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David Aldridge

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The sting of last season's East finals loss to Boston is still fresh in Dwight Howard's mind.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Howard, Van Gundy change ways in hopes of helping Magic rise


Posted Nov 29 2010 7:29AM - Updated Nov 30 2010 7:32AM

Honk if you had Miami down for eight losses to Cleveland's nine by the end of November. Or if you penciled in the Heat for one more players-only meeting than the Cavs by Thanksgiving.

Once again, you could fill the New York Public Library with what we in the pundocracy don't know.

Hey, Jeff Van Gundy, how's that "Miami's-a-lock-to-break-the-Bulls'-record" thing going for you? (Of course, I had Miami for 65 wins myself, meaning that the Heat has to go 56-9 the rest of the way to pull my butt out of the embers.)

But even though Miami is 9-8, and the haters are gleefully dancing on the Super Friends' collective head, it's still way too early. Way too early. We don't know what teams are going to look like in February, much less April and May. LeBron James said in the preseason that it would be New Year's before the Heat started rounding into form, and that was before Udonis Haslem's foot injury.

So maybe the Heat takes 60 games to figure itself out, to get Mike Miller up and running. Maybe Haslem is back for the playoffs. Maybe Erik Spoelstra throws caution to the wind and plays faster, even if it means a few extra points allowed at the other end.

But until then, you'll forgive the Orlando Magic if it enjoys a chuckle or two.

Stan Van Gundy
Stan Van Gundy has lightened up, which has helped the Magic's morale this season.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

While Miami got all the hype this offseason, Dwight Howard spent a quiet summer talking with Hakeem Olajuwon and Rajon Rondo, and came back with a new demeanor. While Boston got all the attention for signing the O'Neals and bringing the band back together for one last run, Orlando general manager Otis Smith was telling Stan Van Gundy he needed to ease up off the throttle, and didn't trade Rashard Lewis, or import Gilbert Arenas. And, tortoise-like, the Magic have gone about their business, and finds themselves in their usual first-place perch in the Southeast Division this morning.

Again, it's still early. Every team is one torn ACL from the lottery. But the Magic are fine operating off Broadway for now, lettting all the headlines go elsewhere.

It is always about Superman and Stan Van in Orlando, just as it is about Phil and Kobe in L.A., and Doc and KG in Boston, and Pop and Timmy in San Antonio.

Each of those duos has come through the fire of great expectations and broken through to capture a title, and that is all that drives Van Gundy and Howard in their fourth season together. And this season, each has tried to change a little of who he is in order to make Orlando championship worthy, because everyone else is going to follow them, and it would be better this year if that wasn't off a cliff.

"Last year, in the playoffs, against Boston, they really made us look bad," Howard said in a near-empty Magic locker room Saturday night. "And it all fell on my shoulders. I cannot let that happen again."

This was what you remember from the Eastern finals last June -- Rondo outracing Jason Williams for a loose ball, diving to the ground, coming up with the ball and scoring in transition. Van Gundy screaming his lungs raw. And Howard looking befuddled, game after game, as Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace took turns taking him out of Orlando's offense. They didn't stop him from shooting 57 percent, and they didn't stop him from averaging 10.8 boards per game; that's how good the still-not-25-year-old is. (That birthday comes in about 10 days.) But they stopped him from dominating the series, and that stopped the Magic cold.

So, like most star players, Howard came back this season with something different. What he came back with was less.

Less joking. Less kidding. I didn't say no joking; he's still capable of leaving a room of people, or teammates, in stitches. He just picks his spots.

"I still have fun and do the things I normally do," he said. "I just need my teammates to see that I'm really focused on winning. Not that I haven't, but a different style. They're used to one thing. I think it was after the playoffs, but it's also at (this) point in my career. I've been really working extremely hard to get better on both ends of the floor. And I've got to show my teammates that it's serious, that it's not a game, and that we want to win."

It has been noticeable.

"Dwight is a lot more serious," guard Jameer Nelson said. "He's matured. It's big for him and our team. At the end of the day, you still can have fun playing basketball, but he's definitely taken more of a challenge of trying to be more of a leader. It's just good to see him serious at the time he needs to be serious and dominate the way he's been dominating."

The genesis for the change came during the summer, when Howard spent four days in Houston with Hakeem Olajuwon on Olajuwon's ranch. The two-time champion is viewed reverently by bigs like Howard and Shaquille O'Neal. Upon reflection, it makes sense that Howard would gravitate toward the Dream. Their careers have similar arcs. Olajuwon was a better scorer out of the box, but through the early years of his career, he had the same questions put to him about whether he was good enough to lead a team to a championship. (He didn't win league MVP until his ninth season.)

They worked on the floor together -- you'd have to be a fool not to pick Olajuwon's brain about low-post play -- but Howard got much more from their time talking.

"We just sat in the house, one day, for like two hours," Howard said. "Just talking about everything. Basketball, life, how to approach different things. And it was real good for me, just to see it from his point of view. Learning from a guy like him. He never said anything bad about the way I played in the past. If anything, it was the total opposite. He liked the stuff that I did. He just felt like I gotta have more confidence in myself and just continue doing them, and do it on a consistent basis. Just to hear that from a guy like him, it meant a lot. The whole time, he was just excited to be around me, and I was like, 'That's Hakeem Olajuwon.' It was cool."

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Jameer Nelson (right) has seen more maturity out of Dwight Howard this season.
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Because Howard is a physical force, and the first pick of the '04 Draft, and the owner of a big ol' contract, there hasn't been much patience as he developed his game. He's controlled the paint for the last few years, as his back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year honors will attest. That's what Van Gundy demanded of him from the minute he arrived.

But Howard hadn't been as dominant offensively. It wasn't just the lack of a consistent post move; it was his uncertainty about what to do when the double team came. And, of course, it was his inability to make free throws.

So far this season, though, Howard is dramatically improved in the halfcourt attack. He's not only a willing passer when doubled now, he knows what to do with the ball, where it should go. It's a necessity that Howard facilitate; he's the Magic's best player, as Nelson points out, and he's going to get touches. He's better in screen and roll sets. Now, he gives the ball up instead of forcing the issue and turning the ball over. He's no longer out of control.

"One thing that we all talked about when we first got back together this summer was that I have to trust my teammates more," Howard said.

The end result is that Howard is sixth in the league in the NBA's player efficiency category, and second only to Chris Paul in John Hollinger's PER (Player Efficiency Rating).

"For some reason, whatever it is, people always, with Dwight, like to focus on whatever the negatives are," Van Gundy said. "Just look around the league and tell me who's playing better basketball, who's doing more to lead a team, and at times, carry a team to victories. He's been absolutely phenomenal. We're only 16 games into the year now, but if you stopped it right now and he wasn't the MVP right now, then something's seriously wrong."

Van Gundy has shed some of his past problems, too. Well, at least he's trying.

After years in which he's been an inferno on the bench during games, and in the huddles, and in the locker room, and back on the bench, Van Gundy is trying to cool it. He's trying to be as positive as he can be instead of always tearing his players down. He has been open about the need to let his players breathe during the course of a long season.

It was Smith, Van Gundy says, who pointed out to him that his body language was, on occasion, terrible.

"He watches me and says stuff," Van Gundy said. "I still get on them very, very hard. But I'm trying to confine it in games to timeouts, so it's less public. Guys still don't like it. But if you're sitting there during a timeout, it's not the same as when we're yelling at you on the court. So I've tried to do that. And I've tried not to show as much frustration during the game, and sit there and grab my head and all that ... I'm still not great at it. I'm trying to get better. And (Smith) will tell me. And not in a negative way, like 'Hey Stan, you're screwing up again.' He knows I want the help."

It's a change a lot of fiery coaches have to make. George Karl tried, with some success, to calm the rage in recent years. Jerry Sloan has turned down the volume, too, as he's gotten older. For Van Gundy, it can only help prolong his days in Orlando; one of the issues he had in Miami was burning out his team with constant carping.

He's hardly warm and cuddly now.

"He picks his moments," Nelson says, diplomatically.

"He used to complain about every little thing," Lewis said. "Everything. And he's gotten better at cutting back on it, because he knows that some days, like a back-to-back game, you're all tired, and your legs are not there, your shot may not be falling that night. Defensively, it may not be as well as you were the night before.

"He definitely has eased up. Instead of screaming and yelling, he's starting to coach more in the huddles, talking to us, telling what we need to do and what we're not doing instead of just screaming and yelling and making it a negative huddle. Now it's a little bit more positive energy."

The Magic still has problems guarding top-shelf guards, and Vince Carter isn't healthy, and J.J. Redick probably can't play 35 minutes a night effectively if Carter can't get healthy. But Orlando has a core group that's been together for a while now, and it can still get after it on D, and Lewis is playing a little more small forward, and there's still the best one-two big man duo off the bench in the league in Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat.

Orlando is still haunted and motivated by what the Celtics did to them last spring, and the Magic are determined not to have history repeat itself. So let the Super Friends get all the pub. The Magic operate better in the shadows.

"I like where we're at," Howard said. "I don't think we should be a team that gets a lot of attention. I've been on a team with a lot of potential. My first year, we were winning a lot of games, and there was talk about the Magic winning this or winning that, and we fell off. We don't need that. We were a young team -- well, I'm getting old -- but guys have got to understand it's not about what anybody says about us, it's about getting the wins, and good wins, every night. That'll set us apart from anything else."

Dribbles

Nets' new spin move

Was it a punishment for the Nets to send Terrence Williams down to the NBA D-League on Sunday for an indefinite stay, after he'd spent much of the past few weeks being late for practices, team planes, you name it?

The Nets insist it is not.

But when a guy goes from 2009 first-round pick, to regular rotation guy last season, to eight minutes total in the last five games -- including being suspended for the last two for repeated violations of team policy -- and then, finally, to the D-League, it's hard to view it as an opportunity. But that's how the Nets are spinning it, and at least so far, Williams is not complaining.

Williams, taken 11th in the 2009 Draft, was a favorite of then-GM Kiki Vandeweghe, who loved his scoring potential coming out of Louisville. Williams averaged 22 minutes a game last year, playing in 79 games, and even though the Nets gave Travis Outlaw a $35 million deal in free agency, New Jersey was still hoping that Williams would fight for playing time either at the small forward or shooting guard spots. Instead, under coach Avery Johnson, Williams has fallen further behind on the depth chart, behind Outlaw and Stephen Graham.

But management, I am told, does not view Williams as insubordinate. Team president Billy King has a history, shall we say, with players who are habitually late to practice -- he fined Allen Iverson more than $100,000 one year when AI never made more than a handful of Larry Brown workouts -- and I'm told that King does not think Williams' actions are nearly as bad or damaging.

There is at least a kernel of truth in that.

We don't know if Williams was merely late for practices or missed them altogether; if the latter, New Jersey could, under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, fine Williams $2,500 per missed practice up to the fourth missed one, after which the Nets could impose penalties that are "reasonable under the circumstances," according to the CBA.

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The Nets say Terrence Williams' assignment to the NBA D-League isn't a demotion.
Lou Capozzola/NBAE via Getty Images

But the Nets have chosen this route. At least in Springfield, Williams will get regular minutes, as well as practice time that's not going to be available in Jersey.

The Armor's coach, former Celtic Dee Brown, knows about being a young player frustrated by not getting enough PT. Brown established himself as Boston's starter at point guard after five seasons. By the following season, Dana Barros and David Wesley got most of the starts. Two years later, Rick Pitino drafted Chauncey Billups; by the end of the year, Billups and Brown were gone.

But Springfield's roster includes former Villanova All-America Scottie Reynolds and Oklahoma State star JamesOn Curry and the Sixers are likely to send rookie forward Craig Brackins, whom they acquired from New Orleans earlier this season, to Springfield soon. Minutes and shots have to be spread around. Those guys don't much care about Williams' issues.

"I think (Williams) was humbled," Brown said by phone Sunday afternoon. "I didn't get into the details with Avery and Terrence about it. It's not a demotion. The one thing I did tell Terrence was, we're still a professional basketball team. We still have rules. This is not a glorified AAU team."

Brown knows this isn't a typical D-League assignment.

"He's not an average D-League guy that gets sent down," Brown said. "There's a difference between him and a guy like an Ed Davis (the Raptors' first-round pick, sent to Erie for a rehab assignment after preseason knee surgery), who's a rookie. This is a guy that was a rotation guy."

But Brown also wants Williams to understand that nothing has been promised to him

"The conversation I had with him was, it's a reality check," Brown said. "Being in the NBA is not an entitlement; it's a privilege. Don't think you're entitled to be in the NBA. It's a generation thing, it's not just Terrence ... it's about being a professional.

"Being professional is showing up every day, ready to practice. It's showing up every day, ready to play. It's showing up not wearing your pants hanging down under your butt. This is not a castoff league. I don't think I'm a castoff. I'm here trying to get guys better, because I spent 12 years in the league."

And the D-League is no longer a weigh station for the fat, the drugged out and the untalented. It's a place where teams expect their young players to improve. The stigma of an assignment is gone; if the second pick in the '09 Draft, Hasheem Thabeet, can go from Memphis to the Dakota Wizards for a stint last season, anybody can. Too many players have come up from the D in recent seasons not to view it as a legitimate place to find good talent. Williams probably won't be in Springfield long, as long as he views it as a time to work, not to mess around.

It will help if he shows up to work on time.

"Maybe I need to buy him an alarm clock," Brown said.

Top O' the World, Ma!

(Last week's rankings in brackets; this week's record in parentheses)

1) Utah [4] (4-0): Incredible comebacks continued this week, as Jazz got contributions up and down the roster -- including a former Mr. Fifteen, Francisco Elson.

2) San Antonio [1] (3-1): We can only guess that Pop isn't crazy about how his team is falling behind of late, but the Spurs came back just about every time, including Sunday on the road against New Orleans.

3) Orlando [6] (3-1): Stan Van Gundy says the Magic have not been able to put together good offense and good defense many nights. Could've fooled us.

4) Boston [7] (3-0): Six players averaging double figures scoring, none higher than 19.7 (Pierce). But will long-term injuries to Jermaine O'Neal and Delonte West catch up with an older team?

5) Dallas [11] (4-0): Pretty impressive win for suddenly red-hot Mavs -- wins at Oklahoma City and San Antonio, then beating the Heat at home in the second night of a back-to-back Saturday.

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The Mavericks' recent run of wins has definitely been worth celebrating.
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

6) New Orleans [2] (1-3): First bump in the road, with Hornets droping more games last week than they had all season.

7) L.A. Lakers [3] (1-2): Champs did not show good end-game execution in last two losses to Jazz and Pacers, and bench production has dropped off since hot start.

8) Denver [12] (2-0): Game Nuggets continue to compete and beat good teams; Denver now 5-3 against teams with winning records, and depth improved further with return of Birdman last week.

9) Oklahoma City [5] (2-2): Russell Westbrook has been sensational in November, helping pick up the slack while Durantula and Jeff Green have battled injuries.

10) Chicago [10] (2-2): C.J. Watson filled in admirably for sore-necked D Rose in Denver as Bulls finish circus trip at a respectable 4-3. Carlos Boozer expected back on the court in a week or so.

11) Miami [8] (1-3): Heat now 1-7 against teams with winning records ... and all eyes turn to the owner's box. Conspiracy theorists, listen up: Riles is not going to dispatch Erik Spoelstra on his own. That call, if it comes, will come from Micky Arison. Not saying it won't come, but it won't be Riles' call alone.

12) Atlanta [14] (3-2): Hawks follow three-game losing streak and obligatory team meeting with three wins in last four days against some of league's lesser-rans.

13) Portland [9] (0-2): Blazers had a lot of practice time this week but didn't have any Ws to show for it. Thought they'd have Joel Przybilla back on the court (patella) this week, but, of course, he caught the flu. What's next for Portland's big men, Exploding Uvula Syndrome?

14) Indiana [NR] (3-1): Pretty good week for the Pacers, smacking the Heat around in Miami on Monday, then breaking a 13-game losing streak in Los Angeles Sunday night to beat the Lakers.

15) New York [NR] (3-1): STAT shooting 57.3 percent during Knicks' good run of late, winning six of last seven to get back to .500.

Team of the Week

Dallas (4-0): Mavericks haven't done it pretty, as Caron Butler and Jet Terry have struggled to score, but they've gotten monster numbers from Dirk Nowitzki and won games with great defense; Dallas is (forgive me, Schuhmann!) tied with Orlando for third in points allowed, 92.7, and tied with Chicago for fifth in field goal percentage allowed (.437).

Team of the Weak

Sacramento (0-3): Kings are reeling, losing nine of last 10 -- three this week by an average of 13.3 per game, including giving the Clippers their second win in 15 games. But the most amazing statistic is this: Saturday's loss to Chicago, in which the Kings scored nine points in the fourth quarter, marked the first time that Sacramento has led a game at halftime this season.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Has the Players' Association at least tried to start the ball rolling in a serious manner with its latest proposal?

My instinct is never to get too excited about any one proposal this far out from a lockout deadline, because it's almost always a starting point for further talks, not the bottom line. But buried in Billy Hunter's declaration last week that he was "99 percent" sure a lockout would take place next summer was his disclosure that the union has offered to make a big change in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. CBSSports.com caught it, but almost no one else has.

The union, a source confirms, has offered to drop its guaranteed share of 57 percent of Basketball Related Income (BRI) in the next contract, if revenues drop in a given year. Currently, the players get 57 percent of BRI, no matter whether revenues go up or down. If the league has a good year, the players get 57 percent; if the league has a bad year, the players get 57 percent. Owners have howled about the guarantee, which was a concession the union received in 2005 in the last CBA negotiation. If salaries exceeded 57 percent of BRI in a given year, players have given owners a check out of the escrow fund that they pay into annuallly.

Under the new proposal, if player salaries don't exceed 57 percent of BRI, owners would not have to write a check to the players to make up the difference.

The union argues that its share of BRI has actually gone down in each of the last three years, in part because player contracts and maximum amounts they can receive have declined in the current CBA from seven years, with 12.5 percent annual raises for so-called "Larry Bird" free agents, to six years with 10 percent raises. Free agents that sign with other teams can now only sign for five years with 8 percent raises, down from six years and 10 percent raises. And the players believe revenues may fall below the 57 percent threshold this year or next.

And because of the reduced maximums, the union argues, actual player salaries have risen by less than 3 percent per season since 2005, as the older, more expensive contracts under the previous CBA rules have cycled out of the system, while other costs -- salaries of coaches and upper management, transportation costs such as jet fuel and insurance, among others -- have risen much faster. On the other hand, ratings for the Finals last year were the highest in more than a decade, the summer was dominated by NBA talk and interest, and the league sold more than 50,000 season tickets for this season.

It's not at all certain, though, that this new idea is a game changer. There are no new official talks scheduled between the two sides, though smaller groups may get together before the New Year.

"They still haven't been willing to move very much in their stance," Atlanta Hawks player representative and NBPA vice president Mo Evans said by phone Sunday, ticking off already-public details of the owners' initial proposal to the players last February and reiterated by Commisioner David Stern a few weeks ago -- a massive giveback in salaries by the players totalling $800 million, a hard salary cap and elimination of some exceptions to the cap like restricted free agency. The players, Evans says, have been talking about ways to grow revenue in different areas. Though he didn't go into specifics, it sounded like trying to find ways to increase the NBA's collective footprint worldwide and include more of the revenue from international sales in BRI.

But what's important is that the union is now, seemingly, willing to accept the notion that owners can unilaterally reduce salaries in a given year without being accused of collusion. If owner discipline has led to the three-year drop in player salaries, the players can apparently live with it -- under the current CBA structure. What the union will never accept is a hard cap, as the NFL and NHL currently have, a lower luxury tax threshold or a higher luxury tax. But if owners are more responsible about spending their money -- like Oklahoma City was this past week in extending Nick Collison, in part, by giving him $6.5 million more this season, a deal the Thunder could make because it was under the cap -- so be it.

As a means of settling the dispute, though, it's a pebble in an ocean of discord.

"In any negotiation, there's a pivotal point where something moves, or it doesn't," Evans said. "We're not at that point yet."

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

I asked, you deliver: pro-Kobe Call of Duty writers. From Joshua Green:

The game is extremely popular and people of all backgrounds play it. I thought the commercial was rather clever in that it was showing exactly who its market was. Anyone who thinks it was irresponsible has forgotten that it is merely a video game. Kobe's appearance just furthered the promotion in that anyone and everyone plays video games. I'm sorry for those who feel out of the loop.

From Brian Boone:

I thought it was odd in your article that all of the replies that you showed agreed with you. I've read message boards and the unedited boards I've read were overwhelmingly in favor of Kobe. Its a video game. I know soldiers ... Real-life, actually-were-in-Iraq soldiers who play Call of Duty and love the game. Emphasis on the word GAME. It is not supposed to be real. It is very popular. Many people play it. I thought it was a good commercial. It makes it look entertaining which I believe is the point of advertising and having commercials in the first place. Who cares that an athlete and a comedian promoted the game? I'll tell you who. Overly sensitive people who are in the vast minority but want to make a big deal out of things that shouldn't be one.

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Kobe Bryant had plenty of fans supporting his somewhat-controversial commercial.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Joshua, point taken. As I said, I know that the game is not marketed for 45-year-olds; it's for young men who like playing video games. Brian, I promise you, if I had gotten a pro-Kobe e-mail, I would have published it. That's why I asked for them last week, because I knew that everyone couldn't possibly agree with my position. I thank you for stating your position.

But ... we can agree to disagree. Or, in this case, agree. From Ian Grotenhuis:

I agree with you and the other fans that wrote in concerning Kobe's appearance in the COD ad (I'm 23). I just have to add in my own two cents here: Isn't this the same league that suspended Gilbert Arenas for 50 games and ostracized him from the entire league as if he had leprosy for the gun-in-the-locker-room fiasco? The timing of it couldn't have been any worse. I just find it interesting that David Stern and the league could care less about his appearance in the ad (at least the way you paraphrased it) but can come down so hard on other players. It seems to me that Stern plays favorites a little too much (and too noticeably). You're 100% right -- when A.I. released his CD (which I thought was pretty decent for somebody having no previous experience) he was viewed as some kind of criminal thug who should stick to playing at Rucker and not in the NBA. Fining a player for wearing his shorts an inch below the knee? Funny how it was all good when M.J. started the trend years before.

I wouldn't call it "selective enforcement." Perhaps "selective outrage," Ian. There are differences, to be sure, but to think that no one in the league office would say to Kobe, 'maybe this image isn't going to be wildly popular with everyone; did you think this through before you agreed to do the commercial?' surprised me a bit. This league is always, always aware of the image, real or imagined, that its players project to the outside world.

The weekly squeaky wheel. From Neil Campbell:

(Editor's note: These comments are based on the Nov. 19 Race to the MVP column. The current column has Ginobili ranked ...)

I was wondering if you have an opinion on why the Spurs are not getting much noticable press or credit for their great start? The Hornets are getting a lot of attention which is understandable as it flies in the face of preseason expectation, but one could argue that the Spurs' start is just as unexpected. Maybe the championship calibre of the teams is what causes the difference.

Nevertheless, they deserve more. A prime example of this is this weeks Race to the MVP. Paul on top, cant argue with that. However, he is clearly there based on stats and record; if the Hornets were in the middle he wouldnt be No. 1 based on stats. Yet the same logic has not been applied to any Spur! Parker is close to 18 & 8 while Ginobili is averaging 21, yet neither are mentioned in any form in the entire article! I particularly take umbridge to this when the Lakers and Thunder are both represented twice (but thats another gripe for another day)!

Another example would be your own Morning Tip rankings, having the Hornets at No. 1, Celtics (2-1) at No. 2 and the Spurs at No. 4, even when their week of 4-0 was matched only by Utah (who were one spot above them with a worse record?). I would moan about your MVP rankings as well, but you seem to take individual play first (?) in which case no complaints.

The Spurs have been in my top seven for the last month, Neil, top four the past three and number one last week. I had to drop them from the top spot after they lost Friday to the Mavericks, but I haven't dropped them that far down. All rankings, including mine, are subjective. You weigh a team's overall performance during the season against what they accomplished that particular week. I think I have to rank Utah higher than the Lakers this week, for example, because the Jazz beat L.A. Friday night. Doesn't mean I'm right. Just my opinion.

Send your questions, comments, witticisms and criticisms to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If you are sufficiently insightful, critical or snarky, we might just publish your e-mail!

MVP Watch

(weekly averages in parentheses)

1) Dwight Howard (26.3 ppg, 14.5 rpg, 1.8 bpg, .632 FG, .541 FT): May be playing the best basketball of his career. Certainly has become a more complete offensive performer.

2) Kobe Bryant. (30.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4 apg, .444 FG, .840 FT): Scored 41 points Sunday against the Pacers, but had to take 33 shots to do it. The rest of the Lakers, combined, took 55 shots. Teams will live with that.

3) Dirk Nowitzki (31 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, .573 FG, .882 FT): Diggler was unconscious against Thunder and Spurs, making 21 of 26 from the floor in leading Mavericks to their first five-game win streak of the season.

4) Chris Paul (15.5 ppg, 8.8 apg, 2.3 spg, .487 FG, 1,000 FT): CP3 takes the blame for Hornets not getting into it defensively in recent games.

5) LeBron James (23.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5 apg, .379 FG, .796 FT): He is playing too many minutes and he isn't communicating well enough with DWade and he would rather not play power forward and the team isn't having any fun and did he bump into Spo on Saturday night? Does that cover everything?

Dropped out: Rajon Rondo

By The Numbers

5 -- Victories needed by the Nuggets' George Karl to become the seventh NBA head coach to win 1,000 career games, joining Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, Phil Jackson and Larry Brown.

11 -- Consecutive points scored by the Jazz Video to end Friday's game with the Lakers, which marked the seventh time this season Utah has rallied from at least an 11-point deficit during a game to come back and win. Sunday's comeback over the Clippers was the eighth time the Jazz had come back from 10 points to win.

$35,000 -- Fine for Cleveland Coach Byron Scott for publicly ripping officials on Friday, when he said it's "hard playing against eight people" following the Cavaliers' loss to the Magic.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) I can't help it; I'm looking forward to hearing LeBron get introduced in Cleveland Thursday. Deep down, I think he's looking forward to the game, too. (But tell the family to stay home. Seriously, brah: why add that to the million things that will be on your mind when you walk back into the Q?)

2) Pacers GM David Morway said during the preseason that I wouldn't believe how much Roy Hibbert was improved. After watching him dominate Pau Gasol Sunday to the tune of 24 and 12 in Indiana's win, I see.

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Roy Hibbert's development this season has been nothing short of astounding.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

3) "The bottom line is, I got outcoached," Monty Williams told reporters in New Orleans after the Video Hornets blew a 17-point halftime lead to the Spurs on Sunday, when Gregg Popovich went to a small lineup to get his team back in the game. And that is precisely why Monty Williams is going to be a great head coach in the future.

4) Slowly, Gilbert Arenas is starting to play like the old Agent Zero. Whatever you think of him and what he did last year, that's good for him, good for the Wizards and ultimately good for the game. He's one of the most exciting players in the league with the ball when he's right.

5) What in the name of 'Nique got into Marvin Williams on Saturday?

6) Nobody puts Baby in the corner.

7) I'm fairly certain we haven't heard the last about Cam Newton and money and recruiting. But he sure was a leader Friday against Alabama. (And, yes, I got a lot of "They got what they paid for" Tweets on Friday. Fair game.)

Not Feelin' ...

1) Great Video game-winning shot by Melo. Terrible defensive decision by the Bulls not to double him, and play him for the drive instead of the jumper with four seconds left.

2) Saturday, theVideo Milwaukee beat Charlotte to go to 6-10. The Bobcats are 6-11. Neither team is in the top eight in the East after making the playoffs last season. That's a shock.

1129-carmelo-anthony-300.jpg
Carmelo Anthony never should have gotten this open of a look at the hoop, Chicago.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

3) Hope you got your money's worth, Mr. Decerega. For I see an IRS "visit" in your holiday stocking pretty soon!

4) I don't really have anything to say about this; I just wanted to try and type "Karbaleinematmoeeney" without stopping. Couldn't.

5) The Mavs re-signed center Brendan Haywood this summer for six years and $55 million. He has been beaten out of the starting job by Tyson Chandler, he's averaging less than 20 minutes a night and he just got suspended by Dallas for a game for an unspecified violation of team rules. It is not going the way either party thought it would, and only Mark Cuban's ability to withstand paying a backup $9 million a year keeps this from being one of the bigger busts of the offseason.

6) Farewell, Lt. Frank Drebin.

Tweet of the Week

ESPN headline is wrong & silly. Obviously no profanity, vulgar stuff U wouldn't want kids 2 see but we are not going 2 be the Gestapo @ the Q
-- Cavs owner Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan), Thanksgiving Day, responding to Four-Letter Network's website story headlined "Cavs ban anti-LeBron James apparel," which detailed the team's plans for Thursday's return of LeBron James to Cleveland. The story said that the team would confiscate t-shirts or signs "which disrespect James or his family members." A Cavs spokesman was quoted saying the team didn't "want to create a police state" and would let fans express themselves as long as they didn't use profanity or "boundaries of decency."

They Said It

"I'm not looking to get into any war of words with Phil Jackson."
-- Stan Van Gundy, while standing by his comment that Phil Jackson was "ignorant" for discussing Van Gundy's departure from the Heat without, in Van Gundy's words, knowing the details of why he resigned.

"They're a really, really good team. I don't know that I would have made that much difference for them."
-- Jazz guard Raja Bell, discussing his decision to sign with Utah instead of the Lakers, to the Salt Lake Tribune.

"Yes. Best team."
-- Shaq, telling Boston writers that this year's Celtics' team is the best of his 19-year career, which would make it superior to four NBA championship squads. As this year's team has yet to win a championship, that would appear to be a bit hyperbolic. But O'Neal was discussing the closeness of this group compared to some of his other teams, which may be accurate.

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

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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