Tag:Matt Moore
Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:38 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 5:58 am

Kobe, Magic say it's time for Buss to meet Bryant

Kobe Bryant says he and Jim Buss should meet; Magic Johnson agrees (Getty Images)
By Matt Moore 

Just days after Kobe Bryant challenged the Lakers' front office to make a desision regarding Pau Gasol and Ken Berger of CBSports.com filed a scathing and revealing report on the inner dysfunction of the team's front office, Bryant told reporters that he and Jim Buss should meet for a conversation. And he wasn't the only Laker great to suggest the idea.

On a conference call Wednesday, Magic Johnson told reporters that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is "not running the team" anymore and that Jim Buss is making all the decisions. Johnson, who is as close to the Lakers organization as anyone, considering he has a statue outside their building, said that the answer was for Bryant and Buss to sit down and have a conversation. From the L.A. Daily News:
"(Bryant) just wants to be informed as a team leader and a future Hall of Famer and a guy who has brought five chapmionships to the Lakers," Johnson said. "He wants more communication, probably like he did when Phil Jackson was here and he worked well with Mitch. I don't think Kobe feels he has that type of relationship with Jim.

"What probably has to happen is they need to sit Kobe down and sit Jim down. Dr. Buss was the master at taking you to lunch or taking you to dinner and going over what he was thinking and what he wanted to do with the team.

"Jerry West was good at that as well. Kobe, Mitch and Jim just have to get on the same page and things will be OK."
via Magic: Bryant, Jim Buss need to have face-to-face chat - LA Daily News.

After the Lakers shootaround, Bryant told reporters when asked if it was time for he and the younger Buss to sit down and have a conversation, "Um, perhaps." That was all, but that one word speaks volumes. If it was no, he could have said "I don't know" or "I'm just a player" or even "I'd be open to it." But that's not it. It's Bryant trying to push for change in the organization, to right the ship. This team isn't over, it's not done, it's not through trying to win championships and still features three great players and one or two good players. Bryant's not willing to sit by and let this situation get out of control.

Meanwhile, Magic Johnson is sticking up for the franchise player, going with the star trying to make the most of the end of his career instead of the son of his long-time friend and employer Jerry Buss. (Read the excellent "When the Game Was Ours" by Jakcie McMullen for more on Magic and Buss' friendship.) It's incredible that not only is Bryant openly questioning management, but that the greatest player in franchise history has openly said the GM is not in charge and that the managing owner needs to communicate better with his team. This kind of thing simply doesn't happen. And yet here we are.

The Lakers held a players-oly meeting this week to try and focus past all the distractions and it worked in a blowout win over Portland. As of this writing, they lead the Mavericks by 12 in the second quarter Wednesday night. So the players are doing their part to work past the issues. Will the front office?

Strange days for the most successful franchise in the NBA.
Posted on: February 22, 2012 5:09 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 6:35 pm

Midseason Report Team Grades: Cream rising

Familiar faces are back on the top at the halfway point of the season. (Getty Images)

With 30+ games under everyone's belt, there's been sufficient time for NBA's thirty teams to adjust to the breakneck lockout-shortened season. The midterm results? The cream has mostly risen to the top, with preseason favorites Chicago, Miami and Oklahoma City continuing their dominant play. Traditional powers in San Antonio and Dallas have also emerged after slow (by their standards) starts.

CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball staff sat down to grade each team based on potential and expectations, graded on a curve. Here's what we came up with. 

Atlantic Division Grades

The Sixers continue to lead the way in the Atlantic. (Getty Images)
by Ben Golliver

Philadelphia 76ers (20-13)

The Sixers followed up a sensational 11-5 first quarter with a middling 9-8 second quarter. Even with the choppy play in February, which includes a current 4-game losing streak, Philly still enjoys a 4-game cushion over its next closest division rivals. The 76ers boast the NBA's best defense, a top-8 offense, a Defensive Player of the Year Candidate in Andre Iguodala and an emerging reliable late-game scoring threat in Lou Williams. Their entire body of work through 33 games deserves top-level recognition.


New York Knicks (16-17)

The Knicks are virtually un-gradeable. Any team that discovers a player who is making Jeremy Lin's impact, paying him virtually nothing in the process, deserves an A+++ by default, right? That's the temptation, but this is a grade for the full first half of the season, not just the most exciting free agent find in recent memory. New York is much better than its record, thanks to Tyson Chandler's solid defense and the recent additions of Lin and J.R. Smith. Injury and role questions concerning Carmelo Anthony cast a bit of a shadow but, like MSG stock, the Knicks are a fast riser. 


Boston Celtics (15-16)

For everyone's sake, let's hope one of the NBA's most unwatchable teams stumbles down the stretch so we don't have to watch them suffer through them getting swept in a first round playoff series. Boston has been a MASH unit all season and the trade deadline promises to be the most interesting portion of the Celtics' season. The timing of Boston's fall couldn't be better. At least this is the lockout-shortened season to minimize the damage with a fully-stocked draft and free agency class to offer hope just around the corner. 


New Jersey Nets (10-24)

The only good thing about New Jersey's season is that Deron Williams hasn't yet publicly demanded a trade or rampaged on his teammates. 10 wins at this point is actually probably a win or two better than expectations given the roster that surrounds Williams and the injuries the team has had to deal with. Completely irrelevant for another season.


Toronto Raptors (9-23)

The bright side is that Toronto's defense has improved from completely and truly awful last season to simply below average under new coach Dwane Casey. The offense is now bottom-3 in the league and the Raptors simply don't have the personnel to turn that around. Tank Nation was completely correct from the outset. 


Central Division Grades

Rose remains unstoppable. (Getty Images)
by  Royce Young 

Chicago Bulls (26-8)

It's no big surprise that the Bulls are 26-8 and see-sawing with the Heat for the East's top spot. But considering they've had to do it with a rash of injuries that had Derrick Rose and Luol Deng missing some time is what makes it impressive. Depth has been one of the Bulls' strengths and it's what has pushed them through the first half. They did this same thing last season too, getting by without Carlos Boozer. Now that they're getting healthy again, they're set up for a strong second half push. 


Indiana Pacers (20-12)

When grading a team, it's good to keep in mind preseason expectations. The Pacers were expected to be better than the team last season that slipped into the postseason, but how much better was the question. There have been some ups and downs, but the verdict thus far is that the Pacers are much improved and in position to fight for home court in the first round. 


Cleveland (13-17)

The road back from "The Decision" is going to be long, but the Cavs clearly have picked up a pretty nice car to get there in Kyrie Irving. The Cavs probably aren't playoff material, but in terms of coming back from where they were last season when they dropped 26 straight games, they're on track. They're currently just four games under .500 and sit ninth in the East, just 1 1/2 games out of the playoffs.


Milwaukee Bucks (13-19)

What's new in Milwaukee? Oh, just Andrew Bogut getting hurt again. And just their season going down the tubes with that. Remember how this was a playoff team two years ago? Remember all the fun "Fear the Deer" stuff? It looks like it's going to be back to the lottery for this group. Brandon Jennings' improvement is a plus, but the Stephen Jackson situation combined with injuries is dragging them down.


Detroit Pistons (11-23)

The Pistons are playing much better basketball as of late, winning seven of 10. But still this has been another colossally disappointing season. Remember how the Pistons were once a team contending for the East? You know what's weird about that? That was happening as of just five years ago. But it feels like the Pistons have been bad for a long time. That's where it's at for Detroit. Save for a better stretch early on, it's been another bad year for the Pistons. Horrible attendance, fan apathy and worst of all, there really doesn't appear to be a path out right now.


Southeast Division

LeBron looks like a solid MVP favorite so far for Miami. (Getty Images)
by Matt Moore

Miami Heat (26-7)

The best team in efficiency differential. Home of the presumptive MVP. They have just finished winning seven in a row, all by double-digits. The best record in the National Basketball Association. A better offense than last season. The same quality defense as last season. Better supporting players. Quality wins over the Lakers, Bulls, Magic. The Heat aren't surprising anyone; we knew they would be, could be this good. But they're doing it, and that's a fact. 


Orlando Magic (21-12)

Well, they've handled this whole mess surprisingly well. As Dwight Howard rumors continue to swirl and he's forced to endure media questions everywhere he goes, the Magic have kept on winning with the same formula they've won with for years. Great defense, three-point shooting, and Dwight Howard offense. The dual-losses in five days to Boston in humiliating fashion should have sent the team into a tail spin. But instead they've kept themselves above water. There are rough times ahead for this team one way or another, but you have to give them credit for how they've survived a tough situation. 


Atlanta Hawks (19-13)

The Hawks are six games over .500 despite starting the year without Kirk Hinrich, and being without Al Horford for most of the season as he's done for the year. That should be pretty good, right? They have wins over the Bulls and Heat. That should be enough for a good grade, right? Except you know where the Hawks are going. They're not the most talented kid in class, they're not the hardest workers. They just kind of glide by. You can't fail them, but to reward them is to celebrate being "fine." You can't fault their coaching or players. They just are who they are, as cliche and meaningless as that seems. 


Washington Wizards (7-25)

Well, their coach was fired, their star center runs the wrong way on possessions, their star point guard hasn't developed, and they had to bench their starting power forward they gave an extension to two years ago. So no, it has not gone well in D.C. 


Charlotte Bobcats (4-27)

Mrs. Charlotte fan, I'm sorry. I know this is difficult to hear. We did everything we could, but we had to put your franchise down. This team is a plague on the NBA season. 


Southwest Division

Tony Parker is playing like a top-5 MVP candidate. (Getty Images)
by Ben Golliver

San Antonio Spurs (23-10)

The Spurs went a ridiculous 13-3 in their second quarter, and that includes an on-purpose loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, as Gregg Popovich opted to rest his starters. Does it get better than an 11-game winning streak when one of your All-Stars is in and out of the lineup with long-term injuries? That's a stupid rhetorical question. It doesn't get any better. The Spurs have pulled within 2 1/2 games of the Oklahoma City Thunder and are well positioned to finish strong, with 19 home games and 14 road games remaining on their schedule.


Dallas Mavericks (21-12)

Like the Spurs, Dallas got up to speed during the second quarter, going 11-5 and running off an impressive 6-game winning streak, which included 4 wins over playoff teams (the Nuggets twice, the Clippers and 76ers) and 2 others against teams on the fringes (the Blazers and Timberwolves). Dallas is still underperforming on offense but no one saw a top-5 defense coming when Tyson Chandler moved to the Knicks in December. Dirk Nowitzki's numbers are essentially back to normal in February -- 23.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game -- and the Mavericks look to be a playoff force as they defend their 2011 title.


Houston Rockets (19-14)

The USS Houston is steady as she goes: The Rockets went 9-7 in the first quarter and 10-7 in the second quarter. Kyle Lowry has made the whole thing work and Kevin Martin has stayed healthy. The roster is deep, random and likely to see major changes this summer. Despite all of that, Houston is squarely in the playoff picture when another lottery trip seemed inevitable after December's failed trade for Pau Gasol fell through. If this continues, Kevin McHale might sneak into the short list for Coach of the Year candidates in his first season with the Rockets.


Memphis Grizzlies (19-15)

The Grizzlies were a late-charging dark horse last season and it's shaping up again this time around, as Zach Randolph is progressing back to the court after a knee injury. Memphis' offensive efficiency has fallen off significantly without Randolph, and Lionel Hollins has done another nice job in keeping the wheels from falling off after a hectic early season. Credit, too, to an All-Star campaign from Marc Gasol, who is averaging 15.0 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.


New Orleans Hornets (7-25)

That this team has won seven games is a miracle. Monty Williams, one of the league's biggest gentlemen, must have done some serious wrongs in a past life to deserve this group. He's made due the only way he really can, sucking the life and pace out of every game and hoping for the best. Gustavo Ayon was an intriguing find but this team was not headed anywhere with Eric Gordon, let along without him due to injury. It's probably time for New Orleans to step up its tanking efforts to ensure a top-2 chance at the lottery balls. Leaving this season without that would be a major failure.


Northwest Division

Durant's Thunder have been dominant in the West. (Getty Images)
by Matt Moore 

Oklahoma City Thunder (25-7)

Kevin Durant is having his best season as a pro, and it shows. His defense has been terrific. There are lingering questions about this team's ability to defend, but their offensive is the most powerful in the league and they've managed to stay exceptionally healthy this season. The West may be largely a crapshoot this season, but the Thunder are still the prohibitive favorites to make it to the Finals. Their late-game execution has been a mixed-bag, but that's still better than the circus clown show it was last year. 


Denver Nuggets (18-15)

There's something dark and twisted about a team that deliberately loaded up on excessive depth through trades and free agency winding up one of the most damaged by injury. The Nuggets have had Nene, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, and Arron Afflalo miss time with injuries and it dropped them into the gutter after an exceptionally strong start to the season. Outside of health, the biggest problem for Denver has been what you'd think it would be, the lack of a star player to lead them in close games. Someone has to step up and become the guy for Denver in the playoffs for them to have a chance at making any noise. 


Portland Trail Blazers (18-16) 

Things started so well, too. After getting out to an awesome start and looking unstoppable, versatile, and deep, everything has fallen apart for the Blazers. Nate McMillan's on the hot seat all of a sudden, the team is just two games over .500 (and one of them was the Spurs' surrender game Tuesday). They're not doing anything particularly well, Raymond Felton has been benched, and they're having nagging injuries. all over the place. It was a rough second quarter of the season for Portland. 


Minnesota Timberwolves (16-17)

Well, well, well. Look who got themselves a legit coach and a franchise point guard. Rick Adelman's work with the Timberwovles has made the biggest impact, but Ricky Rubio's playmaking and defense has helped change the vibe. The Wolves are excessively fun to watch, a highlight factory, and feature Kevin Love's All-Star blistering work offensively. The Wolves can't quite get themselves into that 8th spot, but don't be surprised if they somehow sneak their way into the postseason. 


Utah Jazz (15-16)

The popular analogy with teams like this is a rollercoaster but I like to think of the Jazz more as a boat that keeps tipping with the tide and the wind. Everyone rushes to one side of the boat, vomits, then gets thrown to the other side. Are they a good team? They can be, from time to time. Are they a terrible team? They can be, from time to time. There's no figuring out the Jazz. They're a young, inconsistent team, and those kinds of teams usually tail off as the season goes on. 


Pacific Division

Paul has the Clippers out to a faster start than the Lakers, barely. (Getty Images)
by Royce Young

Los Angeles Clippers (19-11)

Blake Griffin changed the game for the Clippers. It started last season with the crazy dunks and high-flying highlights, but quietly, the Clippers had a solid second half. Then they got Chris Paul before this season and boom, they're a top team in the West. How have they handled that hype and expectation? Pretty darn well, I'd say. And they've even endured a major injury to a key player. I don't know if the Clips are set up to really challenge in the Western Conference playoffs, but the point is, they will absolutely be there and probably sitting as a top four seed. Think about that.


Los Angeles Lakers (19-13)

There was a pretty unsettling tone set about this Laker season before it even started. Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol were traded, and then untraded by David Stern. Then Odom was traded for basically nothing. And Kobe hurt his wrist. The front office might be in shambles, players might be unhappy with Mike Brown and there's a lot of uncertainty around the roster only except for No. 24. They're still in the thick of things, but it's hard to see this team moving forward until whatever is looming around the roster, finally happens. 


Phoenix Suns (14-19)

There's a catch 22 with the Suns. Steve Nash continues to defy common sense by playing some of his basketball at age 38. But what that's done is make the Suns competitive, meaning they will likely miss out on a top five pick and Nash will remain as part of the roster instead of the front office blowing it up. The Suns are stuck in a state of mediocrity. Maybe they're fine with that, but this team is just two years removed from the Western Conference Finals, but that seems so, so far away.


Golden State Warriors (12-17)

For a brief second, it really seemed like the Warriors were ready to turn a corner. They had won three straight heading into a showdown with the West's best, the Thunder. And then OKC completely humbled them in a three-quarter blowout. Mark Jackson wanted to install defense and while they're a bit better, they aren't winning more. 


Sacramento Kings (10-22)

I bought into a little preseason hype around the Kings. The talent seemed to be in place for them to finally make a step forward. There have been some flashes like a national TV win over Oklahoma City, but for the most part, it's just another Sacramento season. Paul Westphal got fired, DeMarcus Cousins had an issue again and Jimmer Fredette hasn't produced much buzz or points so far. And their arena situation and future in the city is still way up in the air. 


Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:46 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 5:40 pm

Is Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick? Yes. Very Yes.

Anthony Davis is the No.1 prospect by most evaluators, including CBSSports.com's Jeff Goodman. (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore

To start you off, Jeff Goodman and I sat down to talk about the college season through the lens of th NBA draft. We talk about Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (MKG), Tony Wroten, and the quality of character and coachability of guys in this draft. You will enjoy this. Let's start there. 

Regarding Davis, this is a post about something obvious, but it needed to be written anyway.

Anthony Davis is currently averaging 13.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.8 blocks per game and shooting 64.6 percent from the field. So, just to get an idea of where he stands historically, how many freshmen have averaged 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game? (Note: round up and Davis is averaging 14, 10, and 5, but we're setting the bar low here. Just keep it in mind.) The answer is: 

1. Anthony Davis. 

Just Davis. That's it. So there's that. 

Player Efficiency Rating doesn't translate well to college. The weak schedule, different flow, all of it just makes it to where the metric isn't particularly effective in evaluating performance. But if you're into hypotheticals or interesting stat trivia, the highest PER over the past three years is 34.75 from Kennth Faried. Davis is currently on track for a PER of 35.4. 

This is all to say, Anthony Davis is a freak. And I'm not talking about the eyebrows.

Thing is, all of this is nothing compared to the scouts evaluation of him. In a loaded class with Harrison Barnes, all eleven hundred of the Kentucky kids, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones, and Thomas Robinson, Davis is still miles ahead of the rest in terms of ability and projected ceiling. It's not just the production, that stuff can come from physical dominance at the college level. But it's that his defensive instincts and determination are so high. He's a smart, coachable player that doesn't block just the first shot. He blocks the second shot. He blocks the third shot. To say he may be the best defensive prospect since Kevin Garnett is not an exaggeration.

Davis sprouted from a guard into the power forward he is today, and his frame has a long way to go in terms of catching up. His frame isn't massive, he'll never play center in the NBA. But his athleticism and ability to attack shots will make for an easy translation.

The two biggest questions about Davis are his ability to defend in the post and his offense. Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com in the podcast above says that he's got a much better offense than he's asked to provide at Kentucky and that under a pro coach, he'll be able to showcase those abiliies. Defensively in the paint, he'll have issues. But there's no reason to think that as he grows and works under a strength and conditioning coach at the next level that he can't grow into the bulk and strength necessary to contend there.
Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:48 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 1:51 pm

Charles Oakley calls out Garnett, Barkley

Charles Oakley called out KG and Charles Barkley over their behavior on Jime Rome's show. (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore

Charles Oakley has opinions. And he will tell you them. And you will listen. Or he will destroy you. And now the former Knick has turned his attention to two outspoken NBA personalities in Kevin Garnett and the Chuckster, Charles Barkley. 

Oakley appeared on "The Jim Rome Show"with Jim Rome Tuesday and spoke about the two. He did not hold back. You are not surprised. To the quotes! From Sports Talk Network:
"Garnett left Minnesota and hollered and screamed and all that but he's not a tough guy. He’s one of the weakest guys to ever play the game. He’s a complimentary player and went to Paul Pierce’s team and won a championship. I wouldn’t consider him a top 10 tough guy."
via Charles Oakley rips KG, Barkley.

Oakley's claims are harsh, no shock there, but they are reflective of the other side of KG. Garnett comes off as so intense because of the screaming and pounding his head against the stanchion and whatnot. And he has been known to get into some physical altercations... usually with diminutive point guards. His M.O is usually to reach out and slap or shove someone, then to back off while being "restrained" by his teammates. 

Thing is, that's a good thing.

Garnett shows restraint, which helps his team win ball games. He protects his reputation, gets in the head of his opponents, and doesn't get ejected. It's the best of all worlds. And while Garnett is certainly not as tough as the character he portrays when the arena lights come on, to say he's one of the weakest to ever play is absurd. You can't be as great a defender as he is without being at least slightly-above-average tough.

But I'll let you tell Oakley that. Because he terrifies me.

Oaklay also weighed in on legend Charles Barkley, a friend of Michael Jordan who Oakley is also notoriously close with. He was not much nicer to the Round Mound Who Isn't So Round Anymore: 
 Barkley for his size was a good player but he’s a coward though. He was a good player for his size but, he wasn’t a leader and wasn’t a role model. Now he talks so bad about younger guys, I don’t respect that from him…He’s a fraud, he can criticize all the younger kids and if he got something to say, call them and talk to them before you just blast them. He’s wants to be funny, that whole TNT thing and all that, they’re like some clowns on that show.
via Charles Oakley rips KG, Barkley.

As Jim Rome would say, "strong."

Jeez, Oak, don't hold back. Tell us how you feel. 

("ROME with Jim Rome" debuts on CBS Sports Network April 3rd.  You can follow him on Twitter @JimRome.
Posted on: February 21, 2012 1:19 am
Edited on: February 21, 2012 1:57 am

With Melo back in, fit with Lin questions begin.

Carmelo Anthony returned to the Linsanity but the Knicks lost to the Nets. Can they co-exist? (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore 

In a seasony as jam-packed with storylines as this one, you knew it had to happen like this. The Jeremy-Lin-lead Knicks played their first game with Carmelo Anthony back in the lineup after a five-game absence, with Amar'e Stoudemire, Melo, Baron Davis, and J.R. Smith all on the active roster, and of course, they lost. To the Nets. At home. Deron Williams, who was the player victimized when Linsanity started, made it his own personal mission in life to shut down, discourage, and otherwise outshine Lin on his way to 38 points and six assists. You can read more about Williams' vendetta from Ken Berger of CBSSports.com. But of particular interest long-term for the Knicks, Ken Berger spoke with a scout at Madison Square Garden who had this to say about how Melo fits into Mike D'Antoni's system which has flourished with Lin running the show. 
Straight from a scout who has watched Anthony’s career extensively, here are the issues: Anthony and Stoudemire like to operate in the same area of the floor, and that’s something D’Antoni has to figure out regardless of who the point guard is. The way Lin has played for the first 11 games of this run, it will be easier for him to figure out than it was for any of the other point guards the Knicks have tried.

Here’s the other, and perhaps more important issue: Anthony likes to set up and call for the ball in an area that is between the low block and the 3-point line, a little wider than most mid-post isolation scorers want the ball. Anthony has been effective his entire career from that area, because he has so many options from there. But he also takes up a lot of space, thus killing the corner 3-pointer – so crucial to D’Antoni’s style – on that side of the floor, and also crowding out the pick-and-roll and wing penetration. One game is a little soon to call it a failure, though I’m sure that won’t stop it from happening.

“We are not in panic mode,” Lin said. Now, back to the real star of the show.
via Against Lin, D-Will restores sanity - CBSSports.com.

Here's what that scout's talking about, from Anthony's shot chart for 2-point jump-shots this season with New York, courtesy of Pro-Basketball-Reference.com

Melo was just 4-11 Monday night, and there were two big caveats to this performance. His first game back from injury and you know there is going to be rust. Second, the Knicks have so many players who weren't playing together a month ago, there's a huge challenge for them to figure out the offense. For reference, here's what Melo's night from the floor looked like. You can see even in a tiny sample size that extended elbow effect. 

So you can see what the scout was talking about.  If you want an idea of the impact on the corner three, again, in a tiny sample size, or at least an idea of the difference in success for the Knicks when they turn to the corner three versus other options, here's a look at Sunday's shot chart versus the Mavericks. check the corner threes: 

Now observe the chart and corner threes against the Nets: 

Clearly the Knicks didn't produce as many corner three attempts or makes. Whether that's a product of Anthony or not is a complicated question with an unclear answer. But the results in a win and loss and three-point production do lead you in a direction of concern, though not something that can't be resolved easily with more time together for this group of players. 

Maybe most interesting was twice when Melo's penetration lead to buckets for Lin, once on the perimeter and once on a catch-pump-and-drive. So there are signs that this can work between the two. Amar'e Stoudemire looked better in this game, more active and aggressive, though he wound up with as many points as shots for what feels like the 20th time this season (in reality it was his tenth of 27 games). 

If anything Anthony seemed to be trying to make a point by passing, forcing up six turnovers and trying to create for Lin and everyone. Anthony is a scorer, but if he shoots, he'll be criticized. As it stands, he passed, so it's difficult to criticize him for it. It'll take time to figure out where to start from, where to finish, and how to manage Lin as Lin learns to manage him. 

Maybe more concerning than the Knicks' offensive effort were the problems of the Knicks systemically and Lin individually to contain Deron Williams. Williams is an elite player, and it's too much to ask Lin as young as he is to be an elite defender, but that was certainly more to blame than the Knicks' offensive issues. 

New York is a work in progress. The problem is that it takes time to figure out all their new parts and how they figure together. 

As someone famous said, they don't have time.
Posted on: February 20, 2012 3:58 pm
Edited on: February 20, 2012 3:59 pm

Derrick Rose returns vs. Hawks

By Matt Moore 

The Bulls announced Monday that Derrick Rose would return to the starting lineup Monday afternoon against the Atlanta Hawks. Rose has missed the past five games with back spasms. He saw a specialist for the condition and further examinations revealed no structural damage, but he was held out over the weekend regardless. 

Rose returns to a Bulls team who was good but inconsistent without Rose, demolishing the Celtics while struggling against the lowly Nets. Rose played heavy minutes through the beginnings of his injury, and it'll be interesting to see how many minutes coach Tom Thibodeau plays him coming off the injury.
Posted on: February 20, 2012 12:42 pm
Edited on: February 20, 2012 1:05 pm

Eye on Basketball Midseason Awards

LeBron James is having one of the best seasons of his career and is the midseason NBA MVP. (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore

The 2012 NBA All-Star break begins this week as this season continues to fly by on a shortened lockout schedule. Already we've seen an incredible year, even in the midst of some ugly, ugly, ugly basketball. The Heat look better than ever, the Bulls are still dominant through injury, the Sixers are impressively complete. The Dwight Howard saga drags on. The Lakers and Celtics are struggling to find their dominant gear. The Thunder are blistering offensively, the Timberwolves surprising and of course, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lin all the time. 

With that, here are the 2012 NBA Midseason Awards, based on where we stand on February 20th, 2012. 

Eastern Conference Most Valuable Player: LeBron James

When CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyel wrote that LeBron was different this year, he was spot-on. James has talked about how he spent the summer re-discovering his love of basketball, getting away from all the criticism, and getting back to the person he wants to be. He and the Heat have admitted that the resounding backlash to "The Decision" played a large part in their mental approach to last season. In short, James is not comfortable being bitter, angry, resentful. He's at his best when driven by a simple love of the game. That's the dichotomy with James. He is inarguably the single most arrogant and out-of-touch player in the Association, and yet he does possess a genuine love of basketball. It's always playing at his home. It's something he lights up when he gets to talk about instead of storylines. Basketball came easily to James athletically, but it's also something he works obsessively at. History teaches that you have to hate your opponent, have to be driven by anger and resentment. James is simply not built that way. In reality, he may be too goofy, too fun-loving to ever reach the kind of iconic play that is necessary to be considered one of the best, to have the killer instinct that so many criticize him for lacking, which he himself has admitted he may lack.

None of this changes the fact that there are only three things which can stop James from earning his third MVP this season, should he continue to play as he has for the first half of the year. The first is largely the same reason he failed to win it last season: vengeance. Voters showed their disapproval of James by not truly considering him for the award. Whether it was a distaste for the arrogance of James' approach to leaving Cleveland on national television, a disgust at the preseason championship comments at the presser with the smoke and fireworks, or disappointment with James seeking to team up with two great players instead of winning on his own (an element neither Carmelo Anthony nor Chris Paul have received criticism for), James was shut out, when by most measures, he simply played better than Derrick Rose. Rose was a phenomenal player last season and a wonderful story, well-worthy of the award. However, James was better. Those sentiments have cooled this season, but if voters decide to maintain their teeth-grinding disapproval of James, that could cost him. The second is simple injury. James has only missed a small handful of games, but that can always derail a player's path. And the third is the most likely impediment: minutes.

The Heat did not take the tactic of prioritizing homecourt last season. It wouldn't have mattered, the Bulls were simply better in every way during the course of the regular season. But the Heat were clearly more focused on being healthy for the playoffs than capturing homecourt. And it's likely to be the same this year. The Heat have managed to handle the compact schedule well, outside of some Dwyane Wade bumps and bruises as to be expected. But when March rolls around, this team will start looking for rest, and that means James could sit out several games. The Heat will happily trade in April wins, provided they have a top four seed, for rest. James could lose momentum in that case as he watches from the sideline and another worthy candidate pushes his way to the finish line.

What makes James worthy of the award this year? Pick one. The Heat are the best team in the East, and you may claim that Dwyane Wade is still the focal point of the offense, metrics be damned, and that's fine, but James' overall work on both ends of the floor still takes the notch. Without resorting to statistics, you see James take over games as if he's a one-man army. He's seemingly everywhere, interrupting passes, working in the post, snatching rebounds, blocking shots, lobbing to Wade, dishing to Chalmers, attacking the rim over and over again. It's awe-inspiring basketball. You don't need metrics to see he's the best player in the game this season. This is all factoring in the fact he's taken a step back defensively. He's turned it on the past five or six games, but this hasn't been a season of his usual defensive dominance... and he's still been this good overall.

But if you want them, they bear it out as well. James is enjoying a career high (tied) in points per 36 minutes, rebounds per game and 36 minutes, field goal percentage, True Shooting percentage (factoring 3-point shooting and free throws), and of course PER. The confusion with PER most often is that it somehow measures value, that it establishes how good a player is. Instead, it's just what it's defined as. Player Efficiency Rating. It establishes who produces the most per minute, considering how many possessions they use in doing so. And right now, James is doing the most of any player in history in that department.

So that's fun.

James may not win MVP this year, for a variety of reasons. But there is absolutely no question at this season's halfway mark, that he's the best player in the league, and most valuable.

Western Conference Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant

If you prefer the classic mold of the MVP, AKA a scoring machine, Kevin Durant fits pretty well. He's a jump-shooter shooting 52 percent from the field. Think about that. The league average is 36 percent. Durant is hitting 15 more shots for every 100 attempts from the hardest place on the floor to knock them down. That's ridiculous. That's just absurd. He is the best pure-scoring machine in the league. Kobe Bryant may topple him for the scoring crown, but he'll need five to six more attempts to do so. The cherry on Durant's Sunday has to be his 51-point explosion Sunday night. He managed 51 points on 28 shots.

And really quietly, Durant's become an elite defender. He's allowing just 26 percent from the field in ISO situations according to Synergy Sports. Defense was a huge weakness in Durant's game over the past few seasons and he's really hit his stride this season. The Thunder aren't even that great defensively, Durant has just been individually incredible.

For him to catch James, he would need for the Thunder to continue their impressive winning percentage. He would need to top the league in scoring, and for his impressive uptick in rebounding rates to continue. It's a tall order, but there's no question he's within range. Durant has become the most impressive offensive force in the league.

He is 23 years of age.

Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving

Ricky Rubio is dazzling. He's a phenom. He changes the course of games and wows you with the eyes. No rookie has impressed more than Rubio, who has silenced all his critics, of which I was very much one, regarding his ability translate his game to the NBA level. Rubio is honestly poetry in motion, and the feel he has for the game is joy-inspiring more than awe-inspiring. It is such a fluid and spectacular range of abilities, it makes the Timberwolves so much fun to watch.

And Kyre Irving is a better player.

It's not really close.

Get past the fact that Irving has been shooting at historic levels, that his overall production is in line with some of the all-time greats in this league in their first years. Irving has a mastery of the game that Rubio does not, even after so many more years of playing professionally. Irving can run an offense more completely and calmly, and is a superb crunch time scorer (Rubio is brilliant in that area in his own right). But if you want numbers, it's simple. Rubio's a 38 percent shooter. Irving is a 48 percent shooter. You can talk about how you would prefer your point guard pass than score, but Irving's numbers are truncated by a lack of talent on the Cavaliers, while Rubio has Kevin Love, Michael Beasley (a scorer for all his faults), an emerging Nikolai Pekovic and Derrick Williams.

Rubio would be a fine choice. He's the most exciting rookie. Maybe even the most impactful rookie.

Kyrie Irving is the Rookie of the Year, halfway through. This one will be tight to the finish.

Defensive Player of the Year: Andre Iguodala

I know. It's always Dwight Howard! It has to be Dwight Howard! But here's the thing. Howard's effort hasn't been as consistent this season. Whether it's the trade talk, the lockout schedule effect, coaching, whatever, it hasn't been there. His rebound rate is there, it's the highest of his career. He actually is allowing fewer points per possession than he did last year, but if we consider the lockout effects on all shooting percentages, Howard has slipped from the 96th percentile to the 77th percentile in rank on points per possession. Howard is maybe the most impactful defensive player in the league. But his performance hasn't been worthy of the award this year.

Iguodala, on the other hand, is the star defender on the league's best defense (Philly is tops in defensive efficiency, points per 100 possessions), and is most often given the toughest assignment night in and night out in this league. He is tasked with stopping the best perimeter threat on offense each game, and in doing so, has limited opponents to 35 percent shooting. He is able to body up larger opponents, stick with smaller ones, switch, shift, deter, block, steal, cajole, harass and otherwise make his opponent's life miserable and has done so for the majority of the season.

A close second on this list is Luol Deng, who actually has better marks via Synergy. But a combination of Deng's missed time due to injury, and the Bulls' reliance on help defense under Tom Thibodeau's system barely, and I mean barely, gives Iguodala the edge here. Dwight Howard will wind up winning this award, but ask yourself, is it more difficult to shut down perimeter elite scorers in this league or to stop the awful, horrible batch of big men currently roaming the lanes?

6th Man of the Year: James Harden

Harden should be starting. By any and all accounts, he is a much better player than Thabo Seofolosha, or Daequan Cook, or whoever you want to start at two-guard for the best offense in the land. Harden should be the starter, he plays starters minutes, he finishes like a starter, he's close with the starters, he's a star in his own right. And yet, he's much better off the bench. He provides the Thunder with not only a scorer off the pine, but an offensive creator, maybe his best asset. Harden can run the offense, he facilitates, and can make a play go even off-ball. He's a capable if not excellent defender, and his decision making and effort is often times the difference in close wins and losses for OKC.

This award has been wrapped up for a good long time.

Coach of the Year: Doug Collins

The Philadelphia 76ers have the third seed in the East as of this writing, with signature wins over the Lakers, Bulls, Magic, and just about everyone not from South Beach. Doug Collins has managed to turn a team without a central star, without an Isolation scoring threat, without a dominant big man or an all-world point guard (no offense to the brilliant Jrue Holiday) into a powerhouse that overwhelms teams with defense, savvy, bench scoring, team play, and fortitude.

The players genuinely love to play for Collins and he's gotten through to them to a man. Spencer Hawes is playing well, for crying out loud. Elton Brand is producing. Iguodala is having the best overall season of his career by the eye test. They have the best defense, the best bench, the best record in a tough division. Collins has done an incredible job and is every bit deserving of this award as much for his process as the results it has garnered.

Most Improved Player: Jeremy Lin

What were you expecting? Usually second-year players are exempt in my eyes. They're supposed to develop and improve in their second season. But Lin is a special case. Lost in the Linsanity and all the great storylines surround him is the fact he has talked a lot about what the D-League did for him. This league too often doesn't allow players to develop, simply shreds them through and only the strong survive. Lin is a testament to the idea that players can develop, can improve, can learn this game and get better to the point of success. He's improved the most simply by making himself relevant, let alone raising New York from the dead for 15 percent of the season.
Posted on: February 20, 2012 1:58 am

Report Card 2.20.12: Durant goes OFF

Kevin Durant scored 51 in the Thunder's win over Denver Sunday. (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore 

Each night, Eye on Basketball brings you what you need to know about the games of the NBA. From great performances to terrible clock management the report card evaluates and eviscerates the good, the bad, and the ugly from the night that was.

Kevin Durant These are numbers, but they are important numbers. 51 points on 28 shots, 19-28 from the field, 5-6 from three, 9-10 from the stripe. Eight rebounds, three assists, 4 steals and a huge win over the Nuggets in overtime. Denver was without two starters but dug deep and forced the Thunder to the edge. But Durant put on a performance for the ages, the shine on his MVP candidacy and lifted OKC to a win. It was the kind of performance you tell your friends about, your kids about, the kind you start the water cooler conversation about. He was unstoppable from the elbow, unstoppable from the perimeter, unstoppable at the rim. It was a transcendent performance, and this is alongside Russell Westbrook with 40 points and nine assists and Serge Ibaka's triple double in points, rebounds, and blocks. This Thunder team may not be good enough defensively to win a title, but they may wind up as one to remember for a long, long time.
LeBron James The surges are becoming more pronounced, the dropoffs less so. James is solving defensive adjustments used against him. He's finding open shooters in the corner who are actually knocking them down this year, he's battling more inside, he's still a freak of nature in transition, and on Sunday, he guarded Dwight Howard on a handful of possessions. James buried the Magic by doing all the things he does, and true to form, did them in less than 40 minutes of time. 25-11-8, a full-court lob to Wade, just one miss from the stripe, just five misses from the field. There are games where James feels like a one-man horde, storming the opponent's gates. Sunday was such a game and the Magic had no defense.
Jeremy Lin Defending champs? No problem. Shawn Marion who helped shut down Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James last year? No problem. Increased expectations, a Sunday afternoon double-header on national television, and the grind of interviews and a compact schedule? No problem. Jeremy Lin did his thing again, the Knicks won again, and Linsanity rages on. Lin managed the offense as well as he has. Were the turnovers great? No, clearly not. But a 2:1 turnover ratio is acceptable given his usage, and turning Steve Novak into a scoring machine deserves a reward all its own.
Denver Nuggets They were short-handed, and still the Nuggets managed to push the Thunder to the brink before a furious comeback landed them in overtime and a few good shots (a good roll for Westbrook on a three) and some Durant brilliance downed them. The Nuggets were without Nene and Danilo Gallinari, but they were stil stranded without a closer. Denver had such a good approach in the first half, attacking a weak Thunder interior (those Ibaka blocks all come on the weakside, not man-up) and killing them on the glass. They abandoned it in the second half and it cost them as the Lakers topped off a 2-0 run.
The Old Guard Boston loses to Detroit for the second time in a month. The Lakers get whacked by the Suns in a game that wasn't competitive after the first quarter. Neither side has any real idea of where they're going or if they can perform as needed to compete for a title. There's constant trade talk surrounding both teams. They look slow, they look old, they struggle to score and they struggle to defend. These teams were the two Finals squads two years ago. Time marches on.
Charlotte Bobcats After three quarters against the Pacers, the Bobcats, a professional basketball team by strict definition (only), were down 88-48. For-ty-poi-nts. That's embarrassing. That's disgusting. That's... not totally surprising. There is no hope in Charlotte right now. Not even with the rookies. It's all bad, all the time. This performance was worthy of inventing a new letter beneath F just to give it to them.

Jeremy Lin (28 points, 14 assists, general linsanity, magical powers)
Ersan Ilyasova (29 points, 25 rebounds in a win over New Jersey)
Kyle Lowry (32 points, 9 assists in a win over Utah)
LeBron James (25 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists)
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com