Updated: Jan. 19, 2006, 12:36 PM ET

'Melo's clutch advantage

Reflect on this little hoop paradox tonight's game drove home: If we were choosing up sides right now, you'd much, much rather have LeBron . . . except when you wouldn't.

The ins and outs (mostly outs) of an ugly game can be revealing, and for 47-plus minutes, this one showed the LeBron-'Melo rivalry ain't much of a rivalry at all.

James is in every way superior, more valuable, and more interesting to watch. He handles the ball, he moves to the ball, he sees the floor, he drives, he hits inside and out, and he flies above the rim the way Iron Eyes Cody's eagle used to soar above the mountain tops. Yes, he's developed a bad tendency to settle for jumpers, and his free throw shooting is weak, but he flows, and the game flows through him, and even on a bad night, when there's too much fade in his fadeaway jumper, he flirts with triple doubles (24 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists Wednesday) and stuff.

'Melo on the other hand stands around a lot, earthbound, adjusting his one-arm sock, and waiting on the skip pass. He doesn't initiate and his handle is a liability. He can shoot, and there are some opportunistic rebounds in his bag, but you can see, on a rough night, the way the game ebbs away from him (he had just one rebound and three assists Wednesday night) and into the hands of the guys supposedly playing back-up in his band.

There's a lot of attention being paid to LeBron and the scoring race these days (he, Kobe, and A.I. are all averaging over 30), but when he goes heads-up with Carmelo it's not about the points (they can each score) so much as everything else. Good as he is, Carmelo is the guy who makes it clear that LeBron can do everything.

But then, as those of you who watched the entire Cavs-Nuggets game know, the game reaches the last 20 seconds and the story gets a twist. Because in the last twenty seconds Anthony, on an isolation on the right wing, sizes up Ira Newble, quick-steps him, blows by him on the right so fast Ira's braids go all Pippi Longstocking, and dunks with big-game, big-time enthusiasm and authority to give the Nuggets a late lead.

And in those same last 20 seconds (in the last nine, in fact), LeBron, when he should be answering 'Melo's call, when he should be seizing the game by the throat, passes up an open 3-point attempt (opting instead to put the game in Sasha Pavlovic's hands), and then missed the second of two free throws, and the Cavaliers go home losers.

It's a cliché to say you have to win or lose that game on LeBron's shot, but man, you absolutely HAVE to win or lose that game on LeBron's shot. And it's no doubt nostalgia to think there's no way Larry or Michael or Magic or Doc would have missed that free throw, but man, there is absolutely NO WAY they would have missed that free throw.

And just like that the line is changed, from "LeBron can do everything" to maybe something like, right now, on this night, at this stage in his career (the good people at Elias tell us James is so far 2-for-15 on potential game-tying or go-ahead shots in the last ten seconds of a game, and Wednesday night he didn't even take the shot), "LeBron can do almost everything."

And the one thing maybe he can't do, or at least hasn't done well yet, is, interestingly enough, something at which 'Melo seems to excel (Elias says Anthony has made 7 of 11 shots under those late-and-close circumstances during his three NBA seasons, and among the league's top 15 scorers over the last three seasons, only Anthony has made at least 40 percent of such shots during that time). The contrast between his hungry eyes gunning for the rim as the clock wound down and LeBron's shrouded eyes, trying, nervously to explain to head coach Mike Brown why he passed the ball to Pavlovic -- "He was open! He was wide open!" -- could not have been more telling.

Which brings us to the paradox with which we began, and which, more importantly, brings us to another: LeBron vs. Carmelo is no kind of rivalry . . . except that it is.

Talk back to The Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: January 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14-15 | 16 | 17 | 18

Into The Stands, Into Hot Water

Antonio Davis, a 13-year veteran, retreats from the stands. The Knicks' forward went into the Chicago crowd when he believed his wife was in danger. The Bulls beat the Knicks in an OT game marked by ejections and ill will before Davis' trip.

Bench Strength On Display

Everbody knows how good Detroit's starting lineup is, but here's a scary thought for the rest of the NBA: The Pistons' bench is coming around, too.

The reserves saw plenty of action in garbage time in Detroit's 117-89 demolition of Atlanta on Wednesday, but they earned it -- they were the ones who put the Pistons in that spot in the first place. Detroit's subs exploded for 24 points in the second quarter, including 12 from Maurice Evans, allowing the Pistons to win the quarter 41-21 and essentially end the game by halftime.

The performance continues a recent trend of improved play by the four-man second unit of Evans, Carlos Delfino, Carlos Arroyo, and Antonio McDyess. McDyess, the only reliable sub a year ago, has bounced back after a slow start to shoot 50 percent in the preceding 10 games. Evans' athleticism was never in doubt but he's been a pleasant surprise offensively, especially with his 37 percent 3-point shooting. And after struggling a year ago, Arroyo has found his playmaking groove and is averaging better than 10 assists per 40 minutes.

Delfino has been the least effective of the four, as he's still uncomfortable in the halfcourt offense -- a play called for him in the second quarter, for instance, ended in an airball. But the second-year pro is making his impact felt defensively, delivering a spectacular block of Marvin Williams in transition and another rejection in man-to-man defense on Joe Johnson.

So while the incredibly durable starting five is still what drives the bus, the improved bench is one more reason the Pistons' assault on 70 wins is still going strong.

-- John Hollinger in Atlanta

News And Notes

Fans Still Cheer Francis
Steve-Won't-Go did get a whole two-game suspension, which officially fell into the category of "Big Whoop." But here's the real kicker. When Francis returned to uniform Wednesday night in a Magic home game against the Washington Wizards, entering with four minutes remaining in the first quarter, there was only a smattering of boos. The majority of Magic fans -- and we use the word "majority" loosely, given the number of empty seats -- cheered. Yes, cheered. -- Florida Today

NBA Won't Punish Shaq
NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Shaquille O'Neal would face no sanctions from the league for his altercation with Lakers center Andrew Bynum in the second quarter of Monday's 100-92 Heat defeat. O'Neal, responding to a bump from Bynum, shoved the rookie in the torso with a forearm. Both players were called for technical fouls. -- South Florida Sun-Sentinel

A Star Is Reborn
The walk, the talk, the cold-blooded efficiency in which he dominates the NBA today is so eerily similar to the way Michael Jordan did his thing, it's almost ludicrous to discover that as a kid Kobe Bryant didn't like the former Chicago Bulls star. ... "Kobe always says, 'I never liked Mike growing up,' and I always say, 'Get the (expletive) out of here,' said Lamar Odom. "When I watch him play, that's who I see. That's who I think about." So do many others, who say the 10-year Lakers' star is having his best NBA season. -- Sacramento Bee

Suspension Harsh, Allen Says
Shooting guard Ray Allen returned from his three-game suspension for fighting, which cost him $360,000, and said he did not think his punishment was fair. "I think anytime you step into the realm where you put the decision in somebody else's hands, I was at the mercy of what the league decided," Allen said. "I thought one game was sufficient, two games a lot." -- Tacoma News Tribune

Read the entire Intelligence Report on ESPN Insider Insider

Motion: Off Court Problem
Before Ben Gordon's game-winner finished a contentious Knicks-Bulls game, Antonio Davis went into the stands to protect his wife.

Knick in the stands

Got Your Back

Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James met again, a 90-89 win by the Nuggets. James took the blame. "I'm the leader of this team and I failed to make plays down the stretch. I'm the leader and I'm supposed to make plays down the stretch, and we lost. So put it on me."

Extreme Behavior

Wednesday's Best
Vince Carter, Nets swingman: With 31 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, Air Garden State helped sink the Nets' chief Titanic Division rival, the Sixers, 101-90.


Wednesday's Worst
Dikembe Mutombo, Rockets center -- No Yao. No T-Mac. At least there's Cookie Monster. The sharp-elbowed 39-year-old spent 20 minutes on the floor, recording one steal and one rebound in the 103-76 loss to the Mavericks.

Quote of the Day

"They always give me a hard time about dunking. They say if I can't show them something, then I need to just lay it in."
-- Pacers guard Anthony Johnson, 31, noting the comments of younger teammates on a rare dunk that helped him reach a career-high 27 points in a 98-92 win over the Bobcats.

See how all 228 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres

Knicks And Bruises

Fans in New York already can forget about Greg Oden ever becoming the Knicks' savior. He'll go No. 1 in 2007, but Knicks president Isiah Thomas gave the Bulls the right to swap first-round picks in 2007 even if New York wins the lottery.

You like Adam Morrison, LaMarcus Aldridge, J.J. Redick or anyone else expected to be in this year's lottery? Don't like 'em too much because the Bulls get the Knicks' pick this June, too -- even if it's No. 1 overall.

The full Chris Sheridan column Insider

Marion's Got A Point

Brandon (Toronto): Is Steve Nash the best point guard you have ever played with and what is it that makes him so good?

Shawn Marion: It's between him and Jason Kidd. Their court vision is the same, but they're different offensively. Steve's a better shooter, but Kidd is a better post player. Steve is always trying to get the teammates involved.

Matt (NY): Shawn has any coach ever tried to get you to change your release? Because if I shot like that in HS my coach would have cut me, how did you make it work so good for you?

Shawn Marion: No, I just don't follow through like most people do. I get paid a lot of money to shoot like I do. A lot of people have worse shots than mine...haha

The full Shawn Marion chat Insider

Celtics Lost, Stats Found

When ESPN's Bill Simmons called for the canning of Doc Rivers, he sought numbers for double-digit leads blown in the fourth quarter, crunch-time FG percentage, 24-second violations in the fourth quarter, botched two-for-one possessions at the end of a quarter, number of games in which your coach accidentally ran out of timeouts and number of times your final play of the quarter caused your fans to scream obscenities and throw a remote control.

"If these stats existed, the 2005-06 Boston Celtics would be seen in an entirely different light. I promise you, " Simmons wrote.

Good news! The 82games.com web site produced some of these numbers. It shows that Celtics rank fourth in blowing late leads, and tend to be worse than the NBA average in crunch time offensively, but not defensively, where they play pretty well.

The 82 site didn't have the remote throwing number, though. Here's two cents from Daily Dime: Install a motion detector chip in remotes, which sends a signal to the cable box, which tallies movement and Celtics game viewing ...

See 82games.com story


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