Change of Fortune
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SECAUCUS, N.J., March 10, 2007-- I met an optimistic Celtics fan last night named Paul.

Paul's team had an 18-game losing streak this year, saw Paul Pierce waste a season in the prime of his career missing 24 games with a stress fracture in his left foot and said goodbye to legends Red Auerbach and Dennis Johnson. All that didn't stop Paul from breaking out a knowing smile that made him look like he had the unclaimed Mega Millions lottery ticket tucked away in his sock drawer as he talked about Al Jefferson's potential.

Sure, we all know Boston sports fans can be a little nutty for their teams -- I'm a Philly guy, and we might be just as bad, so I'm familiar with blind allegiances -- but Paul might be on to something.

Al Jefferson legitimately just might be the most underrated player in the league. The 6-10, 256 pound forward-center was taking high school algebra three years ago but now the numbers that surround him are all good: 15.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.

The Cs have won five out of their last six games and you would have thought the guys in green had a young Tim Duncan setting up in the post for them if you saw Jefferson's 24.2 points and 14.5 rebound averages over the stretch.

"Big Al's a monster,'' teammate Gerald Green said after Jefferson dropped 31 and 16 on the Sonics on Friday. "He's doing everything right. He's doing what he does best, and that's scoring. He's getting rebounds. He's dominating the game.''

The Celtics still have a lot of work to do. At 18-43 they only have 21 games left and possess 11 less wins than the Magic who sit in the No. 8 playoff spot. But, with the likes of Jefferson, Pierce and Green serving as a core to go along with whatever player they pick up in the draft lottery, Boston fans soon might start feeling like a million bucks.

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

1. Watch those 'bows Kobe

Kobe Bryant, in my estimation the most talented player in the league, has got to stop with the elbows.

When he caught Manu with one, I thought it was a crafty move by a veteran who was trying to get a foul called at the end of regulation, similar to the way that Reggie Miller used to kick his legs out a little on his jump shots when he had a defender closing out on him with the off chance of getting clipped and being sent to the line.

But then came Marco Jaric, followed by Kyle Korver the game after returning from a one-game suspension for the Jaric foul.

The way his arms are flailing out there reminds me of trying to do the "C'Mon N' Ride It (The Train)" by the Quad City DJ's dance back at dances in junior high. Not a good thing.

And L.A. has lost five in a row. Also not a good thing.

2. Bibby and Kev-Mart

The Beatles had matching mop tops and were sort of on the same team, but how about the Kings' Mike Bibby and Kevin Martin?

Bibby picked up on Martin's doo and is sporting the fade. This isn't like a whole team shaving their heads together to band together for the playoffs; this is a little more personal.

I'm not saying it's Single White Female level, but it's questionable.

3. Surging Sixers

After starting the year 6-19 and shipping Allen Iverson to Denver for Andre Miller and Joe Smith, Philadelphia is 18-19 and has won its last six games.

Miller has put up 13.0 points and 9.1 assists per game since joining the 76ers, but the guy who has breathed some life into Broad Street has been Andre Iguodala.

Can we just drop the "other A.I." title for a moment and reflect on how Iggy has been making a name all his own in Philadelphia? Iguodala's scoring average has jumped 5.9 points per game from 12.3 last year to 18.2 this season and his assists per game have almost doubled from 3.1 to 5.6.

During Philly's win streak Iggy Hop has covered the floor like polyurethane, dropping 25 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game.

4. 100 split (almost) down the middle

Whenever I see highlights of that classic 1987 match up between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins in the East semifinals when 'Nique's 48 points were trumped by Bird's 34, I always get jealous of the fans that got to see that game live. I was only five years old, but still, I wish I saw it the night it happened.

Well, I missed out on another great battle last Sunday afternoon.

While I was out running errands with my girlfriend, Michael Redd and Ben Gordon were engaged in a matinee showdown for the ages.

Redd finished with 52 points (five shy of his career-high 57 that he set earlier this season) and Ben Gordon poured in a career-high 48 of his own as the Bulls won in overtime 126-121.

5. The return of the Yao

Yao Ming is back on the court after a 32-game absence because of a broken bone beneath his knee cap and it only took him three games to return to form.

After a shaky 5-for-15 game in his return, followed by 11 points in limited minutes in his second outing, Yao put down 24 points and 13 rebounds on the Nets on Friday.

The Rockets are 38-24; fifth best in the West, but a healthy McGrady-Yao combination should make Houston a challenger with San Antonio and Utah for the No.3 and No. 4 spots.

6. LeBron ups his game

After posting 39 points against the best in the West, Dallas, on March 1 and coming up with a loss, LeBron James gave the East's best, Detroit, a go six days later.

This time he got the result he was looking for.

James topped the 40-point mark for the first time all season as he finished with 41, seven rebounds, eight assists and three steals in a 101-97 win in Detroit.

Since going for 9-for-25 on Valentine's Day in a loss to the Jazz, LBJ has scored 29-plus points in nine straight games and the Cavaliers have won six of them.

LeBron has shot a remarkable 115-for-215 (53 percent) during the streak.

7. The Nets aren't a playoff team

Well, if the playoffs started today anyway.

What if I were to tell you five months ago that Jason Kidd was going to average a career-high 8.1 rebounds per game and already have 10 triple-doubles on the season with 20 games left to play and that Vince Carter was going to average the most points per game (25.0) he has since the 2000-01 season. You would have thought New Jersey would be leading the Atlantic, right?

OK, now what if I told you Nenad Krstic was going to blow out his ACL and Richard Jefferson would miss 21 games in the middle of the season after undergoing right ankle surgery?

I guess it's not that far-fetched. New Jersey is 28-34, a half game behind Orlando for the No. 8 spot.

8. How about the Spurs?

The other Texas teams seem to be getting all the attention this season what with Dallas' quest for 70 wins and Houston having T-Mac step up and lead them in Yao's absence, but what about the team that has won two out of the last four Larry O'Brien trophies?

San Antonio has flown under the radar but needs to pop up on the screen after extending its winning streak to 11 with a gritty 100-93 win over the Kings on Thursday.

The Spurs have the best point differential in the league with a +8.5 that beats out the Suns (+7.9) and even the Mavericks (+8.2).

9. Stephon Marbury, talk show host?

Just when things were going well for Stephon Marbury on the basketball court (37.3 points per game over his last three games), he goes and does something like "Stars on Stars."

I have to agree with Richard Sandomir of the New York Times' take on the show, which airs on Fox Sports Net.

"He needs to prepare his questions more carefully rather than appear to think them through as they are emerging from his lips," Sandomir writes.

I agree. Come on, Steph. I mean, that would be like me writing this column and not having anything prepared by the time I got down to the eighth or ninth item and linking to some other columnist's opinion on something.

On second though, Steph, keep doing your thing.

10. Technicals catch up to Sheed

Instead of the Dwyane Wade commercial where it's like "fall down seven, get up eight", Rasheed Wallace's season is "get whistled for a tech 16 times, sit down one."

Rasheed Wallace received an automatic one-game suspension without pay after receiving his 16th technical of the season; it was announced Saturday by Stu Jackson, NBA Executive Vice President Basketball Operations.

According to the press release by the NBA, "a player or coach receives an automatic one-game suspension after receiving his 16th technical foul. Every other technical foul beyond 16 (18, 20, 22, etc.) will also result in a one-game suspension without pay."

Have a question or comment for The McTen or care to share what you learned this week? Send an e-mail.