San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix are clearly the class of the West.
Forward progress for Nuggets
Then there's the rest.
But among the contenders for admission to that elite group, I think the Denver Nuggets are the closest. The addition of forwards Ruben Patterson and Reggie Evans at the trading deadline helped address several of the team's weaknesses.
The Nuggets weren't challenged in Monday's 115-101 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. As it stands now, the Grizz would be the Nuggets' first round playoff match-up. However, Memphis was playing its second game in as many nights, so I wouldn't put much stock in this game as any gauge of how a series might go.
The Nuggets face these Grizz again in the sixth game of the seven-game road trip they're about to embark upon. That March 17 date might give us a better idea of how these two could potentially match up.
By then, we'll see how well Patterson (16 points vs. Grizz) and Evans (seven boards in 21 minutes) continue to mesh with their new club. They have come in with a lot of adrenaline. Both were disgruntled; Patterson in Portland and Evans in Seattle. In Evans' case, he's playing for a contract. The two probably will get in only one practice with their new teammates on this road trip.
Already, the two have helped Denver address three of its weaknesses: defending the paint; rebounding the ball (an Evans specialty); and overall physical toughness.
But I still think the team's fourth shortcoming, perimeter shooting, was not addressed. I'm a little surprised by this. Come the playoffs, teams are more able to focus on an opponent's weak spot, and that's an area of concern for the Nuggets.
Earl Boykins, a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, is the best they have. He's their most reliable 3-point threat (33 percent). Point guard Andre Miller doesn't even try to shoot it. A sign of great coaching is to find out what your team does well, and gear your game accordingly. George Karl knows his team doesn't shoot the three, so they don't try. The Nuggets are last in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (31 percent).
Of course, Denver has weapons. We've recently seen the Kenyon Martin Denver has been waiting to see. They had been expecting him to do more, they didn't pay him to be mediocre, but just before the deadline, he's been a difference maker.
Marcus Camby's going to get 12 points without a play run for him. He'll get rebounds and is a great shot blocker, leading the league with 3.18 per game. Carmelo Anthony, the West's leading scoring forward, dropped in 35 on the Grizz.
Under the present playoff system, in which a division champion can be seeded no lower than third, the Nuggets this year have a good chance to enjoy some of that elusive playoff success.
For the record, the Grizzlies have never won a game in Denver. With this win, Denver earned the home-court advantage against Memphis in a potential playoff match by virtue of superior head-to-head record.
Now, the Nuggets come out of the mountains and hit the road. Should be a good test for a promising team.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Nuggets coach George Karl, watching his team dispatch Memphis, is getting ready to pack his bags for a seven-game road trip that starts Thursday in Philadelphia.
In response to BJ Armstrong's article about pairing LeBron with Zydrunas Ilgauskas, penetrating guard with a half-court center. How soon BJ forgets from his days with Jordan and Cartwright that the pairing can work. What LeBron is missing is a healthy Larry Hughes -- his version of Pippen to his own Jordan. Or better yet, could you imagine Tayshaun Prince (a great perimeter defender with the ability to score) with LeBron?
I really liked your article on LeBron and the Cavs. I think your statements about Cleveland fans are completely correct. But I don't think you give "Z" enough credit. He is a talented player, but as you said, no Duncan. He has improved greatly. Z should have been an All-Star, and can play with the big names like LeBron can.
• Nets forward Cliff Robinson reached three milestones in the game. The 16-year vet played in his 1,307th career game, tying him with Buck Williams for eighth on the career games played list. He scored 13 points, giving him 19,209 career points, which moved him past Eddie Johnson for 35th on the NBA's career list. Robinson also played 22 minutes, which gave him 41,069 minutes played, going past Scottie Pippen for 14th on that list. ... The game marked the first appearance in New Jersey of Shareef Abdur-Rahim since the Nets tried to acquire him last summer. The Nets had worked out a sign-and-trade deal with Portland, before the Nets pulled the plug on the deal after Abdur-Rahim failed his Nets' physical with a bad knee. Abdur-Rahim is still working his way back into shape with the Kings after missing 10 games with a fractured jaw and saw limited action Monday night, scoring seven points in 15 minutes. ... Nets coach Lawrence Frank was trying for the 100th win of his three-year NBA coaching career. When he does reach the milestone, he will become only the third coach in franchise history, joining Kevin Loughery and Byron Scott.
• Charlotte sent guard Bernard Robinson home with a stomach virus. ... Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff plans to talk with trainers Tuesday about forward Emeka Okafor's status. Okafor has missed 35 games with a sprained ankle. ... Bickertsaff is unsure if forward Sean May, who had knee surgery in January, will play again this year. "He's chomping at the bit. Right now, he can shoot."
-- The Associated Press
Steve Nash doesn't seem too concerned about his sprained ankle. His teammates took care of the Hornets after he left the game.
Nash Injures Ankle
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
Nets swingman Vince Carter scored 21 points in the loss to Sacramento that dropped his team to 32-27, a scant two games ahead of snubbed Iverson's Sixers.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Jeremy Mayland: How can they not put Allen Iverson on the Olympic team after all that he has done for the NBA?
John Hollinger: That's probably the most common question I've heard asked this week -- the announcers during the Wizards-Sixers game wouldn't shut up about it. I think a couple things are at play here. First, for all the things he does under NBA rules, Iverson is a much less effective player internationally, which was obvious for all to see in Athens, because five defenders are waiting for him at the rim. Because of that, there was a real risk that he wasn't going to make the team, and Coach K would have to be The Guy Who Cut Iverson. So part of me wonders if Colangelo's decision wasn't partly made to help spare his coach the agony.
Shaquille O'Neal celebrated his 34th birthday with 35 points in an overtime victory at Charlotte, becoming the second-oldest player in NBA history to outscore his age on his birthday. The oldest to do it was Denver's Alex English, who scored 37 points on his 35th birthday (in a 131-129 win over the Warriors, Jan. 5, 1989).
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When it comes to shooting accuracy, what names immediately come to mind? Nash and Nowitzki? D-Wade and LeBron? Shaq and KG?
Guess again. Despite shooting form you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, Sacramento's Kevin Martin and Atlanta's Josh Childress (at right) have been the league's two most efficient shooters this year.
They're first and second in the league in True Shooting Percentage, which measures what a player's field goal percentage would be if we accounted for free throws and 3-pointers.