Climbing Mt. Mutombo
By Dave McMenamin

SECAUCUS, N.J., Jan. 13, 2007-- It's the signature quip of 76ers' radio play-by-play man Tom McGinnis while calling Sixers games for WIP in Philadelphia:

"Are you kidding me?!"

McGinnis said it often back in 2001 when a veteran center was helping Philly to The Finals with every swat, deflection, carom, tip, graze and rejection that his long arms produced, appendages only about as lengthy as his name: Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean Jacque Wamutombo.

Fast forward six seasons when I had to drop the "Menamin" for "Ginnis" on Wednesday when I saw Mutombo's 19 rebounds and five blocks stat line. All I could say was: "Are you kidding me?!"

In his 16th season Mutombo is filling in quite nicely for Yao Ming as he recovers from a broken knee. The spindly 7-2 center out of Georgetown has grabbed double-digit boards in eight straight games and his second swat on Wednesday pushed him past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for second place on the all-time list.

"It's amazing, just the way I'm playing,'' he said after the game. "Even to myself, I'm sitting down like, 'Whoa, is Mutombo really playing like that?' I haven't seen myself jumping for a rebound like that for a while.''

You have to love a guy who turned 40 in June, (although Patrick Ewing claims his college buddy to be older), who unabashedfully refers to himself in the third person.

I would start saying, "Are you kidding McMenamin?!," but I don't think I could pull it off.

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

1. So much for the Iverson-Webber era

Didn't we just go through this?

Didn't we spend over a week on devoting one of our top story areas to an around-the-clock watch at where a perennial All-Star from the Sixers was going to end up?

As if losing Allen Iverson wasn't painful enough, now Philly fans have to sit back and muster a smile as Chris Webber shops himself to potential winners.

This wasn't the way it was supposed to go down. Webber was supposed to be the steady Sancho Panza that Iverson's Don Quixote never had. Instead Sixers fans got 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds, albeit solid numbers, but just one playoff win against the Pistons in a 4-1 first round series loss in 2005.

My guess: he'll go to Detroit.

2. J.R. Smith returns

It's amazing, but a season ago if I was sitting around in anticipation of J.R. Smith suiting up again it would have been like getting excited to eat a Hot Pocket.

Sure, it's going to taste good, but you know it's not good for you and it leaves you unfulfilled.

That was the young J.R. who was mainly just a slasher for the Hornets and would woo you with a dunk every now and then but wasn't complete as a player.

This season the 6-6 jumping jack grew his game to include 3-point shooting and bolstered his scoring average from 7.7 points per game a year ago to 16.5 this year.

Smith has scored 12 and 11 in two games back since his suspension and it will be an interesting subplot to see how he and Iverson play together leading up to the main act of Melo-A.I. in the center ring coming up.

3. What is Dwight Howard's ceiling?

I got into a conversation with a buddy last week discussing Dwight Howard's potential.

Were we looking at a young Yao Ming? Kevin Garnett? David Robinson?

Both of us agreed that at his size and with the rebounding numbers he has already produced, that 15 boards per game is certainly within his grasp. But what about points? I think he could level off at about 27-28 a game. It's just his third season, he's all of 21-years-old and he already averages 17.4.

I choose Yao and Garnett because they both skipped the collegiate ranks and Mr. Robinson because Howard's physical stature is strikingly similar to the Admiral's.

Yao averaged 18.3 his third season and is up to 25.9 this year, his fifth. KG poured in 18.5 per game his third year and his career-high average of 24.2 didn't come until his ninth season. Robinson averaged 24.3 as a 24-year old rookie (same age Dwight will be in his sixth season) and topped out at 29.8 in his fifth year.

My man DH had 30 points and 25 rebounds on Wednesday. Should be fun to see just how high the ceiling can go.

4. Slump breaker

Going into Friday's game against Detroit, the Hawks had lost 10 out of 11 games and Joe Johnson's career year took a turn for the worse as he had topped the 20-point mark just twice in his last eight games.

Bear in mind the Hawks started off 4-1 and J.J. scored 25-plus points in all five of those games.

It was like Billy Crystal hosting the Academy Awards. Sure, he does a great opening montage but two hours into the show you find yourself wondering, "Wait, why are you supposed to be funny?"

Instead of mailing it in, Johnson rallied to the tune of 34 points on 11-for-17 shooting to stun the Pistons 99-93.

5. How about Pau?

A lot of attention recently has been focused on the laundry list of stars who are sidelined with injuries (see: Chris Paul, Lamar Odom, Jason Richardson, Yao Ming, etc.).

Here's a little ink for a guy who is back and performing at a high level.

Memphis' Pau Gasol has returned from a broken foot and is averaging 19.1 points and 6.2 rebounds in 15 games. The 7-foot Spaniard has hit for 20 or more in the last nine games and had a 25-point, 13-rebound, three-block gem win a win over the Lakers on Tuesday.

6. Bad luck for the Celtics' Allen

It was one of those freak sports injuries like when Bill Gramatica, Gus Frerotte, or more recently Teddy Ginn, Jr. hurt themselves celebrating on the football field.

Boston's Tony Allen is out for the season with two torn ligaments in his left knee after landing awkwardly following a dunk attempt on Thursday.

The referee had already blown the whistle and with the defenders pulling up because the play was dead, Allen decided to get in a free throw down.

He didn't expect it to cost him his season.

The injury weighed on Celtics' coach Doc Rivers mind on Friday, "I was telling our guys before practice that as a coach, you're supposed to be at times emotional but you still have to be able to function. Last night was the first time in my career that it was actually tough for me to think after that injury. These players turn into your kids."

In his third season out of Oklahoma State, Allen was averaging career highs in points (11.5), rebounds (3.8), assists (1.7) and steals (1.5).

7. Good luck for Sonics' Allen

In the 764th game of his 11th season, Ray Allen scored more points in a game than he ever had before on Friday.

A whopping 54 of them to be exact -- 24 coming from eight triples, 18 coming on a variety of scintillating twos and 12 coming from the charity stripe in as many attempts.

And this wasn't superfluous scoring. This wasn't Allen boasting that he has the sweetest stroke in the Association. This was a competitor wanting to win, and win he did, leading the Sonics to a 122-114 victory over division-leading Utah.

8. More on Mutombo

Deke's swats may get most of the attention, but the stat of his I really admire is his free throw percentage.

Mutombo hits from the charity stripe at a 68 percent clip for his career, remarkable considering that when he bends his arm to line up his shot from 15 feet out, it looks as if his elbow could touch the rim.

9. Amazing Emeka

Blocks seem to always get the The McTen's attention. There is something about the grace involved in the timing and the jump coupled with the aggression that comes out when the hand slaps the leather that make it easily one of the best sequences to see in a basketball game.

It's sort of like seeing a gymnast doing a back flip on the balance beam. It is in one second a fragile move, then a whirlwind of muscle tension and power.

If Emeka Okafor was wearing a leotard on Friday night, you can bet he'd be taking home the gold.

The third-year forward set an NBA season high with 10 blocks and nearly missed the first triple-double in Bobcats franchise history as he also finished the game with 20 points and nine rebounds.

10. Finals examination

I asked and you answered.

Who is going to be in The Finals?

Based on the returns, the West representative will be the Lakers. Kobe's squad received far more votes than Steve's Suns. This leads me to conclude one of three things:

1. Everybody is recognizing how balanced the Lakers are with their role players clearly defined combined with the solid one-two punch of Bryant and Odom, not to mention the been-there-done-that coaching experience that Phil Jackson brings.
2. A lot of Lakers fans read my ish because I am a full-fledged, all-out-there Kobe supporter.
3. The Spurs, Mavericks and Suns fans don't rely on midseason predictions.

As far as the East goes, you guys seem to like Detroit and Cleveland.

My perfect Finals? Give me Lakers-Wizards. Mamba vs. Hibachi. Hollywood vs. Nation's Capitol. Lamar vs. Caron. Gold and Purple vs. Gold and Black (shorts).

Suns, Spurs, Rockets, Mavericks, Jazz, Magic, Pistons, Cavaliers, Bulls and Heat fans -- now it's your turn to say, "Are you kidding me?!"

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