By Greg Anthony
Here's how East will finish . . .
The balance of power has gone from West to East. The East is deeper and better at the top with three of the top four teams in the league residing in the East. Here's how I see the East seedings come playoff time:
1. Pistons. Best backcourt. Best frontline. And people forget this is a young basketball team and still improving. Flip Saunders gives them freedom offensively, which could be the deciding factor. They also have motivation: 1.) That it wasn't just about Larry Brown; and 2.) The way they lost in the Finals last season. Only question is: Will they get enough support off the bench?
2. Heat. Eventually, Shaq will be there and they'll be dangerous, having the most talented 1-2 punch in the league. Chemistry may be an issue, but they know how to play winning basketball. The main question is: Are they good enough defensively to hang with the likes of San Antonio, Detroit and Indiana? Jury's still out.
3. 76ers. Getting this high spot only because they're a division champ. When I look up and down the Atlantic Division, the best player is Allen Iverson, who is motivated and off to a great start. The Sixers haven't gotten anything out of Kyle Korver and Andre Iguodala. Chris Webber's been decent, not great, but they're the team in the division that has the most room for growth. Defensively, they'll get better.
4. Pacers. Their defense can win a championship. Not sure about their offense. Point-guard play is gonna be the key. I don't think they get enough easy baskets. They struggle to score and are unable to take advantage of their defense. Rick Carlisle's greatest challenge is to make them more effective on the offensive end.
5. Cavs. They have enough talent. And they have the X-factor, LeBron James. But if they want to get to the next level, LeBron has to 1.) become a real leader -- leadership allows you to win on the road. They're a bad road team; and 2.) become more dominant on the defensive end -- the Cavs don't guard any position well on the floor.
6. Bulls. Not a lot of people are talking about them, but never discount the experience they gained from last season. This is a young basketball team that has learned how to win and plays defense. The Scott Skiles-Ben Gordon feud is an issue, but not something that's going to knock them off track. I worry most about whether they have enough low-post scoring.
7. Nets. With the best perimeter trio in the conference, except in Detroit, they'll find a way to get to the playoffs. But when I think about their frontline, a big question mark blinks in my head. Other than Nenad Krstic's offensive outbursts here and there, they put up nothing. Marc Jackson, Jason Collins and Krstic don't have the overall athleticism to compete.
8. Bucks. They have depth to go along with great point guard play. Terry Stotts has been pushing the right buttons. They can shoot from the perimeter, score in the open floor or with their backs to the basket. They've already proven they can go on the road and win. They also have a chance to be a good defensive team and will benefit from playing in the best division in basketball.
Celtics: They don't have a point guard. They need to address that issue. They miss the stability that Gary Payton provides. They don't have decision-making at that position and that's going to hurt them.
No, that's not Oklahoma State, but Clippers forward Corey Maggette's shirt sure looks like Cowboy garb. Alonzo Mourning and the Heat fell to the Clippers, who wore the uniforms of their original ancestor, the 1970-71 Buffalo Braves.
Why don't you just stop commenting on the Heat? Every week you drop in something else insulting. It's getting old. We just won in Sacramento and the next night, on a back-to-back in Denver, we lose on an Earl Boykins 3-pointer with seconds to go. That's two solid road performances without Shaq, so go shove your comment about our road record. If you want to say something negative, how about Van Gundy not getting the ball to Wade on the last possession in the Denver game?
Four of the Suns' five losses came to Memphis, San Antonio, Detroit and Dallas. Aside from the Memphis loss, they held fourth-quarter leads in all of those games. Plus they just beat Indiana like a drum. This is a surprisingly good team that should be ranked higher -- it was a lack of chemistry and the coaching staff not yet knowing the strengths and weaknesses of new players that cost the Suns early. I know I am a homer, but this is a dangerous team. And I hear there's a decent player named Amare who will be coming back in February.
I hate to tell you but the Pistons are bored already. It doesn't matter. In the last handful of games, they've yawned their way through the first quarter, played around with their bench in the second quarter and then, depending on how much they're winning or losing by at the half, they decide how hard they have to play. It's worked for them thus far because they have so much talent in their starting five, so at least two Pistons are scoring at all times. If they can continue to roll like this and keep guys rested throughout the season, then I fear for the rest of the league come playoff time, not just the East.
Only four teams have won at least 12 games. And the Warriors are No. 9? It seems like they haven't had two off days in a row all season.
Villanueva: 'I'm Proving My Critics As Liars'
King James Likes Sacramento
Two-Guard Spot Remains Unsettled
No, the Cuban national team did not play the Mavs last night. Bulls forward Darius Songaila can't bear to face Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 35 points for Dallas, which won 102-94. The Bulls wore the uniforms of the Chicago Stags, an NBA team from 1946 to 1950.
Quote of the Night
-- Andrew Ayres
Ben, Philly: Where do you see the Sixers going this season?
Marc Stein: If the Nets don't win the division, it'll be Philly. But will anyone be surprised if only one team qualifies for the playoffs from the Titanic? Don't think so. The best news is that Iverson and Webber look good together. The defense is bound to improve at least a little as time passes; AI and C-Webb clicking was the bigger issue coming into the season
-- ESPN Research
Boris Diaw, I'm happy to say, is for real. He's talented and fun to watch. But there us one stat category which I'm failing to understand. His FT percentage is now 70 percent, which is not THAT bad. Actually, it's a stellar performance for a guy, who just few month ago, in the European Championship, shot a miserable 19 (!) percent from the line, including a woeful 0-11 game against Slovenia and 2 misses in the last minute of a must-win against favorites Serbia.
Is there a better example of a young player from Europe making the right decision about when to come out? Diaw was almost 22 when he declared for the draft, but it looks like that time in Europe paid off.
Of course Diaw looks better now, he was traded to a better team. If the Hawks had players that could finish the play after a Diaw drive and dish, then there might not have been such a need to over pay for Johnson.
Diaw has finally been given a chance in Phoenix to show his multiple talents. 2005-2006 is going to be a historic year for French basketball, as Diaw could be considered if he continues his strong play for Most Improved Player. Tony Parker might go to the All-Star Game. Mike Pietrus will come back from his injury and have a strong season. And Johann Petro in Seattle is a work in progress, but could become an strong Western conference center within years.
Heading into Tuesday night's game at Phoenix, what will Portland forward Ruben Patterson do for an encore? He scored 19 points in Sunday's loss to Utah. He played with the pent-up energy of a man who had missed seven games.
This unscheduled vacation courtesy of the Blazers came after his well-publicized tirade about a lack of playing time. But he says his Blazers teammates welcomed him back.
"Oh man, I'm like family, I was like a missing part," the Oregonian quoted him after his return. "It was like I was in the hospital and I came back. They were all excited, they all gave me hugs and stuff."