Nowitzki thrives in Nash's absence
|THE WEEK IN PREVIEW|
Golden State completes a five-game road trip at surging Cleveland (NBA TV) having finally won a game (at Charlotte) after its 0-6 start. Houston at New Jersey, meanwhile, gives Alonzo Mourning a nice test against Yao Ming, but the matchup is obviously missing a lot with Jason Kidd still sidelined and Tracy McGrady plagued by hip and groin trouble.
Phoenix at Dallas is the headliner, with Steve Nash returning to American Airlines Center for the first time since signing with the Suns in the off-season. Miami at Minnesota is a good offering from NBA TV, bringing together Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett, and Toronto at Clippers serves up two teams you didn't expect to be sporting 4-3 records.
ESPN presents the second half of Miami's back-to-back with Heat at Bucks, in a rematch of the teams' double-overtime thriller Sunday night. But the Wolves have an even tougher back end: Minnesota at Detroit, in what could be Larry Brown's first game back on the Pistons' bench since hip surgery. Atlanta at Indiana brings Al Harrington back to Conseco Fieldhouse as a first-time visitor, while Clippers at Lakers marks the first time Kobe Bryant faces the team he teased in free agency. Bonus for the sadists out there: Chicago at Golden State, in a matchup of clubs who began the week with one win between them.
TNT's doubleheader leads off with San Antonio at Philadelphia, featuring Olympic co-captains Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson, followed by New York at Houston in the Knicks' second stop on the dreaded Texas Triangle. Cleveland at Charlotte is the evening's only other game.
ESPN tips off its doubleheader with one of the month's most anticipated matchups: Indiana at Detroit, in a reprisal of last spring's Eastern Conference finals. Neither club has been close to full strength since the season started, but the stakes are high every time these teams play, given that the difference between first and second place in the Central Division figures to be a No. 1 seed in the East and a No. 4 seed. Memphis at Sacramento is ESPN's late game, and you would be wise not to ignore Utah at Miami.
Saturday's most enticing fixture sends Orlando to Indiana on NBA TV. Sunday will be busier, with Dallas at Denver and Milwaukee at Sacramento attracting our attention, along with LeBron James' first visit of the season to Madison Square Garden in Cavaliers at Knicks, another NBA TV game.
|Hair today, gone tomorrow: Blood brothers Nowitzki and Nash faced off Tuesday night.|
None of that, so far, is hurting Dirk Nowitzki.
Steve Nash returned to American Airlines Center on Tuesday night and, despite Phoenix's 107-101 victory, he found his buddy playing at a new level. The initial fear in Dallas held that Nowitzki's game would suffer immensely after Nash disconnected their seemingly telepathic link by signing with the Suns in free agency. Instead Nowitzki has flourished, leading the Mavericks to a league-best start before Tuesday's loss even though the new point guards -- Jason Terry and rookie Devin Harris -- have struggled running Nowitzki's beloved pick-and-roll.
In the exhibition season, it appeared that Nowitzki would have to work harder than ever for his points. The pick-and-roll problems meant he'd have to create his own openings and shake defenders himself. Yet once the season started, Dallas started creating offense with its revamped defense and better-than-expected ball movement. Nowitzki has attacked aggressively, so much so that Mavericks coach Don Nelson hasn't been calling for many pick-and-rolls, and Nelson doesn't have to with everything else that's working for his No. 1 option.
Nowitzki is averaging 27 points (3rd in the league), getting to the line nearly 10 times per game (9th) and shooting better than 50 percent inside and outside the 3-point arc (9th). The night after the taxi mishap -- teammate Dan Dickau unknowingly closed the door on Dirk's shooting hand -- the big German had 41 points at Miami in a rout of the previously unbeaten Heat.
Not that Nash is surprised.
"He's been unbelievable," Nash said Sunday, admitting that he still tries to monitor Nowitzki's work from afar when he's not busy leading the league in assists (10.9 per game) for the 4-2 upstarts from Phoenix.
"I'm a little biased, but Dirk's probably been the best player in the league," Nash continued. "He doesn't need the pick-and-roll to score. He's just talented, and he's a great athlete for his size. If he gets the ball, he'll score. And they still have a lot of scorers that can stretch the defense and open things up for him. Let's face it, they've got a great team."
The No. 1 team in the latest edition of my NBA Power Rankings, incidentally.
Dallas is the big mover in the top 10, rising from No. 7 to the top slot with a 4-1 week . . . a rise which is sure to be a topic of discussion in my weekly chat Wednesday at noon.
Winning Tuesday, with Nash amped after his messy divorce from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, would have helped validate Dallas' jump.
But it looked as though playing against the most familiar face in Big D was certainly enjoyable.
Seattle SuperSonics. Doesn't matter that the Supes looked sensational last November and faded . . . and that they're fully expected to repeat the pattern this season. With victories already over San Antonio, Denver, Sacramento and surprising Toronto -- along with a big comeback Sunday night over Memphis -- Seattle has achieved a measure of history. Call this the first team in NBA annals to turn a 30-point loss to the Clippers (on Opening Night, no less) into a springboard for success. The long-term prospects aren't great for a club that does more living and dying with jump shots than any other team, but the Sonics haven't missed many jumpers since seeing the Clips.
LeBron James. With his Cleveland Cavaliers at 0-3, and trailing to lowly Atlanta to start the third quarter last Tuesday night, James elevated his play to a new plateau. He wound up playing all 48 minutes against the Hawks, logged another 48 minutes (with 38 points) in an overtime victory over Phoenix the next night and ultimately averaged 29 points, 9.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 3.3 steals and 2.7 blocks in a 3-0 week. The Cavs, as a result, are a .500 team for the first time in James' career.
Michael Shults (Hannibal, MO): Jeff Bzdelik is the victim of his own success. He was hired to coach the young players the Nuggets stockpiled after Kiki Vandeweghe blew up the team and started over. Bzdelik was great with the Rocky Mountain Revue team and it transferred over to the Nuggets in his first season. When he was coaching a bunch of no-name kids, he got them to play hard and earned respect around the league. That was an important step in moving forward. Bzdelik was hired to motivate young players and get the ball rolling on the rebuilding process, and he did that. He wasn't hired to coach this team; he was hired to coach the team two years ago. It's time for a change, probably, but I only hope Nuggets fans are appreciative of Bzdelik's successes with the franchise rather than focusing on his inability to handle this year's team.
Marc Stein: None of that's a news flash, Michael, but you're right. None of the above should be forgotten. Just because Bzdelik is the favorite in the First Coach Fired derby shouldn't completely overshadow the job he did in his first season or even last season. Problem is, Denver's players know all that background as well as anyone. They know Bzdelik didn't get a contract extension in the summer and they knew before the season started that this would almost certainly be his final season in charge. The Nuggets' injuries have undeniably been a factor - they were without Nene, Marcus Camby and Voshon Lenard in Sunday's loss at Sacramento - but there's little doubt Bzdelik's lame-duck status has affected the current fortunes, too.
"We don't want him going anywhere, and he knows that."
-- Sacramento's Chris Webber, on trade-me teammate Peja Stojakovic.
|Thursday, November 11, Detroit at Denver|
With this offensive outburst for desperate Denver, Earl Boykins became the shortest player in league history to score 30 points in a game -- not that you should be completely surprised, since the 5-5 Boykins is by far the best pure scorer in the (very) select club of players his size to make an NBA impact (floor general Muggsy Bogues and all-around athlete Spud Webb had other specialties). The real shocker Thursday night was the final score. Even though the Pistons were without Ben Wallace, you never would have expected to see Detroit surrender 117 points -- in regulation -- on national television.
On top of joining Oscar Robertson as the only player in history with 8,000 field goals and 8,000 assists, Gary Payton last week became the fourth player to reach the 20,000-point plateau while wearing a Celtics uniform. The others: John Havlicek (1974), Larry Bird (1990) and Robert Parish (1992). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Boston and its hated rivals from Los Angeles are the only franchises with four such scorers; Elgin Baylor (1968), Jerry West (1970), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1978) and Shaquille O'Neal (2003) have cracked 20,000 points wearing Lakers colors.
New Jersey's Richard Jefferson and Alonzo Mourning combined to miss seven consecutive free throws in Philadelphia on Wednesday -- four late in the fourth quarter and three to start overtime -- to help the Sixers turn what looked like a sure defeat into an overtime victory. The collapse came one night after the Nets combined with Portland for the fifth-fewest points in an NBA game since the 24-second shot clock was introduced in the 1954-55 season. In that one, New Jersey squeezed out an unsightly 64-60 triumph.
MORE NBA HEADLINES
- Kobe fires back at Brown's culture remarks
- Nets' Pierce, Garnett top former coach Rivers
- LeBron, Durant early leaders in All-Star voting
- Lakers' Blake (elbow) out at least 6 weeks