Articles By Corby Yarbrough

All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/east-finally-top
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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

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

BALLIN' BLAZER

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.

RUSH AND DUNLEAVY

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.

BREAKING OUT

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.

LAST MAN STANDING

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.

GREAT VALUE

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.

GIVE TY A TRY

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.

POOH TO THE RESCUE

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.

WATCH GRANGER'S ANKLE

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.

FLY WITH JAMAL

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.

SIXER OF THE WEEK

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

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

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
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.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
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.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
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.

CONFERENCE TEAM-BY-TEAM REPORT
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

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

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
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.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
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).

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
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.

CONFERENCE TEAM-BY-TEAM REPORT
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

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

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

FARM IT OUT

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.

RISING EXPORT

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.

GO YOUNG

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.

CELTIC R&R

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.

X MARKS THE WAIVER WIRE

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.

THIS IS MARVIN, YOUR FORWARD, MARVIN WILLIAMS

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.

TAKE TO THE HILL

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.

RETURNING SLEEPER

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.

RUSH IS FINDING HIS WAY

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.

VERSATILE CONTRIBUTOR

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
 

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

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

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 - 14:50
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/circus-over-schedule-not-any-easier-bulls
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What is Chicago's reward for finishing with its first winning record on its circus trip since 1997-98?

Three days rest between Saturday's win over Sacramento, giving the Bulls a 4-3 record for a trip on which they had been 10-61 since Michael Jordan's last season with the Bulls seems to be the reward. It's the most rest the team has had after this trip since the 2004-05 season.

And the Bulls will need it.  

Chicago (9-6) is 10th in Athlon Sports Week 6 Power Rankings, but no other team in the top 10 has as many games against top-tier teams over the next week as the Bulls do.

It starts Wednesday with a home game against the fifth-ranked Orlando Magic, followed by a trip to third-ranked Boston, then back home to take on a Houston team Chicago defeated 95-92 to start the circus trip. The Bulls then open next week with a Monday game against No. 9 Oklahoma City at home.

"The big thing for us is our schedule doesn't get easier when we go home," coach Tom Thibodeau said in an ESPNChicago.com report. "Our schedule actually gets, in some cases you could make the case that it's tougher. We have to recognize what's in front of us and when we get to practice we got to get to work."

Chicago PF Carlos Boozer (hand) should make his season debut by at least the weekend.

Not much else is on the slate over the next week between top-tier teams.

Indiana is quickly rising up the rankings. Three weeks ago the Pacers were 23rd, but they are knocking on the top 10's door with their No. 11 ranking. Indiana defeated the Lakers in Los Angeles for just the second time since Feb. 14, 1999 on Sunday night, and will take on No. 4 Utah on Wednesday.

The second-ranked Mavericks, winners of their last six, will travel to Utah on Friday. If Dallas can take care of Minnesota on Wednesday and Utah can do the same to Indiana, the two teams will meet with seven-game win streaks on the line.

On Saturday, the resurgent Atlanta Hawks will travel to Miami for a matchup of what could end up being the two teams that will vie for second place in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference.

New Orleans and San Antonio take to the court for the second Sunday in a row, this time in Texas. Each team had 17-point leads the last time they met before San Antonio pulled away for the 14-point win. New Orleans won the first meeting on Oct. 30. Sunday's game will be the second-to-last meeting of the year between the Southwest Division foes — Jan. 22 being the last.

And finally, Atlanta will go for the top dog in the Southeast when it travels to Orlando for a Monday night game. The Magic won the first meeting 93-89 when the two met in Orlando Nov. 8.  

For only the second time this season, a team holds the top spot for consecutive weeks. San Antonio has had it the last two; the Lakers held the top spot for the first three weeks. The Western Conference still dominates the top 10 with seven teams.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - 15:20
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-fantasy-dime/take-advantage-opportunities
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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.

Finally there's a light from Darko

PF/C Darko Milicic will certainly be remembered more for being selected in the 2003 NBA Draft second overall — before Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — than for his efforts on the basketball court. However, those efforts are finally starting to shine through eight years later. The Timberwolves are getting 9.1 ppg, 6.2 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and 2.1 assists from Milicic in 27 minutes a game. He had a string of three-straight performances over 20 points snapped Saturday, which has finally made him more than just the guy that contributes in the blocks category.

No go for Bogut

Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut did not travel to Utah for tonight's game due to a back injury. Bogut, who is already battling an arm/hand injury from last season, might not play Wednesday at Denver either. That would mean one game played over the team's three-game schedule at best. Milwaukee kept Bogut at home, and you should keep him on your bench this week.

Opportunity knocks

Bogut is not the only Buck battling injuries. PF/C Drew Gooden and SG/SF Corey Maggette are both dealing with foot injuries. SG/SF Carlos Delfino has missed nine straight games with concussion symptoms. That leaves forward Ersan Ilyasova to pick up some of the slack. He got his first start of the season Saturday — 17 points on 5-of-12 from the field, 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, 4-of-4 from the stripe with nine boards, six assists and three steals. This came after a 14-point, 11-rebound performance against Detroit the night before. There is risk in playing Ilyasova, but the Bucks just snapped a five-game losing streak and are having trouble getting anything together offensively. So roll with multi-category help that Ilyasova gives you.

More than just jumpers

Orlando's JJ Redick is benefiting from Vince Carter's knee injury that has sidelined him for the last three games. So you should benefit from it, too. Redick scored in double digits on three occasions last week, averaging over four assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals in four games. Carter is likely to return this week, but his minutes may be monitored. So feel safe to go with Redick.

Blowout beneficiary

The Lakers are averaging 9.2 points more a game than their opponents, thus giving bench players more court time. Shannon Brown has certainly taken advantage. The SG/SF is playing 18.9 minutes a game, scoring 10.9 points with 1.7 3s, 2.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 0.9 steals. You will have to deal with up-and-down percentages, but Brown has scored in double digits in nine of 17 games so far, and has added three or more rebounds six times. The Lakers play Memphis, Houston and Sacramento this week, meaning there should continue to be opportunities.

Long-ball centers

Like 3-pointers from your center-eligble players? Last year it was Channing Frye, Al Harrington, Troy Murphy, Andrea Bargnani and Matt Bonner. All five hit 90 or more 3-pointers. Four of those five are on pace again. Harrington leads the charge with 31, while Frye has 27, Bargnani has 21 and Bonner, who recently returned from injury, has 21 in 10 games. Bonner is still available in 98 percent of ESPN leagues and 94 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Murphy, who on Sunday saw his first action in seven games, is available in 42 percent of ESPN leagues and 24 percent of Yahoo leagues. If you have your choice between the two, go with Bonner. The Spur is at least getting minutes. His percentages will be lower, but the risk-reward should give you more from Bonner. Murphy has been a healthy scratch, according to the 10-year veteran, and doesn't seem to be meshing well with the New Jersey Nets.

Warrick an iffy play

Hakim Warrick now gets his shot to replace Amar'e Stoudemire. The Phoenix Suns tabbed him as the new starter at power forward. He averaged over 25 minutes off the bench, scoring 13.1 points a game with 4.6 rebounds. His first start left plenty to be desired. In a 138-133 loss to Denver, Warrick played 27 minutes with one foul and scored just eight points on 3-of-12 shooting to go along with nine boards. The Suns play Golden State, Indiana and Washington this week. Golden State and Washington allow over 104 points a contest. So feel OK, not great, about placing Warrick in your lineup.

Hold the Mayo?

OJ Mayo started the first 13 games of the season for Memphis, but has found himself coming off the bench for the last four. Could he find a spark on the second unit? Could he lead the second unit? Could he benefit from playing vs. other second teamers? Through four games off the bench, that doesn't seem to be the case. The guard's scoring is down seven points, and his shooting percentages are worse as are his rebounds, assists and steals. Were the Grizzlies going up against a tougher defensive slate this week I would leave Mayo on the bench, but three of the four teams they face allow over 100 points a game, so feel safe in adding a little Mayo to your lineup.

Find other options

Jonny Flynn still isn't back and might not be for another three weeks or so. Sebastian Telfair isn't tearing up the court. So that leaves Luke Ridnour to run the point in Minnesota. He is back after a hamstring injury sidelined him. In the four games since his return, Ridnour is scoring at 11.8 a game with 5.3 assists and 1.3 3-pointers. The Timberwolves play Dallas, San Antonio and Cleveland this week, all surrendering less than 100 points a game. I would hold off on Ridnour and go find a guy like Washington's Kirk Hinrich or Houston's Kyle Lowry to run the point for you for a week. They both have four-game slates.

Crash says he'll go

Gerald Wallace came crashing down to the floor with 7.1 seconds left in Saturday's game against Milwaukee, hyperextending his left elbow. He looked to be in a lot of pain as he was helped off the court, the kind of pain that means time will be missed. Further evaluation revealed an elbow contusion. He was limited in Monday's practice but says he will play Wednesday in New Orleans. The Bobcats also play New Jersey and Philly this week. It's a risky play, but the guy is playing over 38 minutes a game this season and is a stat stuffer. If he says he is going all you can do is believe him and put him in the lineup.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, November 29, 2010 - 15:13
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-western-conference-notes/youth-serving-thunder-just-fine
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Team on the Rise
Oklahoma City —
 The Thunder entered this season as the darlings of the Western Conference. They were the cool pick to make the big jump from the eighth seed that went six games with the Lakers a season ago to possible conference title contenders in 2010-11.

Oklahoma City hit some bumps along the way. After winning their first two games, the Thunder went 3-4 over the next two weeks. The experts started to wonder: Have we predicted the Thunder to rise too quickly? They are still a very young team — average age on opening day was 24 years and 268 days for the third-youngest team in the NBA.

Well that young roster reeled off five straight wins over a seven-day span, finally falling Wednesday night to Dallas, 111-103.  The only recent blemishes have been the late run Dallas went on to win the game Wednesday, and the late run Minneosta put together before falling to OKC on Monday.

But, for the most part, the Thunder are proving they know how to win.

They are 5-1 on the road, have given up a halftime lead just twice and a third-quarter lead once. Otherwise, OKC is 8-2 when leading at the break, 7-1 when leading after three quarters and have even thrown in a win after being tied after the third.

The trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green have scored at least 20 points apiece in the same game on nine occasions this year — the highest total for any three teammates all younger than 25 since Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Kendall Gill did so 11 times in the 1992-93 season for Charlotte.

Perhaps youth will rule the day before it's all said and done.  

Team on the Decline
Golden State —
 Give them a lead and there's a good chance the Warriors are leaving the arena with a win. But jump ahead and they have done nothing this season to show they can score a comeback victory.

The numbers speaks for themselves. Golden State is 6-1 when ahead at the half, 7-1 when leading after three quarters. However, the Warriors are 1-7 when trailing at the half, and 0-7 when behind after the third.

Golden State has dropped its last four games and six of its last seven since center David Lee's exit from the lineup. Lee has not played since his elbow collided with Wilson Chandler's teeth in New York on Nov. 10. The center got an infection from the collision and is not expected to return for at least another week. With games at Memphis, at Minnesota, home against Houston and maybe without Lee at home against Phoenix, this streak could run to eight in a row.

The Warriors are allowing 107.8 points a game, while only scoring 94.4 during the seven-game span without Lee. Three of the seven losses have been by 30, 28 and 17.

Numbers to Know
19 & 21 —
The Jazz made 19 of 19 free throws in a Wednesday victory over New Orleans. It followed a 21-of-21 performance against Portland on Nov. 20. Prior to the Portland perfection, the Jazz had only been perfect in one of its previous 470 games.

5 — Portland's Andre Miller needs five assists to pass Derek Harper (6,577) for 18th on the league's all-time assists list.

-19 — The Kings enter tonight's game against the Clippers on quite a shooting slump. They shot a season-low 35.8 percent on Monday in a loss to Utah. After starting the season 3-1 and scoring 108.8 points a game, Sacramento has lost eight of the last nine and is scoring just 89.8 a game during that stretch.

Beyond the Arc
Double the Love: Kevin Love
scored 32 and had 22 rebounds in an OT loss to San Antonio Wednesday. It marked the second time (31 and 31) that Love had a game this season with more than 30 points and more than 20 rebounds. Only four other active players have accomplished this — Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Zach Randolph.

Rare win ... in more ways than one: When the Clippers, then 1-13, met the Hornets, then 11-1, Monday night it marked the 19th time in league history a team with a winning percentage of .900-plus team met a .100 or lower team at least five games into the season, according to Elias. That oddity was then followed by something even more rare when the Clippers won the game, 99-95. Only one of the other 19 meetings ended with the team that had the losing record coming out on top — Golden State (5-0) lost to Minnesota (0-6) on Nov. 15, 1994.

Perfect Pau: Los Angeles Laker Pau Gasol scored 28 points on 10-of-10 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 from the foul line in a Sunday win over Golden State. It was the highest point total for perfection in over 15 years, according to Elias. Gary Payton scored 32 on 14-of-14 from the field and 3-of-3 from the stripe for Seattle on Jan. 4, 1995.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

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Post date: Thursday, November 25, 2010 - 13:08
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-eastern-conference-notes/knicks-rise-fall
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Team on the Rise
New York —
 What a difference seven days can make.

A week ago the Knicks sat in the "Team on the Decline" spot after losing six in a row. Seven days later, they enter another Wednesday contest, but this time as winners of four in a row.

Even during the losing streak, New York was scoring 101.6 points per game, but were surrendering 111.8. Oddly enough, during the winning streak, Mike D'Antoni's team is still giving up exactly 111.8, but the offense kicked it up a notch, averaging 118 a game.

Three of the four wins came on the road — a West Coast trip that resulted in a 3-1 record — and the team returned to Madison Square Garden to hold off Charlotte 110-107 Tuesday. The Knicks complete the home-and-home with the Bobcats tonight before taking on Atlanta, Detroit and New Jersey over the next week.

If New York could ever develop a defensive presence they could be a scary team in the Eastern Conference. But third in scoring against 27th in points allowed is a discrepancy that will eventually catch up with them.

Team on the Decline
Miami — 
Yikes. This is what a team that is third in the East has to endure?

The Miami Heat thought they were putting together the perfect team with the addition of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, but apparently didn't account for chemistry, a post presence or injuries.

Back-to-back losses to sub-.500 teams Memphis and Indiana after an eight-point win over a then 4-7 Charlotte has the 8-6 Miami Heat seemingly reeling heading into their second meeting with Orlando tonight.

Within the organization, injuries are compounding what is perceived as poor play.

Superstar guard Dwyane Wade is battling a wrist injury. Center Udonis Haslem may be out for the season with a torn ligament in his foot, leaving the team to scramble and sign Erick Dampier. Mike Miller (thumb) is out until at least the middle of December.

Outside of the organization, Lakers coach Phil Jackson is taking shots that can be heard from LA to Miami when he questioned on Wednesday whether Erik Spoelstra can hold onto the coaching job should the struggles continue.

All of this is while the team is still eighth in the league in scoring and fifth in points allowed. Miami is second in offensive and defensive efficiency. Bosh has finally started to make a difference with three straight double-doubles.

However, inside is where the Heat are still getting killed. That's not the recipe to defeat Orlando, Boston or even Chicago if the trio of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson have anything to say about it. Miami is scoring 33.8 points a game inside while allowing 38.8 and are 19th in rebounding.

The only thing saving the Heat right now is the fact they are in the Eastern Conference. In the West, they would be battling for the seventh or eighth seed right now.

Numbers to Know
16 — Derrick Rose
dropped in his 16th 3-pointer of the season in Chicago's loss to the Lakers Tuesday. That's a significant number for the third-year player because he had only hit 16 3-pointers in each of his first two seasons. He now has 16 in 12 games.

4 — Speaking of the long ball, Indiana's Danny Granger had five in the Pacers' win over Cleveland Tuesday. It's the fifth time Granger has hit at least four 3-pointers this season. That ties him with Charlotte's Stephen Jackson.

44 — New York's Danilo Gallinari has made 43 straight free throws heading into Wednesday's game with Charlotte. One more and he can tie the franchise mark set by Chris Duhon in 2008.

8 — Detroit heads to Memphis tonight to play a Grizzlies franchise it has owned on their own court. The Pistons are 8-1 in Memphis since the franchise moved from Vancouver. The lone victory for the Griz came Dec. 11, 2004. That dominance may end tonight as the Pistons are 2-6 on the road this season.

Beyond the Arc
Going to a fifth quarter without ever leading:
Atlanta never lead in its game against New Jersey Tuesday night, but still took the Nets to overtime. New Jersey went on to win 107-101. According to Elias, it was the first NBA game since Feb. 8, 2006 that went to overtime with one team never having taken the lead. The Spurs defeated a Raptors team that never had the lead in that game.

15 down. No problem: Washington erased a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime against Philadelphia Tuesday, the first time the Wizards had overcome a margin that big in the fourth quarter since Jan. 30, 2004. Washington went on to win the game 116-114, ending a 136-game streak of not being able to come back down 15 in the final quarter.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - 18:23
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/spurs-hornets-set-sunday-showdown
Body:

Too bad there isn't flex scheduling in the NBA.

There's a new No. 1 in the Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings for Week 5, and the new top team and former top team will meet this weekend.

San Antonio is the hottest team in the Association right now. The Spurs are winners of 11 straight, including a defeat of Orlando Monday night. They moved up from No. 3 in last week's rankings to No. 1.

New Orleans, last week's top team, rebounded from its first loss to post three straight wins before falling to the lowly Clippers last night. I am certainly willing to cut the 11-2 Hornets some slack considering their start and the fact that the Clippers loss was the third game in four days for New Orleans.

Now we have to wait until Sunday to see the last two No. 1s face off. Unfortunately, the game is being played at 3 p.m. Eastern, right in the middle of an NFL Sunday, and certainly won't get much attention. I would love to see that one flexed to the evening to at least lessen the viewing competition against it.

Maybe it's a bit overblown to think that this is the game of games for the NBA, but to this point it is.

Boston, Miami and Orlando rule the East and do so very inconsistently. The Lakers are the Lakers and have not had much competition to deal with. This game comes at a time in the season where we have had enough of a sample size to at least get a glimpse of who is legit and who is not. So when the two hottest teams in the league meet, in what will be for each of them their 16th game of the season, this could be a good preview of what's to come.

San Antonio (12-1) will travel to Minnesota and host Dallas on Wednesday and Friday, while the Hornets (11-2) are at Utah and at Portland on Wednesday and Friday before the Sunday showdown in the Big Easy.

Other key match ups between some of this week's top teams in the Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings begin tonight.

The ninth-ranked Bulls continue their circus trip with a stop in LA to play the No. 3 Lakers tonight.

Wednesday there are three games on the slate between top-tier teams as No. 10 Miami travels to No. 5 Orlando; No. 6 Dallas travels to No. 7 Oklahoma City; and the Hornets play at No. 8 Utah.

On Friday, Chicago will play No. 11 Denver, the Lakers play host to Utah and the Mavericks travel to the Spurs.

Portland, which sits at No. 12, could take some wind out of the sails for Sunday's matchup between New Orleans and San Antonio. The banged up Blazers have just one game this week and it is playing host to New Orleans on Friday.

The Heat travel to Dallas on Saturday.

New Orleans gets no rest after the Spurs contest, traveling to Oklahoma City on Monday to complete a back-to-back, and what should be its fourth tough game in a six-day stretch.

The Western Conference continues its dominance with six teams in the top eight and nine of the top 15. If you like teams in the 20s, the Eastern Conference is for you. The East has seven of its 15 teams ranked from 20-29.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 - 13:35
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-fantasy-dime/calderons-time-now-toronto
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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.

Jose's Time

Jarrett Jack was part of a five-player trade that sent him from Toronto to New Orleans, and the effects on fantasy are not so good for him but are for the team Jack left.

Jack will now back up his friend Chris Paul at PG for the Hornets, and should see time at SG behind Marco Belinelli. Backing up at two spots is a nice player to have for fantasy. Marcus Thornton is still in New Orleans, but has not made much, if any, noise this season at SG, so keep an eye on Jack's first couple of weeks in the Big Easy before making a move to either pick up or release him.   

The bigger effect should come to Jose Calderon, who was splitting time with Jack as the Raptors' PG. He is averaging 7.9 points on 38-percent shooting with 5.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.9 rebounds in 27 minutes a game off the bench.
Calderon should have been on most rosters that have any kind of depth; if not, go get him.

Big Z to the rescue?

With the Miami Heat center Udonis Haslem suffering torn ligaments in his foot Saturday and expected to be out a considerable length of time, the team must fill the void that wasn't really being filled to begin with.

Miami has certainly struggled inside this season, and perhaps this is where another player who came from Cleveland to Miami can step in. Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Big Z is averaging just 18 minutes a game, but shoots 60 percent from the field with five rebounds and 0.7 blocks a game.

Ilgauskas has started the last four games for the Heat, shooting 14-of-22 (.636) for seven points, 5.8 rebounds and 0.8 blocks. If you are in a two-center league or just need to take a flier on a center that could spark a team, take a look at the 7-foot-3 Russian this week.

Pacing at the point

Darren Collison is expected to return to the lineup for the Indiana Pacers tonight at PG. He has been out for the last three games with an ankle injury and T.J. Ford got the starts.

When healthy, Collison was playing 29 minutes, scoring at 15.1 on .465 shooting with 4.1 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game. Ford, in the three starts, averaged nine points, seven boards and five assists.

Collison was close to playing Saturday, and should be a safe play this week with four games. Those four games are against Miami, Cleveland, Oklahoma City and the Lakers, however.

Keep an eye on Dragic

Phoenix PG Steve Nash sat out the last two games with a groin injury that flared up again after the veteran suffered through the problem in the offseason. In his stead was Goran Dragic, who played 27 and 38 minutes in the two games.

Dragic averaged 13.5 points, four rebounds, seven assists, one steal and three turnovers in the two games. He had played no more that 19 minutes in games in which Nash was in the lineup. But keep an eye on Nash's injury as the Suns have four games this week — no back to backs. Dragic will certainly have value if the groin remains a problem.

Playing to his potential

JaVale McGee finally put up a stat line that owners could say they were proud of. The Washington center, who has loads of potential, became more than just a blocking machine Sunday when he scored 20 points, grabbed 16 boards, blocked two shots and even dished out an assist. He did it in a season-high 42:16 of playing time.

McGee has been absent many times at the end of Wizards games, but hung around for quite a while in the loss to Detroit. Perhaps this will be the spark he needs to play hard every night. Put him in the lineup while the getting is good.

Speaking of blocks

Denver center Chris Andersen is expected to make his season debut against Golden State tonight. The tattooed-blocking machine — 318 the last two years — has been nursing a knee injury.

The Nuggets only play three games this week, and the Birdman might be eased back into the rotation. He does, however, average 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 0.6 assists a game against the three teams Denver plays this week — Golden State, Chicago and Phoenix.

It's Kris with a K

Troy Murphy has fallen out of favor in New Jersey before he seemed to fall into favor. Derrick Favors is still getting worked in. And in the middle of all of it is Kris Humphries as the starting PF for the New Jersey Nets.

If you haven't picked him up in your league go do so ... I'll wait.

OK, you back?

Humphries has started the last six games for the Nets, putting up a double-double in four of them — missing the other two by two rebounds in one and two points in another. He's added nine blocks, shot .583 from the field, .714 from the stripe and only turned the ball over five times in those six games.

The Nets play four games — two sets of back to backs — this week, and Humphries should be in your lineup for all of them.

Toney's touch may be back

After a slump last week, perhaps Toney Douglas is getting back into form. The backup PG in New York, Douglas scored 12 points on 50-percent shooting from the field and .667 from 3-point range — which included four 3s — in a 124-115 win over the Clippers.

New York is a fast-paced offense and Douglas is averaging over 24 minutes a game, while still shooting over 40 from the field with 3.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals and two assists a game.

The Knicks have four games this week — two sets of back to backs like their Jersey counterparts — and Douglas might be a sneaky play for you.

Good from Gooden

In Milwaukee, PF/C Drew Gooden logged a lot of minutes last week. He averaged 37:18 over the last three games — almost eight above his season average — and nearly pulled a double double in each game. Gooden averaged 18 points, 12.3 boards, shot .526 from the field and had a block a game last week. While the team only has three games this week, ride this Buck while he's hot.

Read into Forbes

While the talk of Denver is whether Carmelo Anthony will stay or go — more when, not if — and if Chauncey Billups will join him, there's another story on the SG/SF side of things.

J.R. Smith certainly isn't making a case for NBA Sixth Man votes as Gary Forbes has started cutting into his minutes. The rookie is averaging just under 16 minutes a game and scoring 7.6 points with 2.7 boards, 0.7 assists, 0.6 steals and shooting .508 from the field. Smith is at 8.8 points, 3.0 boards, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting .388 from the field in a little over 20 minutes.

Smith had two DNPs last week, and games of 1:05 and 18:54 in the other two. Forbes meanwhile, went 23, 23, 17 and 11 in the minutes department the last four games. Take a chance on Forbes if you have the room.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, November 22, 2010 - 15:21
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-western-conference-notes/spurs-still-kicking-out-west
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Team on the Rise
San Antonio —
The Spurs are tied with Southwest Division foes New Orleans for the best record at 9-1. They have won eight in a row, including a 4-0 mark on the road.

Offensively, San Antonio is cruising at 108.3 points a game, which is only behind the Lakers' 112.2. The defense isn't too shabby, either, allowing 100.4 a game — .03 under the league average.

As expected, Tony Parker (18.6 ppg) and Manu Ginobili (21.2 ppg) are leading the way. But the Spurs are also getting significant help from Richard Jefferson in his second year with the team. The nine-year vet is scoring 17 a game.

Tim Duncan is still getting it done in just 29.9 minutes a game as he is scoring 13.7 and rebounding at 7.9 a game. The return of PF/C Matt Bonner from injury and the emergence of third-year guard George Hill and rookie Gary Neal has helped (13.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg) give San Antonio a blend of old and new in this hot start to the 2010-11 campaign.

Team on the Decline
Portland —
The 7-5 record is irrelevant, really. Six of the seven wins have come against sub-.500 teams.

What is relevant is that the Trail Blazers announced on Wednesday Greg Oden will miss yet another season. The 2007 NBA Draft's first pick will have microfracture surgery on his left knee, thus ending a season that never began.

Oden had not played since December 2009, when he needed surgery on his a fractured left patella, and he missed his rookie season after microfracture surgery on his right knee. Oden has played in just 82 games since 2007.

The team has managed the 7-5 record going in to Thursday's game against Denver without Oden, but there was the hope that he would bring his 7-foot presence into the post to help the team battle the Western Conference's other bigs.

The more worrisome knee injury, however, is that of three-time All-Star guard Brandon Roy. The Blazers' scoring leader (18.1 ppg) had voiced concerns over his knee after logging a number of minutes to begin the season. He last played on Saturday (22 minutes) and will miss at least the next two games.

Roy's knees might not be much better than Oden's, he just doesn't have to carry a 7-foot, 285-pound frame around with him.

The Blazers can compete without Oden — they have for three years basically. Being without Roy is another question, though. And might be too big of a question mark to keep up in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

Numbers to Know
22 —
Elias has it all. Michael Beasley's (21 years old) 33 points for Minnesota along with 30 from 21-year-old Clippers Eric Gordon and 26 from Blake Griffin during the team's game Wednesday night marked only the fourth game in NBA history in which three players under the age of 22 each scored at least 25 points.

15 — When Utah had five players score at least 15 points in a win over New Jersey Wednesday it was the first time in franchise history five players scored 15 in a game where the Jazz failed to score 100 points (98-88).

15 again — Tim Duncan went for 16 points and 18 rebounds in the Spurs' win over Chicago Wednesday. It marked the 202nd time Duncan had posted at least 15 points and 15 boards. Only two active players have accomplished the feat more — Shaquille O'Neal (235) and Kevin Garnett (204).

17 — Phoenix guard Steve Nash is 17 points shy of becoming the 16th active NBA player to reach 15,000 points. Nash, who is averaging 19.3 ppg this season, will take on Orlando tonight on TNT.

Beyond the Arc
Ahead of pace:
Through Wednesday's games, the NBA's 30 teams are averaging 100.7 points — up two from this point last season. Seventeen teams are averaging at least 100 points. Last season's average finished at 100.4 with 18 teams scoring at or above 100 a game — the most to average triple digits since 1993-94 when 20 teams managed the feat.

Overlooked: Utah forward Paul Milsap has five double-doubles in 12 games this season, and his 46-point effort sparked the infamous comeback in Miami last week. However, averaging 21.5 points a game — eight above his career best — and leading the Jazz with 9.5 boards a game was not enough to get his name on the Western Conference All-Star ballot.

Instead that honor went to PG Deron Williams, SF Andrei Kirilenko, PF/C Al Jefferson and C Mehmet Okur. Of course Williams' name should be on there, AK47 and Jefferson, sure. But Okur has yet to play this season, sidelined with an Achilles injury, and has no timetable for his return.

Let the write-ins begin.

Artest to the NFL: CBSSports.com is reporting that Lakers forward Ron Artest told the Web site, in an interview to air in its entirety later this week, that he will try out for an NFL team once his contract with L.A. is up after the 2013-14 season.

At 6-7, 260 pounds, Artest will be 34 once the 2014 NFL season begins — he will turn 35 in November 2014.

"God willing, after my NBA career, God willing I'm still athletic enough — which I'm trying to take care of my body as best as possible and be prepared for this day, for this tryout of an NFL team," he said in the interview

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, November 18, 2010 - 19:36
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-eastern-conference-notes/bulls-flying-high-circus-trip-begins
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Team on the Rise
Chicago —
The Bulls began their annual circus trip with a victory in Houston Tuesday for their fourth straight win. Only San Antonio — winners of seven in a row — is a hotter team in the Association right now. The streak will stop for one of them tonight when they face each other.

Since falling to the Knicks at home on Nov. 4 and a road OT loss to Boston, Chicago scored three straight home wins before the circus trip — a seven-game, 12-day event that kicks the Bulls and the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks out of the United Center while the circus is in town.

The Bulls also began last season's circus trip with a victory before losing the remaining five games on the long excursion by an average of 15.8 points a contest, while never scoring over 98. Since Michael Jordan's final season with Chicago (1997-98), the Bulls are 11-61 on the circus trip.

"All the stuff about going on the road and the circus, all this stuff, I'm not concerned about that. I'm just worried about the next game," first-year coach Tom Thibodeau said on the team's Web site.

Defense has been the key for Chicago (6-3), which is 6-0 when it holds opponents under 100. The Bulls have allowed just 92.5 a game during the winning streak.

Chicago is doing all this on the shoulders of Derrick Rose (24.7 ppg, 9.2 apg), Joakim Noah (16.0 ppg, 12.8 rpg) and Luol Deng (19.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg) while Carlos Boozer recovers from a hand injury and the team tries to settle in at the 2-guard spot.

Team on the Decline
New York — The Knicks defeated Chicago and Washington in back-to-back nights starting Nov. 4 but have failed to win since.

It doesn't seem to be for a lack of trying on the offensive end — a trait coach Mike D'Antoni is well known for. The Knicks are averaging 101.6 points a game — 0.9 above the league average — during the six-game slide.

But defense is not a trait D'Antoni's teams are known for and it is glaring during the losing streak as New York is surrendering 111.8 a game — 11.1 above the league average.

It'd be easy to say this started when the Knicks allowed Kevin Love to put up 31 points and grab 31 boards against them on Nov. 12, but that was in the middle of this losing streak.

It won't get any easier with three more on the road before returning for a back-to-back and home-and-home against Charlotte next Tuesday.

I thought the Knicks would put together a great week after coming off four- and five-point losses to Boston and Portland before the Chicago and Washington wins. I still see wins coming for this squad, but will they already be too rattled for it to matter when they do find the win column with consistency?

Numbers to Know
50 —
LeBron might have left Cleveland, but there's always the bench. The Cavaliers' bench scored 54 points Tuesday against Philly, the third time the team's bench has scored 50. That number equals last year's entire total for the bench, according to Elias.

8 — When Chicago overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Houston on Tuesday it was the first time the Bulls had come back from a margin of at least eight on the road since April 3, 2008. The Bulls had lost 48 straight games in that situation prior to the Houston win, according to Elias.

25 — Washington collected 28 assists in a win over Toronto on Tuesday, marking the fifth straight game the team has had at least 25 assists. That is the team's longest such streak since April 1997, according to Elias.

6 — New Jersey's Anthony Morrow needs just six more 3-pointers to qualify for the NBA's all-time highest 3-point field goal percentage. He is currently shooting .454 (244-of-538). Steve Kerr holds the mark at .454 on 726-of-1,599).

Beyond the Arc
West returns: Delonte West
, suspended by the Association for the first 10 games of the season after pleading guilty to weapons charges, makes his debut tonight against the Washington Wizards.

West, who played for Doc Rivers in Boston from 2004-2007, gives the 8-2 Celtics yet another productive player to help lead the reserves. The guard, who will spell Ray Allen and has been a starter in three of his eight seasons, is a career .446 shooter, scoring 10 a game with 3.7 assists, 3.1 boards and 1.1 steals.

Home is where the wins are?: The 76ers are certainly hoping a return home will produce some wins — or at least some points.

The team went on the road for five straight games and defeated the Knicks on Nov. 7, but have lost the last four in a row.

Standout Andre Iguodala, who had not missed a game in 252 contests prior to the Knicks game, has not played since the last home game — Nov. 5 vs. Cleveland (116-123). Tendinitis in his right Achilles will continue to sideline him.

The 76ers have been limited to 90, 93 and 93 in their last three games. At home this season Philly is 1-4, but at least averaging 101.3 a game. The team is back for two starting tonight before a four-game road stretch.

Miami Heat: There's nothing really to say here. I wouldn't be doing my job if I put together an Eastern Conference notes package and didn't mention the Heat.

Until they do something worthy of them being mentioned outside of just being The Big Three and the Miami Heat, it's just nitpicking at a team we all know will be one of the final four in the East when it's all said and done.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - 18:14
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/hornets-take-top-spot-utah-jumps-eight
Body:

From 19 to 11 to 1.

That's the jump the New Orleans Hornets have made in the Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings over the first three weeks of the season.

New Orleans takes over the top spot this week from the now-No. 4 Los Angeles Lakers, who not only killed my prediction they probably would not lose until a Christmas Day tilt with Miami but went out and lost their last two entering tonight's game at Milwaukee. The Lakers lost to Denver and Phoenix to drop the four spots.

The Hornets got wins over the Clippers and Trail Blazers by 19 and 20 to move to 8-0 going into a home and home with Dallas. The Mavericks ended New Orleans' undefeated run with a 98-95 home win Monday, and the Hornets get a chance to avenge their only defeat Wednesday.

Boston moves up from 3 to 2, while the Spurs go from 6 to 3.

Boston once again dismantled Miami and won a road overtime game against Memphis. It is the third OT win this year for the Celtics, who suit up for a four-game, six-day stretch that begins Wednesday with Washington and has Oklahoma City at home along with Toronto and Atlanta on the road in a back to back.

San Antonio has not necessarily had the toughest slate to get to the No. 3 spot with wins over Charlotte, the Clippers, Sixers and Oklahoma City over the last week. But four wins in seven days is impressive. This next week will be a bit more of a challenge with home games against Chicago, Cleveland and Orlando to go along with a Friday road game at Utah.

Dallas moved from 8 to 5 with wins over Boston, Memphis, Philly and New Orleans over the last week. The Mavs travel to the Big Easy tonight to complete the home and home. It doesn't get any easier with games against Chicago and at Atlanta.

It was said here last week that Utah would either skyrocket up the rankings or remain around the middle of the pack. Needless to say, the Jazz shot up the list.

With five straight double-digit comeback victories, Utah went from 14 to 6. After four games in five days, the Jazz get five in eight days. It started with a 115-108 loss against visiting Oklahoma City Monday night — the first loss for Utah in five games — and continues with games against the Nets, Spurs, Trail Blazers and Kings over the next six days.

No. 7 Miami has also been idle since Saturday when it held off Toronto 109-100. The Heat should be able to get back on track if they can run with Phoenix on Wednesday before games against Charlotte, Memphis and Indiana.

Orlando ended a miserable week by finally defending its home court. The Magic fell from 5 to 8 after losing home games to Utah and Toronto and then escaping New Jersey with a one-point win. The Magic returned home Monday to defeat Memphis 89-73, and get Phoenix, Indiana and San Antonio over the next week.

The Suns moved from 12 to 9 with wins over Sacramento, the Lakers and Denver. Phoenix now has to travel to Miami, Orlando, Charlotte and Houston between Wednesday and Monday.

Denver bounced back from a 144-113 drubbing to Indiana — a team that had posted just 30 points in the two quarters before the blowout — to hand the Lakers their first loss. However, the Nuggets followed the Lakers win with their 12th straight loss in Phoenix on Monday to drop from 9 to 10. It should be a good week for Denver, though. It has games against the Knicks, Trail Blazers, Nets and Warriors over the next week.

Chicago begins its annual circus trip — a trip that the Bulls are 10-61 on since 1999-00, which included an 0-32 run at one point — tonight in San Antonio. Wins over Golden State and Washington moved the Bulls from 16 to 11 as they begin the seven-game, 12-day road trip.

The Hawks had the biggest fall of upper echelon teams, going from 6 to 13 after seeing a 6-0 start turn into 6-4 before getting back in the win column with a 111-105 home victory against Minnesota. The Hawks have a light week with games at Indiana tonight and home contests against Dallas and Boston on Saturday and Monday.

Again, the Western Conference dominates the top half of this week's power rankings. They have nine of the top 15 spots and six within the top 10.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - 13:46
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-fantasy-dime/week-tim-duncan
Body:

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.

Tim Duncan's minutes took quite a dip last week — going from nearly 34 to 23 — and with that came a major dip in production. His minutes are at a career low and have been in decline over the last five years. He went from 18 points and 11.3 boards two weeks ago to 6.3 and 5.3 last week.

While the Spurs are apparently preserving him for the playoffs, it makes it tough for fantasy players to know what to do with him. Assuming it's an every-other-week deal, this would be the "on week." San Antonio plays three games — home vs. Chicago, at Utah and back home vs. Cleveland. He should see minutes in the first two, but might not be needed vs. the Cavs Saturday night as it's the second game of a back to back that the Spurs should win.

Give Telfair a week

PG Jonny Flynn is expected to make his season debut Wednesday after having been sidelined from hip surgery. Luke Ridnour, who began the season as the starter, has sat out the last week with a hamstring injury. He, too, could return Wednesday vs. the Clippers.

In both their steads, Sebastian Telfair has performed well over the last week. He averaged 11.8 points — including a goose egg against the Knicks — while dishing out 6.5 assists, 1.5 boards and steals and 3.5 turnovers.

Minnesota plays three games this week — at Charlotte tonight then home vs both L.A. teams. Telfair should be a safe play for one more week as Flynn and Ridnour ease back into the lineup. He was averaging 9 points and 3.1 assists in the seven games prior to starting, and his first start came against Lakers when he had his most complete game of the season — 13 points, three 3-pointers, nine assists and five rebounds.

Go with Lowry

Kyle Lowry has assumed the starting PG role over Ishmael Smith in Houston. The move was expected as Lowry had been sidelined with back spasms and was expected to take over for Smith, who took over for the injured Aaron Brooks (3-5 weeks due to an ankle).

Lowry is averaging 35 and 36 as a starter. He is averaging 10 points, 6.5 assists and rebounds and 2.5 steals in the two starts. His minutes make him a good play this week with three games, but be wary as he goes up against Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook in back-to-back games starting Tuesday before finishing the week in Toronto.

Cavaliers are in Sessions

Cleveland PG Mo Williams is out for the second time this season due to a groin injury. In steps Ramon Sessions.

He has started five games this season, averaging 12.6 points, 3.6 assists, 3.0 rebounds and shoots .375 from the field. Oddly enough, as a bench player, averaging over eight minutes less a game, Sessions' numbers go to 11 points, 3.8 assists, 3.5 boards and .394 from the field.

It's not the easiest road for the Cavs this week, either. They play three games — home vs. Philly on Tuesday and then a back-to-back at New Orleans and San Antonio on Friday and Saturday. If you have to lock a lineup today, leave Sessions out of it.

Gilbert's gone green

It certainly seems Washington guard Gilbert Arenas has been given the green light to launch his shot. He has put up 69 shots in the five games since his return from an ankle injury, connecting on 24 of them, including 16 of 35 from 3 — seven against Chicago Saturday night. The last two games, Arenas has logged exactly 31:33 minutes and should continue to see playing time and opportunities.

John Wall (foot) was in a walking boot and crutches for at least the second time this season and is day-to-day, and Kirk Hinrich is getting minutes but has only attempted 11 shots in the last two games.

The Wizards have four games this week — home vs. Toronto and Memphis with road games at Boston and Detroit — and Arenas should be in the lineup.

Rise of the 3

Fourteen players hit at least five 3-pointers in a game over the last week. Let's see if you should have them in your lineup this week.

Manu Ginobli, 5-of-11 on Monday — Always have him in the lineup.
Gary Neal, 5-of-7 on Monday — It's a reach, but James Anderson is out for two months and that should mean more PT for Neal.
Mike Dunleavy, 6-of-10 on Tuesday — Keep him in there until Brandon Rush knocks him out, but keep in mind the Pacers play Atlanta, the Clippers and Orlando this week
Anthony Morrow, 5-of-8 on Wednesday — The Nets play four road games this week and Morrow has the green light. Play him.
Ray Allen, 7-of-9 on Thursday — Always have him in the lineup.
Mickael Pietrus 8-of-11 on Friday — The 6-6 shooting guard enters a three-game week on a hot streak from beyond the arc, having hit 12-of-17 in his last two games. The Magic take on Memphis tonight then Phoenix and Indiana. He has added 2.5 rebounds during the last two games, but is pretty much a 3-point guy as of now. Play him while he's hot. He did knock down 116 3s last year in 75 games.
Charlie Vllanueva 5-of-7 on Friday — The Pistons are a mess, and particularly at the PF position. They play Golden State, the Clippers and the Wizards this week — three teams not necessarily known for defensive prowess. CV averaged 27 minutes, 16.3 ppg, 3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks last week. Play him.
James Posey 5-of-8 on Friday — You know what, why not? The last two seasons, Posey has had nine games in which he hit at least four 3-pointers and in the the three games following each he has posted 19 the first game, 23 the second and four in the third. The Pacers play three games this week, and if you need a streaky 3-point shooter, might as well see if Posey can continue the trend.
Gilbert Arenas 7-of-11 on Saturday — A good play this week.
Danny Granger 5-of-8 on Saturday — Always have him in the lineup.
Stephen Jackson, 5-of-13 on Saturday — Always have him in the lineup.
Jason Richardson, 7-of-10 on Sunday — Is the Suns' scoring leader, but temper expecations against Denver, Miami and Orlando. Also play at Charlotte this week.
• Matt Bonner, 7-of-7 on Sunday — Came back from a two-week hiatus (ankle) and saw an increase from 15 to 25 minutes in second game. Spurs play three this week, and he should be a safe play.
• Hedo Turkoglu, 5-of-7 on Sunday — The Suns play four games this week — at home vs. Denver then hit the road for Miami, Orlando and Charlotte. Hedo may have found his groove Sunday, but I would sit him this week until he can prove more consistent.

Forecast is Sonny

Which Toronto Raptor will be the fantasy player du jour this time? Well, it is Sonny Weems G/F that is attracting attention in a four-game span where he averaged 31:30 mpg, shot 63 percent from the field, scored at 15.3 per game and added 3.0 apg and rpg to go with 1.3 steals and just two turnovers a contest.

Toronto has four games this week, and there is no reason to think Weems will slow down against Washington, Philly and Houston. Boston, yes, but three out of four isn't too bad. The Raptors will take a toll on you, but give Sonny a shot.

Take a seat, Troy

Troy Murphy fell farther in your drafts because of the back injury in the preseason. So you thought to yourself: "I'm getting a steal here in the mid-to-late rounds." Why wouldn't you think it? Murphy has hit 161 and 128 3-pointers over the last two seasons from the PF/C spot. He has also averaged 11.8 and 10.2 in rebounds, 2.4 and 2.1 in assists and nearly a steal a game on average.

You expected him to be worked into the lineup slowly, which he was. He eventually returned to the starting lineup, but now Kris Humphries is getting the start at PF, while Murphy comes off the bench. There is also the Derrick Favors issue — the No. 2 pick in this year's draft needs to get minutes somewhere.

With Murphy having played in five games, adding a foot injury to the equation, getting 20 minutes, hitting .6 3s per game and just 5.2 boards, he is a fantasy liability. If your lineup locks today, keep him out this week.

Beasley does it

If there was any question as to whether Minnesota's Michael Beasley needed to be in the lineup, stop asking. He is apparently playing with a chip on his shoulder after being shipped out of Miami last season. In the last three games, the PF has scored 25, 35 and 42. Those 102 points are the second-highest three-game total by a Timberwolves player, trailing Kevin Garnett's 112 in March 2000. Games against Charlotte and both L.A.s should prove to be good ones for Beasley.

Avoid-a-Bull

Chicago's SG spot leaves plenty to be desired in both the real and fantasy worlds. The Bulls begin their annual Circus Trip this week — seven road games starting Tuesday in Houston and lasting until Nov. 27 while the circus is at the United Center. Starter Keith Bogans (6.4), reserves Ronnie Brewer (4.5) and Kyle Korver (8.1) are lacking in the scoring department and don't offer much, if anything, in any other category. Chicago will probably trade to improve the spot later this season, but the Bulls are winning without it and without Carlos Boozer right now. You should win without any of the Chicago SGs as well.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, November 15, 2010 - 17:55
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-western-conference-notes/hornets-rise-thanks-defense
Body:

Team on the Rise
New Orleans —
 The sky is blue. Grass is green. And the Hornets are the team on the rise.

Of course it is the obvious choice for this week, but I did have them ranked as the No. 11 team a week ago, and New Orleans has shot all the way up to No. 2 — and could make an argument as the top team in the league.

The Hornets are 7-0 after Tuesday's win against the Clippers — the only team on the schedule so far that was not a playoff team last year. And they disposed of a non-playoff caliber team like they should have with a 101-82 drubbing. According to Elias, New Orleans is one of four teams in league history to win its first seven games after finishing under .500 the previous season.

Meanwhile, the top-ranked Lakers, also undefeated at 8-0 going into tonight's game at Denver, have seen only two playoff teams from a year ago — Phoenix and Portland.

New Orleans is idle until a Saturday home game against Portland, which kicks off another four-game run against playoff teams from a year ago before a hitting the road for five of six to close out the month.

First-year coach Monty Williams is getting it done with defense. His squad is scoring only 98 a game — 20th in the league — but giving up just 90.1 — tied for tops in the league. If the Hornets defeat Portland it will tie Williams with Larry Brown for the best start to a season by a first-year coach.

Team on the Decline
Denver —
 Houston sat in this spot a week ago, and could be here again. However, it's hard to decline when you are already at the bottom. "Team on the Decline" is reserved for a team that could actually be a factor when the season is in the closing stages — so the likelihood of the Clippers, Timberwolves or Kings being on this list this year is minimal.

Therefore, Denver gets the nod this week. The Nuggets started their three-game road trip with a win at Dallas before falling to Chicago and getting pasted 144-113 by Indiana. Tonight they play host to a Lakers team that was less than impressive against lowly Minnesota, but should be geared up for a rematch of the 2009 Western Conference finals.

Denver blew a six-point lead with seven minutes to go in Chicago and was never in the game against an Indiana team that went from scoring 30 in the second half of its previous game to quarters of 27, 32, 54 and 31 in its blowout of the Nuggets.

A win tonight against the Lakers is needed, but without the presence of Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen and Nene just coming back from a groin injury, chances of the Nuggets' perimeter players defeating the Lakers' perimeter players are slim.

Denver has games at Phoenix and home against the Knicks before a trip to Portland next Thursday, so the coming week will be big to respond from what will probably be a three-game skid this week.

Numbers to Know
3 —
According to Elias, the Utah Jazz are the first team in the shot clock era (1954-55) to win three straight games after trailing by at least 10 points at the half. Utah came back after being down 18 against the Clippers, 22 against the Heat and 18 against the Magic to get the trio of wins.

18 — San Antonio defeated the Clippers Wednesday night, marking the 18th straight win for the Spurs against the L.A. franchise. It's the longest current win streak any team has over another in the NBA. San Antonio's longest streak against one team was a 21-game run against Memphis form 1997-2002.

31 — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored 31 apiece against Philadelphia Wednesday night, giving Oklahoma City the first pair of 30-point scorers on the same team this season.

74 — Through six NBA telecasts leading up to Wednesday night's doubleheader, ESPN's ratings were up 74 percent compared to a year earlier.

Beyond the Arc
Some good news:
Not much good has been coming from the Timberwolves in the early part of this NBA season. They are losing. Kevin Love isn't getting the minutes you would expect. They've lost by 25 three times in nine games so far — a feat only two other teams in the past 20 years have attained. But Michael Beasley at least gave Minnesota fans some spark when he scored 18 in the first quarter and 27 in the first half — both one point shy of team records — en route to a career high 42 points in a 98-89 victory at Sacramento Wednesday.

Nash staying put? Earlier this season, Phoenix PG Steve Nash questioned how good this version of the Suns would be. Well, they have very little post presence, but are good on the perimeter — sounds like a majority of the league. But the perimeter play has them at 3-4 and a buzz is being generated about Nash, the best player for Phoenix, being moved. It seems like a noble thing to do. Average team. Aging guard. A ring for Nash. We see it all the time — talks of moving championship ringless superstars as they get up there in years.

But as Arizona Republic writer Paul Coro reported, if the 36-year-old goes, so too does someone else.

"Steve's not going to be traded, that I can tell you," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "If he's getting traded, I'm going along with him, OK? Have you looked at the way he's playing? He's playing at a real high level. Why would we trade him? I don't understand that. That's nothing that's been discussed here."

Gentry added the Nash is the face of the franchise, and the face stays.

Taking a bite in the Big Apple: David Lee made his return to New York Wednesday night as the Golden State Warriors defeated the Knicks 122-117. Lee, who was the Warriors' key free-agent signing in the offseason, scored a season-high 28 in his return — the first former New York player since Walt Frazier in 1977 to score at least that many in his first game against the Knicks.

Lee's former team honored him — strangely enough in the middle of the game — with a video montage saying thank you. He also left with some marks on his elbow after going for a rebound against Wilson Chandler and knocking one of Chandler's teeth out in the process.

"Well, I got the rebound and he (Wilson Chandler) was diving in to get the offensive rebound and his tooth dug in and sliced it open pretty good," Lee said after the game. "I can actually see the bone coming out a little bit. So it probably requires a few stitches and I got to deal with the Knicks medical staff. I just wanted to hang out with them a little bit more I haven’t seen them in a while so I’ll get that chance tonight.”

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, November 11, 2010 - 16:01
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-eastern-conference-notes/cleveland-rising-miami-falling-wait-what
Body:

Team on the Rise
Cleveland —
 Where were the Cavaliers going to go but up after LeBron left? After all, reason said they were obviously going to be at the bottom of the conference upon the King's exit.

No doubt LeBron James' departure is going to take a while to recover from, and an inconsistent Cavs squad will head out there in the early going. That was evident when the team shocked Boston in its opener then got blown out 101-81 by a terrible Toronto team two nights later.

Cleveland dropped two more — a three-pointer to Sacramento and a 12-pointer to Atlanta before reeling off road wins against Philadelphia, Washington and New Jersey. The Cavs get the Nets again tonight for the start of a three-game homestand that also includes Indiana and Philly.

What was a 1-3 start could turn into a 7-3 record before Cleveland travels to New Orleans and San Antonio for a back to back beginning Nov. 19.

The return of Mo Williams (16 ppg), pictured left, from a groin injury has certainly sparked the Cavs, as has Daniel Gibson (14.9 ppg) to give the team a solid backcourt. Cleveland should also get help from Antawn Jamison, who missed all of last week with a sore knee but came in to score 15 off the bench in a win over New Jersey Tuesday.

Team on the Decline
Miami —
I know, I know. No need to push the panic button just yet, but the Heat have proven nothing so far.

Offensively, it is the LeBron and Dwyane Wade show while everyone else watches. Outside of the league-leading 24 3-pointers James Jones has knocked down, there's not been much else from the Heat. And even Jones' role is: See spot on floor. Go to spot on floor. Wait for ball. Shoot ball.

Miami blew a 22-point lead against Utah Tuesday in an overtime loss at home. The Heat did so with Jazz post presence Al Jefferson basically being nonexistent and PG Deron Williams fouling out late in the fourth. In the overtime session only Wade performed for Miami — scoring all 10 points.

Defensively, Miami was scorched for 56 points in the paint — almost 20 above its average allowed. The Heat have one signature win so far — a 96-70 dismantling of Orlando in game three of the season — but have lost to the other three playoff teams they have played so far (88-80 to Boston, 96-93 to New Orleans and 116-114 to Utah).

Eddie House was quoted as saying maybe the Heat got "bored" when they were up by so much.

There is no rest for those on the decline as Miami takes on Boston Thursday night. Perhaps the Heat won't be as bored going up against Rajon Rondo and the other Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

Numbers to Know
54 —
The Indiana Pacers entered Tuesday night's game against visiting Denver coming off a second half in which they scored just 30 in a loss to Milwaukee. Talk about a turnaround. Indiana exploded for 54 points in the third quarter of its 144-113 win against the Nuggets — the most in a single quarter since Phoenix scored 57 in the second quarter of a Nov. 10, 1990 contest, according to Elias.

9 — Miami's LeBron James recorded his first triple double as a member of the Heat when he put up 20 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists in a loss to Utah. It was James' 29th career triple double, but just the ninth in the 22-year history of the Heat and first since Shaq got one in April 2006.

11 — The Knicks were blown out by 27 against the Bucks Tuesday night, marking the 11th time New York has lost by 25 or more in the 171 games under coach Mike D'Antoni. It happened to D'Antoni just six times in 389 games when he coached Phoenix, according to Elias.

Beyond the Arc
Plenty of time to get better:
The Indiana Pacers were slated to be in the "Team on the Decline" spot before Tuesday night's 144-point eruption. The Pacers' shooting percentages were poor, as was their tempo — scoring 82.5 a game and shooting just 35 percent their last two games. Perhaps Indiana is finally doing something with its time off. The team is in the middle of a five-game stretch that lasts a ridiculous 13 days. Before the 144-point game, the Pacers last played on Friday, and they don't play again this week until a Friday tilt at home against Houston.

Someone has to win: Charlotte is at Toronto tonight in a game in which the two teams have combined to lose their last eight — Toronto five in a row and Charlotte three. The Bobcats have the worst scoring offense at 89.9 points a game, while the Raptors are eighth-worst in the league in allowing 104.1 a game.

Rematch: The Bucks were ousted in last year's playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks and come back to Atlanta with a little momentum tonight. Milwaukee blew out the Knicks Tuesday, fell by six to undefeated New Orleans, defeated Indiana by four and lost to Boston in OT. Meanwhile, Atlanta, which started off 6-0 before losing its last two, has defeated only one playoff team — a LeBron-less Cavaliers squad — this season.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - 14:27
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-power-rankings/lakers-stay-top-hornets-make-big-jump
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There is only one matchup between the top four teams in this week's Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings.

Third-ranked Boston travels to fourth-ranked Miami as two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference face off on TNT Thursday night. This will be the second meeting between the two teams this season. Boston won the first game 88-80 in Beantown on Opening Night.

The Celtics lost to Cleveland the following night before reeling off five straight wins — two in OT and a four-point win over the Knicks. Boston enters the game off its second loss, a 92-83 defeat in Dallas.

Miami has lost once more since its first game — 96-93 to the 6-0 Hornets — but has won by an average of 20.6 points in its five victories going into tonight's game against visiting Utah.

Utah, this week's 14th-ranked team, finds itself in a number of games against teams from the top 16 over the next week.

The Jazz play four teams inside the top 16 starting with the game against No. 4 Miami tonight. Utah travels up the Florida Turnpike — the team probably takes a plane though, right? — to go against No. 5 Orlando Wednesday. After taking Thursday off, the Jazz get a seventh-ranked Atlanta team that started the season 6-0 before losing its last two (Phoenix and Orlando). Next Monday ends the gauntlet at home against No. 11 Oklahoma City.

So a week of success will have Utah skyrocketing up this list or probably just holding steady as one of the league's top 16 teams over the first three weeks.

Oklahoma City will take on visiting Portland (No. 10) and San Antonio (No. 6)  on Friday and Sunday before its game against No. 14 Utah Monday. So the Thunder will be in the same boat of finding themselves ascending even higher on this list or failing to live up to the preseason hype and settling back down around 13-15.

No. 15 Memphis sits right behind Utah and also has a weeklong gauntlet.

If the Grizzlies want to prove they can contend, this is quite an early test to either confirm or deny that they can do so. They play host to No. 8 Dallas tonight coming off a 109-99 win against 13th-ranked Phoenix.

Memphis then welcomes No. 3 Boston Saturday and travel to No. 5 Orlando Monday. The Griz start this run with a record of 4-4 and taking two out of three would be a big step forward.

Athlon Sports' top two teams — the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Hornets — are the only two undefeated teams and have a few encounters with our top-tier teams.

The Lakers travel to No. 9 Denver Thursday and play host to No. 12 Phoenix Sunday — both are games L.A. should win. As a matter of fact, looking over the schedule and assuming everyone is healthy, I think the Lakers go into their Christmas Day game with Miami at 29-0.

New Orleans and Western Conference Player of the Week Chris Paul shouldn't be tested until the end of the week with a Saturday game against visiting 10th-ranked Portland and two games in three days against Dallas.

The 2-3 Knicks sit on the fringe of the top 16 in our rankings, and can start making a move up the chart with a win over visiting Golden State Wednesday night as David Lee returns to Madison Square Garden with his No. 12 Warriors.

Golden State then visits No. 16 Chicago Thursday as Stephen Curry goes against Derrick Rose in another battle of middle of the league teams.

With 11 of the top 15 teams the Western Conference dominates the top half of this week's power rankings. Only Boston, Miami, Orlando and Atlanta are within the top 15, and they at least help save face for the Eastern Conference as those four teams make up four of the top seven.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - 14:11
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-fantasy-dime/ankles-making-mess-rockets-backcourt
Body:

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.

Houston, we have a backcourt problem
Ankle injuries sidelined Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin over the weekend. Brooks, the team's PG, thinks he will be out 4-6 weeks with the injury, while Martin (SG) returned the next night, but has a history of injury problems. PG Kyle Lowry has missed the last two games with back spasms, and has only played in two of six games thus far — shooting 21 percent with six assists.

Ishamel Smith filled in for Brooks on Sunday as the team recorded its first win of the season over the miserable Minnesota Timberwolves. But be wary of picking him up as he is shooting 25 percent for the year and has just 13 assists in nearly 76 minutes of action over the last two games.  

And on the frontcourt end, Luis Scola is carrying the Rockets to what little respectability they have this season. A deal for Erick Dampier fell through when he decided not to sign with the team. Meanwhile, Yao Ming (limited minutes and not playing back to backs) and Brad Miller (ankle in the preseason) are not providing the presence needed to compete in the Western Conference.

So stick with Scola and avoid the rest.

Hornets still stinging foes sans Peja
New Orleans' guard/forward Peja Stojakovic has been a healthy scratch the last four games for the undefeated Hornets. "It's obvious I'm not in the plans," the once prolific scorer told the Times-Picayune.

The 15-year veteran has started no games and is averaging 5 ppg, to go with a steal, assist and 3-pointer a game in a total of 21:26 played. If he was drafted by you as a sleeper or you were hoping he would bounce back after a lackluster 2009-10 campaign, go ahead and cut him loose. It's obvious the Hornets are going younger and are instilling a defensive mindset — two characteristics that are anti-Peja.

Who's King of the Kings' frontcourt?
So last week Sacramento coach Paul Westphal said that things were fine the way they were with DeMarcus Cousins as the starting center and that Samuel Dalembert would come off the bench as he returned from injury. Well, Dalembert returned from injury and was eased into the lineup with games of 16 minutes, 22 minutes and 28 minutes. See a trend?

He went from coming off the bench to replacing Cousins as the starter on Saturday against Memphis. Dalembert played 32 minutes, shot 37.5 percent from the field, grabbed 12 boards and had a set of fives — blocks, steals and turnovers — to go with eight points.

Since Dalembert's 16-minute return, Cousins has played 28, 17, 20 and 23 minutes. The 23 came off the bench against Memphis as the rookie from Kentucky shot 20 percent, 50 from the line, grabbed just three boards, turned the ball over four times, fouled five times and had four points.

This is going to be a tricky situation to deal with until the team gets a good feel for how to work these two centers in. If you have to lock a lineup in today and have to play one of these two, I would go with Dalembert. Westphal's already flip-flopped on who will start, but if it's Dalembert who's in there now, stick with him as the Kings play host to Minnesota, travel to Phoenix and play host to Detroit this week. There's the potential for three OK plays this week.

The veteran Spur you might have forgotten about
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli make up the trio that everyone thinks of one when thinking of the veteran (read: old) San Antonio Spurs. There's another nine-year veteran on that roster not to be forgotten: Richard Jefferson.

The former first-round pick is averaging 20.4 points a game over 32 minutes a night while shooting 65 percent from the field and 60 from beyond the arc with 12 3-pointers made. The forward is pulling down 3.2 boards, dishing out 1.2 assists with seven turnovers. The only negative side thus far is his 69 percent from the stripe.

Get him in your lineup this week as the Spurs have four games against weak defensive teams — Clippers, 76ers, Thunder and Bulls — that allow an average of 103 points a game at an average of 45 percent from the field.

Guarding Washington
Gilbert Arenas has finally returned from his ankle injury to join rookie standout John Wall in the Wizard backcourt. Free agent signing Kirk Hinrich has been starting in place of Arenas in his absence, and doing well in the process. So what do you do with the Washington trio?

Arenas has averaged almost 26 minutes over two games, shooting 38.5 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point land and 80 percent from the free throw line. He is averaging 15.5 ppg, but is not a fantasy contributor in much more than points and 3-pointers made so far.

Hinrich played 33 and 37 minutes in the two games Arenas has played and was averaging over 39 in the first three games. He is scoring 11.2 a game while shooting 43 percent from the field, 34.6 from deep with nine 3-pointers made, 90 percent from the stripe. He also averages 2.8 boards and 4.2 assists.

The Wizards play three games this week — Houston, Charlotte and at Chicago. It's probably a safe bet to play all three this week as Arenas will ease back in, Wall will do what he has done and Hinrich will either get starter minutes for Arenas or spell both guards off the bench.

Lee lost in the Bay
Fantasy players want East Coast David Lee back, because West Coast David Lee isn't performing at the spot in which he was picked in most drafts — he had an ADP of 13.5 in Yahoo and 28 in ESPN.

In a nine-category Yahoo league, Golden State's big free agent signing is ranked 161st, while ESPN has him 133rd in player ratings. All of his numbers are down against his six-year career averages. He is shooting a miserable 40.6 percent from the field for a big man and 69.6 from the stripe against 55.4 and 77.2 career averages. His assist numbers, steals and blocks are all down, and his points are down from 20.3 a game last year in New York to 12.0 in Oakland.

Lee's only saving grace so far this year is his 11.3 rebounds a game, but still down from the 11.7 he's averaged the last two seasons.

Of course you are not going to bail on what was probably your second- or third-round pick. He is learning a new offense as is the whole team going from Don Nelson to Keith Smart. The Warriors head east for four games this week as they travel to Toronto tonight, then New York, Chicago and Milwaukee Saturday. Lee has to be in the lineup, but temper your expectations for a while.

With Baron away, Bledsoe will play
Eric Bledsoe is certainly making the most of Baron Davis being sidelined with a knee injury.

The other, other rookie from Kentucky, Bledsoe has started the last four games after playing just under 22 minutes combined in the first three. He has averaged 13 points and 40 minutes in his four starts, shooting 55 percent from the field, 80 percent from beyond the arc (4 of 5), and averages four rebounds a game in the four starts. The seven assists and 1.8 steals aren't too shabby, either.

The Clippers have three games this week, traveling to New Orleans and San Antonio before returning to play host to Detroit. And don't let the opponent discourage you, as Bledsoe's four starts have been against the Spurs, Thunder, Nuggets and Jazz — four Western Conference playoff teams.

If he's available in your league you first need to pick him up and second, send out a message taunting other team managers for not jumping on him earlier.

Philly's rook for real?
So is it officially about to get congested in the City of Brotherly Love?

No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner got his first start Sunday night, playing 35 minutes, shooting 54.6 percent from the field, grabbing 10 rebounds with three assists, a steal, five turnovers and four fouls. He got the start after Andre Iguodala (Achilles) failed to suit up for the first time in 252 games.  

Iguodala obviously is not going to miss many games and Turner needs to be on the court for a rebuilding 76ers squad. He was already playing over 25 minutes with Iguodala in the lineup, and it will be interesting to see how the Philly staff handles the rotation.

The 76ers play three games this week, all tough road matchups at Oklahoma City, Dallas and San Antonio.

Excelling in limited New York minutes
Toney Douglas is getting around 28 minutes a game for the Knicks as the backup point guard to Raymond Felton, but the 2009 first-round pick of the Lakers is getting the most out of his playing time.

He is averaging 16,5 points a game on 48.7 percent from the field, 33 from beyond the arc (11 of 33) and 84 from the line (16 of 19). The 6-2, 190 Douglas is also adding five steals, 4.2 boards, 2.2 assists and just two turnovers a game.

If you have a deep bench, an injury or are just struggling at the PG/SG spot, scoop up Douglas as the Knicks play four games this week (at Milwaukee, host Golden State, at Minnesota and hosting Houston).

Big Two ... and Chris Bosh
So far the Big Three in Miami have been the Big Two. Or at least it seems that way.

Rarely do you see Chris Bosh in the Miami Heat highlights — kind of hard to when Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are teaming up for coast-to-coast alley-oop plays and dropping in 24.1 and 20.7 a night. Bosh is kind of getting it done in fantasy basketball — albeit certainly not giving you the return for where he was drafted (ADP of 21.2 in Yahoo). He is the 40th-best player in a nine-category Yahoo league and ESPN has him 63rd in its player rater.

It took Bosh until Saturday night to get his first 20-point game, and he has only pulled down double digit rebounds once (10 on Oct. 29 in a 96-70 win against Orlando). He is averaging 5.4 boards a game — down from 10.8 last year and 9.3 for his career. "I get a little lost out there because it's different," the Miami Herald reported of a conversation Bosh had with James.

Since you might have used a second-round pick for the clear "third" of the Big Three you might not get the same value in a trade, but it might be worth it to start shopping him. Granted, the Heat have only played seven games with the Big Three, and it could take a little longer for Bosh to mesh with Wade and James. But Wade and James are doing their part and have the Heat at 5-2, so where will Bosh fit in all this fantasy-wise?

I would say he fits on someone else's roster in your league.

Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, November 8, 2010 - 17:54
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-fantasy-dime/heat-role-players-taking-advantage-you-should-too
Body:

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.

Miami Heat garbage time
Players such as Eddie House and James Jones are finding a few ways to rack up some numbers. One is by just being on the floor with any of the Big Three in Miami. The other comes when those three are off and they are the go-to guys when the starters have taken care of business and are riding the pine for the rest of the game. House (PG/SG) is averaging 24 minutes with 11 field goals made — six being 3-pointers — and has seven boards, eight assists and five steals. Not a bad play in deeper leagues. Jones (SF) is even better. In 28 minutes a game, he has 14 field goals — 13 of them treys — six boards, three assists, three steals and two blocks. He is shooting 48 percent, while House is at 39.

The “Project” is working early
No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors, considered a project pick, is not doing too badly in the absence of Troy Murphy (back). He is shooting 58 percent from the floor while averaging 21 minutes, 10.3 points and 10 boards in three games. Murphy should return by week’s end, but Favors is a name to keep an eye on before and after Murphy gets back into the lineup. He has a tough week this week, however, with games against Charlotte and then on the road at Orlando and Miami.

It’s all Wright in Golden State
Dorell Wright came on as a late sleeper after he nailed down the starting small forward position. Reggie Williams was expected to be the sleeper name at that spot and on that team, but Wright is getting 35 minutes a game, shooting 52 percent with 19 points a game, and has hit 11 3-pointers with 16 boards. He is a good play this week at home against Memphis, Utah and on the road at Detroit as all three are allowing 99 ppg or more.

Take your time, Bynum
It was strange to see Lamar Odom’s average draft position where it was entering the season. The forward had an ADP of 87 despite finishing as one of the top 60 players in most formats last season. This year, in nine-category formats, he is the 22nd-best player at 16 ppg, 13.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, three 3-pointers made and a 67-percent shooting clip. Andrew Bynum has been cleared to run and can start practicing in a few weeks, and perhaps Odom’s ADP was low due to looking at the long haul and Bynum being there later on. Odom has had inconsistency issues in the past, but he’s there now while Bynum isn’t, and if he can even stay close to this pace he will be a good play even when Bynum returns. He’s an especially good play this week as the Lakers have four games.

For the love of guard
So point guards are fun to figure out, huh? For every Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose there’s a Shaun Livingston, George Hill and Roddy Beaubois. Livingston was supposed to be the man in Charlotte, but D.J. Augustin’s performance coupled with Livingston’s keen injury has slowed that down. Tony Parker just signed a four-year extension, thus ending the hopes of Hill becoming the starter in San Antonio. Beaubois is recovering from a broken foot and won’t return until December. So there’s a better chance that Jason Kidd will hit a 65-foot jumper before Beaubois … oh, wait, Kidd did hit said jumper

Livingston is playing 13 minutes a game and right now is no threat to Augustin, who averages 40 minutes with 17 ppg, 5.3 apg, 3.0 rpg, 2.7 treys a game, shooting 43 percent from the field and 11-of-11 from the line. Hill is still the best option of the three despite Parker’s extension. Parker is at 32 mpg, while Hill is a 27. So he’s still getting minutes to go along with 11 ppg, 5 apg, 2.0 steals and 2.0 boards. Beaubois should be in no other lineup than a deep, keeper league lineup.


T.J. Ford is also cutting into Darren Collison’s time unexpectedly. He’s getting almost 22 mpg with 7.3 ppg, three assists and 1.7 steals. It’s not so much that Ford is waiver-wire worthy as it is the fact that he is taking numbers away from Collison, who is at 27 mpg, 13.7 ppg, 5.7 apg, 2.3 rpg and 1.3 spg. Collison is 30th when it comes to guards and minutes played.

Grab these guys
SG Aaron Afflalo has kept his preseason streak going well into the regular season. The Nugget is averaging 14 ppg, 3.3 apg, 2.3 rpg while shooting 64 percent from the field and 82 from the line.

Guard Kirk Hinrich is averaging 37 minutes for the Wizards with 10 ppg off of five 3-pointers made, 3.0 apg and 1.0 spg. He should continue to see playing time with Gilbert Arenas sidelined, and has good matchups with Philly, New York and Cleveland all allowing 98 ppg or more so far.

PG Luke Ridnour is filling in well for the injured Jonny Flynn in Minnesota. He is logging 30 minutes a game with 13.3 ppg, 5.3 apg, 1.0 steals and an added bonus of five boards a contest. He might be a tough play this week, however, with games at Miami, Orlando and Houston and hosting Atlanta in between.

And for a complete flyer if Zach Randolph (tailbone) is out any length of time, Darrell Arthur is a good play in Memphis. The MRI came back negative for Randolph, but he is already banged up early in the season and center Marc Gasol missed the opener with an ankle injury. He returned to play in the second game, but it still is a good opportunity for Arthur to sneak some minutes. He is averaging 17 ppg over 29 minutes, shooting 60 percent from the floor, 100-percent from the stripe and has 14 boards in three games.

Da buona a bad
Translation: Marco Belinelli has gone from good to bad.
The Italian got the starting SG gig in New Orleans, and it looked like it was all going to be roses alongside Chris Paul. He started off great with 18 points, six boards, 40 percent from the field and 100 percent from the stripe in 35 minutes during the season opener. But it has tailed off since then, shooting 25 percent from the field with a total of eight points and two boards in the last two games. His minutes also dropped to 23 a game. Marcus Thornton may re-assume the role he was slated to have before the season began.

Half Gordon
Ben Gordon is probably going to be a tough one to figure out this season. He is part of a crowded backcourt in Detroit, and his consistency could be a question mark. Case in point was Saturday night against Chicago. Gordon, a former Bull himself, scored 21 points in the first half as the Pistons built a 21-point lead. He was 5-of-5 from the field and went to the line for a 10-of-10 performance. Then the second half began. He missed all five of his shots, did not get to the line and coughed up the ball five times. Chicago’s pressure was certainly a factor, but it has to be disturbing to Ben Gordon owners that trapping him on the perimeter like that can cause him to completely disappear from a game. The Pistons went on to lose by nine. He is averaging 21.7 ppg in 27 minutes, but games against Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte and Golden State make him a tricky play this week.

Cousins Cruising … for now
Rookie DeMarcus Cousins has been better than expected in the early part of his career. Through three games he is averaging 13.3 ppg, 7.3 boards and 2.3 apg while shooting 46 percent from the field and 78 percent from the stripe in 25 minutes a game. The Sacramento PF/C is getting this action early due to the injury to Samuel Dalembert. Well, Dalembert returned Friday night with six minutes, got 16 minutes Saturday — starting the second half — and could send Cousins back to the bench. So keep an eye on both players as the week goes on. The Kings only have two games this week, hosting the Lakers and Grizzlies.

Valley of the Bust
So many fantasy players were leery of PF/C Channing Frye this season. There was no way the Phoenix Sun could duplicate the numbers from a year ago, right? After a 2009-10 in which he shot 44 percent off of 172 made 3-pointers, Frye has started off 2010-11 by hitting 3-of-11 3-pointers — 6-of-18 from the field altogether — for a total of 19 points through three games. The 6-11 Frye is averaging 3.6 boards and 1.6 blocks as well. So the label of bust or one-shot wonder that he had attached to him might be justified since he was only shooting 17 percent from beyond the arc in the preseason. Keep this in mind: Frye made 172 treys last year and had made just 20 of 70 attempted in the first four years of his career.

Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, November 8, 2010 - 17:40
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-western-conference-notes/kings-rockets-going-separate-directions
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Team on the Rise
Sacramento
— Outside of Wednesday night’s 112-100 loss against the Lakers, the league’s highest-scoring team (113.8 ppg), the Kings are learning how to win. All three of their victories have been by three points or less, and they have scored over 100 and allowed over 100 in every game. Sacramento has won three of the five games it trailed at the half and two of the three when leading after the third quarter and one when trailing entering the fourth.

Perhaps most noticeable from the 3-2 start is that the Kings are 2-1 on the road, which has them on pace to easily surpass the seven wins they managed on the road last season, Samuel Dalembert has returned from his leg injury, but rookie DeMarcus Cousins is going to keep the starting center job for the Kings. Coach Paul Westphal told the Sacramento Bee: “I don’t see any big reason to change things right now.” Cousins has been solid thus far, averaging 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, .6 steals and .4 blocks in nearly 23 minutes a game. The only knock would be the 4.8 fouls per game — tied for second most in the league.

Team on the Decline
Houston — The Rockets are off to an 0-4 start despite Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier and Luis Scola returning as starters and Yao Ming getting back into the fold in limited minutes. It’s been a tough start with games against the Lakers on their ring ceremony night and the Warriors when Monta Ellis dropped 46 on them.  Houston returned home to get rocked by Denver and fell to New Orleans 107-99 Wednesday.

The Rockets have no five-player combination that has a +/- over 7 —the 32nd-best combo in the Western Conference. More numbers that are puzzling are that Houston is third in the league in first-quarter scoring at 29.8 a game and drop to 21st in third-quarter scoring at 22 a game before rising back to second in the league at 28.2 in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the Rockets need to stay on the floor during halftime and keep shooting.

Numbers to Know
30 & 22 — Saturday’s Memphis-Minnesota game was one for the ages if you’re a fan of sloppy basketball. Both teams set franchise records as Minnesota coughed up 30 turnovers, while Memphis recorded 22 steals. Grizzlies guard Mike Conley stole seven of those to tie a franchise record. Conley then went on to steal $40 million over five years from Memphis just under the deadline to extend 2007 rookie contracts.

3 — The Warriors are 3-0 at home for the first time since 1990, when Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin helped the team to a 6-0 start.  Fittingly, Golden State, even without stud Stephen Curry (ankle), leads the league in fast break points per game at 23 a contest.

42 — Orlando handed the Minnesota Timberwolves their worst loss in franchise history with a 128-66 trouncing Wednesday. The 42-point deficit came a night after the T’Wolves fell to Miami by 32. The Magic had 78 points at the half — a franchise record.

17 Kobe Bryant posted the 17th triple double of his career in Wednesday’s win over Sacramento. Bryant had a line of 30 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for the 5-0 Lakers.

1 — The Clippers got their first win of the season against an opponent that should have pushed the team to 0-5. However the two Erics — Gordon (27) and Bledsoe (17) held Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City to a 37-percent shooting night from the field in a 107-92 win. Durant was 6-of-24 for 16 points. The Thunder have dropped two in a row — by 15 to the Clippers and 21 against the Jazz.

4-0 — The Hornets matched their best start in franchise history at 4-0, and it’s the first time the team has won its first four games against teams that finished better than .500 the previous season.

11 — In 16 meetings this season, the Western Conference is 11-5 against the Eastern Conference.

Beyond the Arc
Not much back-to-back in pursuit of three-peat: The Lakers only have 15 back-to-back games this season in pursuit of their third straight title. That is the fewest they’ve had since joining the league in 1948. Fellow Western Conference teams Phoenix (16) and Oklahoma City (17) are second and third on that list, while Eastern Conference playoff favorites Atlanta, Chicago and Milwaukee top the list at 23 back-to-backs apiece.

Where’s the Love? Despite the stink that came up last week with Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis not giving Kevin Love enough minutes — remember Love did say this summer that Team USA treated him better than his own NBA team — the Timberwolves’ F/C is still getting it done. In a paltry 26.4 minutes a game, he is tied for second in the league with three double doubles in five games at 16.8 ppg and 10.8 rpg. He was one rebound shy of his fourth double double on Wednesday night.

Conley extended: So there are varying opinions on the Grizzlies extending relatively unproven PG Mike Conley with a five-year, $40 million contract Monday night. The organization is already considered a participant in the most lopsided trade when in February 2008 it sent Pau Gasol and his salary to the Lakers for his brother Marc, and two first-round picks that turned out to be Darrell Arthur (2008) and Greivis Vasquez (2010) in addition to three players not in the league anymore. Cap space cleared enabled the Grizzlies to get Zach Randolph. Memphis locked up rising superstar Rudy Gay to a max contract in the summer to go along with Conley’s contract, but will there be enough left in the kitty to keep OJ Mayo and Marc Gasol? Maybe Memphis got caught up in the success point guards are having at the outset of the season, including Conley's. He is averaging 15.8 points,, 9.2 assists, 5.8 boards while shooting 44.6 percent from the line, 35 from beyond the arc and 68 from the line. He is also averaging 38 minutes — eight more than his career average. So Conley is either going to blow up or burnout with minutes like that.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter
 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 13:07
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /columns/nba-eastern-conference-notes/atlanta-heating-charlotte-struggling
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Team on the Rise
Atlanta — New coach. No problem. Veteran roster. The easy solution. The Hawks enter tonight’s game with 0-4 Detroit at 4-0. The Hawks lead a Southeast Division that houses Miami and Orlando. Larry Drew’s squad has won two of the four by 10 points or more, scored 100 or more in three of the games, led in rebounds and shooting percentage in three of them and committed fewer turnovers in two of them. Atlanta has never trailed at the half. Only the Lakers (4-0) have those types of numbers through the early part of the season.

The six players who have registered starts have combined to shoot 49 percent from the field despite a miserable 28 percent from 3-point land. The Hawks’ starters shoot 77 percent from the stripe, average 31.9 of the team’s 44 rebounds and are scoring 86.2 of the team’s 105.5 points a game.

Team on the Decline
Charlotte — We stay within the same division to find the team on the decline. The Bobcats enter tonight’s game at New Jersey 0-3. It is the worst start for the Michael Jordan-owned franchise after entering the season off of its first playoff appearance. They have trailed at the half and at the end of three in two of the losses, while blowing a seven-point third-quarter lead against Indiana and giving up a triple double to Brandon Jennings in a loss to Milwaukee.

The Bobcats now get a New Jersey team that is 2-1 at home. Recent history says Charlotte will fall to 0-4 as it went 13-28 on the road last year, is 0-2 so far this year and has not scored more than 88 in those two losses this season.

Numbers to Know
16.7 — Where do you begin with the assist numbers Boston Celtic PG Rajon Rondo is putting up? His 16.7 per game average is on pace to best John Stockton’s record of 14.5 set in 1989-90. Rondo’s 67 through four games are the most in NBA history.

70 & 30 — Washington Wizards rookie John Wall became the first rookie since Oscar Robertson with at least 70 points and 30 assists through three games. The Big O had 72 and 30 in 1960-61; Wall has 71 and 31. The nine steals he had in the team’s home opener — tying a franchise record along the way — weren’t bad in his debut for the home fans, either.

Beyond the Arc
The best Big Three: With all the hype surrounding LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining with Dwyane Wade in Miami to form the new Big Three you'd think this trio would run roughshod over the rest of the league. Well, Miami has a three-player combo that leads the league in +/- going into tonight’s games, but it’s not those three. It is the combination of PG Carlos Arroyo along with Bosh and Wade who lead the league with a +/- of 66 at 95:38 played. The much-publicized Big Three is actually eighth on that list with a +/- of 45 over 107 minutes played.

Top five combo: The best five-player combination resides in Golden State, although the sample size is pretty small (two games). Andres Biedrins, Dorell Wright, David Lee, Monta Ellis and Steph Curry have a +/- of 41 over 35:41 played. Miami’s five-player combo of Arroyo, James, Bosh, Wade and Joel Anthony is at a 35 +/- over five games and 65:41 played.

Sixth man almost the best man: Wilson Chandler may have lost his starting gig, but you wouldn’t know it as the Knick has been lighting it up through three games. He is the league’s top substitute in regards to points (21 ppg), rebounds (10 rpg) and assists (.7 apg) for a 31.7 average — 6.4 ahead of second-place Ben Gordon. The Knicks’ key signing in the offseason, Amar’e Stoudemire, is averaging 32.0 in the points/rebounds/assists combo.

That didn’t take long: Milwaukee guard Brandon Jennings joined Elgin Baylor as the quickest in league history to register a 50-point game and a triple double within their first 100 games (84). He went for 20-10-10 against Charlotte Saturday. As a rookie Jennings scored 55 against Golden State last November, which set a record for the youngest player to score 50. Jennings could have pulled off the feat by that Nov. 14 game against Golden State. In his NBA debut, he had 17-9-9 against Philadelphia. Another rebound and assist and it would have taken seven games instead of 84.

Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 - 14:44

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