I've highlighted the Pacers mention-
10 things we learned this week
Mike Kahn / Special to FOXSports.com
Posted: 9 hours ago
Ask a group of 10 NBA fans which team has the best record in the Western Conference and they'd respond quickly and correctly the San Antonio Spurs.
The second-best record, though, is not so simple to come up with, is it?
Try the Memphis Grizzlies, with the confidence, consistency and calm of a Jerry West line-drive jump shot from several eras ago.
1. When West signed a two-year extension at the start of the season, ending speculation he was finished as Grizzlies president this spring, it not only stabilized the franchise, but it came with the addendum that he intends to see this through to the point of challenging in the Western Conference with Mike Fratello as head coach.
What this really means: With all the parity in the West, aside from the Spurs and perhaps when healthy the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, the Grizzlies are flying under the radar screen with a team that set a few franchise records over the weekend.
Not only did they make a record number of 3-pointers when they sank 15 in their 90-75 win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday, but they made six in a row in the third quarter. And to top it off, the Rockets were the third team in a row to score 75 or less points against the Grizz. Plus, they held Houston to just 26 points in the first half another team mark. Indeed, Fratello has the Grizzlies doing it with defense as, they stretched their winning streak to five games and their record to 12-5.
The additions of Damon Stoudamire, Bobby Jackson and Eddie Jones gave the team energy, shooting range, experience and most of all, the know-how to win tough games.
Along with the more aggressive Pau Gasol, the consistency of Shane Battier and the streaky shooting of Mike Miller native son Lorenzen Wright has finally stopped complaining about the way he's been treated (and wanting a trade) and just started playing hard in the middle. Winning can cure everything, and if the Grizzlies stay on this pace, everyone will know who they are and start taking them seriously.
2. The Phoenix Suns won their league-high sixth game in a row Sunday night, providing a rude return trip to Joe Johnson, the player who wanted to be signed-and-traded to the Atlanta Hawks over the summer, with a 112-94 triumph.
What this really means: The Suns, despite sitting in third place, remain the team to beat in the Pacific Division. Not only are they doing this without All-Star big man Amare Stoudemire, out for months to come following micro-fracture knee surgery, but then leading scorer Leandro Barbosa badly sprained his ankle. Meanwhile, the Hawks have the worst record in the NBA at 2-14.
But amid all the discussion over the Suns losing Johnson in the deal, then Stoudemire to surgery, is Boris Diaw, the 6-foot-8 swingman the Suns got in the deal from the Hawks. Diaw roams between the high and low post, looking somewhat like Danny Manning albeit with more limited scoring ability with the way he moves the ball and crashes the offensive boards.
Diaw, still only 23 years old, has averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks during the winning streak and 11.1 points, 6.2 assists and 5.9 rebounds for the season. And, yes, Steve Nash is proving worthy of defending his league MVP award pushing the ball and helping everyone exceed expectations with his career-best 18.9 points and 1.07 steals to go along with his league-best 10.6 assists. The Suns are dangerous again, particularly once Barbosa returns soon (and with the hope remaining that Stoudemire will be back after the All-Star break).
Paul Pierce has been wreaking havoc on opponents this season. (Winslow Townson / Associated Press)
3. The talk went on incessantly during the off-season about the Boston Celtics trading All-Star Paul Pierce, and rightfully so. He was an embarrassment during a playoff meltdown against the Indiana Pacers and never did embrace coach Doc Rivers rather, fighting him most of the season instead.
What this really means: Celtics president Danny Ainge restrained himself and, really, Pierce has done nothing but enhance his market value. They've won two of their last three games, and Pierce has averaged 35.0 points, 10.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.3 steals in those games. Over the past eight in which they are 4-4 he's averaged 28.7 points and 10.5 rebounds. Unfortunately, the other veterans aren't productive with center Mark Blount one of the four hottest names on the trade market at the moment. The rest of the team is too young to seriously compete.
So if they were reluctant to deal Pierce during the off-season, why not get involved in some deals now? Ainge loves to be part of the market hunt, and if there is any chance the Minnesota Timberwolves will move Kevin Garnett, Pierce can be a big part of that puzzle with his talent and salary. The C's have some really nice young pieces and some real dead weight and the only way there can be a sense of balance is to go one way or the other. Logically, they should go young, and dealing Pierce can bring them more valuable young players who will respond to Rivers and get everyone on the same page.
4. New York may only be two games out of first place, but the only reason is because the Knicks are playing in the woeful Atlantic Division. On the heels of waiving forward Matt Barnes, whom coach Larry Brown was raving about early in the season and actually started, anything is possible.
What this really means: Outside of the continual impact of Brown's playing rookie 7-footer Channing Frye at power forward, the only real sense of progress is realizing that if he plays guard Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford and diminutive rookie Nate Robinson together, they will pressure the ball and move it even without a point guard.
The buzz is still out there that they are interested in Darius Miles and/or Ruben Patterson with Antonio Davis as the trade bait. Come Dec. 15, there is also a decent chance they can trade slothful 7-footer Jerome James to Denver for point guard Earl Watson. These are two free-agent signings that made no sense and could be salvaged by this deal.
Really, it's difficult to get a read on what's happening with these guys, other than the fact that when you get a guy who tires of his players as quickly as Brown does, the only certainty is that some time in December, the Knicks' roster will begin its upheaval. And in the Atlantic Division, that will still give them plenty of time to make a strong move in the standings.
5. Speaking of the Blazers, Miles could be headed for knee surgery in the wake of the swelling and pain that kept him out of Sunday's loss to the Utah Jazz. His right knee has been giving him problems all season and prompted the starting of rookie Martell Webster on his 19th birthday Sunday night making Webster and Sebastian Telfair the only all-teenager starting backcourt in the NBA.
What this really means: The Blazers may not be able to deal Patterson now in the wake of his suspension and apology for ripping into coach Nate McMillan at the start of their seven-game road trip last month. But if they lose Miles to surgery and trade Patterson, they'll probably get an expiring contract or another young player as the Blazers continue their transformation.
Whether this is working out or not is tough to tell other than McMillan molding them with a defensive mentality and will require several years to really determine. Only time will tell whether this concept that John Nash has sold the organization on, of dumping contracts and building with youth, has merit or is just an age-old attempt at buying an extension to his own lame duck status to see this project through.
6. The Indiana Pacers may have finally lost Jonathan Bender for good with his horrid knees and once again must move on without point guard Jamaal Tinsley, who is sidelined with a strained groin muscle.
What this really means: We now know why the Pacers were so happy to sign free agent Sarunas Jasikevicius to a three-year deal in the off-season. Tinsley got hurt in the embarrassing 18-point loss at Phoenix and split the next two games at Portland and Seattle. Jasikevicius averaged 15.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the three games as the primary point guard for the Pacers, but it still doesn't cure the obvious. Unless the Pacers decide to move on from Tinsley, he will continue to be the key to their success (or failure).
When healthy, Tinsley pressures the ball, pushes the ball on the break and creates plays consistently in the half-court offense. He has improved his perimeter shooting and is the one obvious factor when they are at their best. But if he can't stay healthy, are the Pacers wise in keeping him in that pivotal role? This is a decision they won't likely make this season, but when summer comes around, the future of their point guard position will be contingent on how well Tinsley plays and how healthy he stays for the remainder of this season.
7. The Chicago Bulls continue to move on in a disappointing manner since dealing center Eddy Curry and his backup Antonio Davis, virtually gutting their interior game with young Tyson Chandler clearly not ready to take over all the duties without any help.
What this really means: The real folly of this deal was receiving athletic 28-year-old forward Tim Thomas. All the talk about his $13.9 million contract that expires at the end of this season making the Bulls major players on the free agent market has ceased, and rightfully so. Thomas is getting paid all that money, but he's played in just three games for a total of 31 minutes with 13 points, four rebounds and two assists before the organization decided to make him permanently inactive.
There are two ways to look at this. The first being that the organization was incredibly naive to believe the Knicks were going to buy out the rest of Davis' contract so he could return to the Bulls. The second is that they knew that Thomas was a chronic underachiever who is much better at talking the game than playing it. Some team, somewhere will pick up Thomas as a free agent after the season, but getting another team to pick up his contract in a deal this season will be a tough sell, even for someone who has been as adept as Paxson (the present situation notwithstanding).
8. So much has been made of the Los Angeles Clippers' ascension to the top of the Pacific Division. The simple fact that the Golden State Warriors have pulled into a virtual tie for the lead has gone almost unnoticed.
What this really means: Most of the success has been attributed to the addition of Baron Davis, who led them to an 18-8 mark during the last two months, making them 30-14 the past three months. Indeed, Davis changed the Warriors' mentality. And it's not just scoring. They've won five in a row and six of seven, with Davis averaging 16.7 points, 12.6 assists and 1.5 steals over these past seven. The problem is, he's still not healthy, and that's been an issue the past three years for a point guard with a maximum contract.
But there's more to the Warriors' success than Davis, and the always-explosive offense of backcourt mate leading scorer Jason Richardson. Their defense has hunkered down considerably this season as well, allowing their opponents 7.3 fewer points a game this season than last.
Mickael Pietrus continues to improve; power forward Troy Murphy is a strong rebounder with an improving perimeter game, while rookie power forward Ike Diogu is now healthy and beginning to make an impact, and rugged center Adonal Foyle is rebounding and blocking shots.
The key is that it's all still working for Mike Montgomery, the second-year coach from Stanford looking to defy the failure that has consumed virtually all of the other long-time college coaches who made the big leap into the NBA.
9. Entering the week, only one team in the Atlantic Division was sporting a two-game winning streak.
What this really means: The Atlantic Division is awful, but things are looking up for the uh, streaking Toronto Raptors. As we've said in the past, the continuing growth of superb young forward Chris Bosh is about the only thing the Raptors can hang their hats on, but at least it has translated into a couple of wins, and they have passed the Atlanta Hawks in the conference standings. Meanwhile, Bosh has scored at least 20 points in 10 of the last 11 games averaging 23.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks during that time for the season, he's averaging 21.4 points and 10.1 rebounds.
More important is the future. If ownership has bought into rebuilding and giving embattled general manager Pete Babcock at least through this season, they'd better make a strong case for Bosh signing an extension in the summer when he first becomes eligible. Is he worth the maximum? He is for the Raptors, if for no other reason than there's no one else to bank on in this rebuilding process.
10. The Miami Heat entered Monday night's game with the Minnesota Timberwolves 9-6 without Shaquille O'Neal after being on their way to 1-1 with the big man before he rolled his ankle late in their loss to the Indiana Pacers. Shaq is expected to return Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs.
What this really means: Perhaps it is just foreshadowing what the Heat will deal with the rest of this season. O'Neal, who claimed he was too weak at 325 pounds last season, has packed it back on. Whatever he weighs (340 ... 350?) will continue to cause problems for his 33-year-old legs and feet, and the $20 million a year extension he signed during the off-season will be all about getting 60 games a year and hopefully the playoffs out of him for the duration of the contract.
It's been difficult to quantify the impact of new Heat players from the active off-season (Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, James Posey and Gary Payton), if for no other reason than it is all about what a fabulous job Dwyane Wade has done carrying the team.
Oddly enough, had they not traded for O'Neal, they would have been on a similar course of building with Caron Butler and Lamar Odom still on the roster. Last year, without the new additions they were within one game and a healthy Wade and O'Neal from winning the East. Now they're in another state of transition. Maybe they get it together this year. But if they don't, you have to wonder what next summer will bring.
Veteran NBA writer Mike Kahn is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.