Connections and Storylines for a Tuesday

Boston @ Indiana – The last time Boston was 6-0 was way back on November 15, 1987. They reached that point with a 103-98 win at Market Square Arena. Larry Bird scored 11 of his 24 points in the first quarter and the Celtics made 10 of their 13 shots.

But of more recent history is that they’ll be facing the last coach that won a playoff series for the Celtics and that was Jim O’Brien, who in 2003 guided the Celtics to the Eastern Conference semifinals. O’Brien stepped down just as Danny Ainge took over and dealt away players such as Antoine Walker and Eric Williams for the likes of Raef LaFrentz and Ricky Davis.

As for the present, the 5-0 start has seen the Celtics win by an average of 16.6 points – a figure that would be larger if not for a three-point win in Toronto. They have had six quarters in which they have outscored the opponent by double digits.

As for the Pacers, their present three-game losing streak makes that 3-0 start seem like a thing of the past. They were last seen coughing up a 25-point lead and losing 113-106 to the Nuggets and they’ve also seen Danny Granger’s drop as he is 18-of-50 and 0-of-13 from three-point range in his last three contests. The loss to Denver came a night after they blew an eight-point lead and gave up 20-2 run in Charlotte.

Seattle @ Orlando – If the Sonics had been able or wanted to re-sign Rashard Lewis, they might have had a win or two. They take an 0-7 mark into this and have never been 0-8. So what do they plan on doing to combat the losing, especially after coming within four points of the Detroit Pistons Sunday night. I do not know just yet but from someone who saw the game, the Sonics played well enough against teams not named the Pistons. Five of Seattle’s seven losses have been by single digits so maybe the laws of statistics could be in their favor.

As for Orlando, the Magic are 5-2 with Lewis, who is averaging 20.2 points and one of the many long-range shooters that pace a team that has four games with at least 10-pointers. Their defense is far from being perfect as Stan Van Gundy said it was a bunch of things, especially pertaining to the low post the other night in New York when I asked him.

Another thing to expect if you’re defending the Magic is that they will keep shooting. If 10 misfire, they figure the 11th will go in and chances are Dwight Howard will grab a majority of those misses although he might have some problems if Chris Wilcox and Nick Collision are on the court on the same time. They make the Sonics one of eight teams with two players averaging eight rebounds .

Miami @ Charlotte – Now that Miami has won for the first time since April 13, they can begin the season. Taking this back-to-back with Charlotte and Seattle might be very important because a back-to-back with Boston and New Jersey is next. The Heat are the worst team in the league when it comes to scoring at 84.5 points but if they can get the Bobcats to cave into the slow, plodding halfcourt style they can and probably win this. That’s among the things they did in New York in a 75-72 win. They also came back from six down in the final six-plus minutes, holding the Knicks to one basket and no points in the final 2 1/2 minutes. They also have been getting the big time blue collar effort from Udonis Haslem, who resembled many of the players that Pat Riley used to coach in New York with his 16-point, 16 rebound showing. That’s my unscientific analysis of the Heat, here’s some scientific analysis

As for Charlotte, they’ve never been this good this late in a season. Last year it took the Bobcats 14 games to get to four victories, in 2005-06 it was 12 games and in 2004-05 it was also 14. They already have an 90-88 win over Miami and that was a game they nearly lost. But of course like many teams that have yet to consistently win, late-game execution can be a problem like it was in Sunday’s 85-82 loss to Houston. They were up five heading into the fourth and up seven with 6:05 remaining. The teams like the Pistons, Spurs, Suns usually expand that lead to double-digits while the losing or inconsistent teams blow it or make it tough and that’s what happened. They allowed the Rockets to hang in there and they eventually took the lead and the superstar got the call when Tracy McGrady got a call against Gerald Wallace in the waning seconds.

Houston @ Memphis – The Yao and McGrady show heads to Memphis and what a show it is. They are combining for 51.3 points and that has Houston 6-1 for the first time since 1996-97 when they tried to win with Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. After this back-to-back concludes with the Lakers, we get an early look at how the Rockets shape up with games against the Spurs, Suns and Mavericks. Houston’s last two fourth quarters have been solid defensively with a total of 35 points allowed to Milwaukee and Charlotte. The show from Yao and McGrady is so good that one member of the Bobcats thinks of another show from a decade ago: “I don’t think there’s a better one-two combination (in the NBA). Tracy is a great offensive player. He’s an all-star who creates his own shots and is able to get to the basket and finish. Yao Ming is basically what they call him, ‘The Great Wall of China.’ Once he posts in the block, he’s so hard to guard. Your best defense against him is to try and not let him get the ball, because once he gets the ball, he’s pretty much unstoppable. Plus, he’s a good passer who sees the floor well and gets his teammates the ball in good positions. That might be the best one-two combination since MJ and Pippen.”

As for Memphis, it is 1-4 and the 19.2 turnovers per game and 25 in Utah on Saturday are a reason. Their frenetic style just isn’t cutting it thus far and look for them to attempt to slow it down . The biggest offenders of this problem are Damon Stoudamire with 16, Kyle Lowry with 15 and Mike Miller with 1.

Philadelphia @ Dallas – This is a game pitting two teams coming off one of those nights.

For the 76ers their night was Sunday’s 92-74 loss at home to the Hornets, who held a 54-30 edge in the second and third quarter. I have yet to see an entire Philadelphia game but opposing scouts have noticed the Sixers struggle in halfcourt sets. Like the Knicks they also struggle to defend from the perimeter witness the 10-of-20 they allowed, the 9-of-18 to Toronto, the 8-of-17 to New Jersey and the 9-of-16 on Opening Night at Toronto.

For the Mavericks, their night was Saturday’s 91-82 loss in Portland, where their undoing was the third quarter. They missed their first 13 shots and 19 of 23 overall. The good news is the impending return of Erick Dampier, whom Avery Johnson thinks is worth every penny for how effective he is in doing things such as setting screens.

Lakers @ Spurs – The Lakers have shown they can shoot fairly well and enter a two-game, two-night trip through Texas.  They’re second in points per game, third in shooting but 21st in turnovers.  When we last saw the Lakers, they were beating the Timberwolves and getting a solid debut from Lamar Odom (18 points, 10 rebounds in 34 minutes).  Kobe Bryant has three games with 30-plus points and the last two have been very efficient shooting-wise .  This will also be Derek Fisher’s first trip to San Antonio as a Laker since his famous last-second shot in the 2004 playoffs.

As for the Spurs, they’re a very good 6-1 team and have won their last four games by double-digits.   They should be well-rested considering that they blew out the Bucks 113-88 and did so early. Nobody played more than 27 minutes in the game.  Will Kobe Bryant have his worst night of the season?  It’s possible as Bruce Bowen has held five very good players down – Kevin Martin, Tracy McGrady, Michael Redd, Rudy Gay and Brandon Roy.  .

Knicks @ Suns – From cautious hope to gloom and doom, that’s how quickly things change.  A week ago, the Knicks were 119-112 winners over Denver and 2-1.  Then they lost to Orlando and Miami to fall to 2-3.  They were without Zach Randolph and lost Quentin Richardson in Sunday’s 75-72 loss to Miami.  Those two don’t figure to play tonight in Phoenix for the start of a four games in five nights trip that could make them 2-7 if they go winless.  Eddy Curry will have to be more assertive, one shot in the second half isn’t going to cut it unless his shoulder is hurt.  The Knicks have barely played any defense and Stephon Marbury can’t keep anyone in front of him so expect Steve Nash to easily get past Marbury.  Of course if Marbury continues to struggle defensively he could be shown the door.  I don’t envision any trade scenarios considering the money and would the Knicks eat of all that money? Well there’s a buffet of money they’ve eaten (Shandon Anderson, Maurice Taylor, Jalen Rose etc).

As for positive topics, on to the Suns. absences have only allowed them to showcase their depth.  Amare Stoudemire’s knee has been acting up, Raja Bell’s ankle hurts –  no problem, just give Leoandro Barbosa the ball and see what happens.  What happened was 39 points Saturday night in Orlando.  Despite all that, they don’t feel it has clicked that good so far.

Detroit @ Portland – Rasheed Wallace makes another return to Portland, which dealt him to Atlanta, which sent him to Detroit.  The Pistons are on game two of their five-game West Coast junket.  They blew a 23-point lead and settled for a 107-103 win over Seattle on Sunday. Wallace is 4-0 in Portland with the Pistons and also has a pretty good hoops IQ.

For the Blazers, a win here equals their longest winning streak of 2006-07 and kind of makes you forget about that 0-3 start (at least until they hit the road again).  The Blazers were feeling charitable yesterday, feeding 5,000 or more people at their 12th Annual Harvest Dinner  and Tuesday is Heritage Night.  The Blazers will have Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Kevin Duckworth in the house.  Those guys were members of both teams that went to the NBA finals and lost to the Pistons and Bulls.


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