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David Aldridge

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Kobe's 81-point game against Toronto in 2006 was one of the decade's best moments.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Brilliance, failure, surprises marked the decade that was


Posted Dec 29 2009 3:33AM

You may want to check twice before going to Portland. There seems to be something in the water.

It's hard to fathom that Portland would lose Joel Przybilla to a dislocated patella and ruptured patella tendon, 17 days after losing Greg Oden for the season with a ruptured left patella, after losing Rudy Fernandez for six weeks due to back surgery, after losing Nicolas Batum and Travis Outlaw until March and after coach Nate McMillan ruptured his Achilles, and after owner Paul Allen and assistant coach Maurice Lucas continued separate battles with cancer.

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But the Blazers, at least for a week, persevered. They just plugged 6-foot-8, 36-year-old Juwan Howard in and said, "You play center now." And he did. Pretty doggone well, too. And they beat Dallas and San Antonio on back-to-back nights, then beat Denver on Friday to move up to fourth in the West, behind Brandon Roy and Jerryd Bayless.

An amazing week for Portland, as well as for resurgent Cleveland, which roared to the top of the Power Rankings as the calendar year comes to a close. And as that means the decade ends, too, it's time to take one last look back at the last 10 years.

These are moments that stand out to me; some for their individual brilliance, others for their moments of failure, still others for the surprise they created. They defined the decade.

10) Big Shot Rob

June 10, 2001 / April 28, 2002 / May 26, 2002 / June 19, 2005 / April 30, 2007
Philadelphia / Portland / Los Angeles / Auburn Hills / Denver

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Nobody was more clutch than Big Shot Rob.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

I really wanted to give this to Tayshaun Prince, for his rundown and block of Reggie Miller in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. But Robert Horry's body of work, throughout the decade, was too large to ignore. He never had huge scoring nights, but he frequently had the game-winning, game-preserving or game-changing basket. The most famous probably was his buzzer-beater for the Lakers to tie up the 2002 Western Conference finals with Sacramento, but there were so many throughout the decade for the Lakers and Spurs that ranking them would be difficult.

I know this: When Rasheed Wallace left him, inexplicably, in Game 5 of the '05 Finals, I've never heard a home crowd audibly gasp when the ball was swung to the open man like the Pistons crowd did as Manu Ginobili passed the ball back out to the open Horry. It was like those slow-motion action sequences in action films, just before the bomb goes off: Noooooooooooo!

And then, swish.

9) The Five-Minute Meeting

May 7, 2003
Washington, D.C.

When Michael Jordan ended his second retirement, improbably, to play for the Washington Wizards, he did so with the expectation that he'd be able to return to his job of president of basketball operations with Washington when he stopped playing. After two years in which Washington improved on the court -- but didn't make the playoffs -- Jordan hung up his Nikes for good. He thought he'd be welcomed back into management.

But Washington's owner, the late Abe Pollin, quickly disabused Jordan of that notion. In a five-minute meeting, Pollin fired Jordan, saying he never had had any intention of selling the team to Jordan and wanted to go in a different direction.

A shocked Jordan hurled invective, stormed out of the meeting and left MCI Center in his Mercedes, never to return. The Wizards hired Ernie Grunfeld as their new president, and Washington made the playoffs four times in the next six seasons. Jordan went on to an ownership position with the Charlotte Bobcats. But he would never overcome the shock of being told to hit the road for the first time since he famously failed to make the varsity team in high school in North Carolina. It shocked just about everyone else in the league as well.

8) The Lob Wedge

Game 7, Western Conference Finals
June 4, 2000
Los Angeles, Calif.

The Lakers were down 17 points in the third quarter of the deciding game of the Western Conference finals to Portland. A loss would be yet another failure for the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers, which had yet to win anything of importance, and be a black mark in the ledger of Phil Jackson, who'd been hired before the season with one objective -- get L.A. back to the Finals. But the Lakers wore the Blazers down in the fourth (Portland helped, coming apart at the seams under relentless Lakers pressure), and took the lead late.

The game was still in doubt with a minute left, and L.A. up four, when Bryant drove the lane, pulled up and threw a perfect alley-oop to Shaq, who seemed to jump to the roof of Staples Center to hammer it home. The Lakers went on to win the game, and, then, the Finals over Indiana, the first pro title for O'Neal and Bryant.

7) "Deeetroit Basketball!"

Game 5, NBA Finals
June 15, 2004
Auburn Hills, Mich.

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A well-earned trophy for Chauncey and the Pistons.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Before Game 1 of the Finals, Pistons coach Larry Brown gathered his prohibitive underdogs together after practice and told them they could beat the Lakers. Kobe and Shaq, Brown told his team, don't like to pass to each other. Everyone knew that, but nobody had been able to exploit that all season, as L.A.'s team of stars -- Bryant, O'Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton -- had dominated the Western Conference.

But Detroit's team of tough guys beat the Lakers to the punch early and often. Tayshaun Prince played outstanding defense on Bryant. Rip Hamilton ran circles around the aging Laker defenders, and Chauncey Billups took all the big shots, winning Most Valuable Player honors. The result was a 4-1 Detroit upset victory that gave Brown his first NBA championship.

It was the last game Kobe and Shaq played together; it was Karl Malone's final game in the NBA (though he didn't play, sitting on the bench in street clothes after playing with a sprained knee in the first four games of the series).

"If you're a team sport guy," ABC's analyst said in the closing seconds of Game 5, "this gives every kid in the world a message: No matter who's on your team, you still have to earn it. And that's what this title is about." (Four years later, that analyst, Doc Rivers, would get to prove his theory as his Boston Celtics beat the Lakers 4-2 to win the 2008 title.)

6a) "I'm innocent."

July 18, 2003
Los Angeles, Calif./Eagle, Colo.

He sat at Staples Center, in a white pullover sweater, his wife at his side, and admitted that he'd committed adultery with a hotel employee at an Edwards, Colo. resort. But, he said, firmly, he didn't rape her. That it was Kobe Bryant saying those words forced a disconnect in many people's brains, mine included. (You do this for a living, you give up long ago any notion that you actually know who these athletes really are. But Bryant? Accused of that? It just couldn't be.)

It rocked the NBA, it rocked sports. It began a 14-month odyssey for Bryant, in which more lurid details of the encounter became public, and Bryant had to try to salvage his marriage, decide if he wanted to explore free agency, rebuild his image and try to lead the Lakers to another title, all while commuting on many gamedays between California and Colorado for court appearances.

A trial seemed to be inevitable. But it ended in September, 2004, with the state of Colorado dropping the charges against him, claiming the accuser didn't want to go forward any more. Bryant issued a statement in which he acknowledged that the accuser may have viewed the incident differently than he.

Only then could Bryant get on with his career and his life.

6b) Eighty-Wonderful

January 22, 2006
Los Angeles, Calif.

A lot of Kobe fans (see below) killed me last week for saying LeBron's 25 straight points against Detroit in the '07 conference finals was the best performance of the decade. Again, I am well aware of how incredible Kobe's performance against Toronto was, and the historic importance of it, which is why it's included on this list. Equally impressive was that Bryant could have done the very same thing or more a month earlier, when he had scored 62 points through three quarters against Dallas. But Bryant sat on the bench in the fourth quarter, a decision by Phil Jackson that Bryant agreed with.

Bryant was needed throughout the Lakers' game with the Raptors, in which Los Angeles trailed by 18 in the second half. He scored 55 of his 81 in the final 24 minutes -- 27 in the third, 28 in the fourth. It was, I'd opine, the beginning of Kobe's rehab in the public eye.

4) Redeemed

2008 Summer Olympics, gold medal game, men's basketball
August 24, 2008
Beijing, China

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Dwight Howard shows off some bling.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

After a disastrous performance at the 2004 Olympics in Greece, USA Basketball, in desperation, turned over the selection process for the next U.S. men's basketball team to Jerry Colangelo, the former Phoenix Suns owner. Colangelo was the one and only voice, determined to pick a team of players that not only wanted to play in the Olympics, but would commit for three years in preparation.

Colangelo believed the best players, given time, could become a true team, something that hadn't happened in previous international competitions. After Kobe Bryant and LeBron James committed to play, most of the NBA's other superstars fell in line. Under coach Mike Krzyzewski, the U.S. team became a defensive power, and was led offensively by Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, with James, Bryant and Jason Kidd filling in whatever cracks developed. The U.S. team beat all comers before facing a tough Spain team -- with NBA players Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernandez, and future NBAer Ricky Rubio -- in the gold medal game.

The Americans led. The Spaniards rallied. The Americans went back ahead. The Spaniards wouldn't go away. But finally, a four-point play by Bryant and a three from Wade kept Spain at arm's length for good, and the "Redeem Team" (that year's answer to the 1992 "Dream Team") had brought the gold back to the United States.

3) "Top of the World! Top of the World!"

Game 6, NBA Finals
June 17, 2008
Boston, Mass.

Since their last heyday in the mid-'80s, the Celtics had fallen off the NBA map, with a series of incompetent owners and managers taking the league's most hallowed franchise and driving it into a ditch. But with two offseason trades in the summer of 2007 that brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Beantown to join with Paul Pierce, Boston became relevant again. The Three Amigos led the Celtics on a rampage through the Eastern Conference, and, ultimately, to a Finals date with Kobe Bryant's Lakers.

Boston dominated Los Angeles in six games, routing the Lakers at TD Banknorth Garden in the clincher -- leading to this incredible, only-KG-could-express-himself-like-that postgame interview with Michelle Tafoya. The NBA is a better league when the Celtics are a player. This series brought them all the way back.

2) "A rogue, isolated criminal"

July 25, 2007
New York, N.Y.

It wasn't a novel or a movie. It was real, the NBA's nightmare scenario, writ large: a referee, accused of betting on basketball games -- and of having ties to the mob. Thus began the unraveling of what Tim Donaghy had done, and what he accused his fellow officials and the league of doing -- showing favoritism and/or bias against individual players (what the officials were alleged of doing) and allegedly manipulating games through what the league told its officials to call, or not call.

At a New York news conference, commissioner David Stern tried to paint a picture of Donaghy as a lone operator, but had to acknowledge that referees routinely had violated the league's guidelines against betting at casinos and other places other than racetracks, where they'd been allowed to gamble in the offseason under the old rules.

The league restructured its operations department and brought in a retired general from the outside to supervise its officials, and began posting the list of referees working games that night -- previously proprietary information that Donaghy had used, he said, to determine which teams to bet on and against. But the damage was deep and lasting. Those that have always believed the league has its thumb on the scale, and that refs routinely ignore traveling and other violations, received aid and comfort from Donaghy's accusations. Many who weren't sure before now were willing to listen harder to conspiracy theories.

Donaghy served 13 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce. He wrote a book (see below) and went on 60 Minutes. The league continued to assert that Donaghy was a "rogue" official who contaminated the others.

1) The Brawl


November 19, 2004
Auburn Hills, Mich.

It started under the basket, the game well in hand, the Indiana Pacers having handled the defending champion Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. By the time it was over, what appeared to be a garden variety, end of game pushing and shoving match became one of the worst moments in league history -- and a line of demarcation.

Before the Brawl, the NBA was still able to stir the embers of the Jordan Era, or at least point to the high-gloss Lakers as its standard. That all ended after 11/19/04. After that day, the sight of NBA players going into the stands and punching paying customers was branded into the psyche of sponsors and fans, some of whom turned away and didn't return.

The league reacted swiftly, suspending Ron Artest, who led the Pacers' charge into the stands, for the final 73 games of the season. Stephen Jackson got 30 games; Jermaine O'Neal, 25. But that didn't lessen the impact. It has taken the NBA years to get rid of the stigma that night produced, which made it far too easy for some to label all players "thugs" (with everything that phrase connotes lingering in the air) and created an endless loop of anarchy, to be shown over and over.

It also destroyed an up-and-coming Pacers team, which had made the conference finals the year before. But good teams come and go. The impact of the Brawl lasted far after any bruises healed, and only the rise of the Draft class of 2003 -- LeBron, Carmelo, D-Wade, etc. -- and the re-ignition of the Celtics and Lakers as league powerhouses has, finally, changed the subject.

Dribbles

• The denouement between Tracy McGrady and the Rockets is coming, sooner than expected. After McGrady was sent home by the team this weekend, general manager Daryl Morey said via text Sunday that the "next step will be figured out Tuesday," when the team and McGrady's representatives will meet in Houston. Morey said a buyout of McGrady's $22.4 million contract is not a possibility.

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Decision-day is looming for T-Mac and the Rockets.
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

McGrady wants to play more than the seven minutes a night he's getting from Rick Adelman following his quicker than expected return from microfracture surgery last February. Adelman doesn't want to mess up his rotation by dramatically increasing McGrady's workload. McGrady told reporters in Houston that neither he nor his representatives have asked for a trade. The Rockets gave McGrady the weekend off from their games with the Nets and Cavaliers before planning the next step. A source that is involved in the discussions said Sunday that Adelman and Morey will meet Monday in advance of the Tuesday discussion.

It doesn't seem that there can be anything but one of three outcomes: McGrady is reinstated to regular minutes, he's traded or he's released. It doesn't seem likely that Adelman is inclined to restoring McGrady to his former 30-35 minute status. Knowing that the Rockets don't have much leverage, it wouldn't seem that teams would be inclined to work out a trade with Houston. That seems to leave door number three: Waiving him. Cutting McGrady wouldn't cost the Rockets anything but whatever pieces they would receive from a team in a deal for him. And he's coming off their cap next summer, anyway ...

• If you wondered why the Blazers have resisted all offers for Jerryd Bayless over the last year, now you know. When Brandon Roy was out Wednesday in San Antonio with a shoulder injury, Bayless got the start and promptly dropped 31 on the Spurs, leading Portland to an amazing road win. You know the Blazers' litany of injuries by now, but coming on the second of a back-to-back that began Tuesday with a win at Dallas, beating the Spurs at the A T&T Center was one of the most impressive wins I've seen in some time.

"For the last year in practice, we've seen him," teammate Steve Blake said by phone Sunday. "We definitely know his physical ability, his ability to get to the free-throw line and all that stuff. It was just as matter of time before we could start putting him in that scorer's role, doing what he knows how to do, which is score the basketball."

Portland's approach is more like an NFL team than most basketball teams. In the NBA, when you lose your stars, or your key role players, you usually fall apart. The NFL's mantra is "Next Man Up;" i.e., the next name on the depth chart is supposed to come in and do the job just as well as the guy he replaced. So if Greg Oden goes down, Joel Przybilla takes his place, and when Przybilla goes down, Juwan Howard steps in. For now, Portland has to play small ball, which actually makes it a little bit quicker on the perimeter defensively, and with the ball in his hands more, Roy is deadlier than ever.

Roy returned to action on Friday, and scored 41 against Denver, with Blake adding 14 of his 17 in the fourth quarter to help preserve the 107-96 win.

There's no way they can keep this up, but it's been impressive so far.

"We've lost a lot of guys," Blake said, "but at the same time we have faith in all our players. Everyone knows where to be on the court, everyone knows how to play defense. Going into the year we were really confident in each other and what we could do. So now we have two choices: Everybody's going to come together and step up and do it, or guys are going to sulk ... We have to believe. If we believe any other way, we just are setting ourselves up for failure. We don't want any more injuries, but we believe the talent to win games."

I asked Blake if he was surprised how well the Blazers were doing with all the injuries, or if he expected this.

"A little of both," he said. "I'm impressed with my teammates from my point of view, and how guys are stepping up and performing. At the same time, everybody talked about our depth at the start of the season, so it's coming up now."

Top O' the World, Ma!

(Last week's rankings in brackets)

1) Cleveland [6] (24-8): Won 10 straight at home.

2) L.A. Lakers [1] (24-5): Spit the bit at Staples to Cavaliers on Christmas Day.

3) Boston [2] (23-6): Loss in L.A. Sunday night just the C's second this year on the road.

4) Atlanta [3] (21-8): We will find out about Hawks after brutal January stretch.

5) Portland [10] (20-12): Amazing heart.

6) Dallas [4] (22-9): Won in Denver for first time in eight tries.

7) Orlando [5] (22-8]: Rashard Lewis struggling from the floor.

8) Phoenix [8] (19-12): Slipping: just 5-9 in December.

9) Denver [7] (20-11): Best start in team history.

10) Houston [12] (18-13): McGrady situation coming to a head.

11) San Antonio [11] (17-11): Quietly (of course) won eight out of last 10.

12) Miami [14] (16-12): Slowly coming together after Riles tongue lashing.

13) Utah [9] (17-13): Harpring trade gets luxury tax under control.

14) Oklahoma City [15] (15-14): Thunder only play one +.500 team in next two weeks.

15) Toronto [NR] (15-17): Four straight behind Bargnani (50 percent from floor last eight games).

Team of the Week

Cleveland (4-0): Gave the Suns their first loss of the season at home Monday; held off the red-hot Kings in Sacramento in overtime on Wednesday -- shutting them out in the extra session -- dominated the Lakers at Staples Center on Christmas Day and blew out a tough Houston team on Sunday. That's a pretty good week.

Team of the Weak

Detroit (0-3): Finally have everyone back from the injured list . Unfortunately, they had dropped seven in a row before then.

Nobobdy asked me, but ...

Should we listen to at least some of what Tim Donaghy has to say?

I read the ex-referee's tell-all book, Personal Foul, over the Christmas holiday. (It's not that tough a read; you can do it in a day if you have a couple of hours to kill.) There are certainly problems with consistency in Donaghy's account of alleged fraud by the NBA office. He never comes out and says exactly who makes the orders that certain teams should win, and others should not, or that star players should be treated differently than the ham-and-eggers. It's always "the league" or "the league office," etc.

One suspects that Donaghy tread carefully here because he doesn't have the evidence he claims he does, and if he named names -- like, say, David Stern's -- he'd spend the rest of his life fighting defamation and/or slander suits. That cuts into Donaghy's credibility.

And he ignores what every other conspiracy theorist conveniently ignores when it comes to the NBA: What about San Antonio? If the league's desire to push its star teams and marquee individuals was so consuming, so omnipotent in its application, how do you explain the Spurs' four titles since 1999? Surely a referee group as twisted as Donaghy says would have found it easy to foul Tim Duncan out of enough key games to choke San Antonio's title hopes before they grew to fruition.

And why would the league punish Phoenix, the most exciting team of the decade, in the '07 Western semis with the Spurs, suspending Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for the key Game 5 after the Horry-Steve Nash fight in Game 4? No one ever explains that.

But.

Donaghy is convincing when he details what he believes was preferential treatment for star players, such as calling fouls on "lesser" players so that stars don't foul out. He is convincing when detailing how officials are much closer to players, coaches and owners than the league leads you to believe. He is convincing when detailing how teams and players believed a game would be called a certain way when a certain referee worked their games. He is convincing when detailing that officials, being human, had biases that crept into their work.

And some of his proposed solutions are worth thinking about, such as keeping pay equal for all officials, instead of older, more experienced referees getting paid more -- and creating an incentive to "go along to get along." He also suggests moving the central location for officials' training out of the league's office in New York to allow officials more time for training during the season, and taking part of the grading process that the league uses for playoff assignments away from coaches and GMs, to eliminate any possibility that refs will curry favor instead of calling what they see.

I took a detailed look at the NBA's officials during the Finals last season, and I got some good responses. One of the best was from a team executive who freely admitted his own star player got away with things that others didn't. The criticism that is most consistent, and rings truest to me, is that NBA games are managed as much as they are officiated, that there isn't a strict by the book interpretation of the rules. I have argued that if you call every foul that is committed in an NBA game, it would last four hours and each team would shoot 60 free throws, and who would want that?

Maybe. But maybe the game would get better as a result. Isn't it worth at least exploring, so that some good comes out of Tim Donaghy's crimes?

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

When Math Geeks Attack.

From Sam Otten:

You are an idiot, sir. You wrote the following sentences, which obviously contradict each other: "After 12 months, you finish Year One. That means you don't finish ten years, or a decade, until Year Ten is over. The Oughts Decade runs from 2001-2010, not 2000-2009."

The first sentences are correct, but the conclusion you draw from them is precisely backwards.

The word "ought" stands in for zero -- "ought two" means '02, for instance. Thus '00 is an ought year. You are right that after 12 months in the oughts, Year One is over, which is January through December in the year 2000. So at the end of 2000, you have completed one year in the decade. By counting up to ten (you can do that, right?), you will find that at the end of 2009 ('09, or "ought nine") you have completed ten full years -- or a decade, as you put it -- in the oughts.

So the decade is 2000 to 2009.

I bet your teacher evaluations are through the roof, professor. I'd love to audit your class. Not.

I hope he wasn't in the crowd at Staples on Christmas.

From Fernando Galindo:

Great column!

But, wait, LeBron over Kobe... I mean 81 points, that was beyond everything... that was unreal. Until that moment, nobody could believe that someone in this era could score so much... 81... I find only one real competition for that, it is not McGrady or LeBron, it is... Kobe again, against Dallas, do you remember? He single-handed(ly) outscored the whole team until the third quarter. Is Kobe 81, Kobe 63... Both unreal.

Got a lot of e-mails and Tweets on this one. Look, nobody is discounting the 81. It was a remarkable feat and if you think that was the performance of the decade, good on ya. But I put more value in the playoffs, when you're playing better teams, for higher stakes, with more pressure. That's why I think LeBron's 25 straight and 29 out of 30 was more impressive. It came in the conference finals, on the road, against one of the best defensive teams of this era. My opinion, my column.

On the other hand, I love Kobe too much.

From Peter Rumm:

Huh? How can you even consider to put Kobe over Duncan (or Shaq for that matter)?

Shaq not Kobe was the dominant player on three titles and Kobe's teams were horrible with him leading them until he got a gift in Gasol. Yet throughout the decade the one consistency on a great team was Duncan day in and day out.

Duncan had 2 MVPS and 2 finals MVPs and his teams had the highest winning percentage in not only NBA but the history of sports so far for his career.

The true rankings are Duncan > barely over Shaq- a DECADE is NOT one TITLE run as the dominant player on your team when in the midst of the decade the Lakers were horrible under his poor leadership. Put Duncan, who in his prime was much more valuable than Kobe (and still is not far behind) on those same Lakers teams and they certainly with a dominant defensive and offensive force and leader would have had a better record every single year. Kobe is a best a poor, poor third.

I don't even think Shaq would believe he's been dominant the last three years, so how could you possibly consider him the decade's best player? Kobe was just as good as Shaq on the last two title teams of the '00-'02 Threepeat, IMHO, which is why I voted the '02 Lakers the single-season Team of the Decade.

Duncan is a legit argument and I went back and forth on it. But even when Kobe's teams hit that trough in the first post-Shaq years, he was still considered the league's best player. And when the Spurs beat Detroit in '05 for the title, Duncan was horrible in both Game 6 (which San Antonio lost, at home) and Game 7 (which Manu Ginobili took control of down the stretch). Not hating, just stating facts.

MVP Watch

1) LeBron James (29.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 7.3 apg, .460 FG, .714 FT): Would say he was fully engaged this week.

2) Kobe Bryant (37.7 ppg, 8 rpg, 6 apg, .466 FG, .939 FT): Only two players in league history -- Wilt and MJ -- have more 40-point games than Bryant's 102.

3) Dwight Howard (13 ppg, 16.3 rpg, 4.3 bpg, .500 FG, .739 FT): Annoyed at getting just seven field goal attempts in last two games.

4) Carmelo Anthony (24 ppg, 9 rpg, 5 apg, .393 FG, .846 FT): Could use Chauncey Billups back on the court ASAP.

5) Dirk Nowitzki (20 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 apg, .591 FG, .714 FT): Mavs playing well without huge numbers from the Diggler.

Dropped out: Kevin Garnett

By the Numbers

1 Clippers sellouts this season at Staples Center.

51 Consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter that Dirk Nowitzki had made this season before missing on Tuesday against Portland.

546,064 All-Star votes for Phoenix's Steve Nash, who overtook Houston's Tracy McGrady for second place (and a starting spot if the voting ended today) among Western Conference guards. Kobe Bryant leads all players in All-Star votes with 1,380,383.

I'm Feelin ...

1) The Blazers' grit. Lose Batum, lose Outlaw, lose Oden, lose Fernandez, lose Pryzbilla ... still win. Don't know if they can keep it up, but once you watch how hard Portland is playing, nobody else in the L has any excuse not to compete.

2) Sacramento, post-Kevin Martin. Nothing at all against KMart, but it's obvious that the Kings need to have the ball in Tyreke Evans's hands as much as possible (with Francisco Garcia, ultimately, backing him up), and a pure scorer like Martin could bring some goodies in return. Not saying the Kings have to trade Martin, goodness no. But it's a more reasonable notion now than it was when he was initially injured.

3) The Puppets. I know I'm not in the demo, and that I should know better, but the LeBron/Kobe/Santa/Blitzen joints are fresh.

4) Steve Nash's brilliant "Vote for Me" All-Star video. I don't think most guys would be secure enough to be so self-deprecating.

5) Two pretty good plays in the final 10 seconds to beat the Celtics Sunday night, Clippers.

6) Speaking of which, is anybody playing center better in the West right now than Chris Kaman?

7) Up in the Air, which gets the travel vibe exactly -- exactly -- right. Does anyone do smooth as well as George Clooney? Denzel, and that might be the whole list.

8) Zach Randolph, doin' work for the surprising Grizzlies in the paint. He looked well on the road to Knuckleheadville, but he got through a year in New York and half a year in L.A. without any trouble, and has been nothing but positive in Memphis.

Not Feelin' ...

1) Laker fans, Christmas Day. You may not like losing, or how your team played, or how the officiating went. Doesn't mean you get to throw stuff on the court. Weak.

2) Ron-Ron, falling down and busting his head and arm? Some guys seem to always have ... stuff happen to them, don't you notice?

3) Rajon Rondo's form from the foul line. Doesn't look confident at all right now.

4) The Saints, who don't look much more confident than Rondo. The swagger is gone.

5) Nate Robinson's chances of getting traded. He's not exactly dealing from a position of strength.

Tweet of the Week

i remember wen charles barkley talked so bad about me during all star weekend!! i guess cuz im not a 6"9 pf getting 16 rebounds a game IDK
-- Thunder forward Kevin Durant (@KevinDurant35), Christmas Day, 2:51 p.m., settling old scores. For the record, Mr. Durant, those of us who picked you in the first round of our fantasy drafts this year (you went fourth overall in mine) have no problems with your game.

They said it

"We didn't answer when we had to, so everybody takes a little blame. It's me, it's the players, it's the coaches, it's everybody."
-- Bulls Coach Vinny Del Negro, after his team blew a 35-point lead in the second half and somehow lost at home to Sacramento Monday night.

"I know this: I won't watch one second of any of the other four games today. I have no interest whatsoever. I'm a big basketball guy, but this is a day to spend with your family. That's not a great advertisement for Stan Van Gundy and the NBA, but I actually feel sorry for people that have nothing better to do on Christmas Day than watch an NBA game."
-- Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy, harshing everyone's buzz about playing games on Christmas, to local reporters on Friday.

"I take life by strides now. I'm more relaxed than I was. I was a fast motor, the Energizer Bunny, got to be here, here, here, every party. Now I sit on my bed and watch Roseanne."
-- Miami forward Michael Beasley, to the Canadian Press, insisting he's no longer chasing the night, and spending more time at home with his two kids when the Heat isn't on the road.

And, as Eddie Murphy said in Trading Places, Merry New Year!

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here.

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