Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday's Starting Five

WWOD's daily Starting Five provides the talking points you'll need each day to confidently interact with your fellow sports enthusiasts (and your awkward boss who only is capable of making small talk with his employees about the Yankees and the Honor Roll status of his children) at the water cooler or impress members of the opposite gender at the lunch counter or post-work gin joint with your extreme mastery of the minutiae of athletic competition.

1. Tyreke Evans. The New York Knicks selected Jordan Hill out of the University of Arizona with the eighth pick of the 2009 NBA Draft and the power forward-center has only seen sporadic playing time this season. Hill has shown a nice shooting touch but seems only to get the call on bank holidays and during blowouts. A few months ago, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni remarked about the rookie big man that "He's got to get stronger, he'll do that; He has to get more comfortable, he'll do that." Well, the No. 4 pick in the '09 draft, Tyreke Evans, has already done did those things. Evans is strong. And comfortable. After being tapped by the Kings, the one-and-done combo guard out of Memphis has averaged 37+ minutes per night and 20+ points. Last night, he racked up a career-high 34 points to go with 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks as he almost rallied the Kings from more than 20 back at Charlotte. Oh, and the 6-foot-6 inch guard managed such a big night while being sued in civil court for the 2007 wrongful death of a kid who may have been killed by Evans' cousin in a car that Evans may have been driving.

2. Stephon Marbury. An early tagline on an advertisement for two-time All-Star Stephon Marbury's sneakers was "Where you're from defines where you're at." This slogan made plenty of sense when the Coney Island-native was treading the boards at Madison Square Garden while playing for the Knicks. The local boy had come home to revitalize his hometown team and was rolling out a line of affordable footwear for kids whose parents couldn't afford to drop upwards of a hundred bucks on kicks. Things were looking up, yet again, for the guy whose career numbers once compared so favorably to Oscar Robertson. But a few turbulent years later, Marbury finds himself joining the Shanxi club in the Chinese Basketball Association. The last time you saw Marbury he was a duck out of water as a defensive-minded rotation player with the title-contending Celtics who seemed afraid to take the big shot. The time you saw him before that he was making even his detractors uncomfortable with oddball video diaries on Youtube. The next time you see him, he'll be playing for the 15th-place club in the 17-team Chinese League.

3. The Charlotte Bobcats. The realpolitik playoff contender in the East has crossed the .500 threshold and pulled even with the Miami Heat for the fifth spot in the conference standings. Although they almost squandered a large lead against Tyreke Evans and the Kings last night, Larry Brown's boys are playing effective basketball. It's not always ever pretty and the team is not going to be an elite team or even a threat to an elite team in a seven-game series. But they can beat anyone on any given night because they produce an honest effort every night. Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace are as intense as anyone in the Association but possessing of talent a tier below the upper echelon. And this talent deficit is exactly why this team is so successful. Under the ever-taciturn Brown, this group knows that they have to play hard nigh after night. They know they can't coast on talent alone and are aware that many other teams think they can. And this is largely why the Bobcats surrender a league-low 92.9 points per game.

4. The Los Angeles Lakers. At the conclusion of a full NBA slate on MLK Day, the marquee game was a rematch between last year's finalists: LA and Orlando. Coming into this season, pundits lauded the Magic for their newfound depth, having brought in Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson and re-signed Polish dynamo Marcin Gortat. There was also a growing concern over whether LA's de facto Ariza for Artest swap would ruin the careful chemistry of the world champs. Fast forward a few months and people on the Left Coast are more concerned with potentially trading Bynum than with Artest's negative influence and everyone with a Lil' Penny doll in the attic is trying to figure out what is wrong the chemistry of the Magic.After the Magic used the three ball to pull ahead in the third quarter, the Lakers showed themselves as a deep team in taking over down the stretch. Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar figured prominently in the team's 19-3 run to open the fourth quarter. Although Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard pulled the visiting Magic close by the time the final buzzer sounded at the Staples Center, the road team couldn't overcome that blitz early in the final quarter. The Lakers continue to roll and the Magic continue to be good but not quite the sum of their parts.

5. Dirk Nowitzki. He's oldish. He's blondish. He's certainly German. And he's playing as well right now as he ever has. Dirk scored 37 last night as he pulled the Mavs ahead of a depleted Boston Celtics team in Beantown. He netted nine straight points in the game's decisive run in the third quarter.

Sixth Man. Nate Robinson. With Knicks starting point guard Chris Duhon having reverted back to his second-half form from last season (which was also his early-season form from this year and quite likely is just his form) and Larry Hughes still on the outs with coach D'Antoni, a large swath of minutes at a guard spot have been handed to N8. On Monday afternoon he played 34 minutes to Duhon's 20. And Robinson has shown why he has been linked to the Celtics and Lakers in trade rumors. He scored a game-high 27 points. He drained five three pointers and flushed one sweet ally-oop dunk. He fueled the team's late surge past the Pistons that salvaged the last of a trio of games this weekend in the simmering race for the eighth playoff spot in the East.

Benched. Cadbury Chocolate. In a long-time-coming-but-still-shocking move, US food giant Kraft acquired Cadbury for $19 billion. People in Great Britain are freaking out that the nearly 200-year-old confectioner has been gobbled up by a foreign power. I'm just nervous that I'm not going to be able to enjoy the occasional Flake Bar.

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