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Posted by By Brad Friedman on February 3, 2006 10:00 a.m. ET
COULD THE NETS LET THE ATLANTIC SLIP AWAY?
New Jersey looked like a lock to capture the Atlantic Division after a 10-game winning streak in December and the start of January, but a 4-9 slide since then
has put Philadelphia only a game behind the Nets with a chance to move into first place this weekend.
Following a impressive win over Detroit on Tuesday, New Jersey is coming off a loss in Cleveland Wednesday. The Nets face a Miami team on Saturday that appears to have finally found itself after thrashing the Cavaliers 101-73 on TNT Thursday. Thankfully for New Jersey fans, it will be the start of their longest homestand of the season.
-- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, New York Post, Reg req'd]
Sixers followers also got a bit of good news when it was reported Allen Iverson hopes to return for Saturday's contest at Cleveland, after missing the last three games with an ankle injury, which includes tonight's game against Detroit as well.
-- [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Also on TNT last night, the Spurs scored a big road win over Golden State to take sole possession of the Southwest Division.
However, if Dallas scores victory over the visiting Sonics on Saturday, that would put the streaking Mavericks, owners of 10 wins in a row, into a first-place tie with the defending champs. Despite having the third best record in the league, Dallas doesn't seem to come up in conversations around the water cooler when postseason contenders are discussed.
-- [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]
After this year's All-Star vote, one Mavericks beat writer thinks fans have no idea how good Dirk is, either.
-- [Dallas Morning News, Reg req'd]
THE ULTIMATE TEST
Undoubtedly, the game to watch this weekend is Detroit visiting Indiana (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Sure, there's obviously a history between these two teams, but there's more to this game than that.
The Pacers stopped a six-game skid Wednesday, holding the Lakers to just 79 points. One night before, those same Lakers toasted New York for 130. The Pacers did a marvelous job on Kobe Bryant, who was limited to 8-of-24 shooting and 26 points.
Meanwhile, recently acquired sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic tallied 26 points and 13 rebounds in his home debut, and might be able to get a rocky season on track in Indiana. What better way to tell if the pieces are coming together for Indiana than a test against the Pistons, who have the league's best record?
-- [USA Today]
Minnesota, which is 2-2 following the Ricky Davis-Wally Szczerbiak swap, faces Golden State on Saturday. Both the Wolves and Warriors are breathing down the neck of the Hornets for the No. 8 seed. If KG and Co. hope to turn around a disappointing season, they'll have to adjust
to the midseason personnel change.
-- [St. Paul Pioneer Press
Meanwhile, Danny Ainge feels his Celtics are one step closer to his vision following the deal.
-- [The Boston Globe]
WE'RE GOING STREAKING!
Posted by John Schuhmann on February 2, 2006 10:00 a.m. ET
MAVS AND CAVS MAKE LIKE WILL FERRELL
It was another busy Wednesday night in the Association, highlighted by the two hottest teams in the NBA continuing their winning streaks with close wins over strong opponents.
In Memphis, the Mavs came back from 10 down in the fourth to earn their 10th straight victory when Dirk Nowitzki hit two free throws with 7.2 seconds to go and Mike Miller couldn't hit a runner for the Grizzlies at the buzzer.
-- [Dallas Morning News]
With the win, Dallas tied the Spurs for the best record in the West, and with 12 of their next 14 games at home, they will have a good chance to put some space between them and the champs. They will look to tie the longest winning streak of the season (the Pistons' 11) on Saturday when they host the Sonics.
New Jersey, the team that ended that Pistons' streak on Tuesday was in Cleveland last night. The Cavs extended their winning streak to a season-high seven games (the Nets had ended a six-game Cavs streak back in December) with a six-point victory. It was a sluggish game through two quarters, but the Cavs picked up the pace in the second half and LeBron James led them to victory with his third triple-double of the season.
-- [Akron Beacon Journal]
That ties Jason Kidd for the league lead and gives James seven triple-doubles for his career. Kidd has 10 times as many, but he thinks that LeBron is the kind of guy that could eventually catch him.
-- [NBA.com, Newark Star-Ledger]
Meanwhile, the Nets continued a streak of their own. They have lost six straight on the road, while holding a nine game winning streak back at Continental Airlines Arena. Fortunately for them, their next five are all at home.
SOMETIMES, STREAKING IS NOT SO FUN
In Atlanta, the Bobcats realized that they're no longer top-dog
in their match-up with the Hawks, losing their 13th straight game.
-- [Charlotte Observer
The Knicks have lost just three in a row, but nine of their last 10 and things are really starting to get ugly at the Garden. Now, it's the players criticizing the coach.
-- [New York Daily News]
Out West, the Northwest Division leading Nuggets have lost four straight, and are looking for answers.
-- [Rocky Mountain News]
BIG NIGHT ON TNT
Before tonight's double-header on TNT, Ernie Johnson and the gang will announce the starters for the All-Star Game in Houston (Feb. 19). On Monday, we announced the participants
for the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Presented by AOL (feel free to just call it the Dunk Contest amongst your friends) and on Tuesday, the teams for the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge were named
. Who else is looking forward to that T.J. Ford-Chris Paul matchup?
Speaking of matchups, after the starters are announced, the Cavs will look to extend their streak to eight games as they face the Heat, who believe they still need improvement, even though they've won 9-of-12.
-- [Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel]
In the second game of the double-header, the Warriors host the Spurs, who, with their ugly win over Portland last night, have won five straight.
-- [San Antonio Express-News]
The circle is complete.
Posted by Jeff Dengate on January 30, 2006 9:00 a.m. ET
PISTONS CONTINUE ON RECORD PACE
While sports fans around the country get swept away with football this week in anticipation of Super Bowl XL, excuse Detroit sports fans if they hardly notice the commotion happening downtown -- well, aside from the extra traffic flooding Woodward Avenue and the local freeways. After all, it's not like the Lions are playing or anything.
Okay, so in fairness, metro Detroit likely will tune in for the big event Sunday night along with everybody else, but who won that big game will be a distant memory when the Pistons take the court two nights later against the Atlanta Hawks. By then, the Pistons could boast a gaudy 41-5 record.
Even if they stumble over the next week, their current run has to rank up there with some of the best Detroit sports moments ever, 40 of which have been compiled by the Super Bowl XL Host Committee and will be celebrated at tonight's Super Bowl week opening ceremony.
The program might require a last minute re-write to include the 2005-06 Pistons along with the championship-winning squads of 1989, 1990 and 2004.
Other NBA related moments to be celebrated include a young Magic Johnson leading the Michigan State Spartans past Larry Bird's Indiana State squad as well as former University of Detroit and NBA star Spencer Haywood leading the 1968 U.S. team to Olympic gold.
-- [Detroit News]
By June, this year's Pistons could be a lock should another such list ever be compiled.
With wins this weekend, the Pistons nudged their record to 37-5. Friday's win over Memphis gave the Pistons the fourth best start in NBA history at the mid-season point. The other five teams to start at least 36-5 all went on to win the NBA Championship
that season (see table).
This year's Pistons continue to deflect questions about the mystical 70-win mark. Their only goal is to get homecourt advantage and avoid a similar fate that struck in San Antonio in Game 7 last season.
But expect it to grow increasingly difficult for media members to avoid predicting Pistons success because history suggests the Pistons will win it all this season. The Bulls, Lakers and Sixers teams mentioned above all went on to compile a league-best record and hold homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. None needed a seventh game to hoist the trophy.
-- [L.A. Daily News]
On Sunday, Phil Jackson, general of three of those 36-win starts, had a few cautionary words for the Pistons following Sunday's loss: Avoid injuries.
-- [Detroit Free Press]
The season gets increasingly difficult as it goes on and other teams aim to bring you down as you approach the best record ever, but Jackson avoided a common criticism of the Pistons: they drop off significantly after their first five. The team's bench was routinely labeled "thin" or "weak" last year and, despite the solid play from Antonio McDyess and improvement of Mo Evans, this year's reserves aren't exactly being lauded, either.
Even so, the Pistons can get away without having the top subs in the game because they have had a remarkable run of health this year, becoming only the third team in the last 20 years to start the same five players in each of the first 40 games of the season. All five starters are logging at least 35.4 minutes per game, but none more than 36.9 mpg.
There's reason to believe the Pistons can stay remarkably healthy. First, they have Arnie Kander on their side. Kander is the team's strength and conditioning coach, or, as Rip Hamilton put it recently, "Arnie (is the reason for the team's health). Arnie's the best in the business."
Second, the team has avoided injuries in the run to their last two Finals appearances. The same five starters missed a combined 19 games last season, including six when Ben Wallace was suspended for his role in last year's incident with the Pacers. Two seasons ago, Billups, Hamilton, Prince and Ben Wallace missed only a combined nine games.
So, will the Pistons reach 70 wins or top the Bulls team of 10 years ago? Well, it's certainly too soon to really answer that, but it's fun to watch this team try -- something not many thought possible only a few short months ago.
-- [NBA.com & Detroit News]
While many are still chiming in with their analysis of the Artest-Stojakovic trade
, the troubled former Pacer is getting a fresh start in Sacramento
. He'll make his Arco debut Tuesday vs. the Nuggets.
-- [Philadelphia Inquirer
& San Francisco Chronicle
Ricky Davis has already suited up for the Wolves; Wally for the Cs. But tonight they face their old clubs, just four days after filing change of address cards.
-- [Boston Herald]
A few short weeks from now, hoops will take over Houston as the 2006 All-Star Game comes to town. A few short days from now, the starters for this year's classic will be announced.
-- [Houston Chronicle & NBA.com]