The old balls will ring in the new year, returning in 2007. Jerry Sloan's 1,000th career coaching win came with a Jazz thrashing of the Mavs. The Suns' 11th straight win, was a 103-89 thumping of the Orlando Magic. And the Allen Iverson sweepstakes still don't have a winning ticket yet. So let's tip it off . . .
Suns rise, ball sets
How does the Suns' speedy style help them combat a big presence like Dwight Howard?
Orlando's got a tremendous interior defense. But the Suns negate that because they don't give you time to set up. So if they're coming down and firing quickly, they can take your major weapon away from you.
Howard was a non-factor because of fouls. We're going to see more big men in foul trouble against the Suns, right?
Yes, dictated by this fast-paced style. The big guys get tired and then reach. That means fouls. They need to be more active to help on D, but then they can get frustrated, because they're not setting up in the half court.
Bet you'd like to play on these Suns.
Any team with Steve Nash, you'd want to be on. It doesn't hurt that Amare Stoudemire (30 points, eight boards) is now healthy and Boris Diaw's rounding into shape -- they're a tough team to play against because the defense is better inside, getting you in a fast pace. New Jersey's a running team, but the Suns picked up pace so much in their game last week, so the Nets end up taking bad shots.
The Allen Iverson sweepstakes continue. What's one thing his new team should appreciate?
That he really cares about winning. And when you see him play in other situations besides the 76ers (where he's often been the only big scorer), he knows how to distribute.
Trading a superstar is a fascinating business, with the high stakes of a franchise's future riding on one big deal. We just might see it again with Kevin Garnett, and to some degree Paul Pierce.
What two words come to mind when you think of Jerry Sloan's halfcourt execution and control of the tempo?
That's my view as an opponent. Most of his opportunities to run come off your mistakes. So every time, you become hesitant and afraid to make a mistake. His team's are a reflection of his personality -- tough, and they can wear you out with relentless energy.
He's the frontrunner for Coach of the Year. Sloan is selfless, not looking for extra pub. He never says, "my team", he says "We" -- those little things give a team tremendous confidence.
Admit it, you liked the new ball, didn't you?
It was a good ball. I shot around with it, but never played a game with it, or worked out hard with it. It's very soft and laid up on the rim nicely.
The NBA takes criticism that's unjustified -- that it doesn't listen. In the 30 years I've been around the league, the league has tried to do just that. They tried something to make the game better -- remember, several GMs and players were actively involved in the decision to go to the new ball.
Now they went back to the old ball. They tried something, it didn't work. There's an old saying, "if you don't make a mistake, you're not trying anything new." Going back to the leather ball was a good decision -- I don't know how many leagues would have done it.
ESPN analyst Kiki Vandeweghe, who was the Nuggets GM for five years until last spring, played 13 NBA seasons, averaging 19.7 ppg for four teams from 1981-1993.
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Sixers forward Kyle Korver hangs his head after the Blazers took an 81-79 win over the Iverson-less Sixers on Monday night. Philadelphia has its first eight-game losing streak since April 1997 -- Iverson's rookie season. The Sixers (5-15) have lost 15 of 17 and are tied with Charlotte for the worst record in the East.
You may never see a highlight of this play, as it did not result in a bucket or dunk, but follow this to get a glimpse of the kinds of things that happen in an NBA game on a nightly basis:
Deron Williams beats a show by Dirk Nowitzki on a ball screen, drives middle and makes a sweet no-look pass to Carlos Boozer. Boozer, challenged by a good shot-blocker in DeSagana Diop, loses the ball on his way up, sending the ball high into the air. Williams, on the baseline following his pass, jumps high to keep the ball away from Anthony Johnson, who otherwise would have an easy recovery, and bats the ball toward the free-throw line.
Boozer, Diop, and Devean George all make an effort to get a hand on the ball, but it ultimately goes to Andrei Kirilenko. AK-47 takes an immediate dribble toward the rim and Diop, who gets back into defensive position. Andrei bends his long 6-9 frame down to almost half his size and throws a perfect bounce pass, thru Diop's legs, to a waiting Jarron Collins under the basket.
As Collins goes up for the layup, Diop reacts quickly and blocks Collins point blank at the rim.
The entire play takes nine seconds and produces two missed shots, a good hustle play by four players, two terrific passes, and a blocked shot. And no points. Oh, and three verbalized "wow" calls by me as it happened. Highlights alone do not tell the NBA story.
SLOAN GOAL: Jerry Sloan got his 1,000th win the old-fashioned way, which is to say the Jerry Sloan way: the Jazz crushed the Mavs on the boards (42-26), played physical, in-your-face defense (Mavs shot 37.7 percent from the field, 15 percent from 3), and ran their offense to perfection (24 assists in 38 FGs). And I like Sloan starting Derek Fisher alongside Deron Williams.
YOU ARE CORRECT, SIR: Memo to NBA teams not located in Arizona: All of you want to play like Phoenix, at least some of the time. Small and quick with no concern for height and positions. But unless you can play a "big" with the talent, skills, and feel of Boris Diaw, you are just Dana Carvey to Phoenix' Johnny Carson. That is to say, an amusing imitation of the real thing. Diaw is in shape now, which is the biggest reason the Suns are rolling.
EIGHT WONDERS: I once heard Mike Fratello speak to over 400 elite players and coaches about the "eight ways to defend the pick and roll." The way the Knicks defended Boston's ball screens in the first half was not related to any of those eight strategies. One word can be used to describe their defense: nothing. The fans booed Stephon Marbury mostly, but it was the nothing provided by the bigs that was pathetic.
"BRING HOME MILK, EGGS": It's 93-90, Celtics, with 28.4 seconds left, Knicks' ball on a sideline inbounds. The Celts' huge halftime lead all but evaporated. So what is Danny Ainge doing just before the inbounds pass? Checking his Blackberry. Hmmmmm.
-- David Thorpe
Some think it would turn the team's locker room into World War III. Some think it would make the team -- hands down -- the toughest crew pound-for-pound in the NBA. Joe Maloof thinks it would be a match made in heaven. Maloof, owner of the Sacramento Kings, told me today that he would have no fear whatsoever of putting the volatile Ron Artest and the volatile Allen Iverson together as teammates.
Sloan's Jazz own NBA's best record (16-5)
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images
Utah coach Jerry Sloan earned a lifetime achievement award, of sorts -- 1,000 wins. Now he might have the Coach of the Year award.
Quotes of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
When the NBA switches back to the old ball Jan. 1, here's how many games each team will have left:
54: Sacramento Kings
53: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers
52: Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards
51: Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Jersey Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz
50: Golden State, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Orlando Magic, Seattle SuperSonics
49: New York Knicks
-- Andrew Ayres
Gabe (Monroe NY): Talk about chemistry, whats wrong with the Nets? (This is your opportunity to say you said so all along)
John Hollinger: I said so all along. Well, no, not exactly. I didn't think they'd be anything close to THIS bad, and I really don't have an explanation for it. Although they'll make history as the league's first 30-52 division champion.
Tone (chicago): I know Iverson is talented, but he dominates the ball way to much. Why would any team really want to give up alot for him? And why would denver want him, Melo would lose alot of touches.
John Hollinger: Iverson works best on a team that's short on scorers, because as you point out he'd take shots away from Melo. That's why he'd be so perfect with the Bulls, but they may want to wait for Garnett.
Joel (San Diego): Is it time for the pistons to start Dale Davis? There is a reason why Greg Popovich bench Nazr Mohammed in the playoffs last season.
John Hollinger: Actually, I've though Mohammed has played fairly well when he's been on the court and I dont' get why Flip has been so quick with the hook. It's not like Davis and McDyess are burning it up out there either.
Alex (CA): Ricky Davis, Mike James and the rookies are finally meshing in Minnesota, with the way they are playing do you think they keep it up?
John Hollinger: Here's the thing with Minny that noobody is talking about -- they're playing great defense. Dwane Casey isn't getting nearly enough due for this -- look at the talent on that team and tell me how it should be in the top five in Defensive Efficiency. While we're on the topic, can we get some All-Defense love for Trenton Hassell?
Word spread around the NBA grapevine quickly Monday that the Celtics had told the 76ers they were not willing to part with the 21-year-old big man in an Iverson trade.
I related that rumor to Celtics president Danny Ainge and owner Wyc Grousbeck prior to Boston's 97-90 victory over the Knicks, and both responded with nervous laughs.
As for Jefferson, he was a bit taken aback.