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David Aldridge

0131-rajon-rondo-608.jpg
When Rajon Rondo dices up defenses -- like he did L.A.'s on Sunday -- Boston is nearly unbeatable.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

In wake of Celtics-Lakers clash, these things resonate


Posted Jan 31 2011 9:24AM

Just another episode of Celtics-Lakers on Sunday. Another aria by Leontyne Price at the Met. Another Picasso in the boudoir. Another performance of Hamlet by Olivier.

Another day when the courtside seats went for four bills (that's thousands, not hundreds) and the Celtics could remember what it felt like last June, walking off the court in Game 7, losers to a team they felt they should have beaten. The Lakers, inferior again this season to a top-shelf team coming into Staples Center, again watched as the mystique of winning back-to-back titles meant nothing. And, once more, the Lakers detached, unemotional (at least in public) about their struggles, saying there's plenty of time to ratchet things up.

Yes, Boston 109 (109!)-96 won't mean anything if these teams hook up again five months from now in the Finals. (No, Doc Rivers did not leave $2,600 above a ceiling tile in the visitors' locker room this time, as he famously did last year, as a motivation for the Celtics to come back to Staples in The Finals to retrieve their dough.) But here's what can be taken from the latest installment of the NBA's greatest rivalry:

Rajon Rondo, on all cylinders, makes Boston nearly unbeatable. He had 15 of his 16 assists in the second half, spreading the wealth around after Paul Pierce carried the Celtics for most of the first. But Rondo made sure Pierce touched the ball in that half.

Boston's offensive execution has been incredible all season. Ray Allen is shooting a career high on 3-pointers. Pierce is shooting a career best from the floor. The Celtics entered the Lakers game shooting an absurd .499 from the floor as a team; after shooting an equally absurd 60.3 percent Sunday, Boston's field goal percentage inched back above 50 percent. And Rondo, leading the league in assists, is the reason.

"I thought he called an absolutely perfect game," Rivers said of Rondo. "He's our pitcher. I thought he just called a sensational game. Coming out of timeouts, he made sure guys were in their spots. The biggest change we made is we got the ball to him on misses, instead of outletting it to other guys. We just kept saying coming out of every timeout, find Rondo. Stop coming back to the ball. He'll find you. And just trust that."

It has taken everyone in Boston four years to fully trust Rondo, but it has happened. And with Garnett running the defensive show, Boston now comes at you at both ends of the floor. There are no plays off, with Rondo probing defenses the way Steve Nash does, not giving up his dribble until he's good and ready, able to control the game without scoring and able to send the Laker Faithful scurrying for the exits with 1:29 left after going backdoor for an easy layup, courtesy of KG.

"Sometimes we get jump-shot happy," Rondo said. "Obviously, if Ray's shooting and Paul's shooting, we're pretty satisfied with it. But at the same time, it's me just keeping a compass of knowing when to come inside. If we shoot jump shot after jump shot, we've got to ge the ball inside to Diesel (Shaquille O'Neal)."

The Lakers insist it isn't time to panic. "Did the playoffs start yet?," Video Phil Jackson asked after the game Sunday, echoing what he, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher had all said independently of one another Saturday. Despite a Video blowout loss at home to the Heat on Christmas Day, and bad home losses to the likes of Memphis and Sacramento, the Lakers profess not to care that their deficit to the Spurs in the west is now 7.5 games, or that they're tied in the loss column with the Mavericks, or that OKC and New Orleans are on their heels. Wake us in April.

"It's just consistency," Bryant said Saturday. "We've been pretty good, though. We've had some tough losses that kind of jump out at people, but defensively, we've been pretty good all year. It's just about getting more and more consistent. We have so many high expectations for ourselves here, when we have these little slipups they tend to get more magnified. So we'll just keep working at it. We're right where we need to be. Defensive rebounding gets it done, and we're pretty good at it."

That was Saturday. On Sunday, the Celtics outrebounded L.A. 43-30.

"It feels bad, because you feel like you let everybody (in town) down, moreso than any other game," Andrew Bynum said Sunday. "Which kinda sucks."

The Lakers tried to go inside to Pau Gasol, but Garnett closed things off in the paint, and Perkins was just as good bodying up on both Gasol and Bynum, who doesn't yet have his lift after returning from offseason knee surgery. With the middle cut off, and Ron Artest misfiring on 1-of-10 shooting, there wasn't much left to do than watch Bryant shoot. He kept pace with Pierce, but no one else in Purple and Gold matched Allen's 21 points, or Garnett's 18 and 13. (Lamar Odom tried to spark L.A. with 15 off the bench in 27 minutes.)The Lakers had just 10 assists on 36 field goals Sunday.

"Whenever we play games like that, we give Kobe no choice but to try to take over the game," Odom said. "We just didn't get everybody involved the way we needed to, and it causes an imbalance on offense and defense."

Defending champs go through rough patches the following season. No matter how much they insist it isn't so, winning a title takes some of a team's collective hunger away. Or, at the least, the team rationalizes poor play by saying it's been there before and its experience will ultimately win out. That could be true for L.A. If Bynum's hops come back. Gasol will shoot better. Matt Barnes will be back from knee surgery around the All-Star break. And who's been better than Jackson and his staff at preparing for a single playoff opponent?

But Boston is hungry. And big. Even though Shaq didn't score Sunday in 12 foul-plagued minutes, he still had six rebounds and two blocks.

"We learned our lesson last year," Pierce said. "As a group, we looked ahead, I thought. That was the reason for our (regular season) record. And then when the playoffs came, we were able to turn it on. But fortunately, we're trying to play for something, for home court. Maybe if we had home court last year, who knows what happens in Game 7? So we're definitely not looking ahead this year, because it could come down to another Game 7. And hopefully we can have it on our home court."

Boston's biggest questions in the second half of the season are how to integrate Shaq and Kendrick Perkins at center now that Perkins is back on the court, and what to do with Jermaine O'Neal when and if he returns to the lineup.

"What we can't do, we can't lose execution because guys are coming back," Garnett had said Thursday in Portland. "We play a certain way, and it's not just when you want to. We have a style; this is how you play. Don't matter who's in there. We set picks, we get our shooters open, we get our scorers open. If you're a post presence, you know your job, you know your role. You come outside that role, then it's another guy behind you ready to do what you was supposed to do."

The Celtics' core group has been together for three years now. They've made the Finals twice. Anything less than a third straight appearance will be a severe disappointment. They are deep and they are talented and they know what they're doing, and they can outexecute you on offense and shut you down on defense. There are days when their legs show their age, like in Phoenix last Friday, and when they can't hit the side of a barn, like in Washington the previous weekend. But when they're right, and healthy, it's hard to see who can beat them four out of seven. Maybe it's the Lakers or Spurs, and maybe there's another fate-altering injury up ahead for this old team.

But they're champing at the bit for another spring run. They don't have the luxury of being able to wait.

"We actually give two cents about each other, which is a rarity," Garnett said. "We actually deal with each other off the court, which is a big plus. And I'm not just saying that just to make y'all columns look like whatever it is. This is true life. And we enjoy each other. We're like brothers. We bitch, we complain, we argue, we debate, we laugh. Know what I mean? We're like brothers. Real life."

Top O' the World, Ma!

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

1) Chicago [1] (3-0): Boozer returns to lineup and Bulls don't miss a beat in extending win streak to five games.

2) San Antonio [2] (3-0): Eighteen straight at home propels Spurs to amazing 40-7 record as they begin nine-game Rodeo trip. Per the San Antonio Express-News, their record in the previous eight Rodeo trips is a cumulative 44-20.

3) Boston [5] (3-1): Lost in all the star power this season: Glen Davis is having a sensational season. He was a force Sunday at the Lakers, with 13 points in 24 minutes.

4) Orlando [6] (2-2): Young Mr. Arenas makes his return to the Nation's Capital this coming Friday.

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A change on the bench may be the reason behind OKC's defensive downfall.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

5) Dallas [13] (3-0): Was that a Brendan Hayward sighting this week?

6) New Orleans [4] (2-2): David West hit the game-winner last Monday against Oklahoma City. David West is an All-Star caliber power forward. David West is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Which begs the question, how -- and who -- negotiates on behalf of the Hornets with David West's agent? The entity that will handle the talks -- the league -- is the same entity that will be negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with West's peers. At the least, it seems like it might be unwieldy.

7) Miami [8] (2-1): SuperFriends back intact Sunday in OKC, but it's Eddie House who makes the big shots down the stretch. I don't think we've heard the last of EH bustin' some people this season.

8) L.A. Lakers [3] (1-2): Now comes the deluge: after two more games at Staples this week the Lakers embark on a brutal stretch, with 14 of the following 17 on the road while Staples is set up for the Grammy Awards and All-Star Weekend in February.

9) Oklahoma City [7] (2-2): No question that the Thunder's defense isn't what it was last season. Is it all traceable to the departure of former assistant coach Ron Adams?

10) Portland [9] (0-2): At least Batum (bruised knee) isn't out for the season, like every other player who's come through there since the Ford Administration.

11) Atlanta [10] (1-2): Chippy Hawks (Marvin Williams suspended two games for throwing a punch at New York's Shawne Williams; Josh Smith fined 25K for "obscene gesture") can't hold on to lead Saturday at Dallas.

12) Memphis [14] (3-1): Grizzle get back to .500 by winning five of six, with 10-game O.J. Mayo suspension beginning.

13) New York [15] (3-1): Yes, that was Knicks Nation's collective heart skipping a beat after STAT said he "tweaked" his knee last week. For now it's all good, as 33 points Sunday would attest.

14) Denver [12] (2-1): Nuggets get Birdman back after he missed two weeks for "maintenance" after offseason surgery.

15) Utah [11] (1-3): Yes, Jazz are just a couple of games off of last season's pace. But that's not progress in the Western Conference; that usually means the same second-round date with the Lakers, and we know how that's turned out in the Wasatch the last few years.

Team of the Week

Dallas (3-0): With Nowitzki rounding back into form and the Mavericks sharing the wealth better, they have their first unbeaten week in a month, again resembling the team that got out of the gate 24-5. Still don't know if the Mavs can contend in the west without Caron Butler, but they're going to be a factor in the playoffs for sure.

Team of the Weak

Toronto (0-4): Raptors going through their worst stretch in seven years, held up only by the Cavaliers' implosion in the Eastern Conference. One wonders if a coaching change is in order there as was the case in Indiana, but I was told Sunday that the Raps have no plans to replace Jay Triano, chalking up their 11-game losing streak to the glut of injuries that have sidelined starting point Jose Calderon (ankle) and guards Leandro Barbosa (hamstring) and Jerryd Bayless (ankle), Andrea Bargnani (calf) and forward Reggie Evans (broken bone in foot) at various points over the past few weeks.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Do I go with KLuv, Bad Blake, Zach of All Trades or Cousin LaMarcus for the last two spots on the Western Conference reserves?

This is the only salient question when it comes to the All-Star crew, to me. The East is relatively simple to pick, give or take a name, and those aren'r really hard debates.

No, it's the West, with its plethora of talented fours, that makes things difficult. You have Minnesota's Love, who is rebounding at a rate not seen in the L since the days of Moses Malone. You have Blake Griffin, the Clippers' incredible, Video Dunk-a-Tron 3000 rookie. You have Memphis' Zach Randolph, who is averaging 20 and 13. And you have LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland, putting the Blazers on his back and raising his profile and game. (I am taking the Diggler at his word that he wouldn't mind sitting this All-Star Game out to rest his knee; otherwise, missed time or no, Dirk would obviously be a lock.)

I thought about making it easy on myself and weaseling out by making Love the Commissioner's replacement pick for Yao Ming. But that would really be weasel-ly; Love doesn't even play center for the Wolves, and even though the Commish doesn't have to pick a center to replace Yao, in the spirit of the process it seems only fair to replace a five with another five -- or at least someone who played five during the season. In that case, the only name that makes sense is Pau Gasol.

That leaves seven reserves. No one is seriously going to argue Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook, right? You have to have a Spur representation from the league's best team the first half of the season, and since Tim Duncan has made it clear he can do without a trip to Cali, that leaves either Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. Ginobili is scoring a little more, but Parker is shooting a much higher percentage and averages more assists. Ginobili averages more steals. Flip a coin. I'll go with Parker, but if you've got Ginobili, that's cool. Three down, four to go.

Golden State's Monta Ellis is fourth in the league in scoring. Tell me why he shouldn't be in a game that is all about ... uh ... what's the word ... oh, right. Scoring. Plus, he's third in the league in steals. This is a no-brainer.

The Nasty One, Steve Nash, has more double-doubles than Westbrook, is second only to Rajon Rondo in assists and is on track to yet again be in the "180 Club," among the rarest of rare birds in the NBA: someone who shoots at least 90 percent from the foul line, 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from 3-point range. That his team is no longer as excellent as he is not his fault and shouldn't keep him from his eighth All-Star appearance.

We're thus down to two spots. And four people. Hence the dilemma.

Okay.

A serious person cannot keep Love off this team.

There is a school of thought when it comes to the All-Star game that, because someone always has to score and/or rebound, that the stats for players from losing teams should be viewed differently than those from winning teams. As if it's easier to box out Duncan if you play for, say, the Lakers than if you play for the Timberwolves. This is, and always has been, a fallacy. Yes, a bad team has fewer options available to it to produce numbers, but those numbers still have to be produced. And this season, Love is producing at a historic rate.

He's pulling down 15.6 rebounds per game, which would be the highest average in the league since Dennis Rodman's 16.1 rpg in 1996-97. But Rodman only played in 55 games that season; Love will shatter that unless he gets hurt. What Love is doing hasn't been done in a comparable manner since Moses Malone did it 30 years ago.

To wit: here are the league's best single-season rebound marks since the 1980-81 season:

Best single-season rebound averages since 1980-81 season
Name Season Team Rebounds/Game
Dennis Rodman 1991-92 Detroit 18.7
Dennis Rodman 1992-93 Detroit 18.3
Dennis Rodman 1993-94 San Antonio 17.3
Dennis Rodman 1994-95 San Antonio 16.8
Dennis Rodman 1996-97 Chicago 16.1
Ben Wallace 2002-03 Detroit 15.4
Moses Malone 1982-83 Philadelphia 15.3
Dennis Rodman 1995-96 Chicago 14.9
Moses Malone 1980-81 Houston 14.8
Moses Malone 1981-82 Houston 14.7

But, now factor in the scoring averages of those rebounding champs:

Rebounding champs' scoring averages (since 1980-81 season)
Name Season RPG PPG
Dennis Rodman 1991-92 18.7 9.8
Dennis Rodman 1992-93 18.3 7.5
Dennis Rodman 1993-94 17.3 4.7
Dennis Rodman 1994-95 16.8 7.1
Dennis Rodman 1996-97 16.1 5.7
Ben Wallace 2002-03 15.4 6.9
Moses Malone 1982-83 15.3 24.5 (fifth in NBA)
Dennis Rodman 1995-96 14.9 5.5
Moses Malone 1980-81 14.8 27.8 (second)
Moses Malone 1981-82 14.7 31.1 (second)
Kevin Love 2010-11 15.6 21.6 (16th)

And no big man -- none -- has ever grabbed as many boards as Love, yet been as lethal a 3-point shooter; Love is seventh in the league in 3-point percentage (.445). Love simply has to be on the team -- and, no, I have gotten none of his cologne, though I hear it's quite bracing.

Which leaves us with Bad Blake, Zach of All Trades and Cousin LaMarcus fighting for the last spot. Well, my last spot.

I finally saw Griffin in person Saturday night against the Bobcats, and he promptly treated the near-sellout crowd at Staples to a couple of high-flying alley-oop dunks (Video one off a three-quarter court length lob by Randy Foye), a Video whirling dervish spin to a reverse layin and-one, and a couple of garden variety postups, Video as L.A. cruised behind his 24 and 10.

Afterward, he said he didn't play very well, proving once and for all that he is an alien. But can you keep someone who generates that much buzz in L.A. out of the All-Star Game that's being played in L.A.? Isn't that what All-Star is about -- making fans happy? Haven't I argued for years that this is a fan's game, and they should be able to see whoever they want playing in it? And is there any doubt that more people would want to see Blakezilla than Randolph or Aldridge?

None.

But I'm sticking with blood. (This is a joke, people; LaMarcus and I are not related, as far as we know.)

I'm giving the nod to L.A. for L.A.

While the fans are entitled, winning has to matter at some level of this, even if it's just a little. And it is hard to give the nod to a player whose team started off 1-13 and, for all of its successes of late, is still 10 games under .500.

By contrast, Aldridge -- with a lot less to work with than Griffin has after the injuries to Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby -- has kept the Blazers in the playoff race, and above .500. In the 21 games the Blazers have played since Roy last was on the court, Aldridge is averaging 23.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists and is shooting 51.5 percent from the floor. He's been in double-figure scoring in 20 of those 21, and double-figure boards 13 times.

Over the same period -- his last 21 games -- Randolph's numbers are just as good as Aldridge's (22.8 points, 14.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 48.8 percent shooting from the floor). But the Blazers have been just a little better as a team, and if the numbers between two guys are relatively close, my nod goes to the guy who has less help and whose team is doing better when the choice has to be made.

So, my picks:

WESTERN CONFERENCE RESERVES: C Pau Gasol (injury replacement for Yao Ming); G Deron Williams (Utah), G Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City); G Tony Parker (San Antonio); G Monta Ellis (Golden State); G Steve Nash (Phoenix); F Kevin Love (Minnesota); F LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland).

The East, by contrast, is easy:

EASTERN CONFERENCE RESERVES: G Rajon Rondo, G Ray Allen, F Paul Pierce, F Kevin Garnett (Boston); F Chris Bosh (Miami); C Al Horford (Atlanta); G Raymond Felton (New York).

Boston follows the most recent example of the '06 Pistons, which sent four players to the ASG -- Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace -- off of a team that was 40-8 at the break. The Cs' record won't be that good, but their quartet nonetheless deserves to go to Los Angeles as a group. Allen is shooting a career best on 3-pointers; Pierce a career high in field-goal percentage; Rondo leads the league in assists and if he keeps up his current pace, he'll have the highest assist average in a season since John Stockton's 13.7 in 1991-92. Garnett is merely the force that makes all of the above possible, whatever his stats are; it's not a "Lifetime Achievement Award," C-Webb! Boston isn't Boston without KG's will, and his orchestration of the C's defense while Kendrick Perkins was out deserves recognition.

Bosh is, frankly, borderline; he has played better after a slow start, finding his way to contribute, but his numbers aren't overwhelming (to be fair, they couldn't be, playing with LeBron and D-Wade). Still, he gets the nod here over Atlanta's Joe Johnson, who missed two weeks after elbow surgery -- to his credit, he was supposed to miss three to six weeks -- and whose numbers are down this season across the board.

Johnson's teammate, Horford, averaging a near double-double, is an easy selection to back up Howard in the paint, and Felton deserves to make his first All-Star game on the strength of big assists and clutch scoring as part of New York's resurgence.

As always, the caveat to these and any selections of mine: they're my selections. They only have to make sense to me. I hope you agree with them, but if you don't, that's OK. You don't have to send me an algorhythm based on the work of John Nash (that's the Pulitzer Prize winning mathematician, not the former Sixers and Bullets and Blazers general manager) that "proves" Steve Blake is a better player per 48 minutes than Russell Westbrook. You're perfectly free to blog, Tweet and Facebook that on your own dime. Only in America -- and in several other non-totalitarian regimes. Canada, for example.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

He is uncertain about my sourcing. From Richard Glotzer:

I enjoy your work, but have disagreed all along with your stance in the Carmelo Anthony saga.

As an NBA Insider, why at different intervals have you been implying that a Denver/New Jersey trade was imminent?

As an NBA Outsider, I felt very strongly that Carmelo would NEVER agree to a contract extension with New Jersey. Thus, all this Denver/New Jersey trade talk was a complete waste of time. It's laughable that more people in your position weren't taking this stance from the beginning.

Everyone who's reported this story, myself included, has said that Carmelo has been reluctant to commit to an extension with New Jersey, Richard. But the Nuggets and Nets have gotten far down the road on a couple of occasions; they were close enough that Mikhail Prokhorov and Billy King were about to get on a plane to go to Denver to meet Anthony face-to-face. And Carmelo said himself in D.C. last week that he was now open to signing an extension with the Nets. It doesn't mean the trade will happen; most rumored trades don't. But to not report how close things were (are?) between the teams would be a disservice to anyone who's been paying attention or cares.

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It didn't happen -- or hasn't -- but the Carmelo Anthony-to-New Jersey talk was real.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Revisiting the question of Ray Allen's jersey retirement in Boston. From Jacob Rathgeber:

If they (the Celtics) won another championship this year it should make it up there wouldn't you think? Great article, by the way, makes you think about his place in history a little more.

I just think Boston is much more discerning about jersey retirements than other places, Jacob. The Celtics have already retired 20 numbers, including No. 1 for former owner Walter Brown, and No. 2 for Red Auerbach (the nickname "LOSCY" is in the rafters at TD Garden in honor of former player Jim Loscutoff, who didn't want his number 18 retired so that someone else could wear it. The number subsequently went to Dave Cowens, and was retired in 1981 at the end of Cowens' Hall of Fame career).

Most of the retired Celtic jerseys are for players who spent most of their careers in Boston and who played a lot of years there. Ray is only in his third season in Beantown. His current career there, to me, is analagous to Bill Walton, a great player who came to Boston and was a big contributor to the 1986 championship team. But Walton's No. 5 he wore in Boston wasn't put up in the rafters. If Allen winds up playing six or seven seasons in Boston before retiring, and the Celtics win three or four rings, maybe they revisit it. But I don't think two would be enough.

Contrary to popular opinion, Bad Blake does not affect the tides. From Momo Smitt:

When I first started seeing the Bad Blake highlights, I was first awed and then just a bit surprised that he would hang on the rim for so long without being called for a technical. As the season progressed and I continued to watch games and highlights, I noticed more and more players hanging on the rim post-dunk. Has the rule been switched? If so, Why? And if not, do you think Blake Griffin deserves the credit for impressing the officials with his dunks to the point that they don't "T" him up and thus allowing other high flyers in the league to do the same?

As far as I know, Mo, the rule has not been changed. Officials do have some discretion not to "T-up" players who are hanging on the rim after dunks if they feel the player is doing so to protect himself from getting undercut by a player that's underneath him as he completes the dunk.

... But he does make Clipper Nation giddy with the possibilities. From Jake Berlin:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't the Clippers have a lot of cap space? And if so, why isn't there any talk of 'Melo going to L.A. and joining the Blake Show? The Clips could sign 'Melo after this season, and it would instantly make them a force in the West. They are in desperate need of an upgrade at the 3 spot, and L.A. may not be the East Coast, but it is still the coast. Plus, if you want publicity, then the L.A. is the next best thing after New York. Imagine a team with an energized B-Diddy at the 1, Eric Gordon at the 2, 'Melo at the 3, Big Bad Blake at the 4, and an improving DeAndre Jordan at the 5 (or possibly Chris Kaman when he gets back from injury). Then they could bring young guys off the bench like Aminu and Bledsoe and whoever they draft this year. That team could be dangerous stuff in a couple years, especially since that "other" team in L.A., the Mavs, and the Spurs are full of a bunch of greybeards. I'm not sure if it's possible, and there is the Donald Sterling effect, but I think it would be a pretty cool scenario if it all worked out.

You're not wrong, Jake. The Clippers will have cap room. The Clippers always have cap room. That's the problem. Sterling doesn't use it, and unless he's had a philosophy transplant, he's not going to use it. If he pays Carmelo, he'd have to pay Griffin in two years. And what about Gordon? Jordan will be getting a lot of attention from suitors around the league in the next year or so. That's a lot of people to pay, and Sterling has rarely opened up the wallet that wide. Just hope that Neil Olshey, the Clips' GM, has it right when he says Bad Blake will be a Clipper for life. That alone would be progress.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and Oscar nominations to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail bon mots are sufficiently thought-provoking, challenging, funny or snarky, we just might publish them!

MVP Watch

(weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) Derrick Rose (21 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 9.7 apg, .352 FG, 1,000 FT): Those stomach ulcers probably jacked up D-Rose's shot, but the Bulls didn't lose a game last week, so he stays on top of the MVP race.

2) Dwight Howard (24.8 ppg, 16.8 rpg, 2.8 bpg, .629 FG, .553 FT): Monster week for Superman, including Video 40 and 15 in a loss to the Bulls.

3) Kobe Bryant (33.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.3 apg, .537 FG, .852 FT): The last two games in Staples have been a lot of Kobe shooting, and a lot of everybody else watching. Which is, by the way, not being critical of him, but the teammates that don't move and don't defend and don't otherwise help him out.

4) LeBron James (28.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 9 apg, .460 FG, .727 FT): LBJ doing a little of everything -- while Bosh (ankle) and Wade (wrist) were in and out of the lineup -- going into the post, playing point forward.

5) Chris Paul (21.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 11.3 apg, .553 FG, .938 FT): It's fair to say CP3 didn't agree with this Video non-call on Grant Hill in the final seconds of Sunday's 104-102 Phoenix victory. It's fair to say CP3 was right to not comment, because the refs missed this one.

By the Numbers

3 -- Times the Suns have held an opponent under 75 points this season after beating Video Boston Friday night 88-71. It's the first time Phoenix has done that since the 2002-03 season. The meaning of this stat? I don't know; the Suns are terrible on D. Most of the time.

986 -- Number of consecutive games the Raptors had a three-point basket, Video a streak that ended last Monday when Toronto went 0 -for-13 in a 100-98 loss to Memphis. The streak began on Feb. 26, 1999 and lasted longer than the George W. Bush administration, Michael Jordan's return to the Wizards, the entire cradle-to-grave production of Gigli and several of Angelina Jolie's relationships.

$655,000,000 -- Estimated franchise value of the Knicks, making them the NBA's most valuable franchise, according to Forbes Magazine's annual team evaluations. The magazine claims in its analysis, New York's franchise value rose 12 percent last year from $586 million, a rise attributable to increased ticket sales and sponsorships. (The Lakers are currently second in franchise value, according to Forbes, at $643 million.)

I'm Feelin' ...

1) Should be an interesting Nets-Nuggets game at Prudential Center tonight, yes?

2) It was great to see Paul Silas on the sidelines Saturday in Los Angeles, coaching the Bobcats. He's a little thinner but he's still sharp and tough-minded and he'll help Charlotte, which has gone 11-7 since Silas took over for Larry Brown on Dec. 22. The 'Cats are playing hard again and they don't look as downtrodden and uninspired as they did playing for LB, who was 9-19 before Michael Jordan had seen enough. "The guys have really bought into what we're teaching them," Silas said Saturday. "They're playing with confidence, which is huge, and we're winning ball games. I tell them, 'You're not in the basketball business; you're in the wins business.' "

3) That was a pretty good back-to-back this weekend, Sacramento: Video beating the Lakers on the road Friday and Video ending the Hornets' 10-game win streak back at home on Saturday.

4) Congrats on meeting your mark, Hornets. The team held up its end of the bargain and the city came through when it had to. Hopefully it's the start of a long-term solution in the Easy.

5) Jimmer Fredette. Get used to the name. Durant may be wrong, but he's in the neighborhood.

6) Packers 27, Steelers 20. What, you think I'm going against the woman's team?

Not Feelin' ...

1) Maybe Jim O'Brien is that stubborn, but it's just hard to believe that a coach with his future on the line would be so inflexible about playing young players if that's what management wants, that he wouldn't play Tyler Hansbrough or Paul George, and stop chastizing Roy Hibbert in public. Maybe O'Brien is that stubborn; that was the knock on him in Philly in what turned out to be a disastrous season. Another disaster was unfolding in Indiana this year after a promising start, which led to the Pacers firing O'Brien Sunday and naming assistant Frank Vogel as interim coach for the rest of the season. But someone who knows Bird well told me Sunday he thinks there's still a chance that Pacers owner Herb Simon says to Bird, and this is paraphrasing, "You tell me we're a playoff team. You tell me we have good players. So go back on the bench and show me."

2) Okay, Lakers. You say there's no problem. I think Thursday against the Spurs at Staples, on TNT, will give us a clue about whether that's true.

3) You know I love the Chuckster. But he's wrong on this. You never, ever, ever let your players believe it's OK to lose. Once that happens, it is almost impossible to turn an organization around. Even if none of the players there now is on the roster in two years, it doesn't matter. And besides, we've seen teams that, let's say, managed expectations down the stretch wind up with lint in their pockets when the lottery ping-pong balls stopped bouncing.

4) This didn't seem sporting when it happened, which makes this all the more pleasant to hear.

5) Give the NHL credit for trying new things, but there's no way that would fly in the NBA, with the egos in this game.

Tweet of the Week

Tyson chandler should be yaos replacement name a center in the west better than him? Don't worry I'll wait
-- Mavs guard Jason Terry (@jasonterry31), Friday, 10:18 am, making the case for his teammate to get the invite to L.A. for the fun-n'-festivities.

Mr. Fifteen

This week's Mr. Fifteen is, we're pretty sure, the first No. 1 overall pick in the Draft to earn such distinction -- not that he cares. He's in L.A.!

We talk this week with Lakers center/forward Joe Smith, who was acquired from New Jersey on Dec. 15 as part of the three-team trade that sent Sasha Vujacic and a protected 2011 first-round pick to New Jersey and former Nets guard Terrence Williams to Houston. The Nets also got a protected 2012 first from the Rockets, while the Lakers got two second-round picks from New Jersey and the rights to forward/center Sergei Lishouk from Houston. The 35-year-old Smith had played in just one game with the Nets before being dealt; he's appeared in four games in Los Angeles, totalling just 22 minutes and scoring two points, with seven rebounds.

The Lakers are Smith's 12th NBA team; though he's only played in more than 50 games once in the last four-plus seasons, he remains in demand because of his experience, his defense and his ability to score without needing many plays run for him. He has survived his role in the infamous "secret contract" deal with the Timberwolves in 2000 -- which cost Minnesota four first-round picks and a $3.5 million fine -- to be regarded as one of the league's genuinely good guys.The first pick in the 1995 Draft has appeared in 1,022 career games in his 14 NBA seasons.

0131-joe-smith-300.jpg
Since going No. 1 overall in the 1995 Draft, Joe Smith has played for a dozen teams.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Me: As a newcomer to the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, did you pick up how intense things are between the teams?

Joe Smith: I mean, the whole atmosphere around it was crazy. Even all last week, just fans on my Twitter page, and a bunch of Laker fans out there. And just the buildup to the game, it was crazy. I was kind of in a small rivalry when I was in Cleveland with Boston, but nothing of this magnitude. Not at all.

Me: What do you do now, knowing that you weren't brought here for games in January and February, but games in April and May?

JS: Just try and stay ready. You know, I'm still trying to pick up the terminology and stuff like that with the triangle offense. It's a whole different ballgame when you're running that. Just try to stay ready, keep my body in the weight room all the time, stay out for extra shots and trying to keep my conditioning up as much as I can, so when my number is called, I can go out there and be ready to contribute.

Me: What's hard about picking up the triangle?

JS: The terminology. Every team pretty much runs some sort of the triangle, but it's normal basketball terminology with everybody else. Here, Phil (Jackson) has his own language. It's kind of hard to pick up that a little bit. Every time he says something, I have to look over at either Lamar (Odom) or Luke Walton and ask them to translate that for me in basketball terms. But it's not bad at all, though.

Me: Did you pick up the defense quicker?

JS: I know where to be on defense. I know what kind of defensive schemes they're trying to run, so the defense is pretty easy. It's just the terminology on the offensive end that's pretty tough right now.

Me: As someone who's played against Kobe many times, have you seen anything new or different from him when you practice with him and are his teammate?

JS: I mean, what you see on that floor during game time is what you see every day. He's somebody, even when we're just pretty much walking through drills, he's still going almost full speed. His thing is not just to make himself better, but to make his teammates better. In practice, and even when we're half-speed, he's taking it up another level just so we can see it at game speed instead of just walking through it.

Me: What did they say they wanted from you when they brought you here?

JS: They wanted me to be, they needed another big to be able to not just learn the triangle, but be able to contribute down the stretch. Like I said, that's what I'm preparing myself for, and hopefully that opportunity comes.

Me: What did you think when you heard they were interested?

JS: When I was in Jersey, we had a game that night of the trade. I got a phone call from my agent as soon as I walked in the locker room, and he told me that tomorrow, you're going to be traded to the Lakers. I was like, 'What?' And he said, '"Let me know if you want to pull (the trigger on) the deal.' I was like, 'Man, pull it right now!' But it's a great opportunity. I've been blessed to be on some teams that had a chance to do something, and I'm being blessed now to be on a team that really, really has a chance. Back-to-back champs, that's something that not too many people can say, and to go for a third one, that's pretty special. Hopefully I can enjoy the ride and ride along with it.

Me: Does being in L.A. give you opportunities to advance your recording career? (Smith, who is generally considered one of the few NBA players who actually has some rapping/lyrical skills, released a CD under the pseudonym "Joe Beast" a couple of years ago that was well-received. He has a recording studio in his Phoenix area home.)

JS: Actually, since I've been out here, I've been meeting a whole lot of people. Me and Ron (Artest, who released music through his TruWarier Label and reached agreement last month on a new deal with SMC Recordings to launch the new Artest Media Group label), we've got together a couple of times. He's introduced me to some people he's done business with. It's actually speeding up a little more since I've been out here than what it was before, because I didn't really have the outlets and the connections. But now I'm meeting a lot of connections out here. It'll be something on the airwaves soon ... or hopefully I'll be on that (broadcasting) side with you, too.

Me: You can come down to Atlanta any time! Can you believe it's been 15 years since you went first?

JS: Oh, man. It's gone by quick. That's why I tell these young guys, enjoy it while you can. 'Cause it goes by fast. It's still unbelievable that this is my 16th year, because I've seen a lot of people come and go. I've been really blessed.

They Said It

"I'm more into letters than numbers."
-- Kevin Garnett, Thursday in Portland. After being told that the Blazers' Video LaMarcus Aldridge posted a double-double against him in the first half of a game the Celtics won 88-78, Garnett added, "with an L."

"Even if I'm playing it, just say it's two power forwards."
-- LaMarcus Aldridge, articulating his severe reluctance to be referred to as a center, what with the carnage that Portland bigs (Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla, Marcus Camby) have been through in recent years.

"In Utah, a girls high school basketball team is being called unsportsmanlike for winning a game 108-3. Obviously, a humiliating loss for their opponents -- the Cleveland Cavaliers."
-- Jay Leno, on "The Tonight Show", literally making the Cavs into a national joke.

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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