Use It or Lose It

BRYN MAWR, P.A., Dec. 23, 2006-- Andrea Bargnani got me thinking about my mom's special Christmas hand towels in the bathroom.

My family has the tree, the stockings, the manger, the wreath and the candles, but what holiday celebration could really be complete without terry cloth?

The problem with the charming "Mistle-towels" is that they rest on the rack purely for decoration and my mom's tacit expectation is for us to do the old dry-your-hands-on-your-pants move after washing up to preserve their Christmas spirit.

Just like perfectly fine towels remaining dry at my mom's house, a perfectly fine No. 1 pick in Bargnani remained dry (from lack of sweat) up in Toronto as he didn't play more than 13 minutes in the Raptors' first nine games.

That all changed for Bargnani on Nov. 20 when he finally got a chance to work up a solid perspiration and scored 15 points in 27 minutes of burn. The 7-foot Italian is averaging 12.6 points and 28.9 minutes per game since then.

Inspired by the good things that are happening to Bargnani, I've decided that when I wash my hands before Christmas dinner, I'll dry my digits on Santa Claus' cloth likeness.

Just don't tell my mom.

And now, these are the 10 things I learned from last week ...

1. Gilbert the Magnificent

Hate to say "I told you so," but after calling out Gilbert Arenas' dominance last week and have him go out and score 60 points in a win vs. the Lakers in L.A. and 54 to end the Suns' 15-game tear in Phoenix, I feel like the casting director from The Facts of Life who gave George Clooney one of his first big breaks and saw him go on to reach higher heights. Agent Zero now has six 40-plus points through 26 games this year and the Wizards have won eight of their last 10. And like Clooney, Arenas is Mr. Cool, just read his blog to see what I'm talking about.

2. The Knick of time

For better or for worse, there's never a dull moment at the Garden. On Monday I sat slackjawed as the Knicks fought back from an early 16-point deficit (and early boo birds flying down from the MSG faithful) to shock the Jazz with a Stephon Marbury game-winning layup and leave the court to a standing ovation from the mercurial New York crowd. On Wednesday, with Michael Jordan sitting courtside, New York pulled off an even more improbable ending with David Lee's tip-in off an out-of-bounds play with 0.1 seconds left beating the Bobcats. Two games, two overtime victories, and two steps towards instilling the confidence needed to rally a team that has endured its fair share of trials and tribulations in the last season and a half.

3. CP3 puts the hammer down on Dwight

If the trio of LeBron, Dwyane and Carmelo are the stars of tomorrow in the NBA, then Dwight Howard and Chris Paul round out the future's starting five. The USA Basketball teammates seem to have a budding rivaly, rare for a center-guard combination. Paul proved that height doesn't matter as much as we think by giving Howard a facial on Wednesday. Add it to the dunk of year list and ignite the Eastern Conference center vs. Western Conference guard competition. Ever since Kobe and Shaq patched things up the basketball world has been waiting for a big and small to go at it again.

4. No more Nenad

Every time I watch William Gates get his knee scoped in Hoop Dreams, I can't help but clutch my own knee and grimace in ponderous pain. Seeing it happen live is even more unsettling. I was in press row on Friday when New Jersey's Nenad Krstic got the ball in the post, felt the defender on his back and went to pivot towards the tin when he collapsed to the ground. The 18,436 mouths in attendance stopped making noise and 36,872 eyes fixed upon Krstic who was writhing on the court and holding his joint as I did so many times before when watching Gates.

But this wasn't hypothetical.

Krstic's statement after the game was, "I went to spin, my knee twisted and I heard a pop" and Nets President Rod Thorn announced today that the third-year center suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and will be out for the remainder of the season.

New Jersey loses 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game from the lineup, but also will miss the development of the big man who was vital to the Nets' attack playing the steady sidekick to their Big Three of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson.

5. It's official

You know the details. Allen Iverson and Ivan McFarlin for Andre Miller, Joe Smith, and two first-round picks. It means Melo and Iverson will be rocking the cornrows, headband, tatoo and arm sleeve look in the Rockies together and the Sixers have deep-sixed the Iverson era. If Jay Leno wrote this column he would probably say something like, "Allen Iverson travelled from Philadelphia to Denver on Friday ... Not suprisingly, no referee called him for a walk."

But I have a soft spot for A.I. and when I first saw him in a Nuggets uniform before his first game against the Kings, it finally hit me that the trade really happened. There would be no more seeing him cup his hand to his ear to beckon the folks who rode up I-76 to the Wachovia Center to get a little louder ... No more seeing him supporting local teams by wearing an Eagles jersey during a national interview with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN ... No more A.I. to A.I. alley-oops.

Philadelphia fans will miss him but ultimately wish him luck, just like we did when Charles Barkley played in the Finals with the Suns, Reggie White played in the Super Bowl with the Packers and Curt Schilling played in the World Series with the Red Sox. One of these days the superstar will stay and win that championship for Philly, right?

6. Rhymes with "packs veal"

Rashard Lewis, get to know Jason Maxiell. In fact, the whole league might as well pay attention because the time for a formal introduction to the Pistons' big body is right now. After the Seattle's loss to Detroit on Tuesday, Lewis was at a loss for words after the anonymous Maxiell dominated the green and gold for 17 points and 12 rebounds.

"Max ... Mac ... Maxwell, whatever his name is, he outrebounded our whole team," Lewis said. "Every time I turned around, he was coming out of nowhere. I don't think we put a body on him all night."

The second-year forward with shoulders as wide a refrigerator has performed whenever given the opportunity as he has averaged 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the four games that he has seen 20 minutes or more of PT.

7. Year of the Yao

From 13.5 points per game as a rookie, to nearly double that (26.8 per) in his fifth season, Yao's progression to the game's most dominate center has included obstacles that his peers never faced. When he came to the country at age 21 he couldn't even speak the language, let alone understand complex titles for plays run on the court. Now he has gone for 30-plus points in five out of the last seven games and has opposing defenses scratching their heads trying to comprehend a way to stop him and his "Shang-Hai Shake." With the learning curve behind him, expect Yao to now be the one doing the teaching.

8. All-Star musings

Vince Carter must have liked the Iverson to Denver trade. As A.I. heads to the Mile High City, he takes with him his 595,200 All-Star votes to the Western Conference race. Based on the first returns from the ballots, now Carter gets bumped up to a starter for the East and Iverson falls to third in the West behind Kobe (720,375) and Tracy McGrady (668,130).

Another note of interest from the first returns is that Shaq leads Dwight Howard by over 100,000 votes while Diesel has only played four games to Howard's 28. Jim in Oakland writes, "Howard is better than Shaq, and anybody who follows the NBA knows that. Shaq was a great player, but he's older and not as good now, and he'll most likely be injured anyways."

Hearing Shaq "was" great hurts almost as bad as hearing Iverson "was" a Sixer. Times, they are a changin'.

9. What's up with the Clippers?

The Clippers are in the midst of a six-game losing streak and sit at the bottom of the Pacific Division with a 10-15 record. What gives? Last season they had a franchise record for wins in L.A. and I was writing about their resurgence and balanced team make-up, now they are 27th in the league in point differential with a -3.88 mark. Maybe the toll of playing the longest basketball season of his life is catching up to Elton Brand. The former Dukie followed a career-best regular season with a deep playoff run and a tour of duty on the US National team. Brand's scoring has dipped from 24.7 last year to 19.0 a night this season. It's hard to blame a team's leading scorer and most consistent force for not being quite as awesome though. This is a tough one. We'll keep an eye on them.

10. Nash double-doubles

The double-double is a big man's stat. They get their 10 points or more down low, and when they're not scoring in the paint they're grabbing misses (either from their teammates or their own errant attempts) and tallying boards on the stat sheet. The top three double-double men so far this season are Carlos Boozer, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard with 20 apiece. But, guess who is in fourth with 18? The guy who doubled up on MVP trophies the last two seasons. Steve Nash has 10 double-dips in the last 11 games.

Have a question or comment for The McTen or care to share what you learned this week? Get at me.