Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wednesday's Starting Five

1. LBJ. Going back to the Phoenician city of Tyre, purple has been a color associated with royalty. With the Cleveland Cavaliers looking to trot out a different uniform at least once a week this season it seems like it's just a matter of time before King James is regally attired in purple. LBJ had a triple-double last night as the Lebronaliers won their 21st home game of the season. To put that in perspective, 13 teams (Knicks included) don't even have 21 total wins yet.

2. Mo Williams. Scottie Pippen is today's archetypal No. 2. He was by Jordan's side through all those titles in Chicago. He was the second 20+ scorer that the Bulls needed to keep teams honest on defense. But this dichotomy doesn't really hold up with a longer look back at the NBA. Because there was only one Jordan. Most dynastic teams had several great players. The 1980s Lakers had Worthy and Jabar to pair with Magic. Their rivals in Boston trotted out McHale and Parrish alongside Bird. The championship Knicks from the early 1970s started Hall of Famers at four positions. Greatness hasn't historically been about one superstar and one sidekick. There has been only one Jordan. But it also feels like we might one day say that there is only one Lebron James. Who seems capable of leading a Jordanesque charge for the Larry O'Brien Trophy with just one top-flight compatriot. Fans in Cleveland are hoping that Williams is that guy. His 43 points last night in a win over the Kings had to go a long way towards making them feel like he really might be their Pippen.

3. Quicken Loans Arena. There are hallowed sporting venues in this country. Madison Square Garden is one of them. Fenway Park and the LA Coliseum are others. The Q in Cleveland isn't. At least, not yet. In spite of not being likely to end up in the national registry for historic places, the home of the Lebronaliers has been a haven for its residents this season. Cleveland is 21-0 when playing at home. It's the fourth best home start in the history of the NBA. I've been to several Knicks games this year and I've seen them lose a few times. I might see them lose tonight. And, I'm fine with that. But if you're a Cleveland fan with season tickets then you haven't seen them lose at home since a one-point loss to the Wizards in Game 5 of the opening round of last year's playoffs. It was a Wednesday. It was April 30th.

4. Mickael Pietrus. He's French. From France. Not like French Fries, which are from Belgium. But he's just as awesome as julienned potatoes. In his first game back after suffering a broken wrist, Pietrus scored a game-high 27 points and grabbed 10 caroms to lead the Magic over the Pacers. The former Warrior added 4 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He was 8 for 13 from the field, hitting 3 three-point shots. With Pietrus healthy, Pacers wunderkind Danny Granger dubbed the Magic "the best team in the East." With Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Pietrus spreading the floor around a surprisingly good Jameer Nelson it is getting hard to argue.

5. Bobcats over Lakers. From the department of inexplicability: Charlotte owns Los Angeles. With last night's double-OT win @ Los Angeles the Bobcats have shockingly won 5 of 6 against Kobe and company, including three on the bounce at the Staples Center. I won't even pretend to have insights or stats to explain this one.

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. Chris Paul. The prominence of fantasy sports and video gaming have made most sports fans hyper-aware of statistics. On any given regular-season NFL Sunday, most might care more about numbers than game scores. This is the double-edged nature of all of these things. They simultaneously bring us closer to the games we watch while also distracting from what is really happening. From the hustle and flow of the players. The emotional impact of what one player is doing to another. While hoops fans will surely marvel at the game that Chris Paul had last night against the 76ers they still won't really stop and think about how dominating the play that produced those numbers must have been. Paul nearly had a quadruple double. He scored 27 points (a game high), grabbed 10 boards, dished out 15 assists (a game high), had seven steals (a game high) and one blocked shot (just one off the game high). He did everything. His assists led to 39 points. Combined with the points he put on the board himself, CP3 accounted for 66 points. As a team, the Sixers scored 86. The Hornets scored 9 points directly following steals by Paul and Philly fouled CP3 a dozen times. The numbers are mind-bottling. It was Paul's fifth triple double of the season. But, try to comprehend the way that he really just dominated the game itself. The effect that he had on the court. Virtually everything that happened in that game did so because of him. He was great in a way that not even his gaudy numbers can quantify. Like Larry Fitzgerald has been in the playoffs. Even better than the numbers. Unstoppable.

2. Dwayne Wade. The Heat were 9-34 on Jan. 28, 2008. They finished last season15-67 and secured the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. They selected Michael Beasley out of Kansas State. Last night, Beasley played just 8 minutes off the bench and scored 2 points as Miami took on the Atlanta Hawks. Given those facts, it would be safe to assume that the Heat were throttled by the Hawks and are as much of a doormat as they were last year. But they're not. And this is because Flash is playing out of his mind this season. He's healthy and fired up. Already leading the Association in points per contest, Wade scored 35 to lead the Heat over the Hawks. He also grabbed 5 boards, stacked 4 dimes, stole two and blocked two. Relegated to best supporting actor in the free agent class of 2010, Wade has been going out of his way to show that he has leading-man potential. I surely wouldn't mind watching him tread the boards in Manhattan.

3. The New York Knicks. Yeah. I just did that. I just used one of the few non-Knicks spots on this site to write even more about the Knicks. Sigh. Groan. But, they belong here. Seriously. In the past week the Knicks have established themselves as firmly (read: tenuously) above .500 when playing at the Garden and gotten themselves back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. Barely past the midway point of the season the Knicks are just one game out of the eighth spot in East. That spot is currently held by Milwaukee, who just lost Michael Redd for the season due to an exploded knee. This team had a winning record before Crawford and Randolph were shipped out of town and after several weeks of crawling and teething it seems ready to start winning again. At the very least, the Knicks are now one of (along with Milwaukee and New Jersey) the very best bad teams in the NBA.

4. Marquette Men's Hoops. Early on it seemed like Marquette was a fluke waiting to be exposed. Early on it seemed like Notre Dame was for real and capable of beating anyone who came out to South Bend. ND rocked Indiana, topped Texas and then upset Georgetown early in the New Year. The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, came into the New Year with more wins over teams like Houston Baptist and Chicago State than over major programs. The rigors of the Big East were supposed to derail them. But, then Marquette derailed the Big East instead. In 2009, they've beaten Villanova, Rutgers, Providence, DePaul and now they've won in South Bend. Up next is a visit from Georgetown on Saturday.

5. Shaq. After watching the first half of last week's Suns @ Knicks game I could no longer doubt the resurgence that the Shaqtus has made this season. His footwork was quicker and his hunger seemingly sharper than it had been last year and the year before. And, the dude is still strong and can still be as vicious on the court as he is funny off of it. Still, after watching the second half of last week's Suns @ Knicks game I also knew that a team built around Shaq can't win a seven-game playoff series against the best of the West. He tired late in the game and can be exposed on the defensive end by smaller, quicker players. He's not Shaq of 2000 any longer. Which isn't saying he's lost it. He's way better than the Shaq of 2007 and 2006. Even if the Diesel-powered Suns will ultimately fall short because they rely on Shaq doesn't mean that they still won't do just fine on most nights when depending on the Thesaurus Rex. He had 29 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists and 1 steal in a win over the Wizards last night.