Play Fantasy The Most Award Winning Fantasy game with real time scoring, top expert analysis, custom settings, and more. Play Now
 
Tag:Amar'e Stoudemire
Posted on: December 18, 2010 2:37 am
 

Gauntlet proves Knicks better, not "there" yet

The Knicks lose to another contender, the Heat this time, and it shows that the Knicks are improved, but not elite. Not yet. Posted by Matt Moore



There are tiers in the NBA, and unlike the NFL and MLB, they are pretty solid. Moving from one tier to the next is difficult, and gets more difficult the higher you go. There are terrible teams, pretty bad teams, okay teams, good teams, and great teams. The past month has illustrated New York's move from pretty bad last season to good. The last two games have shown that they are not great. Not yet.

First it was a so-close-it-hurts loss to the Celtics. That allowed the Knicks to hold their head high, confident that they had arrived despite the tick mark in the "L" column. But against the Heat Friday night, it was a different matter. The Knicks were in the game. Fighting tooth and nail, using a spark of energy and a fiery home crowd to tie the game as the seconds ticked down ... and then the second half started.

As the Heat ran out to a 33-17 third quarter, the illusions of Knicks fans that this is a special team headed special places should have vanished. The Knicks simply aren't at that level. They almost beat the best team in the NBA at the moment on Wednesday night, but unfortunately, they didn't. And then the team with the highest ceiling in the NBA clocked them on Friday. Consider their place clearly established.

The Knicks are not an elite team in the NBA.

The Knicks will not be making the second round of the playoffs.

Amar'e Stoudemire is not the MVP... yet.

And those things are totally fine.

Now that I've tweaked the Knicks faithful about as far as I can, let me inform you that that doesn't mean the Knicks aren't on their way. They are. Pushing the Celtics did mean something for the franchise, as Ken Berger wrote about this week . But as the boos for LeBron James and his decision to snub the Knicks faded to indifference as the lead grew, the reality has set in. But that doesn't make the win streak the Knicks went on before this miniature murderer's row popped up on the schedule any less impressive. And it doesn't mean that Amar'e hasn't had the most impact on his team, taken over late, and generally destroyed most of the teams he's faced during this season.

The Knicks are free. Free of Isiah Thomas' constant downward spiral, free of constantly looking towards the time when they can begin to move forward, and free of the search for a franchise player. Amar'e Stoudemire most nights will stick you, jab-step you, jam on you, and generally destroy you inside. That the Heat were able to shut him down as effectively as they did (only 24 points and 14 rebounds) was either good fortune, exaustion, or just an excellent night of defense from a great defensive team in Miami (and they are a great defensive team). The Knicks have a stellar starting point guard (if not elite), a high-energy rookie whose making more people fall in love with his game than Christian Bale has, and Danilo Gallinari. They are on their way.

But they're not that far down the road, yet.

Overcoming the Heat's talent, Boston's depth, Orlando's firepower, and Chicago's dynamics will take a set of elements the Knicks aren't masters of yet. It's not just about individual experience, which Amar'e is stock-full of. It's about collective experience, unless you have a special collection of talent like Boston in 2008. They have to learn how to operate on the high gear in the playoffs, which is wholly different from the one in the regular season.

The Knicks were solved completely in the second half Friday, as LeBron James kicked into high-gear and showed New York just what it was missing . The point in all this is not to say that the Knicks aren't good, they are. But as is often the case with large market teams who show signs of life, the hard swing to the extreme is in effect. Knicks fans don't want to be good, they want to great. But that's a process, one that doesn't happen overnight with teams that are grown and not constructed (as in Boston, or Miami). And it will take time with New York. Maybe it will take Carmelo Anthony. Maybe it will take Chris Paul. Maybe it will take some unforseen event, and maybe that event will occur between now and the trade deadline, but if it doesn't, the Knicks have a ceiling. That ceiling was determined this week. It's a high ceiling, but a ceiling.

Consider that it was only June when the last of Isiah Thomas' terrible decisions was brought to fruition as the Utah Jazz selected Gordon Heyward with their 2010 NBA draft pick. In the six months since the draft, the Knicks have added a franchise player, given him a point guard to feed him, added some bench players, drafted a workhorse, and brought them together into a system which has netted them 16 wins and eleven losses, good enough for sixth best in the East. That's a remarkable transformation.

Everything won't come at once, and the evidence was laced in LeBron James' third quarter outpouring. The Knicks are on their way. But there are miles and miles to go before they pop champagne.
Posted on: December 15, 2010 10:19 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2010 10:40 am
 

Video: Paul Pierce game winner... kind of

Posted by Matt Moore

UPDATE 10:41 p.m. EST:
A league spokesman for the NBA informs CBSSports.com that there was no "trigger" that occurred which would allow a review of Pierce's game winner, which meant that it stood as called. So that explains that. We'll have more on the trigger rules later.

UPDATE 11:22 p.m. EST: For what it's worth, a New York  (yes, I hear you Celtics fans) media producer says he timed Amar'e Stoudemire's shot and it came out to .68 seconds . He claims that Pierce's shot was through at .7 as well.

It may not be a rivalry yet, but it's well on its way.

Paul Pierce nailed the game winner over the outstretched arms of Amar'e Stoudemire with .4 seconds left to give the Celtics their run-of-the-mill tough, relentless win 118-116. It was Paul Pierce, coming off a Ray Allen screen, forcing the Knicks to switch, getting Pierce with space on the right elbow, his sweet spot, against Amar'e Stoudemire (who was a beast from the first quarter on). Pierce pushed a little deeper than his favorite spot at the elbow, to the right wing, rose, fired, and...



Kaboom. Knicks lose. A heartbreaker, but that's what the Celtics do. With only .4 left on the clock, the Knicks got the ball to Amar'e Stoudemire for a prayer three. It was, amazingly, good, but after the buzzer. 



Except...

Go back to the Pierce shot. When exactly did that ball go all the way through the net, as the NBA rulebook says it must for it to count?




That would be .6. At least. You might be able to make the argument that it landed at .8.

And if you're interested in the clock on the shot clock? Courtesy of @TheYankeeU on Twitter. 




Couple things:
  • It is well within Boston fans' right to contest that Amar'e still wouldn't have gotten the shot off in time. Trying to match up the times would be nearly impossible, but it was firmly cradled in his hand when the buzzer sounded. Would another.2 to .4 matter?
  • It's also easy to make the argument that Boston might have defended differently (less concern about the lob) with .6 or .8 versus .04. Everything changes with that time differential. There's something in here about chaos theory and parallel universes, but we don't want to go there. 
  • The Knicks still very much had every chance to win this game and Boston took it from them.
  • It's also possible this was a production issue with the network carrying the game, but we're willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here. 
But it is a pretty interesting development that at home, in a situation where review is pretty much required, it would certainly appear as if things were amiss in Madison Square Garden.

Great win for Boston, but this shows just how tough of a loss it was for New York. 
Posted on: December 15, 2010 3:03 pm
Edited on: December 15, 2010 4:27 pm
 

Boston's trouble with running favors Knicks

You may think that New York has little shot against the mighty Celtics Wednesday night. While Boston is the best team in the league, the evidence says they may have their hands full against the Knicks

Posted by Matt Moore




You know what Boston's point differential was last year? 3.6 points per game. They won on average by a margin of 3.6. The New York Knicks lost by average of 3.8 points last year. As the Celtics are very good and the Knicks were very not, you'd imagine that the Celtics would have blown them out, as they did the year before when their average margin of victory over the Knicks was over 12 points per game. 

Except it wasn't. It was 3.75 points per game, including one three-point loss to the Knicks, and a two-point win in overtime. This against a much lesser team than the Amare-Stoudemire and Raymond Felton led squad they're visiting this evening. 

Huh. 

So while Boston is very busy talking about how this is not a rivalry and everyone's laughing off talks that the Knicks are in Boston's league as the two prepare to meet Wednesday night, it should be noted that perhaps this might be a game. Why? Because Boston doesn't like run-and-gun, that's why. 

The Celtics lost twice to Amar'e's old club in Phoenix by a combined 25 points . They split with Golden State, the fastest team in the league according to pace (number of possessions per game), winning by 14 , and then losing by 10 . Boston also split with Denver (fifth in pace), Houston (sixth in pace), and Memphis (7th in pace). (They drubbed Indiana and Minnesota the second and third fastest teams, because, well, they were terrible.)

Even account for the late season swoon by the Celtics as they coasted to the playoffs, running teams have had success against Boston. The reason that becomes evident if you watched those games is that it's an overload of what Boston tries to hard to stop. Offense. There's no balance on these clubs. They simply get up and down the floor as quickly as humanly possible. Try and slow the game down to out-maneuver them and the Celtics will always be in place. The only way through is over. You have to stampede them with speed and shooting, perplex them with threes in transition and make those old legs work. 

According to 82games.com , The Celtics have played slow-pace teams ten times, and fast paced teams eight times. They're 9-1 against slow teams, and 6-2 against fast teams. Yeah, that's still an impressive win percentage, but notice that they do have more trouble (relatively speaking) against fast teams.  New York is third in pace this year

Throw in the fact that Amar'e Stoudemire is a tougher cover for Kevin Garnett than most and you've got possible problems for Boston. Stoudemire may not be a defensive stalwart, but on offense he's not soft. He's the Anti-Bosh. He's aggressive, strong, and forceful, throwing down jams and screaming with the best of them (and Garnett is the best of them). The Knicks will get pounded inside tonight by Boston's bigs, but making Shaquille O'Neal and Glen Davis romp up and down the floor will wear on them (Shaq's a game time decision right now). Ray Allen and Rondo will like the fast pace just fine, but Paul Pierce doesn't prefer it. And in the meantime, Mike D'Antoni can ratchet up the speed without concern tonight. There's no need to try and slow  down, play good defense, and play good solid traditional basketball. That's how Boston kills you. No, instead, D'Antoni can let loose the dogs of Madison Square Garden and go Four Seconds or Less. The faster the Knicks go, the better chance they have. 

Boston's been nearly unbeatable his season, so they're still the clear favorite in this game. But while conventional wisdom says that a team with as solid of a defense as Boston should dominate a trigger-happy team like the Knicks, the evidence shows otherwise. Sometimes you've got to run if you want to get over the mountain, apparently. 

Boston meets New York in Madison Square Garden Wednesday night.
Posted on: December 10, 2010 2:50 pm
 

The NBA Quarterly All-Star Teams

Posted by Royce Young



It's never too early to start thinking about the All-Star Game. Well, I take that back. It probably is too early. But I wrote the body of this post before the intro so I'm pressing on anyway.

We're a quarter of the way done with the 2010-11 NBA season. Everybody has at least 20 games under their belt. We've learned a lot. The Heat can be good, the Spurs are great, the Lakers oddly struggle at times, Blake Griffin is exciting and Boston won't let you score... ever.

But on top of that, a few players have started that whole breakout thing. And a lot of the old good ones have stayed really good. The NBA truly has a ridiculous amount of talent right now. Seriously, this is a great time for the league. Except for that lockout stuff but I'm not going to mention that.

So because I think a lot about non-important things like the All-Star Game and Chick-Fil-A sauce, I began to notice how tough it's going to be to narrow down a 12-man roster for both conference. If there were an At The Quarter All-Star Team, it would already be quite a task to select that.

So naturally, here's my At The Quarter All-Star Teams:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Starters:
PG: Deron Williams (21.8 ppg, 10.1 apg)
I'd say the starting Western point guard spot is the toughest to pick in the whole league. Look at the candidates: Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Stephen Curry. But Williams is the starters right now because he's commandeering an elite Western team, along with having terrific numbers.

SG: Kobe Bryant (26.6 ppg, 4.5 apg)
Kobe is the type of player that will probably be an All-Star Game starter for life since the fans vote make that happen, but it's well-deserved at this point. He's second in the league in scoring and is having a classic Kobe season. Big shots, big plays and big numbers on the biggest stage.

SF: Kevin Durant (27.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg)
By his standards, he's struggled a bit. His percentages are a bit down, he's missed a few games because of an ankle sprain and then a sore knee and he's seen his teammate Russell Westbrook steal some of his Thunder. But KD still leads the league in scoring and is still the leader on a very good Thunder team.

PF: Dirk Nowitzki (24.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
If I were voting, Dirk would be getting my MVP vote. Which would be weird because the season's only 25 percent done and I also don't have a vote. But Dirk is having one of his finest seasons and leading the hottest and second best team in the league (tied with Boston at 17-4). The Mavericks have found a new identity behind defense and ball pressure, but Dirk is the same old awesome Dirk.

C: Blake Griffin (20.0 ppg, 11.7 rpg)
Remember when the West used to be so stacked with big men that figuring out the starting front court was a nightmare? It's not that way anyone. There's been a shift to point guard in the West for those issues. But really, who do you start here? The best "center" is probably Tyson Chandler and maybe Al Jefferson right now. Both have been good, but I'm going to fudge and give it to Griffin. His numbers are worthy at 20-12, but he's everything that an All-Star should be. He has the league buzzing, every night is a potential highlight-fest and he's the most can't-miss guy going. To me, if we're selecting an All-Star team right now, he's got to be on it.

Bench:
Russell Westbrook, PG: Westbrook leads Western point guards in scoring, plus he's got better "LeBron" numbers than LeBron at 23.7 ppg, 8.6 apg and 5.5 rpg.

Chris Paul, PG: Weird to have CP3 on the bench considering he's in the top two or three for MVP, but again, the West is stacked. His team's little slide lately isn't helping either.

Manu Ginobili, SG: The best team in the league doesn't have an MVP candidate? Who says so? Because Manu is certainly playing like one, at least in my mind.

Monta Ellis, SG: Ellis barely gets the nod over Eric Gordon who is also having a really good year. They score virtually the same amount but Ellis has simply been a bit more efficient.

Luis Scola, PF: The Rockets may be struggling and disappointing, but Scola hasn't. Coming off a big World Championships where he raised expectations for himself, Scola has lived up to it in every way.

Kevin Love, PF: He's leading the league in rebounding, and it's not close (15.5 per game, Joakim Noah is next at 12.3). This season there have been 11 20-20 games. Love has six of them.

Tyson Chandler, C: The last spot is where things get a bit hairy. Chandler has been having a re-birth of a season with the Mavericks, protecting the rim and playing solid offense. And just barely does he get the nod of Al Jefferson for the lone center on the roster simply because playing both ends counts for something.

Tough cuts: Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Starters:
PG: Derrick Rose (25.1 ppg, 8.1 apg)
Rose wondered why he couldn't be an MVP candidate before the season. And there's no doubt he should be, if only he could get his team to win a few more games. But he leads all point guards in scoring (fourth in the league) and is dishing out a career-high assist average. Rose is the total package right now at point and really, one of the top two or three players in the entire conference.

SG: Dwyane Wade (22.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
His numbers are down a bit, but there's an obvious reason why. I'll be honest, if there was another really impressive shooting guard in the East, Wade wouldn't be such a lock. But because the East is pretty thin there (Stephen Jackson? Ray Allen? Vince Carter?) Wade is the starter by default.

SF: LeBron James (24.1 ppg, 7.3 apg)
Despite what his numbers say, he's still the most talented and gifted player in the game. And it's not like the stats aren't excellent anyway. He's just set a bar so high for himself there that all of a sudden 24-7-5 doesn't look so great.

PF: Amar'e Stoudemire (25.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg)
Not only are the Knicks winning, but Amar'e has been fairly awesome this season. He's third in the league in scoring and has just broken a franchise record held by Bernand King for most consecutive games with 30 points (six). That's like, pretty good.

C: Dwight Howard (20.9 ppg, 12.1 rpg)
Forget the fact there's not a ton of competition here. Howard has maybe been the most productive NBA player this season. He's scoring at a career-high rate, plus putting up his typical big rebounding and blocked shots numbers. His developing post game is no joke and he's becoming the total package at center.

Bench:
Rajon Rondo, PG: His 14.1 assists per game are obviously eye-catching, but he's also turning it over 4.0 times a game, second in the league.

Raymond Felton, PG: Yep, seriously. He's playing on a winning club and his numbers are great! No really, they are! Look at them, I promise I'm not lying!

Ray Allen, SG: Nothing spectacular from the league's best shooter, but his stats are solid, his team is good and he's already hit a number of big shots just a quarter of the way in.

Danny Granger, SF: Come real selection time, he might get squeezed for a bigger name, but he's made the team once. He's a great scorer and now that he's on a decent team, he's deserving.

Kevin Garnett, PF: As long as he's still moving his way up and down the court, he's an All-Star. Plus, don't look, but he's actually having a pretty darn good season.

Roy Hibbert, C: A chic pick for Most Improved, the 7'3 Pacer big man has a well-developed game. Post moves, power moves and even a distance jumpshot.

Andrea Bargnani, C: Probably a stretch especially since Al Horford likely deserves it more, but Barge Nanny is sixth in the East in scoring and in his last few games has really looked fantastic, punctuated by a 41-point explosion against the Knicks Wednesday.

Tough cuts: Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Paul Pierce, John Wall, Shaquille O'Neal
Posted on: December 9, 2010 8:17 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2010 8:17 pm
 

NBA Drive: Who's the best team in the league?

Who's the best team in the league? We answer that while Ken Berger discusses Georg Karl, Carmelo Anthony, and the situation in New Orleans in our weekly NBA Drive.
Posted by Matt Moore

So who's the best team in the league? We tried to break it down with Lauren Shehadi. Also, Ken Berger discusses the Hornets situation, George Karl, and the latest on Carmelo Anthony in our NBA video update.



"With a team like this, you have to look at how many leaders they have. They're stacked with guys who know how to win."

Posted on: December 9, 2010 1:25 am
Edited on: December 9, 2010 1:27 am
 

Does Amar'e need Melo?

Melo's on the market. But has MSG got something too good going to disrupt in order to pull him to the Big Apple? The answer lies with the man called STAT. 
Posted by Matt Moore




Back in July ... you remember the NBA back in July, don't you ? It was a sweeter, purer time in July, 2010 BD (Before Decision) ... Anyway, back in July, Amar'e Stoudemire was talking about convincing Tony Parker and Carmelo Anthony to join him in New York, before he'd even joined the Knicks

Since then, there has been constant talk of Anthony trying to get his way to New York, by trade, free agency, whatever it takes. Those efforts have been rebuffed by the Nuggets at every turn due to New York having no assets to interest Melo. Even with Ken Berger's report that the Nuggets are finally willing to go ahead and move Melo, they're not nearly desperate enough to work a deal with the Knicks. But right now, the question should not be can the Knicks get Melo. The question might be, do they need to?

The Knicks beat the Raptors 113-110 Wednesday night, for their sixth win in a row, and ninth out of ten. They are, quite simply, en fuego. It's at least the first real version of the vision Mike D'Antoni has had for the future of the Knicks. And at the helm is most definitely Amar'e Stoudemire. 

Stoudemire had his sixth 30-point-plus game in a row, this time with 18 fourth-quarter points. He had everything going. The quick finds underneath the basket, the pump-fake and dunk, the mid-range elbow J, the little middle-key leaner he likes, the works. And he's had it going for games. What Stoudemire brings to the Knicks goes well beyond just the numbers. This was something that was sorely overlooked in the comparisons between Stoudemire and Bosh. Stoudemire has the unique ability to completely take over the game. You can simply give him the ball and say "go get us a bucket" in crunch time and rely on him to do so. The fact that he so often does it with such emphatic style only heightens the value and makes him that much more of a perfect fit for the New York state of mind. With his production this season, he's slammed the coffin shut on the idea that he needed Steve Nash to be great. Then he dunked on it. 

The Knicks don't really have a signature win in this stretch (with New Orleans bottoming out), but at 14-9, that's still much better than anyone had anticipated, especially after their horrendous start. 

So the question, then, is would trading for Melo be a good idea with how well this Knicks team, and in particular, Amar'e Stoudemire, is playing? 

It seems pretty simple, right? Carmelo Anthony is better than Gallinari, Fields, Randolph, Chandler, anyone that would be sent out in the deal. It gives you a bonafide scoring star to pair with Stoudemire. It's got to be pretty easy. 

Except when you consider usage. And for that, naturally, we return to the Miami Heat as always. The biggest problem with the Heat, at least early on, was their two starts kept deferring with the ball in order to not take up too many shots. Stoudemire and Melo may not have that problem, but the expectation that they would both want the ball so much might lead them in that direction. Furthermore, when you examine Mike D'Antoni's system, it doesn't lend itself to the same kind of ISO wing systems that Melo flourishes in. Even Stoudemire rarely is simply given the ball to work with. It flows through him while the offense continues to move. Melo is a stopping point. 

You've also got to look at the weaknesses on the Knicks and wonder if Melo helps them in those areas. He's not an elite rebounder. He doesn't work brilliantly in the pick and roll. He's not a hustle player. And he's certainly not a great defensive player. Adding Melo would be taking a bunch of mid-level players, taking their best ability without adding anything (and taking away Fields' defense which has been surprisingly good). 

All of this is besides the fact that Stoudemire certainly seems to stand tall and talented enough to take over games. He has the ability to put the franchise on his shoulders, and with a versatile skilled roster, take the Knicks to the playoffs. Forcing the issue with a superstar like Melo could fracture that dynamic, which could harm the chemistry. From the start, Amar'e has been the leader in New York. With the way he's playing right now, you have to think the Knicks at least in part want to give him the reins and let him show them how far he can take the team. 

Superstar power is always at a premium in this league. And as the Heat improve game by game you start to see the potential in loading up. But the Knicks have a long-term plan in mind, and you have to wonder if adding Melo, even if he were to become available to them by hook or by crook, would be the best thing for the future of the MSG kids. 
Posted on: December 7, 2010 4:15 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2010 5:18 pm
 

Two old beasts of the East are coming back

Posted by Royce Young

Every season, there's a surprise team. Somebody not many people picked as having much of a shot that positions itself for a playoff run. In the Eastern Conference, it's not all that hard. Wiggling into either the seventh or eighth seed doesn't require the best of seasons.

So that's why before the 2010-11 campaign even started, teams like the Knicks and Pacers had a cautiously optimistic view of the season. But here we are at the quarter mark and wouldn't you know it, both teams are positioned in the top eight in the East. It's early yet, but there's reason for hope in both cities right now.

But before you get too pumped up Knicks fans, consider that New York has had a pretty favorable schedule the past few weeks. After dropping six straight and to 3-8 overall, the Knicks ripped off five in a row, then lost and now are on another five-game streak. They've won 10 of 11 and have pushed their record to 13-9.

In that stretch however, only one of the teams the Knicks defeated had a winning record, and that's the slipping Hornets. The one "good" team New York played, it lost to at home (Atlanta). So maybe everyone should just chill for a second. Still though, winning in the NBA isn't easy and these are games the Knicks wouldn't have won last season. Beating average and bad teams is the start to a playoff run and that's what New York is doing.

The Pacers on the other hand, have stayed relatively consistent throughout the season. Unlike the Knicks, there hasn't been the peaks and valleys. The longest losing streak for Indiana is two and the longest winning streak is two. The Pacers have beat good teams, including the Lakers at Staples, the Heat in Miami and the Nuggets. For the most part though they're losing to the good teams, beating the bad and splitting with the average. But again, a major step forward for them

So what's making the difference for each squad this season? A couple things:

THE KNICKS
Improved defense - The key word here is "improved." It's not great (109.1 in defensive rating, 20th in the league), but it's better. They lead the league in blocks and it's clear they work really, really hard. The defense isn't going to be winning them games. But it might not be losing them any either.

Raymond Felton
- You probably haven't realized how well Felton is playing. I don't blame you. I didn't notice until the other day. He's eighth in the league in assists per game (8.5) and seventh in scoring for point guards per game (18.1). He's hitting 37.6 percent from 3 and has a career-high percentage from the field. Felton is easily putting together his best year as a pro. It helps to have Amar'e Stoudemire and Mike D'Antoni's system, but a player has to play well, and Felton is.

Role players - Rookie Landry Fields has been stellar off the bench and now in his starting role. Toney Douglas has provided them an outside spark. Shawne Williams in just five games has made an immediate impact. The Knicks are finally getting contribution from their bench and it's making a difference. They only have one star in Stoudemire, but the cast of extras is what's making it work.

Amar'e - He came to New York to be big time and Stoudemire has played that way. He's had 30 points in five straight games and is averaging a career-high 25.3 points per game. He's meshed well with Felton and is actually playing some of the better defense of his career. Not saying a ton, but he's working. Also, Stoudemire - and the whole team for that matter - is getting to the line more than ever, making the offense look even better than it is.

THE PACERS
Defense - Does this team kind of feel like a surprise group from last season? Young, tough, competitive and surprisingly sound on the defensive end? Aren't the Pacers a bit like the 2009-10 Thunder in some ways? Danny Granger isn't Kevin Durant, but this team is winning behind a strong, disciplined defensive structure. They are seventh in defensive rating and that number is climbing.

Roy Hibbert - Hibbert completely transformed himself over the offseason. He dropped weight, added muscle and refined an already quality post game. He's probably the top candidate for Most Improved right now really. He's huge at 7'3 and has become one of the premier big men in the entire league. Hibbert is averaging 15.5 ppg and 8.6 rpg, but he's also dishing out over three assists a night. He's a difference maker and someone the Pacers are riding right now.

Josh McRoberts - At one point, McRoberts was the punchline to a lot of jokes. Now he's a legit starting NBA power forward. His numbers aren't spectacular, but he works hard, hustles and is a good post defender. After the Pacers traded Troy Murphy to acquire point guard Darren Collison most felt Indiana needed another big man to be anywhere close to competitive. They probably still do, but McRoberts has been serviceable and someone that will make a fine bench piece if that interior player does come.

Shooters - I don't know if any team in the league can get it rolling quite like the Pacers. Between Brandon Rush, Mike Dunleavy, James Posey and Danny Granger, these guys can pile up points in a hurry. They all shoot the 3 wonderfully as evidenced by the fact the Pacers are second in the league in made 3s a game (behind the Knicks, mind you). They are built on the defensive end, but because of the 3-point shot, the Pacer offense gets by.

We're still a long, long way off from April and the final Eastern standings. But considering what's behind these clubs, it's not hard to see them making the postseason. The Knicks are bullying bad teams and the Pacers are basically mediocre. But in a soft bottom-half of the East, these could be playoff teams. Which would be a major step in the right direction for both franchises. And something both fanbases have been waiting for a return to.
Posted on: December 6, 2010 12:39 pm
Edited on: August 14, 2011 9:15 pm
 

The Game Changer: Blake Griffin beasting

Blake Griffin is a game changer, a fight in Portland, big nights for a familiar pair in two different cities, and a lot of questions circling in New Orleans about the future of the HornetsPosted by Ben Golliver

Each game is made up of elements which help formulate the outcome. Monday through Friday, we'll bring you the elements from the night before's games in our own specialized version of the game recaps. It's not everything that happened, but it's an insight into what lead to the results you'll see in the box scores. This is the Game Changer.

THE BIG ONE: BLAKE GRIFFIN IS BEASTING

Normally, when we write in this space about a "game changer," we're talking about a single game. Today, we'll talk Blake Griffin, who is starting to demonstrate on a regular basis that he has the ability to change the entire NBA. Too big, too fast, too bouncy, too agile. He's everything at once, and more. As a rookie, Griffin is averaging 20.6 points and 11.8 assists through the first quarter of the season. He's been coming on as well, putting up 23.6 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists over the last 11 games. That production hasn't translated to many wins for a young Los Angeles Clippers, but there's no question that he's doing his part, throwing down ridiculous dunks, putting on absurd displays of athleticism on a nightly basis and guarding just about anyone his team asks him to, switching out on perimeter players in pick-and-roll situations without a second thought. The pre-game buzz on Sunday in Portland was that there was a potential all star power forward taking the court, and it wasn't LaMarcus Aldridge of the Blazers. Griffin indeed dominated the match-up, putting up 21 points, 15 rebounds, two assists, two steals and just one turnover in 40 minutes of play. Most impressively, he got to the free throw line 16 times, fouling out Aldridge in the process (although he struggled to deliver at the stripe). Aldridge finished with four points, five rebounds, one assist, six fouls and just 2-10 shooting, a relative non-factor in his team's ability to finally end their six-game losing streak.   
Afterwards, Griffin didn't want to hear any all star potential talk, especially after the loss. "I don't know. No," he said in response to whether he's allowed the thought to enter his mind. "I'd much rather be on a winning team. I've got a lot of work to do before I get to that level." All star or not, Griffin is seeing his game progress after missing all of last season with an injury. "[My game] a lot better. I feel like I'm in a rhythm. Some games are better than others obviously. The key is just to limit those bad games and keep improving at the same." He also said his struggles at the free throw line -- he finished 7-16, and bent over while at the stripe, mad at himself -- are a point of emphasis. "It's frustrating whenever you miss free throws like that. The thing is I know I can make them, I've just got to do it." The Clippers dropped the game, but Griffin was glad to see how his teammates handled a chippy second half (video below), which included a flagrant foul 2 for his teammate Brian Cook and numerous technical fouls. "I thought we handled it well. We had guys stick up for our teammates. That's what you like to see. I just think you've got to keep that attitude, you can't let people punk us. I'm not saying that's what Portland was trying to do, but we can't back down from anybody." And really, Blake Griffin backs down from no one, because he's too busy sailing over the top of them.

GO-GO-GADGET LINE OF THE NIGHT:

Let's reunited these two for a night, for old time's sake.

Steve Nash: 20 points, three rebounds, 17 assists, two turnovers on 8-8 shooting in 30 minutes in a home win over the Washington Wizards.
Amar'e Stoudemire: 31 points, 16 rebounds, two assists, one steal, two turnovers on 12-24 shooting in 38 minutes in a road win over the Toronto Raptors. Runner-Up...

Stephen Curry
: 39 points, one rebound, six assists, two steals on 14-20 shooting in 46 minutes in a road loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

DON'T MISS:

VIDEO CLIP MADNESS:

Here's a video look at the throwdown in Sunday night's game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Clippers. Clippers big man Brian Cook shoves Blazers center Joel Przybilla out of the air during a dunk attempt at the rim, causing him to come crashing to the ground. A scuffle ensues, with Clippers guard Baron Davis and Nicolas Batum exchanging words and bumps. Przybilla and Clippers big man Craig Smith also went back and forth. Cook was issued a flagrant foul 2 and was immediately ejected. The other four were issued technical fouls.

 

The scene was very reminiscent of the exchange between the Miami Heat and the Washington Wizards last week, which led to the ejection of Wizards center Hilton Armstrong.

WHIMSY:

The Raptors lost, but new guard Jerryd Bayless, acquired from a trade in New Orleans, is flying in to the rescue, here to provide excitement and hope. Bayless finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in 27 minutes off the Raptors bench in a home loss to the New York Knicks.

jerryd-bayless

FINAL THOUGHTS:

To add an insult on top of all the questions that are swirling about the franchise's future in New Orleans, the Hornets got trucked by the San Antonio Spurs, 109-84. Brutal day.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com