And the obligatory Jason Gardner mention.

Around the NBA: The Amico Report
By Sam Amico / April 1, 2004


Don’t tell me -- you knew the Miami Heat would make the playoffs.

You knew at the beginning of the season, after Pat Riley resigned as coach and Miami stumbled to an 0-7 start, that the Heaters would challenge for home-court advantage in the first round.

Didn’t you? If not, don’t feel bad. Few saw this coming.

Instead of being “by far the worst team” in the East, the Heaters are by far the league’s most surprising team. Yes, even more than Utah and Memphis. At least those teams are coached by guys we’ve heard of, as the Jazz’s Jerry Sloan and Grizzlies’ Hubie Brown have been around the playoff block a time or 22.

Meanwhile, Miami is led by Stan Van Gundy -- and while we knew his brother Jeff from Jeff’s days in New York, we also knew there was a reason Pat Riley bolted from the coaching chair to the front office.

Namely, because Miami was supposed to stink. And Van Gundy was expected to be nothing more than a guy who received 82 games worth of experience while looking for his next job.

But Van Gundy deserves some hearty applause for lifting his team into the thick of the playoff race -- and as you know, anything can happen in the erratic East.

Of course, Van Gundy isn’t the only one responsible for Miami’s magnificent march through the Atlantic Division. Credit also belongs to newcomers such as Lamar Odom, Rafer Alston, and especially, rookie Dwyane Wade.

Odom was so disappointing with the Los Angeles Clippers that they practically begged him to sign with someone else, even if it meant the Clippers would receive nothing in return. And I’ll be honest, this was one of the few instances in which I agreed with the Clippers. After all, Odom had been injured and inconsistent in L.A., looking more like a bust than a guy on the brink of All-Pro status.

Then came the start of this season, when the 6-foot-9 Odom began to display the passing and shooting skills and overall drive that made him so coveted as a collegian. Today, it’s hard to believe he didn’t make the All-Star team.

As for Alston, all he’s done is run the point to near perfection and make every big shot. He’s also one of the league’s best defensive point guards. Not bad for a guy who got his start by playing on the And1 street ball tour, then bounced around the pros more than most basketballs.

And you know all about Wade by now. He didn’t enter the league with the buildup of LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but let there be no doubt, Wade is right there when it comes to first-year players who have reversed the fortunes of their once-feeble franchises. A few general managers have even told me that if they had to pick one rookie to join their team for the playoffs, they would pick Wade.

And remember, Wade was a shooting guard in college. Now, he’s a point guard, and he’s made the transition with remarkable ease.

You’re probably asking, “How can you write this much about Miami without having mentioned shooting guard Eddie Jones?”

It’s a good question, as Jones’ passion on defense and unselfishness on offense makes him an ideal fit for Van Gundy’s equal opportunity philosophy.

Big man Brian Grant is another team-first veteran who’s willing to sacrifice his body (and stats) for the cause, while second-year swingman Caron Butler, considered by many to be suffering a sophomore slump, is basically setting for less (and better) shots.

So that leaves us with one question: Can the Heat overtake frontrunners like Detroit and Indiana in the playoffs?


-- A lot of people outside of Miami probably don’t know this, but the Heat don’t have anyone averaging 20 points per game, or anyone very close. Jones leads the team at 17.7 ppg., followed by Odom’s 17.1 and Wade’s 16.8. Alston is fourth in scoring, and he barely averages double figures (10.8).

-- In other words, a big reason for the Heat’s success is Van Gundy has the players convinced they can go places if they focus on moving the ball, and mostly, being ultra-aggressive on defense.

-- The Heater who deserves the ball most is Wade. He’s averaging 18.7 points in wins, and just 14.7 in losses.

-- Speaking of surprises, no less than forward Udonis Haslem is Miami’s best big man off the bench. Haslem was pretty much unwanted after coming out of the University of Florida two seasons ago, and was signed by the Heat almost at the last minute. Now, he is second among rookies in rebounds per game (6.3) and even has his own Web site (


-- My vote for the luckiest lower seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs will go to whichever team opens against Atlantic Division champion New Jersey. Without injured point guard Jason Kidd, I can’t see the Nets beating ANYONE four-out-of-seven times.

-- I should add that New York newspapers have reported that Kidd, out with a bruised knee, could return by the playoffs. If so, the Nets have as good a chance as anyone. Although at this point, I’m guessing the East will come down to Detroit and Indiana, no matter what happens.

-- The truth is, without Kidd, Allen Iverson (Philadelphia) and Tracy McGrady (Orlando), the Atlantic Division is hardly worth following. That is, unless you follow the Heat.

-- Reason No. 212 young players shouldn’t watch ESPN: Dirk Nowitzki scored 35 points and Steve Nash had 31 and 11 assists in Dallas’ 126-109 hammer job of Cleveland March 30. So, naturally, the SportsCenter highlight package consisted of four consecutive breakaway dunks by Cavaliers rookie LeBron James, followed by one quick clip of a mid-range jump shot by Nowitzki. As for Nash, you wouldn’t have even known he played. Preposterous.

-- Golden State rookie swingman Mickael Pietrus is proving to be a wonderful addition to the Warriors, particularly in the second half of the season. Pietrus’ athleticism, hustle and ability to put the ball in the basket has the Warriors reportedly discussing the possibility of trading inconsistent second-year man Mike Dunleavy this summer.

--Since Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls in 1999, five different teams have owned the Eastern Conference’s top seed entering the playoffs. None has won a championship.

-- If you like this newsletter, then you’ll want to sign up for a great NEW free newsletter about the NBA by fellow pro basketball junkie Landon Powell. To get on Landon’s subscription list, drop him an e-mail at


-- Here’s what Minnesota GM Kevin McHale told the Boston Globe in response to Boston GM Danny Ainge’s comments earlier this season that the Celtics would be better off not making the playoffs and taking their chances in the lottery: “Danny doesn’t just need a lottery pick. He needs one of the top three.”

-- High school center Dwight Howard, expected to be one of the top three picks in the draft, actually wants to play for the Atlanta Hawks. “That would be my dream,” the Southwest Christian Academy standout said in the Chicago Sun-Times. “I grew up liking the Hawks, and they’re still my favorite team.”

-- The Hawks are equally fond of Howard, as GM Billy Knight believes the 6-11 tower of talent can revive the franchise in the same manner that LeBron James rescued the Cavaliers. Knight might be right, as I’ve heard only good things about Howard. Namely, that he’s a humble kid with a great work ethic.

-- Another youngster I really like, University of Minnesota freshman Kris Humphries, will make himself eligible for the draft soon. Humphries was the Big Ten’s freshman of the year.

-- The Bulls must seriously regret trading Elton Brand to the Clippers for the No. 2 pick three summers ago, then used the pick to draft underachieving forward Tyson Chandler straight out of high school. Especially since they passed on Pau Gasol, who was selected with the third pick. And Gasol is only two years older than Chandler.

-- The New York Daily News reports that St. Joseph’s point guard Jameer Nelson could be selected as high as sixth in the draft. Others aren’t so sure. “He’s not big enough, not explosive enough, and not consistent enough of an outside shooter,” one Eastern Conference scout told the Daily News.

-- I hate it when NBA types say prospects aren’t big enough. Ever heard of Earl Boykins? Tyrone Bogues? Or how about Mark Price? Nelson should ignore all of this gibberish because he’ll make a fine NBA point guard. I envision him being a Damon Stoudemire-type, only with a winning attitude.

-- My favorite college player in a very long time, St. Joe’s junior guard Delonte West, is expected to apply for the draft and attend the Chicago pre-draft camp, simply to see where he stands. West most likely will return to college. “He reminds me of (Houston guard) Cuttino Mobley,” one scout told the Daily News. “He’s not big for a ‘two,’ he’s a lefty, and he’s very quick.”

-- Another player I’ll be keeping an eye on come June is Oklahoma State guard Tony Allen. He’s the Big 12 Player of the Year, and at 6-4 is a great natural athlete with an outstanding first step.


From Erik Taylor (Rapid City, S.D.): What do you think Seattle needs to become a playoff contender next season?

A: Dear Erik, a competent big man wouldn’t hurt. Although, that player might already be on the roster in Nick Collison, a 6-9 bruiser in the mold of New Orleans’ P.J. Brown. Collison, a rookie, missed the entire season with a shoulder injury.

From Chris Nash (Wheeling, W.Va.): Don’t look now, but the Lakers are finally at full strength, and it looks downright scary. Do you think there is another team that can beat these guys FOUR times when it means the most: In the playoffs?

A: Dear Chris, no question, the Lakers turned it up a notch in March. That’s especially true on defense, as is the case with all championship teams. But, yes, I can see someone beating them four times, especially if the Lakers enter a series without the home-court advantage and Kobe Bryant has to miss a few games to be in court. The Lakers are still everyone’s favorite to win the West, but don’t forget about defending champion San Antonio, or Minnesota, for that matter. Like the Lakers, the Timberwolves have a couple of veterans with Finals experience (Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell), and arguably the league’s best and hungriest player in Kevin Garnett.

From Marc Busch (Philadelphia): Last time you wrote about your favorite basketball books. Any coming out that I should know about?

A: Dear Marc, yes. Former Cleveland GM Wayne Embry will be releasing, “The Inside Game: Race, Power, and Politics in the NBA,” in May. I am very much looking forward to reading the book, co-authored by the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Schmitt Boyer.


BELGIUM: Jason Gardner, George Evans; DENMARK: Steve Pettyjohn; GERMANY: Wendell Alexis, Altron Jackson, Tyrone Ellis, Derrick Phelps; GREECE: Willie Deane, Larry Stewart, Toby Bailey, Pete Mickael; ISRAEL: Maceo Baston, Will Solomon, Kenny Williams; ITALY: Tyus Edney, David Vanterpool, Maurice Evans, Charlie Bell, Alphonso Ford, Mike Penberthy, Matt Bonner, Luke Recker, Cookie Belcher; JAPAN: David Benoit; LITHUANIA: Ed Cota; MEXICO: Reggie Jordan, Devon Ford; PUERTO RICO: Shawnelle Scott; SPAIN: Lou Roe, Marcus Goree, A.J. Bramlett, Louis Bullock, Kornel David; SWEDEN: Tim Lyle, Anthony Jones, George Gervin Jr., Donald Williams; TURKEY: Kernard Johnson; VENEZUELA: Schea Cotton, Sam Clancy, Ronnie Fields.


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