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As if he weren't sufficiently aware of how good the NBA's next generation of elite point guards already is, Nash will have seen them all up close -- back-to-back-to-back -- by the time he gets to Dallas for Wednesday's maiden reunion of the season with his old pal Dirk Nowitzki.Not that Nash has any protests planned. He even consented to providing a thumbnail scouting report on each member of the much younger trio poised to supplant Nash and Jason Kidd as the game's pre-eminent points. (The two-time MVP didn't believe it, either, until we told him that Parker, after six seasons and three championships, is still only 25 -- not too much older than Williams' 23 and Paul's 22.) Here's Nash on: Williams' strengths: "He's a great player already. Very, very dangerous offensively. He can score from anywhere on the court at a high percentage, but he's also a true point guard with good vision. And he's a competitor." D-Will's "Jason Kidd with a jump shot" label: "I know everyone likes to compare him to Jason because they're of similar size and build, but Jason is almost in a class by himself as a pass-first point guard. I think everyone is just different. We might all have some similarities in our games, but that's a somewhat simplistic way to look at it. There's more to it than that." Trying to guard the bigger Williams: "I usually do guard him even though he's obviously bigger and stronger. But let's face it: Deron's a difficult matchup for every team in the league. I do all right against him, but a lot of defending point guards in this league is how the bigs handle the pick-and-roll. It's not so much guys going one-on-one. [The bigs] can make all the difference."
"He's not as accomplished a shooter as Deron, but he's a terrific penetrator and passer and he's able to get to the line from the backcourt. We both penetrate and probe the defense in pretty similar fashion, but I don't get to the line as much as Chris does. And that kind of offsets Deron's shooting advantage. [Paul] also seems to have a knack for getting steals. He gives his team a lot of confidence."The never-ending debate about who will have the better career, Williams or Paul: "I'd love to say that it's all the media's fault, but I understand it. Everyone tries to compare players because it's fun. It's the natural thing to do to try to think of something that's similar. Let's say we're talking on the phone and you say something about X and I'll interrupt you and say, 'Oh, you mean sort of like Y?' It's just what we do in life because we all want to relate to each other. That's kind of how I see it." Which one has the lead at this point: "There's nothing in it [between them], really. I don't know how you could pick one. Both are great point guards already."
Parker was held out of Thursday's defeat versus the Los Angeles Lakers with an ankle problem that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he should have acknowledged sooner. That almost certainly will prompt Pop to hold Parker out of Saturday's game against Denver and possibly Monday's first Suns-Spurs reunion of the season, as well. Yet you can pretty much bank on Nash's participation. He unexpectedly disclosed this week that a variety of back, neck and shoulder spasms have been messing with his shot lately, but Nash was a near-perfect marksman Wednesday in a narrow home victory over Deron Williams' Jazz -- in spite of the chipped front tooth he suffered thanks to an errant Carlos Boozer elbow -- and is ready to press on against Paul on Saturday after a trip to the dentist. Nash's closest friend on the Suns responded with a hearty scoff when someone suggested the 33-year-old might find this Williams-Paul-Parker stretch taxing. "The conventional wisdom would say he's only got a few years left in the tank," Raja Bell said. "But Steve comes back in better shape every year. I'd never put a number on how many years he's got left."
We have more evidence that one of the biggest disappointments of the early season is the East's failure, as a collective, to live up to all that preseason bluster about how much stronger the conference is after adding Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Jason Richardson and Zach Randolph.
Boston and Orlando certainly have seen the benefit, but the East is off to such an underwhelming start that only five teams, as of Friday morning, were scoring more points than they're giving up. There are nine such teams in the West.
The East did sport a respectable 62-67 record in head-to-head matchups against West teams entering the weekend, but that doesn't really work as a counter. Reason being: Although the West has nine quality teams -- reminiscent of last season when it had five 50-win teams compared with two in the East -- it also houses more injury-ravaged teams and/or weaklings than usual (Blazers, Kings, Clippers, Grizzlies, Sonics and Timberwolves).
That should help the East lessen the beating it has absorbed from the West this century. Entering this season, starting in 2000-01, Leastern teams were more than 500 games under .500 against the West at 1,258-1,772. That's a winning percentage of .415, with the West winning five of seven championships in that span.
|East's record vs. West in head-to-head games|
The Cavaliers certainly didn't mind seeing Chicago claim Demetris Nichols off waivers, as that reduced Cleveland's luxury-tax bill by nearly $100,000 all the way down to $8.6 million.
OK. Maybe not every little bit.
It's not yet known whether T.J. Ford will be playing in a week after his harrowing fall in Atlanta, but Jose Calderon continues to be one of the NBA's best bargains at a salary just under $2.5 million.
Calderon is 10th in the league in assists at 7.6 per game and a runaway No. 1 in assist-to-turnover ratio at 6-1. The closest full-time point guard to Calderon in that category is Detroit's Chauncey Billups at 3.86-1.
Steve (Torrance, Calif.): Are the Suns in trouble? I have been watching them all season and they really don't seem to be clicking. Amare seems to just coast through most games and, other than Nash and Bell, they seem to have no fire.
Marc Stein: It's a difficult thing to gauge because San Antonio is the only elite team out there that seems to have mastered getting through the grind of the season without succumbing to that grind and finding a way to consistently peak at the end of the regular season. The Suns and the Mavs have a lot in common because they're trying to figure out how the Spurs do it. Phoenix and Dallas have a LONG time to wait before they can really prove anything, and they're both clearly struggling to bring it in December.
The big difference between the Suns and the Mavs is that this Phoenix team came away from its series with the Spurs last spring believing it's right there with the champs. Don't know that even a couple of bad home losses to the Rockets and Heat -- teams Phoenix usually runs out of the gym -- shakes that confidence long term. But in Dallas? Self-belief and positive thoughts are endangered commodities in their locker room after the last two playoff endings and this season's VERY sluggish start.
Dave (Brooklyn, N.Y.): You asked us in the rankings why we don't chant "Fi-re Do-lan." C'mon, Marc: Been there, done that. Check back on the 2003 NBA draft. It was also done in a game against the Wizards in 2006. There was also a Web site set up (selltheknicks.com) and a march before the 2006 draft to get Dolan out. Nothing works.
Marc Stein: Thanks for the refresher course, Dave. But the "Fi-re I-si-ah" chants are an every-game occurrence and nothing's happening there, either. Maybe it's time to switch the focus back to Dolan.• Read Stein's full chat
It took me seven weeks -- 10 if you count exhibition games -- to hear a clear reference to disgraced referee Tim Donaghy from an angry voice in the crowd. But it finally happened Monday night in Phoenix, where one persistent fan kept voicing his displeasure with veteran ref Dan Crawford by calling him "Danny Donaghy" throughout the Suns' home loss to Miami. I'm sure it has happened more often than that -- and you still figure that the ref story inevitably will resurface when the games start to take on greater significance and more rides on every call -- but the most pleasant surprise of the season must be how little damage or fallout has been caused to date by the betting scandal that commissioner David Stern called "the worst situation I have ever experienced."
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Steve Nash (center) is still the most popular point guard in Canada, but Toronto's Jose Calderon has no shortage of admirers as the league's leader in assist-to-turnover ratio.