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WHO'S THE MAN?
Posted by Brad Friedman on January 13, 2006 1:09 p.m. ET

BRYANT'S HEROICS REINFORCE REPUTATION

Back in October, we polled the general managers around the league, asking them which player in the NBA would you want taking a shot with the game on the line.

It wasn't even close. Kobe Bryant garnered 61.5 percent of the votes, with Ray Allen finishing a distant second at 15.4 percent.
-- [NBA.com]

Thursday night, Bryant reinforced his reputation, nailing three clutch jumpers in the last 90 seconds of the Lakers' 99-98 win over Cleveland. Bryant's taken plenty of criticism over the last two years since Shaq left and he's had to shoulder the full load in L.A. Say what you want about Bryant, but he's still the game's most clutch scorer.
-- [NBA.com Free Video]

Even LeBron James, whose team came up on the losing end, couldn't help but admire his opponent's performance, saying it was like Bryant was shooting in a gym by himself.
-- [Los Angeles Times, Reg. req'd]

PAYBACK

Speaking of rivalries, Detroit once again got payback against San Antonio, the franchise that beat it in seven games last postseason to capture an NBA title. The Pistons defeated the Spurs 83-68 to complete a sweep of the two-game regular season series.

Neither win was even close, which begs the question, is there any opponent in the league even close to the Pistons right now? Considering the Spurs are the No. 2 ranked squad in our recent power rankings, the answer is "probably not."
-- [NBA.com]

On pace to win 70 games this season with an .848 winning percentage, there's been plenty of talk about the Pistons challenging for the all-time season win total of 72 set by the '95-96 Chicago Bulls. However, Shawn Peters of Are You For Real? fame made an interesting point in Tuesday's premium fantasy column:

"First off, despite winning about 84 percent of their games, they are still ten wins in a row off the pace. Second of all, the same five players, (Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace) have started all 31 of their games. Jack Lalanne doesnít stay that healthy for that long. And with all five starters averaging 35 minutes per game or more, and no reserves even logging 20 minutes, they just donít have the staying power."
-- [NBA.com Premium Scouting Report]

We'll see how it pans out. Regardless, you have to admire the job Flip Saunders has done in succeeding Larry Brown.

TRADE RUMBLINGS

Reports were surfacing that the Clippers were the frontrunners in the Ron Artest sweepstakes, with the price being Corey Maggette. However, it looks like that deal may have fallen through, with Maggette's oft-injured left foot to blame.
-- [ESPN.com]

THE NEW YEAR KNICKS
Posted by John Schuhmann on January 12, 2006 9:30 a.m. ET

NEW YORK IS THE BEST TEAM OF 2006

Yes, you read that subheadline right. The New York Knicks, residents of the Power Rankings basement for the last two weeks of December, are the best team of 2006. They have run off five straight wins since we hung up our new calendars and are the only team to not have a loss in January.

Last night, they got their best win of the streak (and of the season for that matter), showing some resiliancy by beating the Mavs in OT after losing a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead. Dallas shot .529 from the field, but the Mavs were outrebounded 54-37 and New York made 31 of its 33 free throws. Stephon Marbury recovered from two straight turnovers down the stretch to draw a foul and hit the game-tying freebies with 27 seconds left in regulation. Dirk Nowitzki missed two chances to win the game in the final seconds, both times guarded by 5-9 Nate Robinson. Marbury and Jamal Crawford combined for 53 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Marbury says that the difference has been their effort and even the referees complimented Larry Brown about hard his team was playing. Brown says his team's attitude is different.
-- [New York Daily News]

Looking at the Knicks schedule, we see that they have a serious chance to run off a few more wins before this streak comes to an end.

ALL-STAR THOUGHTS

We've already been thinking about All-Star Weekend this week, but a couple of last night's games got us thinking about what players who aren't getting much recognition might deserve to be there.

The Raptors have won six of their last eight games and Chris Bosh is establishing himself as one of the best young players in the league. Bosh is averaging 22.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game this season and making that Top Five of the 2003 Draft (LeBron, eh-hem, Carmelo, Bosh and D.Wade) look like one of the best Top Fives ever, in our minds. The Top Five in '84 wasn't too bad either.

Bosh is only ninth among East forwards in the voting.

Another forward who has caught our attention (and is not even in the Top 10 in the West) is Utah's Andrei Kirilenko. The Jazz have won eight of their last nine and a healthy AK-47 is the biggest reason why. He is averaging 19.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.44 blocks and 2.56 steals in those nine games. The man is simply all over the floor and he had a huge block on Andre Iguodala to preserve the win over the Sixers last night.

Kirilenko is the best player, but the new and improved Jazz are winning with teamwork.
-- [Salt Lake Tribune]

They left Allen Iverson impressed. Iverson still scored 46 and we think that the Iverson/Bryant scoring race could be one of the top storylines after the All-Star break.
-- [Deseret Morning News]

Speaking of Kobe, he went for just 41 against the Blazers last night, ending his 45-plus streak at four straight games, which Kobe didn't really care about anyway.
-- [Los Angeles Times]

Kobe doesn't have to wait long to start a new streak (or just continue his 40-plus streak) as he is part of tonight's great double-header on TNT. First up is the second meeting of the Pistons and Spurs at 8 ET. This time, both teams are at full strength with Manu Ginobili back and healthy. After that is the Cavs and Lakers at 10:30 ET. LeBron and Kobe. You know neither of them wants to be outshone on national television. It should make for an entertaining game.

GET OFF MY BACK
Posted by Jeffery Dengate on January 9, 2006 8:30 a.m. ET

BACK TROUBLES POP UP IN WEEKEND ACTION

Oh my aching back ... Yesterday I finally took the Christmas tree down to the curb, freeing up some much needed space in my fifth-floor walk-up apartment. I have to admit, I think I tweaked something in my lower back, which isn't really a surprise considering it's the most exercise I've gotten since mid-December when I lugged the very same pine in the opposite direction.

The pain I'm feeling could merely be in my head, however, after catching the action on NBA TV last night when the Nuggets visited Houston. Is back pain contagious? In case you're wondering why I'm asking, it looked like Carmelo Anthony may have caught a case of what I'm feeling.

First Denver's Kenyon Martin had to make an early exit in the opening minutes of the second quarter, suffering from back spasms. Then in the closing moments of the period, McGrady joined him, suffering back problems so severe he was carted off the floor on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital. The Rockets, already plagued by injuries, can't afford to have McGrady sidelined for long. The team is 12-12 when McGrady plays but is winless in the eight games its All-Star sat out with back troubles earlier this season.
-- [Philadelphia Inquirer, Reg. req'd]

Then it was Anthony looking like he wanted to join the party off the floor. Anthony was gingerly trotting up and down the court, grimmacing and grabbing at his side and back, just below that sharp yellow 15, at every opportunity. But with the number of bodies already in the infirmary or unavailable, Anthony had little choice but to finish out the close game.

It turns out the injury is one to his ribs that's been lingering since he took a shot in a game against Indy last week, one he's able to play through. Good thing, too, because, with the score knotted at 90, 'Melo shook David Wesley on the left wing and drained the game-winning jumper with 1.0 seconds remaining to give the Nuggets the 92-90 win and help the team pull to within a game of .500.
-- [Denver Post]

In a game earlier in the day, Richard Jefferson caught the bug, straining his back against the Raptors. R.J. left the game and didn't return, but don't expect him to be out long. He's planning on being in the game when New Jersey puts its winning streak on the line on the road at San Antonio.
-- [New York Post, Reg. req'd]

It was "back" of a different kind for his teammate Vince Carter.
-- [Toronto Star]

Vin-sanity stepped way, way back on a couple long triples, launching from at least five feet behind the arc, in the final minute of a victory over his old squad.
-- [New York Post, Reg. req'd]

Go ahead, watch the highlights. I particularly enjoyed how Carter, usually accustomed to dunking in somebody's grille, knocked down the second, the game-winner, from deep with a hand up in his own face.
-- [NBA.com free video]

The way Carter was filling the bucket he should've kept jacking shots until he reached the locker room, much like it seemed Kobe Bryant did on Saturday. Not to take anything away from Bryant on his 50 point night against the Clips -- one night after dropping 48 on the Sixers -- but Bryant took a season-high 41 shots to get those 50. Compare that to the 31 shots he needed to hit 62 only a few weeks ago, and you'll certainly agree it wasn't exactly the most efficient performance you've seen this season.
-- [Los Angeles Daily News]

Of course, Bryant showed us why you, me and Phil Jackson are more than happy to give him the green light to continue firing: Bryant tossed in 40 second-half points, with 18 coming from back behind the arc. But none of his shots was bigger than the go-ahead runner in the lane to give the Lakers the win and pull them even with their Staples Center rival in the season series.
-- [Los Angeles Times, Reg. req'd]

With Bryant pouring in all those points, he's opened up a six-tenths of a point lead on Allen Iverson for the scoring lead this season.
-- [NBA.com]

The two are in action tonight, as the Lakers host the Pacers and the Sixers are home against the Sonics. I think I'll sit back and flip between NBA TV and League Pass to see how many those two go off for tonight.

Kobe is the truth.
(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Nets coach Lawrence Frank, on Vince Carter getting booed during New Jersey's win in Toronto Sunday:

"If they booed you at home you'd probably be a little upset. I get booed at home every day, but I don't perform like him."
-- [New York Post]

2005-06 ARCHIVE
Dec. 1 -- Welcome Back, Larry
Nov. 17 -- League Pass Surfing
Nov. 10 -- Setting OWGs Straight
Nov. 4 -- Season Underway
Oct. 27 -- The Central Is Stacked
Oct. 19 -- All Dressed Up
Oct. 14 -- LeBron Out Of Hospital
2004-05 -- Archive
2003-04 -- Archive