SPDBRNR – Eyes Wide Open
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Let’s face it, many nights during the NBA regular season are rather ho-hum, and only die-hards and fantasy hoops guys (like myself & a few others on these emails) really care. But other nights, like last night, are epic. Here’s why:
1) Curry Scores 54, Hits 11-13 from Downtown – One night after hitting 14-20 for 38 pts, Stephen Curry went into Madison Square Garden and hit 18-28 for 54 pts while playing all 48 minutes. His 11 long bombs were 1 shy of the NBA record (Kobe & Donyell Marshall in 2003 & 2005 respectively), but Golden St. still fell just short at the end, losing 109-105 to NY. He is now 3rd on the MSG visitors scoring list behind Kobe (61) and MJ’s famous double-nickle in ’95. His 84.6% on threes lies at 4th all-time for 10 attempts or more, falling behind Ty Lawson (10-11) & a couple late 80’s/90’s long-bombers – Rex Chapman & Thunder Dan Majerle. The 4 other GS starters scored 0, 3, 4, & 6 pts. No one else on the team scored more than 15. Meanwhile, the Knicks got 35/8 asst from Melo (10-26 but hit 13-15 from stripe) and 26/5 rebs from JR Smith (who hit 6-11 from downtown).
      1A) Tyson Grabs 28 Rebs, Asik 22 – Also in the Knick/Warrior game, Tyson Chandler hauled down a career-high 28 rebounds as without David Lee (suspended 1 gm, along w/ Hibbert, for the brawl), Golden St. was very out-manned up front. Andris Biedrins & rookie Draymond Green started at C & PF and grabbed just 9 rebs between them. In Houston, Omer Asik also had a career game on the boards, grabbing 22 while scoring 16 pts.
2) Memphis Goes on 24-0 Run vs. Dallas – At the end of the 1st quarter, Dallas was leading Memphis 38-19. Dallas proceeded to score 17, then 5 points the next two quarters. In this run of scoring futility, Memphis outscored them 24-0 from the :34 second mark of the 2nd Q (55-38 Dal) to the 4:05 mark of the 3rd Q (62-55 Mem). From a 53-29 deficit w/ about 2 1/2 minutes to go in the 2nd, the run was 33-2. The Grizzlies were led by their bigs Gasol (21/12/5) and Zach R (22/10/4, 3 stl) as their starting backcourt went 4 for 20 (Conley 2-13, T Allen 2-7). Only Shawn Marion (16) scored more than 12 for the Mavs, as Dirk (10/4, 4-11) crashed rather hard after his last two large games (30/13, 21/20).
3) Houston Blows Lead vs Mil, Ellis Hits Crazy Game-Winner – Keeping with the theme of blowing big leads, Houston raced out to a 20-4 lead over Milwaukee to start the game, only to see the Bucks score 29 pts in the last 7:20 of the 1st Q to make it just 36-33 Rockets at the end of one. The game remained tight from there on, tied at halftime and Mil up only 1 at the end of the 3rd. It was tied at 107 when the Bucks game-winning play attempt broke down, and they ended up passing it to Ellis who took a running, jumping (off one leg), floating three point prayer that circled the rim and dropped in at the buzzer. Ellis ended up with 27/6/13 asst, and 6 stls in the game, though did make only 9 of 24 attempts (shooting just 40.1% on the year). Ilyasova (20/10) was also big for Milwaukee, while the aforementioned Asik (16/22) and Harden (25/7 asst, 4 stl) led Houston.
4) Portland Battles Denver Down to Wire, but Aldridge Misses Game-Winner – Early in the 2nd Q it looked like the streaking Denver Nuggets (13-4 since Jan 20th) were going to be too much for Portland, as they extended their lead to 41-29. But the Blazers hung tough, and the game went down to the wire, but LaMarcus Aldridge (22/5/3) missed a tricky 9-footer to tie it, and Denver escaped Portland with a 111-109 win. The Nuggets were led again by Ty Lawson (30/6 asst), as well as Iggy’s best game of the year – 29 pts, 7 rebs, 8 asst, 5 stl, and 11-20 shooting. Damian Lillard had 26 for Portland while Hickson (18/14) double-doubled yet again in the loss.
5) San Antonio Goes 0-10 in OT, Scores 1 Point – The Suns played the Spurs hard for 4 quarters Wed night, leaving the game tied at 100 at the end of regulation. But of course, that’s when veteran stars like Duncan, Parker, & Ginobili take over and end Phoenix’s upset dreams. Wrong…instead, that was when San Antonio proceeded to miss all 10 shots in OT (8 of them taken by the Big 3) and lose the game 105-101. The Suns only made 2 of 9 OT shots, but that was enough. The still surprisingly effective Jermaine O’Neal (22/13/2 blks) led Phx. In the month of February, the 17 year vet is averaging 11.4/8.5/1.9 blk while shooting 57.6%. Dragic (13/13 asst) was also nice for Phx while Parker (22/4/8) led S.A.
6) OKC Destroys N.O. by 45 – The Thunder absolutely annihilated the Hornets as Russell Westbrook scored 18 of his game-high 29 pts in the first quarter and Kevin Durant (18/11/10 in just 27 min) notched his 3rd career tri-double, 2nd in his last 4 games. The 45 point win matched OKC’s largest margin of victory on the year, while it was the worst loss of the season for N.O. Anthony Davis, in danger of developing a ‘brittle’ reputation in his disappointing rookie year, missed the game with a sprained shoulder and is day-to-day. Only Ryan Anderson (Hollow Man Award winner with 14/0/1) reached double figures for the Hornets. Derek Fisher, a very perplexing late-season acquisition by the Thunder, made his 2012-13 Thunder debut and missed all 4 of his shots, all treys, in 21 minutes. Remember he left Dallas in late Dec after saying he needed to be with his family. I guess 2 months with them was all that was necessary. I’d rather have Eric Maynor (traded to Portland for a guy playing in Europe) than the decrepit remains of the Mangy Mutt as a backup PG. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the meaningful backup minutes come playoff time – the exciting, athletic Reggie Jackson, or the Mutt. (NOTE: Longtime Awards readers will remember the roots of Fisher’s Mangy Mutt nickname. One day a few years ago, when he won the Bozo Award, I compared him to an old mangy mutt that is loyal and tries hard, but is barely a shadow of his former self and really needs to be put down – retired in Fisher’s case).
7) Horford (34/15/5 Blks, 14-22), Smith (24/14/7) Go Off for Hawks – The Joshua Tree and Mr. Miss Universe have been playing some great ball lately, now playing together for the 6th straight year. Together they scored 58 of the team’s 102 pts (56.9%) and grabbed 29 of the team’s 38 rebounds (an amazing 76.3%) last night. Almost more amazing, Atlanta’s starting center and PF combined to account for 43.5% of the team’s assists (10 of 23). So long as Teague (19/7/3 stl) stays hot, they can be formidable in the playoffs, though a lack of size and consistent outside shooting will likely be their Achilles heel. They beat Utah last night 102-91, with the Jazz led by Al-Jeff (26/11) and Derrick Favors (17/15/3 blk), starting place of an injured Millsap (ankle).
8) Ariza Scores 8 in Last Minute, but Misses Game-Winner – Trevor Ariza, playing some very nice ball lately (22/6/3 stl, 4 treys; 12.6/4.1/2.5 asst, 1.4 stl last 10 gms), hit two long bombs and two free throws in the last minute of the game (during which time the Pistons failed to score at all), but missed a 23-footer as time expired to give Detroit a tight 96-95 win. It was a 3 man effort from the Pistons as Greg Monroe (26/11/4 stl, 12-17), Brandon Knight (career-high 32 on 11-18 shooting, 5-6 from 3-land), and Jose Calderon (18 dimes, 1 off career best) did all the damage. Ariza got a little help from Bradley Beal (16/6 rebs, 3 stl) but John Wall’s (3-9, 6 pts) woeful shooting continued as he’s now shot 40% or worse in 9 of his last 13 games and is at 40.3% on the year. Also, turnovers remain a major issue as he had 7 last night and has had 6 or more in 5 of his last 9 games.
The Akeem Olajuwon Award —  Stephen Curry  —  54 pts, 6 rebs, 7 asst, 7 FTM, 3 stl, 0 blk, 11 treys, and 18-28 shooting…I must confess, I didn’t like him when he came out in the draft. I saw him as a PG/SG tweener – not big enough to be an effective SG, not athletic enough and not enough of a playmaker to be a very good PG. Ok – I was dead wrong. What a joke that he wasn’t an All-Star this year but a guy like Deng was. Curry is at 21.9/4.1/6.5 and 1.7 stl on the season. Amazingly, he’ll still have a hard time making 3rd team All-NBA with guys like Westy, CP III, Parker, and Irving in the league. There’s actually a plethora of great PG talent in the league right now when you add in guys like Jennings, Ty Lawson, Vasquez, and even the rookie Lillard. Mostly 26 & under, too.
The Mark Randall Award —  Derek Fisher  —  0 pts, 0 rebs, 2 asst, 0 FTM, 1 stl, 0 blk, 0 treys, and 0-4  shooting in 21 minutes…I’m actually glad he’s back. I love ragging on him. Stick around, Mangy Mutt – we’ll just hold our nose at your play.
P.S. Yesterday I said the 2004 Indy/Det Brawl was in Indy…a cc’d reader corrected me. It was actually in Detroit. Duh – ‘Malice at the Palace’.
P.S.S. Wanting to keep up with the NBA in every way possible, the WNBA now has its own notorious delinquent, as former star Chamique Holdsclaw is facing up to 65 years in prison after assulting her girlfriend’s car with a baseball bat and firing bullets into the car – with the likely terrified girlfriend still inside! Nice job Chamique – way to keep it real!!
Thursday Games – Another Offensive Debacle for Bulls; Clippers Annihilated in L.A.
        In their last game before the All-Star break, Chicago scored just 69 pts in a loss to Boston. Last night, they couldn’t quite get to 69 in an ugly 86-67 loss to the defending World Champs Miami Heat. It’s the 6th straight game they’ve failed to reach 100 pts, and their record in February now stands at 3-6. On the bright side, Derrick Rose is now taking part in 5 on 5 practices, and clearly, they need his offense and play-making…desperately. All-Star Luol Deng (6/6/2 asst, 3-12 FGs) resumed his recent poor play after hitting for 20 pts Tues night. LeBron (more below) was…yawn…ridiculous yet again for the Heat, and got solid help from Wade (17/8/5, 2 stl/2 blk). Joakim Noah was the only Bull with a stat line worth mentioning, as he continued his best season yet (6th year) with 11 pts, 8 rebs, 8 asst, 3 stl, & 2 blk.
         In a rather surprising result in the late game, San Antonio rolled into L.A. and destroyed the Paper Clips, taking a 28 pt lead after 3 quarters before finally winning by 26, 116-90. All-Star MVP Chris Paul (more below) crashed hard in his first action since Sunday’s marquee game, and only Matt Barnes (18/6) and Jamal Crawford (15/6 asst, 3 stl) off the bench did anything of note for L.A. In a combined 38 minutes, Chauncey Billups and DeAndre Jordan combined for 8 pts, 1 reb, 2 asst, and no steals or blocks – UGLY! For the Spurs, Tony Parker (31/7 asst) continued his razor sharp play, hitting 12 of his 16 shots on the night, and all 7 of his free throw attempts. Old man Tim Duncan was able to rest, playing just 16 minutes to get his 9 pts, 5 rebs. 
The Akeem Olajuwon Award —  LeBron James  —  26 pts, 12 rebs, 7 asst, 3 FTM, 2 stl, 0 blk, 1 trey, and 11-15 shooting…And the beat goes on for Mr. James, playing incredibly well-rounded, efficient, and dominant basketball lately. He’s at 66.3% his last 10 games. 
The Mark Randall Award —  Chris Paul  —  4 pts, 2 rebs, 3 asst, 2 FTM, 1 stl, 0 blk, 0 treys, and 1-6 shooting in 27 minutes…Chris Paul’s first Bozo Award…and I never expected this moment to ever arrive, certainly not right after his stellar All-Star game performance and subsequent 3 full days off. I didn’t see the game, but it looks like there wasn’t much to miss, outside of more magical play from Tony P. One thing is for sure, and I’ve been saying this for the last couple seasons – this is definitely NOT the same Chris Paul who averaged better than 20/10 in 2007-08 & 08-09…one of just 8 players in NBA history to accomplish the 20 pts/10 asst feat for a full season. He is not nearly as quick and explosive now, and uses his body to shield the defender and his guile to make plays, create space for his jumper. Still a stud…but unfortunately, his physical prime didn’t last too long, as he’s still only 27. 
P.S. The Other 20/10 Guys
Oscar…Tiny Archibald…Isiah…Magic…Kevin Johnson…Michael Adams (yes…26.5/10.5 in 1990-91)…& Tim Hardaway. 
Wednesday Games – Harden Finds The Zone vs Former Team
       In one of the more memorable regular season games in the last few years, James Harden and the Rockets hosted OKC, and Harden was En Fuego!! He was 14-19 from the floor, but it was his 4th quarter shooting that brought Houston back from a 14 pt deficit with 7 min left that was mind-blowing. The Bearded One scored 14 of his career-high 46 pts in those last 7 min, in a variety of ways to lead the Rockets to a dramatic 122-119 comeback win…in regulation. Harden made us aware of how ridiculously special he is…I highly underestimated him at the start of the year. I’m a believer. Durant (who had his 2nd career tri-dub, 16/12/11, but 4-13) is looking to accomplish the rare 50/40/90 feat this year. Harden just gave us a 70/80/90…how many times if ever has that been done? Oh…and he threw in 8 rebs, 6 dimes, and a block & a stl. 7-8 from distance. 11-12 from the stripe. 
           And more bonus Houston coverage, they are rumored to be serious players to get the Joshua Tree from Atl. They acquired more cap space in their trades yesterday, getting Thomas Robinson (T-Rob) and giving up Morris & Patterson. Imagine Josh playing with Harden & Lin, the big man Asik inside to clean the glass…and the great facilitator Chandler Parsons – 4 high quality passers on the floor! I would LOVE to watch that team, and they’d be DANGEROUS in the West…and wouldn’t get caught by the Lakers. Make it happen Daryl!! (Morey, their GM)
Other Selected Action
Paul George picked up where he left off before the break, and actually where he left off in the big game, as he had a solid 17 pts, 3 reb, 4 asst in just 20 min in the All-Star Game, including 2 late treys that made the West earn the win. He led a Pacer blowout over the Knicks 125-91 with 27/8/2 blk, 11-19 w/ 4 treys, making 7-10 from 2-Pt land. Jason Kidd on NY is no longer drinking from that fountain of youth he found mid 1st half of the year – he had 0 pts (0-3), 1 reb, 2 asst (but 3 stl) in 17 min. In his last 10 gms, Kidd is at 2.3 pts, 2.9 reb, 2.1 asst and shooting an abysmal 19.4%…..In likely his last game as a Hawk, Joshua Tree was 1 reb & 1 asst from a triple double, but only scored 10 pts (5-13) as Atlanta lost to Miami 103-90. LBJ had 24/6/11, 4 stl, and again over 50% at 8-15…..The Nets & Bucks completed a home-n-home, this time in Mil, and again it came down to the wire, but Ellis missed 3 straight free throws w/ 2 sec left, giving Brooklyn the 97-94 win. Jennings went nuts again (31/11 dimes, 12-18 shooting), and for the Nets, Joe J crashed hard after Tues night heroics, going 3-14 from the floor…..Last interesting contest – Cleveland beat NO 105-100 as Kyrie went off again, this time for 35/5/7, 2 stl…13-22, 7-7 at the line. A Davis (12/4/1 asst, 2-7 FGs) slumped for the Hornets.
The Akeem Olajuwon Award — James Harden  —  46 pts, 8 rebs, 6 asst, 11-12 FTM, 1 stl, 1 blk, 7-8 on treys, and 14-19 shooting…One of the all-time great regular season performances.
The Mark Randall Award —  Andrea Bargnani  —  0 pts, 2 rebs, 0 asst, 0 FTM, 1 stl, 1 blk, 0 treys, and 0-4 shooting in 22 minutes…Welcome to the rest of your career Andrea – coming off the bench to either be hot or not shooting the ball. Last night he was not. I doubt he ever lands a starting gig again – after 6+ yrs now, it’s obvious to everyone he’s too soft and too streaky. He’s shooting under 30% on treys this yr…for the 2nd season in a row…and he’s due to make $11m next yr, $12m the yr after that. Good luck moving that contract – looks like a strong candidate to be amnestied this summer.
Thievery and Rejection
The two hardest things to do on a basketball court are stealing the ball from the opponent and blocking his shot attempt. Steal it 2.5 times a game and you have a chance to lead the league…fly swat 3 shots a game and you might lead the league in blocks. Wed night (2/6/13) there were a few strong performances in both these departments, so let’s take a look at the guys who got at least two of each, ranked by impressiveness of the performance.
1) Eric Bledsoe – 6 steals, 3 blocks (also career-high 27 pts, 6 rebs) —- Bledsoe is a freak athlete, his explosion, quickness, and hops are off the charts. The NBA is a league full of phenomenal athletes, but there aren’t a lot like Bledsoe – D Wade in his prime, D Rose, Westy, LeBron…somewhat John Wall, and a few others. This is tremendously helpful in the stl/blk dept, and Bledsoe uses his natural gifts as well as anyone to excel at stealing and fly-swatting. In his last 10 games, he’s at 2.3 stls, 1.4 blks…for a guy listed at 6’1″ who looks closer to 6 feet even. On Monday I read a rumor about the Clips being interested in getting KG from Boston and losing Bledsoe in the process. That would be a tragic mistake.
2) Samuel Dalembert – 4 steals, 4 blocks (and another double-double, too – 10/11 rebs) —- Sammy D has always been a good shot-blocker – he’s 6’11” with decent athleticism/mobility – but the thefts last night are quite a surprise, tying his career-high (done 4 other times). Three times in his career Dalembert has averaged over 2 blk/gm, and for his career he’s at 1.9, but in the theft dept, .6 is his career best for a season, though it is pretty rare to find centers who garner more than 1 a game.
3) Derrick Favors – 3 steals, 3 blocks (plus 11 rebs in only 21 minutes) —- Favors is a bit like a 6’10” version of Bledsoe – tremendously explosive and athletic. But this is only his 5th career game of at least 2 stl/2 blk…and 3 of the others were this season, all in the month of November. He’s still only averaging a shade over 21 min/gm, but is at career-highs in both stls (.9) and blks (1.4). People have been wondering since late last season (when Favors had 7 double-doubles in April) what the Jazz were going to do about their logjam of bigs (Millsap & Al-Jeff starting, Kanter also in reserve), and now we’re over halfway through the next season and people are still wondering. If/when Favors ever gets a starting job and 32+ min/night, he should have a lot more games like this.
4) Dwyane Wade – 4 steals, 2 blocks (plus 31 pts, 8 dimes, and 13-13 from the line) —- Simply the greatest shot-blocking guard ever, as well as a supreme thief (career 1.8/gm), he uses his athleticism, explosion, and timing beautifully to record often times the most memorable blocks you’ll see – chasing down on the break or helping out in the paint. My all-time favorite was from the 2004-05 season when he blocked Amare Stoudamire (in Amare’s prime), controlled the ball, and then chucked a 60-footer to beat the 3rd Q buzzer and sunk the shot. His fly-swatting resume: 6 times at least 1 blk/gm for the season, twice at 1.3, and career average of 1.0 for a 6’3″ guard. You’d think MJ would be the best shot-blocking guard ever, but while he did crush it in that dept for two seasons – his 3rd (1.5) & 4th (1.6) – he only once again hit a blk/gm (1.0 exactly 3 yrs later), and that was it. Ron Harper & David Thompson were a couple other great shot-blocking guards as well.
5) Roy Hibbert – 2 steals, 5 blocks (plus 18/14 rebs) —- Hibbert is REALLY tall (7’2″), but never to be mistaken for a great athlete. He was a major project and took lots gym time to become as good as he is. Just running the court smoothly was something he had to work on. This is his 5th year in the league and 2nd averaging 2+ blocks (2.6 this year, 2.0 last season). He’s actually fairly decent on thefts, a career-best .6/gm this year after a career-best .5 last year. 
6) Kevin Durant – 2 steals, 2 blocks (plus 25/7/4) —- Durant has become more athletic and explosive since entering the league 6 years ago, helping him out in the rejection & thievery depts. He’s at 1.6 stl, 1.2 blk this year, a career-high in steals, tied for career-best in blocks. He has six 2 stl/2 blk games this year, seven a year ago. He’s still just 24 and has been quite busy leading the league in scoring, but I suspect his numbers in these depts will climb some more before they peak. 
7) Paul Millsap – 2 steals, 4 blocks (plus 19/6/5 dimes) —- This former 2nd round steal in the 2006 Draft has always been a bit undersized at the PF position but nonetheless, extremely productive, and adept at stealing (1.4, 1.8, 1.4 last 3 seasons including 2012-13). His rather sturdy size (6’8″, 255) and average athleticism precludes him from greatness in the fly-swatting category, but he is at 1.1 this year, his 3rd season of at least 1.0 (career-high 1.2 in 2009-10).
Honorable Mention……Josh Smith – 1 steal, 3 blocks —- The Joshua Tree is basically the modern day master at accumulation of stls & blks. Now in his 9th season, he’s at 1.3 stl, 2.2 blk for his career. Smith has had exactly 40 career games of at least 3 stl/3 blk, 12 of those 4X4, and one 5X5 game. In looking up the data, I came across a stretch of 5 games one season where 4 of them were at least 3 of each. One of his 4X4 games was an absurd 19 pts, 6 rebs, 9 asst, 9 blk, 4 stls. Another game was a tri-dub (22/12/10) with 5 blks, 3 stls. Perfectly suited for the task – tall, athletic, extremely explosive in his prime, and seeks them out……Lamar Odom – 6 steals, 0 blocks —- Odom was built to excel in this, a tall, skilled, athletic guy (but definitely lacking top notch burst). He came into the league as a 20 yr old rookie and immediately turned in a 1.2 stl/1.3 blk season, but being the career underachiever that he was (is), he only twice again finished the season with at least 1.0 in both categories……Rudy Gay – 4 steals, 0 blks —- Much like Joshua Tree, Gay is built for the task – just a shade shorter than Josh, very athletic & explosive – but doesn’t seek them out as much, or have Smith’s great timing on fly swats. 1.3 stl & .9 blk for his career, twice he’s averaged at least one of each for a season……Russell Westbrook – 4 steals, 1 block —- One of the better raw athletes to ever play the PG position, Westy brings intense energy and effort to every game he plays, resulting in plenty of stls – career high 2.0 this season, 1.6 career average – but rather mediocre fly-swatting numbers. He’s at just .2 blk/gm this year, and has never been at 1/2 a blk for his career, though his long arms and 6’3″ height would have one expecting more. Much of blocking is about timing, and some of that is innate – you got it or you don’t.
The King…Grand Master…Lord of the Stealing/Shot Blocking Universe — Akeem Olajuwon
      Akeem (I always liked his original name more than the later adopted ‘Hakeem’) put up steal/block numbers that will never be matched. He was like a panther or cheetah in the post – cat quick, and always ready to pounce for a steal or fly swat. Poke the ball, time a block, strip a player driving to the hole – he did it all, better than anyone. A soccer player growing up in Africa, Olajuwon developed supreme feet & footwork for a 6’10” guy, and he was also blessed with great explosiveness in his prime. Five times in his career he averaged at least 2 stls, 2.7 blks – one of them 2.6 stl/3.4 blk. His 6th through 10th seasons he averaged more than 3.5 blk/gm, 3 of those seasons over 4 blks. His steals during that stretch? 2.1, 2.2, 1.8, 1.8, 1.6. All the while he was an automatic 20/10 guy every night. For another angle on how dominant he was at thievery & rejection, he played 18 seasons in his career, well beyond his prime the last few, but yet only once did he ever average fewer than 1 steal a game – his 16th season. His final season, in Toronto, at age 39 while playing just 22.6 min/gm, he was at 1.2 stl/1.5 blk. He never averaged less than 1.5 blks his entire career. Final career numbers – 1.7 stl, 3.1 blk. 
P.S. For all the old-timers out there – yes, Wilt & Russell probably blocked around 6 shots a game in their day, when that stat wasn’t kept (thank you ABA for waking up the NBA to the stat!). But they were playing in such a different era, players far less athletic and far fewer 6’11” & taller guys, and I’m not sure how they were at stealing the ball, though I imagine Russell would have been pretty good.
Tuesday Action…Lakers: Even Amid Wins, Drama Continues
The Lakers went into Brooklyn and got their 3rd straight road win 92-83, matching their best road streak of the season, but of course, it’s the Lakers, so there’s plenty of backstory and drama to go with the win. Artest was suspended for this game, Dwight sat out his 3rd straight, and Pau – who a day earlier had plenty to say in the LA Times about the team, the coach, and his usage – hurt his foot at the end of the game. Additionally, Kobe Johnson is morphing back into Kobe Bryant, taking 24 shots while sinking only 9, while his dimes dropped to just 4, one less than his turnover total of 5. On the bright side, the Duke of Earl continues to be a revelation, garnering his 3rd straight double-double (14/12, 6 of 9 shooting), a streak in which he’s also had at least 1 stl & 1 blk in every game as well. For the Nets, Brook Lopez (30/11/3 blk) was big in the middle, but the very expensive backcourt of D-Will & Joe J went 9-28 from the floor.
Other Games
The Houston Rockets tied the NBA record for long bombs in a game with 23 in 40 attempts at home against the Warriors, winning the game 140-109. They had 14 treys and 77 points in the first half alone. Amazingly, only one Rocket hit the 20 point mark, Lin with 28 (and 9 dimes). But 4 other Rockets hit the teens, and another 3 hit double-figures, giving them a well-balanced 140 on the night. Stephen Curry went just 3-12 in his 2nd game back from his ankle injury, though he did have 9 assists…..The Pacers beat the Hawks 114-103 as Paul George scored 22 of his 29 points in the 2nd half to lead the Pacers. David West also continued his great play this year with 15/7/4 asst, 5 stl, and 3 blks. Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 24/8 asst, 9-17 shooting…..In Denver, Gallo & Lawson each scored 22 to lead the Nuggets to a 112-104 win over Milwaukee, despite one of the more amazingly random 30+ nights ever from Samuel Dalembert (more below). The Jennings/Ellis backcourt had trouble all night honing in on the basket, hitting just 11 of 36 shots for the game…..Finally, Memphis (30-17) hosted Phoenix but couldn’t lock down a victory against the 17-32 Suns (after their win), losing 96-90 as Marc Gasol (more below) and Mike Conley (3-11, 5 dimes, 1 reb, 9 pts) were rather putrid. The Suns got decent efforts from Dragic (17/3/4 asst, 2 stl) and Gortat (20/7 rebs), as well as a surprisingly productive 25 minutes off the bench from Jermaine O’Neal (14/4/3, 5-7, 2 stl).
The Akeem Olajuwon Award —  Samuel Dalembert  —  35 pts, 12 rebs, 0 asst, 1 FTM, 0 stl, 1 blk, 0 treys, and 17-21 shooting…Dalembert did all this in just 27 minutes, the most minutes he’s played all year. It’s a career-high in points, and the first time he’s hit 20 points since January of last season. After playing in very few games in December & most of January, Sammy D did show some signs of life at the end of last month, garnering two double-doubles with a combined 7 blocks in the last two games of the month, but still – no one expected anything like this, in his 12th season. For his career, he’s an 8.0 pts/night guy, and only twice in his career has he averaged double-figures for a season – 2006-07 (10.7) and 2007-08 (10.5). Quite simply, one of the more shocking 30+ games of the last 10 years. Quick aside, a friend mentioned to me the other day how Dalembert would be a nice fit in Miami, to solidify their middle. Makes a world of sense to me…but who knows now what the Bucks’ plans are.
The Mark Randall Award —  Black n Tan’s   Marc Gasol  —  6 pts, 3 rebs, 1 asst, 2 FTM, 0 stl, 0 blk, 0 treys, and 2-8 shooting in 23 minutes of pain…he also fouled out and had 4 turnovers. Rough night for the Gasol Bros, Marc turning in this stinker of a night while his brother felt a ‘pop’ in the bottom of his foot with just under 5 minutes left in the Laker game. 
P.S. Regarding LeBron’s 13-14 yesterday, I found a partial list of all-time greats’ best FG% games, and while Magic (10-11), Kobe (10-12), and Bird (12-13) were impressive, it was MJ’s that stood out the most: 29 attempts, 24 makes. He also had a 15-18 performance vs. the Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals. 
Monday Action…Clipper Woes Continue
The Clipper Curse, seemingly dormant that last 18 months or so, might be resurfacing. CP III missed his 8th straight game with the bruised kneecap (team has lost 6 of those games), Blake (hammy) just missed the first game of his career (besides his entire first season), and they can’t even beat poor teams these days. They lost to the Wizards 98-90 yesterday, the Raptors blew them out by 25 Friday night, and they also lost to Phoenix in this CP III-less stretch. Bledsoe has been up & down in Paul’s place at PG – very strong the last two games, but shot under 30% the prior three games. Odom started in place of Griffin last night but took only 3 shots the entire game, had 5 turnovers, and fouled out in 31 minutes of playing time.They did get a career-high 22 rebounds from the often invisible DeAndre Jordan, who before last night had failed to record double digits in either scoring or rebs in 9 of the prior 12 games. Martell Webster (21/5/3) led Washington in scoring while Jamal Crawford led L.A. with 28 off the bench. 
Other Games
Miami had a surprisingly difficult time with Charlotte, but ended up winning 99-94 behind an absurd effort by LeBron (more below), as well as Bosh (23, 11-18) and Wade (20/12 rebs, but 7-19 shooting) doing their thing. Sessions led the Bobcats with 18 off the bench, while Kemba Walker had a very down night, just 11 pts, 3 rebs, 3 dimes in 22 minutes…..In a major Central Division battle between Chicago & Indy, the Pacers defended their home court (19-3 there this year), putting the Bulls away 111-101 behind strong efforts from David West (29/9/4) and Paul George (21/11/5). Additionally, SG Lance Stephenson continued his breakout season, contributing 15/4/5 asst while making 6 of 9 shots from the floor. Little Nate Robinson (19/5/9 asst) was ‘the man’ for Chicago, who saw their All-Star SF Luol Deng make just 4 of 18 shots in the game. The Bulls and Pacers are now tied atop the Central Division with 29-19 records…..The Thunder buried any hope the Mavericks had of pulling off an upset in OKC, running out to a 68-44 halftime lead en route to a 112-91 victory. Westy (24/7 asst) led OKC while Durant (19/10) had a rare sub-20 effort. The Matrix led Dallas with 23 pts, 3 stl, 2 blk while Dirk was just 3-11 for his 10 pts, to go with 3 rebs…..The Blazers beat the Timberwolves 100-98 in a tight, crazy finish that saw LaMarcus Aldridge (25/13/5, 2 blks) block a potential game-tying 8 footer by Rubio late, only to then miss two free throws with 6 seconds left, giving Minnesota another chance to tie it. But Dante Cunningham missed an 18 footer, and that was that. Lillard (21/6 asst, 3 stl) & Wesley Matthews (22/5 asst) were also strong for Portland, while Dante led the T-Wolves with 23/3 stl off the bench. Rubio had a season-high 14 dimes for Minnesota, his first double-digit assist effort of the season! (took him 20 games…)…..The Knicks pounced on the Pistons early, building a 58-36 halftime lead and then cruising to a 99-85 win in The Big Apple. Melo had 27, Stoudamire 20, and Tyson grabbed 20 rebounds while no one on Detroit was able to score more than the recently acquired Jose Calderon’s 15 pts…..It took an extra 5 minutes but the Jazz held off the Kings in OT, 98-91 in Utah. Al-Jeff (15/12/5) and Randy Foye (20/6 asst) led Utah while Jason Thompson (23/10) led Sacto, who saw DeMarcus Cousins again lose his cool and let his emotions get the best of him. This time he was ejected at halftime after arguing with officials…..The shorthanded Magic (Jameer out with forearm problem, G Davis out for year with fractured foot) were especially inept in Philly last night, managing to score just 61 points in an ugly 78-61 loss. E’Twaun Moore led Orlando with 18 points, but no one else scored more than 11 as the team shot 33.8% in the game. The 76ers were led by Spencer Hawes (21/14) & Jrue (13/14 asst).
The Akeem Olajuwon Award —  LeBron James  —  31 pts, 8 rebs, 8 asst, 5 FTM, 2 stl, 0 blk, 0 treys, and 13-14 shooting…14 attempts, 13 makes – nice. Every shot he took was 15 feet or closer, 9 of them inside 5 feet…the Bobcats are a little small and vulnerable in the paint, and he took full advantage, boosting his FG% on the year to 55.5%. He is also shooting 40.4% from distance this year, a full 4.2% better than his prior career-high on treys (last season). It was his 67th career game of at least 31/8/8 (including playoffs), 5 this season. 
The Mark Randall Award —  Andrei Kirilenko  —  2 pts, 0 rebs, 0 asst, 0 FTM, 1 stl, 0 blk, 0 treys, and 1-4 shooting in 14 minutes…AK-47 had to leave the game with a strained right quad, but wasn’t doing much before he left. For the season though, he’s been rather nice (13.3, 6.3, 3.0 asst, 1.5 stl, 1.1 blk, 51.0%) after playing in Russia last season and being named Euroleague MVP. 
Thursday Action
Just two games last night, the first one being the retooled Grizzlies (29-16) going against the Thunder (35-11) in Oklahoma. Durant (27/7/6, 10-16) and Westy (21/9/6, 9-17) were were efficient and well-rounded, while Ibaka made up for his lack of scoring & rebounding (4 pts, 1 reb) by rejecting 6 Memphis FG attempts in an easy 106-89 OKC win. Zach Randolph couldn’t shoot straight (4-17) but did grab 19 rebs for the Griz while Jerryd Bayless (23/6 asst) had one of his better games of the season as he started for the shorthanded Memphis squad. I know Memphis was trying to clear salary in the Gay trade, but it seems their roster is very unbalanced now, as they have two very nice young bigs in Darrell Arthur and Ed Davis backing up Gasol & Randolph, but are now quite suspect at the SF position. Do they start Tayshaun Prince? Are Quincy Pondexter & Austin Daye legit 20 min/night talents at SF? Seems like a team full promise and high aspirations a couple months ago has now wandered significantly off that path…..The Warriors (29-17) squeaked by the Mavericks (19-27) last night 100-97 as Dallas was without Dirk (abductor strain…getting old…worn down…fading). Lee was awesome (more below) and Klay Thompson (27 pts) led G.S. in scoring, though he also wins the Hollow Man Award for the night – 1 reb, 0 asst, 1 stl, 0 blk. The Warriors did it without Stephen Curry who missed his 2nd straight contest with a bad ankle…are his ankles made of China? OJ Mayo led Dallas with 25/5/6, 8-13 shooting. 
The Akeem Olajuwon Award —  David Lee  —  15 pts, 20 rebs, 9 asst, 3 FTM, 1 stl, 0 blk, 0 treys, and 6-13 shooting…What a 4th round steal for Black & Tan on draft night! Lee has been golden this year for Golden St. (pun intended), averaging a career-high 3.9 assists to go with 19.5 pts, 11.1 rebs, and 51.7% shooting. He’s at 5.0 dimes his last 10 games, going into his 2nd career All-Star game (2010 his other). Kevin Love gets a lot praise and hype, but I’ll take D Lee over him all day. First of all – health. Love has missed 22, 9, 11, and now 24 games and counting over the last 4 seasons. Lee has missed 1, 9, 9, & 1 over the last 4 seasons. And I’d much rather have my PF staying near the basket and shooting 50%+ (career 53.6%) than showing off his range and making 44.9% for his career. And while Love’s passing is praised, D Lee’s assist numbers are far superior – a full assist better over the last 4 seasons.
The Mark Randall Award —  Chris Johnson  —  1 pts, 2 rebs, 0 asst, 1 FTM, 2 stl, 0 blk, 0 treys, and 0-6 shooting in 21 minutes…Johnson was recently signed to a 10-day contract in Memphis and has been playing around 18 min/gm since. He’s a 22 yr old rookie out of Dayton where he averaged 12.4 & 6.4 rebs his senior year while making 46.5% of his shots.
Super Bowl
In recent Super Bowls my interest has been come from my general appreciation of the game rather than a strong rooting interest for either team…but Ray Lewis and Colin Kaepernick have changed that for Sunday’s game. Ever since Randall Cunningham 20+ years ago I’ve loved athletic QBs, and Kaepernick fits that bill perfectly – a blast to watch. And at the other end of the spectrum, I cannot stand the incredibly phony, self-hyping Ray Lewis. Whatever happened 13 years ago, outside the Atlanta nightclub – we’ll never know I guess, largely because he got by with not talking about it. He might have gotten away with murder, maybe just an accomplice, but certainly obstruction of justice, which he did plead to. Here’s a link to a recent story about it. I’d like to see Frank Gore stiff-arm him to the turf, Kaepernick and LaMichael James juke him to the turf, the 49ers win the game by at least two TDs, and Ray Lewis have to end his career quietly humiliated in front of a record TV audience. Good riddance to Ray.
P.S. Hopefully the younger generation learns about the real Ray, as my 7 yr old recently said to me in the car ‘Dad, my favorite linebacker is Ray Lewis.’ I immediately educated him about the real Ray, and changed his mind in 30 seconds. I’m sure many (most?) other kids 15 & under are likely completely unaware of the truth about this phony.
Monday Action
The Nets had no trouble at all handling Orlando from the outset, up 10 at the end of the 1st Q, 16 at hafltime, and eventually cruising to a 97-77 win. D-Will led Brooklyn with 20/9 asst on 8-12 shooting, 4-7 from distance. Vucevic put up a nice line going against Brook Lopez – 18/9/2 blks – but JJ Reddick hit only 2 of 13 from the floor while Jameer Nelson was almost just as bad, hitting 3 of 12…..The recently hot Wizards hosted the Kings, looking to notch their 8th win in the last 11 gms, but Sacramento pulled out a tight one 96-94 behind 22/4/7 asst from pint-sized PG Isaiah Thomas. Okafor remained very productive for Washington (23/15) but rookie Bradley Beal (6/1/3 asst, 2-6) continued his funk as he’s now at 8.0/1.8/1.4 & 35.6% in his last 5 gms…..Chicagotook care of Charlotte 93-85 as Noah continues to impress in the rebounding (18) and diming (7) departments. He also blocked 5 shots and had 13 pts. For the Bobcats, another 19 yr old rookie continued his struggles as MKG, the #2 overall pick of the 2012 Draft, went 2-9 while grabbing 5 rebounds in 29 minutes. He’s at 5.8/3.0/0.8 asst, under 1/2 a stl, under 1/2 a blk and shooting 39.3% in his last 5 gms…..The Rockets absolutely annihilated the Jazz 125-80, giving Utah its worst home loss ever. They never let up, winning the 4th Q 32-21 to close strong. Houston center Omer Asik dominated the boards, grabbing 19 rebounds in just 26 minutes. The Rockets starters shot 61.9% compared to the Jazz starters’ 36.2%. Houston also had just 5 turnovers in the game…..Golden St. finally got Andrew Bogut back, and he came through nicely with 12/8/4 blks on the night as the Warriors defeated the Raptors 114-102. David Lee led Golden St.’s effort with 21/12/7 asst while Toronto got two rather surprising performances in the loss – 22/10 from reserve center Aaron Gray and 9 assists from DeMar DeRozen (to go with his 21 pts)…..The Pacerslost a thriller in Colorado as Denver squeaked out a 102-101 victory on Andre Iguodala’s free throw with .4 seconds (D-Fish, 2004 playoffs vs. S.A.) on the clock. The Pacers were down 14 with under 7 minutes left before embarking upon a furious comeback. Paul George was close to being the hero, blocking a Gallo jumper w/ 26 seconds left, but then had the ball stolen by Iggy, who he then fouled, giving Denver the win. Gallo (27 pts), Lawson (18/4/7, 5 stl), and Iggy (13/10/7 asst) were all big for the Nuggets, while George (more below) and Lance Stephenson (20/8/4 asst) led the Pacers. Stephenson scored 7 of his 20 pts in the first two minutes of that final 7 minute run…..Memphis barely beat the 76ers at Philly 103-100, needing a Rudy Gay jumper followed by a Thaddeus Young miss in the game’s final 15 seconds to lock down the win. Marc Gasol (more below) and Jerrod Bayless (21/5/9 asst) led the Grizzlies, Bayless starting place of injured PG Mike Conley. Young (23/7 rebs, 4 stl), Turner (27/7 asst), and Holiday (18/10 asst) led the Sixers, who got very little at all from their bench – 11 pts, 8 rebs, 4 asst.
The Akeem Olajuwon Award — Tie between  Paul George  —  23 pts, 10 rebs, 5 asst, 1 FTM, 4 stl, 1 blk, 4 treys, and 9-17 shooting…and… Marc Gasol  —  27 pts, 7 rebs, 7 asst, 6 FTM, 2 stl, 2 blk, 1 trey, and 10-15 shooting…George continues to validate his 1st All-Star appearance while Gasol, who played in last year’s game, had one of his best games of the season, surprisingly his first game over 20 pts since December 1st! Gasol is at 13.7/7.5/3.6 asst (career-high) and 1.8 blks while shooting 48.8% on the season. George is at 17.5/7.8/3.8, 1.8 stls and 42.8%.
The Mark Randall Award —   John Salmons  —  0 pts, 0 rebs, 0 asst, 0 FTM, 0 stl, 0 blk, 0 treys, and 0-4 shooting in 12 invisible minutes…A very rough night for Salmons as his career slowly fades, though he does have a surprising two games this month of 20+ pts. But he’s closing the month rather meekly, averaging just 4.8/2.4/1.8 asst on 40% shooting his last 5 games. Rip Hamilton, another fading shooting guard over 30, also stunk last night, going 1-5 with 1 reb, 0 asst in 14 minutes. Watch out for Jimmy Butler in Chicago, a 2nd year G/F who filled in for the injured Luol Deng very nicely this past week and now looks poised to steal some of Rip’s minutes.
Addendum to Djoker’s resume: Yesterday I forgot to mention he has the 2nd longest Grand Slam semifinal streak in history – 11 slams, 12 behind Fed’s incredible 23 in a row from 2004 Wimbledon through the 2010 Aussie. Djoker would be 28 yrs old if he ties the record in 3 years. I give him a 10% chance of accomplishing the feat. Matches like his 4th rounder at the Aussie (beat Wawrinka 12-10 in 5th) are always lurking to trip up the greats, and guys like Berdych, Tsonga, & Del Potro are always capable of zoning for long stretches and crushing winners left & right. As a matter of fact, Tsonga held 3 match points against Djoker in the French QFs a year ago before Djoker crawled out of that grave and eventually won the match and made the finals. 
Tuesday Night Action
It was a PG battle supreme in Cleveland where Rajon Rondo and the Celtics went up against Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers. It was tight throughout the 4th Q, but eventually Irving took over, scoring 11 pts in the last 2 & a half minutes to lead the Cavs to a 95-90 win. He ended up with 40 in the game, just 1 point away from his career high set earlier this season against the Knicks. 2nd year PF Tristan Thompson, who’s really been coming alive lately (15.3/11.5/52.8% last 10 gms), was also big for Cleveland with 21/9/5 asst. Rondo led the Celtics with 17/13/8 asst while Pierce (3-15) & KG (5-13) had a hard time shooting straight…..The Orlando Magic surprised a lot of people when they started 12-13 on the year. Since then, they’ve gone 2-14, a lot more in line with pre-season expectations. Last night it was Detroit who thumped them, 105-90. Brandon Knight (18/5 asst, 3 stl) and Jason Maxiell (11/11 rebs) led the Piston starters, while Will Bynum (15/4/6 asst) continued his fine efforts off the bench. JJ Reddick was the lone scoring star for Orlando, scoring 26 while starting for only the 5th time this season…..The Clippers hosted the Thunder in the marquee matchup of the night, a possible Western Conference Finals preview, but couldn’t avoid their 2nd straight loss as CP III rested his bruised kneecap, too big a missing piece to hang with the best record in the league as OKC won 109-97. It was that familiar two-headed monster leading the way for the visitors as Durant (32/7/7, 5 treys) and Westy (26/4/6) led the charge, Ibaka also contributing with 17/9/3 asst before fouling out late. Blake Griffin was again monstrous for L.A., going off for 31/11/5 dimes…..Finally, the Bucks took care of the 76ers 110-102 as Ersan Illyasova had his best outing of the season (more below) to go with 43 & 17 dimes combined from the Jennings/Ellis backcourt. Philly fell to 3-8 in January and 17-25 overall despite fine nights from Turner (23/6/7 dimes) and Spencer Hawes (21/12 off the bench).
The Akeem Olajuwon Award —   Ersan Illyasova  —  27 pts, 16 rebs, 2 asst, 5 FTM, 3 stl, 1 blk, 2 treys, and 10-17 shooting…this is the 2nd straight game of at least 25/12 for the Turkish sensation as he went off for 27/14 Saturday night against Portland. These back-to-back gems come on the heels of 8 straight games where his pts+rebs failed to reach 20, and only two were better than 15. He’s still barely under 10 pts/gm on the season though, at 9.9/6.1/1.5 asst while shooting 42.8%.
The Mark Randall Award —  Only 4 games last night and no effort stinky enough to garner a Randall Award. We have high standards for subpar play.
P.S. American teenager Sloan Stephens beat Serena in 3 sets last night to advance to the semis in Australia, the season’s first slam event. If you haven’t seen her play, just imagine a female running back with great hand-eye coordination playing tennis. She’s built like a RB, which is no surprise because her dad John Stephens played for the Patriots in the late 80’s/early 90’s, gaining 1,000 yards his rookie year and following it up with consecutive 800+ seasons. She’s probably the fastest gal on tour, and stings her forehand as well as anyone. Additionally, she’s amazingly poised and articulate for such a youngster…a real bright light for American women’s tennis for the next decade. As for the men…check later – nothing interesting on the immediate horizon.
Wednesday Night Action
The Indiana Pacers (22-14) used a stifling defense and Paul George’s playmaking abilities at both ends of the court to take down the Knicks (23-12) in Indiana, 81-76. With starting center Roy Hibbert hampered by back spasms, reserve big man Ian Mahinmi, a very underrated and athletic center, contributed nicely with 13 pts & 6 rebs in 20 min. Melo was out for NY (suspended for extracurricular activity w/ KG after their recent game), so JR Smith took it upon himself to shoulder the offensive load for the Knicks, and while he did have one spectacular dunk, he also missed about 2/3 of his shots (10-29) in scoring 25 pts and dishing out 6 dimes…..The Kings and Mavericks battled into overtime in Sacramento as the capitol of California prepares for life without pro hoops (allegedly moving to Seattle next season). It was Dallas prevailing in OT 117-112 as OJ Mayo (24/10/5 asst, 8-15) snapped out of his funk and the Matrix had a nice little flashback performance with 19/10 & 2 stl. Dirk missed 14 of his 21 shots in the game, but fellow 1998 draftee Vince Carter scored 23 while making 13 of 16 from the charity stripe. For Sacto, Tyreke was big in his 2nd game back from his sore left knee, playing 32 min and coming up with a 20/7/3 blk performance. Cousins had 29/9/4 asst but fouled out with 5 turnovers…..Portland hosted Miami for TNT’s 2nd game of the night, spotted them a 10 point lead w/ just over 6 min left, and then proceeded to outscore them 20-8 the rest of the way to notch a 92-90 victory and push their record to 20-15. Nicolas Batum was splendid with 28/7/5 & 2 stls while Aldridge had 20 & 15 rebs (though missed 13 of his 19 shots). For the Heat, Bosh had 29/2 stl, 4 blks, and shot 13-18 while LeBron was just 1 assist away from a triple double, though he only scored 15 pts. Wade missed 12 of his 18 shots while grabbing just 3 rebs, dishing only 2 assists. Interestingly, the Blazer bench managed just 8 pts, 6 rebs, and 1 asst in this game.
The Akeem Olajuwon Award —  Paul George  —  24 pts, 11 rebs, 5 asst, 2 FTM, 6 stl, 1 blk, 2 treys, and 10-24 shooting…Mr George is making a strong case for inclusion in the All-Star game next month, now posting averages of 16.9/7.5/3.7 & 1.6 stl. Among NBA small forwards, he stands at #7 in scoring, #3 in rebounding, and #6 in assists, all the while playing top notch defense. He was the 10th player taken in the 2010 Draft, and it’d be quite interesting to see NBA GMs do a mock redraft of that draft class. Greivis Vasquez went 28th (definite top 8), Jordan Crawford 27th (top 15 for sure), and George would probably go no lower than 5th overall behind John Wall, Cousins, maybe Greg Monroe…and maybe Derrick Favors who went 3rd in that draft, tough to rate as he still gets small minutes playing behind Al-Jeff & Millsap in Utah, but has shown flashes of being a major interior force. George’s teammate SG Lance Stephenson, enjoying a breakout 3rd year himself this season, was a 2nd round gem in that 2010 Draft, taken 40th overall – he’d definitely go in the top 20.
The Mark Randall Award —  Chris Kaman  —  6 pts, 4 rebs, 0 asst, 2 FTM, 0 stl, 1 blk, 0 treys, and 2-10 shooting in 17 minutes…Kaman put up borderline All-Star numbers in his brief prime with the Clippers, averaging 15.7/12.7/2.8 blks in 56 games during the 2007-08 season, then 18.5/9.3 in 2009-10, playing 76 games, when he did play in his one and only All-Star game. He was sent to New Orleans as part of the CP III deal a year ago, and in just over 80 games with the Hornets, he’s averaged about 13/7 with a shade over 1 block per game. He was part of the legendary 2003 Draft class, going 6th overall, right behind Wade at #5. Technically, the 2003 Draft was bit overrated and top-heavy, as after the Kaman pick, the only All-Star was David West (twice, #18 overall). Lottery picks behind Kaman included such busts as Michael Sweetney (9th), Jarvis Hayes (10th), and Marcus Banks (13th). Other complete busts taken in the top 20 picks included Reece Gaines (15th), Troy Bell (16th), and Zarko Cabarkapa (17th).
The Duke of Earl (Clark)
Quickie Bio – The Suns took him 14th in the 2009 Draft, but on a veteran team that eventually made the Western Conference finals, he only played 7.5 min/night in just 51 games his rookie year. Quick side note: this will go down as the last decent season Amare Stoudamire ever had – 23.1/8.9 and 55.7% shooting while playing all 82 gms – got him his $100m/5yr deal. Anyway, they traded him early his 2nd year to Orlando, where he still found minutes hard to come by, playing just 11.5/night there his 2nd season. It was more of the same last year, playing 12 min/gm but in only 45 games, scoring & rebounding under 3/gm. He came to the Lakers alongside Dwight this summer, and has finally gotten his chance to play. 
Scouting Report – His size (6’10”), athleticism, and versatility had him marked as potential top 10, top 7 lottery pick, but his tendency towards passive play, and settling for jumpers dropped him to #14 overall. Here was the scouting report on him at the time: “STRENGTHS – lateral quickness, versatility on offense and defense, ball-handling skills, explosiveness, 1st step, body control. WEAKNESSES – Go to scoring mentality, shot-selection, consistency, always playing hard, FG%/FT%”. So essentially he was high-upside guy who needed to focus on his mental approach, playing smart, being a true professional – maturation. Well now in his 4th year, the signs of maturation were there well before his huge performance last night (22/13/3 asst, and solid defense). 
Today/Coach D’Antoni – I watched the Spurs game a day later, specifically focusing on Clark, and saw all that has been missing from Laker performances this season – defense, hustle, energy, effort – as well as lots of skills (shooting, driving, dribbling, passing, rebounding) on display from Clark. During the broadcast, longtime Laker color guy Stu Lantz (longtime as in 25 years) spoke of being ‘anxious to see him play since training camp’. He spoke of how hard he was working in practice and how good he was looking. That missing maturity seemed to be missing no longer. And yet D’Antoni didn’t give him any minutes (23 DNP-CDs this season) until injuries forced his hand! Was the glare from the Laker stars so bright during practices that he completely failed to see what his 11th/12th man was doing? Does he conduct practice sessions wearing blinders? Jesus…all the while he’s not shy about voicing his displeasure with Pau, benching Jamison, and complaining about defense, energy, lack of young legs, effort. And a potential solution to all of these problems is rotting on his bench. Horrible coaching, complete lack of imagination, creativity, and open-mindedness. On the bright side, Clark and Jordan Hill give the Lakers an interesting twosome in any trade talks, or to build around for the future.