (third on the team) — 3.9 on the defensive end to lead the Pistons. His one block per game is tied for second on the team.
Top Rookie: Greg Monroe, F/C, Georgetown. The seventh overall pick took a little while to get going, but has picked up the pace over the last week. He is averaging around 28 minutes over the last four games, with 21 boards and 33 points on 64 percent shooting.
Athlon's Take: Only once this season — against the Clippers and Kings — have the Pistons put together back-to-back wins. Of course that means there have been losing streaks. A five-game skid started the season followed by a four-game slide that ended Dec. 5. There was turmoil when the season began, as it didn't seem like many Pistons knew their role. With the 26th-best offense (94.6 ppg) against the 16th-best defensive (100.1), it's going to be a rough one in the Motor City.

Indiana: 9-9, 2nd in the Central Division
MVP: Danny Granger, F. He is third in 3-pointers made (44), fourth in 3-point attempts (112) and 16th in scoring (21.4 ppg). Take away Granger and the offensively-challenged Pacers would lose their leader in minutes, points, steals, and free throw attempts.
Top Rookie: Paul George, G/F, Fresno State. The 10th overall pick has played in eight games, logging 16:30 per contest with 4.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.3 blocks.
Athlon's Take: One step forward. One step back. That has been the M.O. of the Pacers so far. Only twice have they won consecutive games, but only twice have they lose consecutive games. Indy has the 16th-best offense (99.4 ppg), and its 11th-best defense (97.6) is getting the job done. When the Pacers win they can be the best scoring defense in the league at 90.5 points allowed. However, when they lose it goes just the other way as they allow what would be the worst in the league at 116.2 per game. It's hard to believe inconsistency like that will survive any seven-game series.

Miami: 13-8, 3rd in the Southeast Division
MVP: LeBron James, SF. His numbers are down against his career averages. He is scoring 24.1 points. (3.6 below his average), rebounding 5.7 a game (1.3 below is average) and stealing the ball 1.6 times a game (0.1 below his average). His assist numbers are up — 7.3 vs. 7.0 a game — good for 10th-best in the league. He is seventh in minutes played (777), 8th in field goals made (165), sixth in field goal attempts (360), second in free throws made and attempted (154/197) ninth in PER (24.5), 14th in defensive rating (99.7)
Top Rookie: No rookies have contributed.
Athlon's Take: Where do you begin? The chemistry excuse was the reason during the first 10 games. The standing around on offense and not speeding it up has been the excuse the last 10 games. Add in a little bit of missing Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and no consistent contributions from the point guard or presence in the paint and you have the Miami Heat. Unless a team like Chicago catches fire, the Heat should feel pretty secure in getting at least a fourth seed. Miami's health will certainly play a factor, but the work of the Big Three — James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — will be the difference maker. Not sure what to make of the fact that the Big Three, through 20 games, are only averaging a little under 24 minutes a game on the court together. The prior Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce average a little over 27 minutes and a have a plus-minus of 182 compared to Miami's 112.

Milwaukee: 7-12, 3rd in the Central Division
MVP: Brandon Jennings, PG. In just over 35 minutes of action per game, the second-year point guard is averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 assists, 4.3 boards and 1.3 steals for the Bucks. He is 15th in the NBA in 3-pointers made (36), 10th in 3s attempted (104) and 20th in assists (107). He leads Milwaukee in points, assists, steals, field goals attempted and made.
Top Rookie: Larry Sanders, F/C, VCU. The 15th overall pick out of Virginia Commonwealth has played in 14 games, averaging just over 14 minutes per contest. He scores at 4.1 a game with 3.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 0.4 steals. The highlight of his rookie season has to be the 14-point, 10-rebound, 8-block effort he had Dec. 1 against Denver.
Athlon's Take: Six teams had a worse record than the Bucks through Sunday, but not one of them was as bad at scoring as Milwaukee. It's hard to believe the Bucks have seven wins with a league-low 91.6 points per game, but it is the sixth-best defense (93.2) that has kept them out of the cellar. A three-game winning streak was followed by losses in seven of Milwaukee's next eight before defeating a depleted Orlando team Saturday. Injuries have plagued the Bucks as Andrew Bogut (hand/arm) will have to deal with the pain from last year's season-ending injury throughout the entire 2010-11 campaign. Drew Gooden, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Corey Maggette have also missed time with injuries. Carlos Delfino played seven games before concussion-like symptoms sidelined him indefinitely. If the Bucks can start to get healthy and turn it around on offense they could be a dangerous team come playoff time.

New Jersey: 6-15, 5th in Atlantic Division
MVP: Anthony Morrow, SG. Hard to find many positives with the Nets on either end of the floor. Morrow has logged the 17th-most minutes (739), taken the 17th-most 3s (94) and made the 12th most 3s from downtown (39). He's also shooting .878 from the stripe for 17th-best in the NBA.
Top Rookie: Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech. The No. 3 overall pick has played in all 21 games, averaging nearly 19 minutes with 6.6 ppg on 54-percent shooting from the field to go with 5.3 boards and 0.6 blocks a game.
Athlon's Take: The Nets are much like the Bucks, sans the injuries. Their defense — 13th best at 98.1 points allowed — has kept them in the game while the offense struggles at 93.2 points per game (29th in the league). New Jersey won its first two games of the year, but then went on a five-game skid. Losing streaks of three, two and a current four-gamer have followed. Since the two-game streak to open, the Nets have failed to win back-to-back games. It took until the 19th game, and three OTs in that contest, for center Brook Lopez to record his first double-double. Through Sunday, Lopez has just two double-digit rebound games and is shooting .436 for the season. The drafting of what's considered a project player in Favors and failing to use a 3-point/rebounding threat in Troy Murphy, who the Nets traded for, leaves many scratching their heads. Another 6-15 mark for a 12-30 record should be expected once the halfway mark hits.

New York: 12-9, 2nd in the Atlantic Division
MVP: Amar'e Stoudemire, PF/C. The big free-agent acquisition has not disappointed in his second stint under former Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni. Stoudemire is 10th in minutes played (772), sixth in ppg (24.9), 12th in PER (23.0), third in field goals made (191), fourth in field goals attempted (366), fifth in FT attempted (174) and seventh in FT made (135), 13th in total rebounds (190) and seventh in blocks (40).
Top Rookie: Landry Fields, SG/SF, Stanford. The second-round pick has emerged as quite the find for the Knicks. He's started all 21 games through Sunday and has had six double-doubles. The 6-7, 210-pound Fields is averaging 10.8 points, 7.4, boards, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.2 blocks in nearly 31 minutes per contest.
Athlon's Take: The Knicks can score for sure, doing so at 107.1 a game for third-best in the NBA. But the D'Antoni trend of no defense continues as the Knicks are 26th at 105.7 points allowed. New York opened with a 3-2 start before losing six in a row. The team has bounced back in a big way, though. New York has lost just once in its last 11 games and scored under 99 just once — a 90-99 loss to Atlanta. It's hard to say what this offense could do in a seven-game series in the East, but with a little bit of defense the Knicks could be a much more difficult out than anyone thought.  

Orlando: 15-5, 1st in the Southeast Division
MVP: Dwight Howard, C. The centerpiece of the Magic is fourth in field goal percentage (.585), first in FT attempts (214), 11th in FT made (116), fifth in rebounds (217) and blocks (43), 17th in ppg (21.3) and fourth in PER (24.9).
Top Rookie: No rookie contributions.
Athlon's Take: After a demoralizing 96-70 loss to division rival Miami in the second game of the season, the Magic clicked off four in a row, lost two, won another four in a row, lost one and then reeled off another six in a row. Sickness took over the team as the month of December began, sidelining many players, but a healthy Magic is a troublesome Magic for the rest of the East. A Christmas Day matchup against Boston is certainly the most anticipated game left in this calendar year for the Magic. Unfortunately it will come after games against Atlanta, Dallas and San Antonio in the five days leading up to Christmas.

Philadelphia: 6-14, 4th in the Atlantic Division
MVP: Elton Brand, PF/C. Brand has stayed healthy, playing 34 minutes a game, scoring 15.8 points. on .517 shooting from the field, .808 from the stripe with 8.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. He is ninth in offensive rebounding (67).
Top Rookie: Evan Turner, SG/SF, Ohio State. The second overall pick has played in all 20 games, starting 12 of them. He's averaging 26:30 minutes with 7.5 points on .416 shooting from the field, .739 from the stripe, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 0.6 steals per contest.  
Athlon's Take: The Sixers are 21st in scoring (97.4 points per game), 14th in scoring defense (98.9) and have won consecutive games just once — New Jersey and Portland on Nov. 27 and 30. The season began with a four-game skid, slowed by a 2-2 mark before losing eight of nine followed. The 8-of-9 stretch had just two game in which the Sixers scored at least 100 points.

Toronto: 8-12, 3rd in Atlantic Division
MVP: Andrea Bargnani, PF/C. Toronto's scoring is spread out across the board, but Bargnani leads the team in scoring (20.7 ppg), rebounds per game (5.7) and blocks (0.8). He's 12th in the league in field goals made (157) and 11th in attempts (342).
Top Rookie: Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina. The 13th overall pick had knee surgery just before training camp and finally made his NBA debut on Dec. 2. He had 11 points and six boards in 24 minutes.
Athlon's Take: Toronto got off to a horrible 2-9 start before reeling off four straight wins. The Raptors followed with a six-game stretch that included two losses, two wins and two more losses. They are another inconsistent squad like Indiana. The Raptors can score (101.2 ppg) for 11th-best in the league — but are 20th in defense (102.8). Toronto scored the first big trade of the season when it got guard Jerryd Bayless and guard/forward Peja Stojakovic from New Orleans. Bayless is starting to emerge as competition for Jose Calderon, while Stojakovic (knee) continues to be ineffective. A broken bone in his right foot has sidelined forward Reggie Evans, one of the league's top rebounders at the time, until early February. If the Raptors can get their roster in order and remain healthy, they could push for the eighth seed come season's end.

Washington: 6-13, 5th in the Southeast Division
MVP: John Wall, PG. Maybe it could be post player Andray Blatche and his being the team leader in rebounds, points and minutes played, but Wall has missed six games due to nagging injuries and isn't far off of the team lead in a number of categories. He has scored 104 less points than Blatche, his 33 steals are 13 more than the next closest player and his 113 assists are 21 ahead of the Kirk Hinrich, who has played all 19 games.
Top Rookie: John Wall, PG, Kentucky. The top pick has dazzled in the 13 games he's played. Wall averages 38 minutes a game, 17 points on .409 shooting from the field, .826 from the free throw line, 8.7 assists, 2.5 steals and 3.3 boards.
Athlon's Take: The Wizards have won six games and doubling that total by the halfway point would probably be right at expectations. The team is not very good and are 2-3 when Wall is out. But as Wall goes so too will this team. Blatche's numbers are up in points, rebounds, free throw percentage, assists and steals compared to his five-year career numbers. JaVale McGee is an emerging talent down low as well. Nick Young, a guard/forward, is also getting his chances to shine.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - 15:22
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/new-texas-topper

There are six games between teams in the top 10 of this week's Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings.

Eighth-ranked Miami, winners of its last five, gets another shot at one of the league's top teams when the Heat travel to play No. 4 Utah on Wednesday. Miami collected just its second win of the season against an over-.500 team when it defeated Atlanta 89-77 on Dec. 4. That was followed by an 88-78 win at Milwaukee.

It's going to take more than 89 points to defeat Utah. The Jazz score 100.8 points in 13 games at home this season, and surrender just 95.5. Miami is scoring just 95.7 ppg in nine road games this season.

Assuming No. 5 Orlando is over the stomach bug that has torn through the roster, the Magic will take a healthy team to Utah Friday night. This will be the second time this year the Jazz have played the Florida teams in back-to-back games. Last time it happened — Nov. 9 and 10 — the Jazz won both games.

It's the Jazz in the spotlight again. After two Eastern Conference powers come to Salt Lake City, the Jazz head to Dallas for a Saturday tilt against No. 1 Dallas. The two teams met Dec. 3 in Utah as the Jazz shot .392 from the floor and saw a 43-39 halftime lead turn into a 54-38 second half for Dallas. It was the first halftime lead in nine such occasions that Utah let slip away.

The second-ranked Celtics will try and put the clamps on a Denver Nuggets team that is fifth in scoring (106.2 ppg) when the two meet in Boston Wednesday. The Celtics score 100.9 a game, but surrender just 92.1.

The sixth-ranked Nuggets, like the Celtics, have won seven in a row. Denver travels to Charlotte tonight to try and get coach George Karl his 1,000th career win before heading to Beantown.

No. 9 Oklahoma City, 6-4 in its last 10 games, travels to No. 10 New Orleans, 4-6 in its last 10 for a Friday night game. The Hornets travel to Miami on Monday on the second day of a back to back (Philly the night before).

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 - 13:24
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-fantasy-dime/get-point

There are many ways to play fantasy basketball — rotisserie, head to head, lineups that can be changed any time and lineups that lock just prior to Monday night’s tip. With that in mind, Athlon Sports will give you the Fantasy Dime each week. These are 10 things to assist you before you have to lock in that lineup for the week.


Jordan Farmar did his part in the absence of Devin Harris over the last week. The Nets' PG played 36.5 minutes a game, scoring 19.3 points, with three 3-pointers a game, 3.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals. Harris returned Sunday and scored seven points, dished three assists and grabbed two rebounds in 24 minutes. Farmar, meanwhile, played 27 minutes with 16 points, four 3s and four steals. Harris has a history of injuries (averages 65 games played over the last three seasons). Go ahead and pick up Farmar while he's hot and see if he still gets the minutes despite Harris' presence.


Since coming over in a trade from New Orleans last month, Toronto PG Jerryd Bayless has seen his role increase the last three games. He has played over 21 minutes in each of the last three games, averaged 18.6 ppg on 52-percent shooting with 4.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.3 turnovers. Ride Bayless this week as the Toronto Raptors play four games, three against teams allowing over 100 points a game.


As injuries to other Washington Wizards go, so goes the production of guard-forward Nick Young. In Washington's last 11 contests, Young has played over 21 minutes nine times and averaged 17.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in those games. The other two he played zero minutes and 12 minutes due to a thigh injury of his own. So he can score and rebound for you, but it's just a matter of whether he's in there or not. The Wizards play at the Lakers and Kings and are back home against the Knicks. However, when John Wall is in the lineup, Young's minutes go down. So keep an eye on Young down the road, and use him this week if you absolutely need some scoring.


Another player in the Young mode is Boston backup PG Nate Robinson. He produces like crazy when Rajon Rondo is out, but you really have to be on your toes to know when Rondo is out (see his late scratch Sunday). Robinson is averaging 7.7 points, 2.4 assists and 1.5 rebounds this season. In four starts, he scores 16.5 a game with 5.3 assists, 3.3 boards. His 62.5-percent shooting from the field, 57.9 from 3 and 83.3 from the stripe as a starter aren't bad, either. With Rondo battling hamstring, knee and foot injuries, Boston coach Doc Rivers has no problem resting him for Robinson. So, like Young, keep an eye on Rondo's health to know if you should play Robinson. Boston plays Denver, Philly and Charlotte this week. Robinson could see significant minutes against the Sixers and Bobcats.


Last week, I said OJ Mayo would not be worth it to play off the bench. He played 22.3 minutes, scored 6.8 points with 1.8 boards, 1.0 assists and 0.5 steals and blocks per game. Not the greatest line for fantasy. So what about the guy who has him coming off the bench? That goes to Xavier Henry. He had career highs in points (17), assists (3) and minutes (27:29) Sunday. However, his numbers over the last week weren't that much better. He played 23 minutes a game, averaging 10 points with 0.8 boards, 1.5 assists, no steals and a 0.3 blocks. So keep both Memphis SGs on your waiver wire.


With the news that Joe Johnson is out 4-6 weeks after elbow surgery, Marvin Williams should become the hot pickup in Atlanta. Williams is expected to pick up some of the slack for the Hawks. He shot 13-of-23 from the field and 11-of-12 from the stripe for 37 points to go along with six boards and five steals the first two games Johnson was out. He followed with a dud against Miami — 2-of-9 from the field, no trips to the line, four boards, two assists and one steal. For the season, Williams is a 48-percent shooter from the field, 84 from the stripe and averaging 10.1 points a game with 4.9 boards. Throw out the bad Miami game and give Williams a shot with a four-game week for the Hawks.


George Hill was a sleeper pick during draft season. The thinking was he might be the guy to replace Tony Parker as the Spurs' starting PG at some point during the season. So there would be minutes pre-trade and certainly minutes post-trade. Well, Parker signed an extension early and Hill went to the backburner. Well. with the Spurs averaging 106.7 points per game, there is plenty of love to go around in San Antonio. Hill has a season-high in minutes played two times over the past week and scored in double-digits in his last eight outings. His contributions as a fantasy player are in points scored and percentages (11.0 ppg, 46.9 from the field, 85.5 from the stripe). The Spurs play Golden State, Atlanta and Portland at home this week — three games where Hill should continue to see plenty of minutes.


Speaking of sleepers, SG/SF Nicolas Batum was a sleeper pick for the Portland Trail Blazers this season. It paid off when he was a starter for 12 games — 12.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks. But he has found himself coming off the bench the last four games where his points are down 7.5, his rebounds ticked up 6.0, his assists fell to 0.8, his steals to .0.5 and blocks to 0.3. But these last two outings he is picking up the pace with 24 points, 20 boards, 2 steals and one assist. His shooting percentage from the field as a sub stinks (33.3), but he may be working his way back into a role that gives him minutes. Portland plays four games this week, including two against defensive-lacking Phoenix. Throw him in the lineup, and like most of us who drafted him as a sleeper, pray for a good week.


Indiana SG/SF Brandon Rush has worked his way into the starting lineup for the Pacers. He has started three of the last four games. He's started five games altogether (replacing Mike Dunleavy when doing so). In those five starts, Rush averages 35 minutes, scores 16.2 points with 4.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 blocks and 0.8 steals He does this while shooting 53.3 from the field. 43.5 from 3 and 63.6 from the free-throw line. Indiana plays a four-game week, and Rush should be a good play.


Need a player who is contributing in multiple categories? Give Oklahoma City SG/SF Thabo Sefolosha a shot. He's owned in just 17 percent of Yahoo leagues and 1.8 of ESPN leagues, but is averaging 5.4 boards, 1.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.4 blocks while shooting .455 from the field, and .744 from the stripe. He's not fantasy gold, but he does start and play 32 minutes a game for the Thunder. It's not just about points scored in fantasy, it's about categories won. So keep an eye on Sefolosha if you're needing a contributor in several categories.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Monday, December 6, 2010 - 16:55
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-western-conference-notes/history-against-lakers

The thought of the Los Angeles Lakers rolling into Staples Center on Christmas Day to take on the Miami Heat as an undefeated, maybe a one- or two-loss team went out the door three weeks ago.

It was foolish for me to think the defending champs — always a target for the opposition in any sport — who were without all their parts to begin with could go two months without a few blemishes.

Well, back-to-back losses on Nov. 11 and 14 were answered with a five-game winning streak. OK, the Lakers were back on track. They were averaging 109.6 points a game during the streak. Then they met the Jazz, Pacers, Grizzlies and Rockets. All four ended with losses and a 95.8 points per game average.

And there's this to chew on: No Phil Jackson-coached team that had a four-game losing streak has gone on to win a championship. This is the 11th such streak of his career and eighth with the Lakers.

So we stand here today with a Laker team that is 13-6 when they were 13-2 a week ago. This is the franchise's first four-game skid since April of 2007 and just the second time they've lost three or more in a row since January of 2008. Of Jackson's 11 championship teams, only the 1990-91 Bulls, 2001-02 Lakers and 2009-10 Lakers suffered three-game losing streaks.

Luckily for Los Angeles, 4-12 Sacramento comes to town Friday. The Kings have won just twice since Nov. 1. They also haven't scored over 98 since a 113-106 loss to the Knicks on Nov. 17. However, the last 100-point effort before the Knicks came in a Nov. 3, 112-100 loss to ... dramatic pause ... the Lakers.

However, the four-win Clippers have defeated Western Conference top dogs San Antonio and New Orleans at Staples Center in the last two weeks. So we at least know that building is prone to some crazy things.

Notes from the Teams
Mavericks C Tyson Chandler collected 14 of his game-high 18 rebounds against Minnesota Wednesday night in the third quarter.  He set the franchise record for rebounds in a quarter — 14 was the record by Popeye Jones (third quarter vs. the Clippers April 4, 1996) and Lorenzo Williams (second quarter vs. the Kings Feb. 21, 1996). Chandler outrebounded the entire Minnesota roster in the third quarter (14-11) and his own team (3).

DENVER: The Nuggets held Milwaukee to 94 points in Wednesday's win, marking 25 straight home victories when holding the opposition to fewer than 100 points. The Nuggets also own a 55-game home win streak when holding a lead entering the fourth quarter. ... Denver also scored its third wire-to-wire victory with a 138-133 home win over Phoenix Nov. 28. The Nuggets had just three such wins last season.

GOLDEN STATE: The Warriors have outrebounded their opponents in seven of their first 18 games, and they hold a 6-1 record in those contests. Last season Golden State outrebounded its opponents 13 times, going 9-4 in those games. Imagine if free-agent acquisition David Lee (elbow) had not missed eight games. In the center's absence the Warriors went 1-7 and were outrebounded in six of the seven losses.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Reverse dunks aside, rookie forward Blake Griffin is on quite a tear. Over the last five games he is averaging 29.6 points on 59-percent shooting from the field and 64.7-percent shooting from the free throw line. He's also pulling down 14.2 rebounds and dishing out 4.8 assists. The Clippers are 3-2 during the five-game stretch, including wins over Western Conference leaders San Antonio and New Orleans. Griffin is one of three players in the NBA this season averaging 20 or more points and 11 or more rebounds (Orlando's Dwight Howard, 21.8 and 12.8, and the Lakers' Pau Gasol, 21.1 and 12.1).

MEMPHIS: The Grizzlies are averaging 33.3 points from their bench over the last six games. Coincidentally that is when former starting SG OJ Mayo was moved to the bench. Before he was moved the team had not scored more than 30 off the bench in 13 games. The Grizzlies got a season-high 45 from the bench against Golden State on Nov. 26, and are 4-2 with Mayo as a reserve. Memphis' bench averaged a league-low 20 ppg last season.

NEW ORLEANS: While the Hornets have lost four of their last six games they have not allowed 100 points in the last seven games; they haven't scored over 100 in that span, either. New Orleans is second in the NBA in fewest points allowed at 91.3 ppg — an improvement on the 102.7 allowed last year. The Hornets held their first 10 opponents under 100 before Cleveland scored 101 Nov. 19.

OKLAHOMA CITY: For the first time in franchise history, Oklahoma City (formerly Seattle) won a triple-overtime game. The Thunder defeated New Jersey 123-120 Wednesday night without help from All-Star forward Kevin Durant, who was out with a sprained knee. The franchise was 0-4 in triple-OT games prior to Wednesday. Strangely enough, the team’s last triple-overtime appearance came exactly 20 years ago to the day — a 124-130 loss to Portland on Dec. 1, 1990.

PHOENIX: The Suns have scored 115 or more points in four straight games for the first time since Dec. 25-30, 2009. The Suns can extend that streak when they play the Warriors Thursday night. It would be the first time Phoenix has scored 115-plus in five straight games since March 15-25, 2009.

SACRAMENTO: Funny what being at the bottom of the standings can get you. For the Kings it is being ranked second in the league in offensive rebounds (13.9 per game) and in second-chance points (17.1 ppg). In both categories they trail Minnesota, also a four-win team. The Timberwolves grab 14.7 offensive boards a game and score 18.3 second-chance points.

SAN ANTONIO: The Spurs are averaging 106.6 points through 18 games this season, their highest scoring average since the 1987-88 season (113.6 ppg). They are shooting .407 from the 3-point line, which is tied for the franchise mark set in 2000-01. The scoring helped San Antonio to its best November (14-1) in franchise history as well.

UTAH: Jazz PG Deron Williams scored 24 points with 16 assists and no turnovers against Indiana Wednesday night. It was only the 23rd time in NBA history that a player has had 20 or more points, 15 or more assists and no turnovers. It's the second time Williams has accomplished the feat (March 31, 2008), and no player has pulled it off three times. ... Williams also became the first player this season to record double-digit points and assists by halftime (12 and 10). It's the ninth first-half double-double in his career.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Thursday, December 2, 2010 - 18:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-eastern-conference-notes/many-angles-lebrons-homecoming

Duke plays host to Michigan State tonight on the college hardwood, and then welcomes Butler on Saturday in a rematch of last year's NCAA title game.

There's one more week of regular season college football, including four conference championships on Saturday.

The Jets and Patriots are on tap for Monday Night Football — the winner is on pace for the top seed in the AFC while the loser is headed for the fifth seed.

It feels like I am forgetting something in this week packed of high-profile games. Oh, that's right. LeBron James makes his return to Cleveland this week.

In case you have lived under a rock — or are hiding under one so you don't have to read about it — James and the Miami Heat make their first visit to the place James called home for the first seven years of his career.

It is one of just two games on the NBA slate Thursday night. TNT will be sending it's studio team of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith to Cleveland to do their show. No stone has been unturned. There are even 1/50 odds that James does his pregame powder toss at the scorer's table.

So I figured I would present many angles of the story in anticipation of Thursday night.

There is the tampering angle.

There is the too much hype angle.

There is the Cavs fans' angle.

There is the TV angle.

There is the angle from the town he shunned.

There is the angle from the town he took his talents to.

And there is the angle from the company that brought you all the hype.

Feeling overheated? Then there are notes on 11 other Eastern Conference teams below to cool you down.

Notes From the Teams
ATLANTA: The Hawks won their final three games of November, clinching a winning month for the 12th consecutive time (began in February 2009), which matches the longest streak in Atlanta history (January 1996-November 1997).

CHARLOTTE: The Bobcats have topped the 100-point plateau in four of their last seven games, after doing so just twice in the season’s first 10 games. During the stretch, the Bobcats are averaging 104.0 points on .491 shooting from the field (275-560).

CHICAGO: Over their last nine games, the Bulls have limited their opponent to just 95.2 ppg  and are 7-3 over that time. In the five games prior to that, Chicago allowed 105.0 ppg.

DETROIT: With nine rebounds against the Orlando Magic Tuesday, Ben Wallace became the third active player in the NBA to record 10,000-plus rebounds and 2,000-plus blocks in his career.

MIAMI: LeBron James has scored at least 20 points in the last 15 games, becoming just the second player in franchise history (Dwyane Wade) to accomplish the feat.

MILWAUKEE: The Bucks are tied for second with Boston in opponent points in the paint, allowing just 35.3 points per game. Orlando is tops in the league, allowing 34.1 points in the paint. The Bucks are tied for fifth in the league in opponent second-chance points, allowing 11.5 per game.

NEW YORK: The Knicks have won five in a row on the road, the longest streak since winning five straight on the road from Dec. 22, 2000 to Jan. 19, 2001. New York improved to 7-4 away from Madison Square Garden on the season (11-30 in 2009-10), marking the first time since 2000-01 that the Knicks started a season 7-4 or better on the road. Last season, it took New York until Jan. 13 to win its seventh road game. The seven road wins are tied with Utah (7-2) and Atlanta (7-2) for second most in the league behind San Antonio (8-0).

PHILADELPHIA: The 76ers put an end to their 0-3 start against teams from the Western Conference this season with an 88-79 win over Portland. Philly started last season 1-10 against teams from the west, but rebounded with a 13-17 mark by season's end.

TORONTO: Through 17 games the Raptors rank first in the NBA in fast-break points, averaging 19.5 per contest. Toronto has outscored its opponent in 12 of its first 17 games on the fast-break and has scored 20+ points eight times. The Raptors are +46 (322-to-286) in transition points on the season. Raptors’ opponents are averaging 16.8 fast-break points on the year.

WASHINGTON: Nick Young, the Wizards' fourth-year pro has, scored 20 points in a game five times this season all off of the bench which leads the NBA.

Factoids From Elias Sports Bureau
Indiana's Danny Granger has scored 30-plus on three occasions away from home this season and the Pacers are 3-0 in those games. His average of 25 points a game on the road is third best in the league behind Kobe Bryant (29.5) and Derrick Rose (28.6)

Orlando's Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, the team's top two scorers, were held to nine points apiece in a win against the Pistons Wednesday night. It was the Magic's first win in more than three years (Nov. 26, 2007) in a game in which Howard and Nelson both failed to reach double digits in points. The duo has started 165 games together since November 2007, and have both have been held under 10 points in just three of those games — losses to Detroit, Boston and Denver. At least prior to the game, Howard was able to have fun at Arizona Cardinal Derek Anderson's expense.

Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade each went to the free-throw line at least 10 times on Monday, and each made at least nine of those free throws. It's the first game in over two seasons that three teammates in the NBA have each made at least nine free throws in one game.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Post date: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 - 14:50