By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
ANOTHER CENTRAL THEME
It's official. The Central Division has gone to the dogs.
Or at least that's how Detroit Pistons guard Chucky Atkins describes Tuesday's game in Indiana between the two hottest teams in the league: the Pistons and the Pacers (7 ET, NBA League Pass, Audio League Pass).
Both teams are confident. According to CBSSportsline.com, one Pacer is supremely confident.
"We're for real baby," said the Pacers' Al Harrington. "We figure the road to the Finals is coming through Indiana this year."
Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. We call on Harrington's teammate, Jermaine O'Neal, to offer some perspective.
"Championships aren't won in the regular season," O'Neal told the Indy Star. "People can say what they want to say, but right now they're Eastern Conference champions.
"I think we have a better team. We're a little deeper and we have so many guys who can hurt you. I guess the games will play themselves out."
You can hardly blame the Pacers and the Pistons for being pumped. The Pistons dropped the Spurs 85-77 on Monday for a franchise-tying 13th consecutive win. In Atlanta on Monday, the Pacers topped the Hawks 100-97 for their 11th win in their last 12 games, the only loss being an 89-88 overtime defeat in San Antonio.
The Pistons, for one, can't wait.
“We’ve definitely been looking forward to that game,” guard Chauncey Billups told the Detroit News. “It wouldn’t matter if we had lost 13 games. The streak don’t have nothing to do with it. We’ve been looking forward to this since the last time we played them. It’s Indiana, man. They are the No. 1 team right now, and we feel like we are the No. 1 team. And they’ve beaten us twice."
And regardless of Harrington's exeubrance, most of the Pacers have been muted about their play of late. One Indianapolis writer says this is a sign of maturity.
"We're showing some resiliency, but I don't think there's anybody in that locker room who thinks we've done anything yet," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "We obviously want to contend for some big things, but we have to get into the playoffs and we have to get past the first round first.
"Nobody here is getting carried away with anything that's happening, and I like that. That shows resiliency and it shows some toughness and some smarts."
Speaking of smarts, we turn to our readers. Last week, we asked you to tell us if we were daft for suggesting that some of the NBA's strength lay in the Central. Detroit and Indiana clearly have shown that it does. (Yes, fans of the Midwest Division, I hear you. We'll get to you, I promise.) Here are some of the better responses in the Click and Roll mailbox.
"Who is the glut of power forwards for the West? Do they (have) names? Since we live here, (we) seldom seem to get a nod; what's up with that? The most celebrated award to be won in the NBA is ...? And who is wearing the crown now?"
Click and Roll responds: Why so cranky? We're all friends here. You want power forwards, I'll give you Western Conference power forwards, in no particular order: Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, Karl Malone, Elton Brand, Nene, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber/Brad Miller, Pau Gasol and Clifford Robinson to name 12 of the conference's 14 teams.
Or rather, I'll let Khalid from Madison, Miss. respond.
"I agree that the Central Division is doing pretty well. Would you agree that where the West has so many star power forwards, comparatively, the East has many star (or potential for stardom) guards and small forwards? For example, AI, Ron Artest, Paul Pierce, Rip Hamilton, Michael Redd, Baron Davis, Vince Carter, etc."
Click and Roll responds: I would agree.
"If the Central division is closing the gap between East and West, and Milwaukee is one of the hottest teams in the Central, does T.J. Ford get MVP consideration? Of the teams you expected the least from this year (outside of Golden State and LAC) Milwaukee has to be way up there. Just a thought."
"Yes, you are crazy! Although I don't think it will stand all season, as of right now EVERY TEAM in the Midwest is above .500 but some of those teams in the Central will fade."
Click and Roll responds: You confirm what my wife and my co-workers already know: Yes, I'm crazy. There, I said it.
"I don't think you're crazy and I am glad to finally see someone go out on a limb and give the Eastern Conference some props."
Click and Roll responds: Now, I'm confused.
And finally ...
"The gap between the Eastern and Western Conference appears to have decreased, but that is not so. The Central Division teams have easy schedules playing against weak/pathetic East teams. Any West team can shoot the lights out of any East team. Each team in the East is one player short. Injuries also have played a major role. If Shaq, Malone or Webber were healthy, then it's different story. Until some of the GMs in the East are changed, this sad imbalance will stay. Believe me, nothing would make me happier than to see the east do well and the NETS win it all."
Click and Roll responds: You and the 10 other Nets fans.
BEARDS OF A FEATHER
Come to think of it, beards are a rarity these days in the NBA. We've seen the goatees, the soul patches and whatever Scot Pollard feels like leaving on his cheeks. But beards? That's so 1970s, or even early '80s.
All of which got us to thinking, who has rocked a beard? From Clyde to Divac, Click and Roll presents a brief history of NBA beards.
PURITY OF FORM
In a very good piece in a recent Sports Illustrated, Peja Stojakovic was praised as "the best pure marksman since Larry Bird."
-- Sports Illustrated, Jan. 19, 2004 issue
While I cannot argue with "the best" and "shooter" part of that statement, I do have a statement about the word "pure."
I don’t think there is such a thing as a "pure" shooter. Now, if we think of the word pure in the sense that "pure" is a synonym for the purity of its results, then maybe. But whenever someone has called a player a "pure" shooter, I think of that player as having an unspoiled, natural and effortless stroke. And, now, after hearing and reading that phrase all of my life, I think it's wrong.
Like anything that looks easy (such as Click and Roll), the finished product is a result of much effort. Stojakovic, for example, "requires himself to make 100 twos, 100 threes and 50 foul shots before showering," Jack McCallum writes.
That's work. And more than anything in basketball, shooting requires confidence. And that confidence comes from hard work.
Still, Stojakovic's shot isn't what you would call pretty. Even Vlade Divac calls the shot, which Stojakovic sweeps across his body from left to right, "ugly." And even Bird's was slightly less than textbook (he brought it further behind his right ear than most shooting coaches would teach).
I think Allan Houston, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell have the prettiest looking jumpers in the league. If you want classic guys with classic form, then you can cite Chris Mullin and Calvin Murphy, who may have had the most efficient, prettiest shooting stroke ever.
That being said, I want the readers to weigh in. Is there such thing as a pure shooter? E-mail Click and Roll.
Here's one person's opinion on who should start for the East in Los Angeles on Feb. 15. Like most other prognosticators, he picks a personal favorite of mine: Michael Redd.
-- Hartford Courant (Registration required)
And even more love for Redd (and some others, too).
THE MAVS AND MAVS NOT
It's time for everyone to jump from the Mavericks' bandwagon. It's breaking down. Or so we hear.
-- Sacramento Bee
Normally, I wouldn't link to a column by this guy because his work is so acidic that if you wrapped one of his articles around a rusty nail, 24 hours later that nail would look like new. Still, it's fun to scan.
Meanwhile, writers in Oregon have been willing to give Rasheed Wallace away to the Mavericks. If only they held the Trail Blazers' GM position.
Still, despite the handwringing, there is good news in Dallas. La Gazzetta dello Sport gave Dirk Nowitzki European Player of the Year honors for the second consecutive year.
And if your Italian is rusty, here's the English-language version.
What do the Lakers look like at full strength? They'd like to know too.
-- L.A. Times (Registration required)
How tough is it for the Lakers right now? They've turned to Ime Udoka. Good luck, Ime.
And the most interesting rumor about salving the Lakers' injury woes comes at the bottom of this article. Nah, that won't happen, will it?
Houston, we have a prognostication.
-- New York Post
Seems like everybody wants to coach the Knicks.
It's mid-season already?
Uncle Cliffy can still get it done on defense.
If anyone knows Alanis Morissette, please let her know this is ironic. Don't you think?
Seems like some would prefer Yao Ming to become Yao Mean.
"How is Secaucus, N.J. in the spring?" an Orlando Sentinel scribe wonders. I don't know what the Secaucus Chamber of Commerce would tell you, but we here at NBA.com extend an offer to take Brian Schmitz on a tour in May.