By Will Perdue
Four straight wins? It's Magic
BOSTON -- After taking their fourth straight win, one can't help but say this about the Orlando Magic: They are winning ugly. When a team emphasizes defense, that can happen. So be it.Last year, they gave up almost 102 points per game. This year, they've slowed the game down, and they're allowing only 88 points per game, fewest in the league.
This is something they've worked on under coach Brian Hill. Back when I saw them at training camp with them in Jacksonville, that's what I constantly heard harped on.It's paying off. It showed in the 87-83 win over the Boston Celtics. The Magic even have Hedo Turkoglu thinking defensively. It used to be he'd scored 18 and the guy he covered would score 18. Granted, he still isn't making stops, but he's drawing the other team's top player, like Paul Pierce here Monday.
Now, about these Celtics. Who's the leader? Not sure if it's Pierce. The word around here says Pierce is doing a much better job leading, but it's troubling to see his lack of eye contact with his coach, Doc Rivers, during the game Monday. During timeouts and breaks, you find him looking away and looking down. Teammates pick up on that. And this from the man you're looking to be your leader. Not good.
Doc's tried that "tough love" by benching starting center Mark Blount last week for a game, hoping the other guys take notice. One thing about the Celtics is they don't have veteran presences this year like Gary Payton and Antoine Walker -- not necessarily vocal guys, but ones who know how to play.
With the Celtics, you wonder: Do they have enough proven talent, or are they putting too much stock in potential? However, the Celtics (5-8) play in the Atlantic Division, so they're not necessarily going to sink to the bottom. If they were in the Central, they could be ticketed for last place.
Orlando (7-6) is looking competitive in the Heat's Southeast Division. The guy I've been most impressed with is Steve Francis. Early on in the win over the Celtics, it didn't look like Delonte West could hold him.
But Francis is focused on being more of a distributor this season. He took 15 shots on the way to 19 points, but most impressive in his line is this: Seven assists and one turnover.
Up front, Dwight Howard really wants to be better, and he's always trying to improve. You see him trying to put that Tim Duncan 12- to 14-foot bank shot into his repertoire.
And when you watch the game, he's often not impressive. But then you look at the box score against the Celtics and he has 10 points, 10 rebounds. And he had a big block of Blount's would-be game-tying shot with 12 seconds left. Defense!
He reminds me of the way David Robinson approached the game. It's not that he makes it look easy, but he's only touched the tip of the iceberg as far as potential.
Another key has been Jameer Nelson. He scored nine of his 16 points in the last 10 minutes of this game. He's this year's Mr. Fourth Quarter. Tuesday, his Magic face last year's Mr. Fourth Quarter, Ben Gordon.
Down the road, the Celtics' fourth quarters, and all quarters, still need some sorting out. Kendrick Perkins, Dan Dickau, Al Jefferson, Justin Reed, Orien Greene -- we're talking a very young team here.
With the Blount situation, it looks like Rivers is hoping to benefit from a "tough love" approach that coach Scott Skiles began using with the Bulls two years ago. It seems to be paying off now in Chicago.
We'll see what happens in Boston.
Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony grimaces as he grabs his left ankle after spraining it on a drive to the basket against the Nets. He returned briefly but then left the game. X-rays were negative.
Don't you think dropping the Rockets to 29th is a bit drastic? How many teams could win without their best player, especially considering the tough schedule Houston has faced in the last week or so?
-- Aaron (Houston)
I have no idea how to process Pape Sow's 40-point night. Does it mean that the D-League is garbage? Is it proof indeed that Sow has an upside? What does it say that the Raps decided to keep Rafael "Hoffa" Araujo on their roster instead of Sow? Because I have trouble seeing Araujo going for 40 in my men's league, let alone the NBDL.
I am concerned with the low ranking (No. 27) that the Knicks received. The only bright spot is the rookies? What about the improvements on the boards and defensively? The Knicks are 4-3 since that 0-5 start. Other teams would get a bigger ranking boost with that type of turnaround and their tough early schedule.
I appreciate your confidence in Denver, but this is truly a bad team. I'm guessing you will regret the bump you gave the Nuggets by next week -- especially once they play a team that realizes they can't shoot at all and just packs it in.
I am a Nets fan and I have no problems with this week's ranking (No. 20). I just wanted to acknowledge the comments from your friend Sanford regarding Marv Albert. I am in total agreement. Marv is a Knick and will always be a Knick. Ian [Eagle] is a Net and will always be a Net.
Wade Needs To Play Through Frustration
"The word 'TruWarier' shaved in the back of forward Ron Artest's hair isn't going anywhere anytime soon unless he removes it. An NBA spokesman said Monday that Artest isn't violating any rule by wearing the name of his recording label. Artest, who is promoting his label by doing this, showed up at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday with the "TruWarier" shaved look." --- Indianapolis Star McGrady Puts The 'V' In MVP
"The argument that the Suns convincingly made last season was that even a glance at their performance without Steve Nash proved that he was the NBA's Most Valuable Player when he did play. In that case, Tracy McGrady might have this season's MVP wrapped up. In many ways, as with Nash and the Suns and Kidd and the Nets, McGrady helps define the Rockets." --- Houston Chronicle • Read the entire Intelligence Report on ESPN Insider
The Magic's Dwight Howard topples Celtics forward Al Jefferson, who received a mild concussion in this collison during Monday night's Orlando win in Boston.
Quote of the Night
-- Andrew Ayres
John (Portland, ME): Is it possilbe for a team to have an uptempo offense and a good defense? The Celtics seem to be trying to do this, but without much success.
Jim O'Brien: Good question. One that has been debated in the coaching ranks for years. If you are good at one end, does it impact the other end? If you are trying to run, it is very difficult to be a great defensive team at the other end. Not impossible, but very difficult.
Detroit is the type of team that can get near the standard. San Antonio is a great defensive team, but if you run all game you make it tough for Duncan to get down the court and post up. Forty eight minutes is a long game. Eighty-two games is a lot of games. All factors in the equation.
Jason Terry hit a buzzer-beater to give the Mavericks a 93-91 win over the Raptors. After the game Terry said, "That is something I've worked on all summer long. You take one or two dribbles and float it up. It takes less than two seconds, so it was perfect."
It was very similar to the ending of John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" -- except with a basketball instead of a grenade.
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
Despite the rumors that the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks had made bids to acquire Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said this week, "I can tell you, definitely, we are not trading KG."
I'm not necessarily a Wolves fan, and to be honest, I'd love to see Garnett in New York, New Jersey or L.A. with Kobe. But I must say this: Good for Glen Taylor.
He blows by Paul again and posters Andersen for his second dunk in minute. Because he can.
He hit the straight-up 3, because the defense is sagging and showing no respect. He drives to the left side of the basket, draws two and kicks it to Mike Dunleavy, who quick-passes it to Troy Murphy for a wide-open jump shot.
He backs Speedy Claxton down, calmly waits for the double and sends it around the horn to the waiting hands of Derek Fisher. Splash.
He wraps a fast-break dribble around his back and back to his right hand before dishing to Jason Richardson. This is what Baron Davis does.
He plays cool and confident, like he knows he's got you before the two of you even get started.
Warrior fans pray every night that he keeps on doing it, the bad injury mojo leaves him alone this year. They know they'd miss his 14.6 and 8.9 a night. But more than anything, games like this 99-83 win over the Hornets are a function of his swagger.
The Warriors are a young, tentative creature just peeking his head out of the egg. But when Baron's on the floor, they're a confident, well-heeled group who play like they've been doing it for years.
-- Eric Neel in Oakland