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| Jan. 20, 2006

The NBA Through Travis Colored Glasses

- Some NBA notes to warm up your January.

- I'm starting to drink the Kool-Aid a little bit when it comes to the Dallas Mavericks. I won't totally be sold on the team until I see them carry their current success into the playoffs. That said, the team is playing some great basketball. What has impressed me the most is the team's propensity to win close games in the fourth quarter. And it's not just Dirk Nowitzki, either (even though I think he's a viable MVP candidate). Jason Terry has been clutch all season long, and even the venerable Jerry Stackhouse drilled a game-winning jumper last week against the Boston Celtics.

- Since when has slapping become en vogue in the NBA? I don't know what's worse, the fact that Vince Carter slapped Morris Peterson, or the fact that Peterson actually slapped him back. And of course world-class referee Steve Javie only saw the retaliatory slap (did I really just use the term "retaliatory slap" in this column, yikes).

- I alerted all of you faithful readers out there that there was trouble in paradise for Steve Francis. And all that trouble just blew up last week. I'm glad coach Brian Hill suspended Francis, as I believed that's what had to be done. Don't be surprised if the Magic start fielding offers for Francis soon. The problem is, who possibly take him in his current condition? Maybe the Knicks could offer Stephon Marbury. Seems fair, right? One overpaid disgruntled point guard for another.

- I'll go north of the border for one more minute, and give Mike James some props for being named Eastern Conference player of the week. I know it happened last week, but I honestly never thought such a thing could ever happen. That said, this guy is playing some really good basketball -- even if it is for a really bad team. In the past, he's been nothing more than a role player, but he appears to evolving into something more with the Raptors. The real question is whether or not James could be the same type of impact player on a playoff caliber club.

- Can anything else go wrong for the Houston Rockets? Tracy McGrady has missed more time after having severe back spasms that caused him to be removed from the floor by a stretcher at halftime of the team's game against Denver over a week ago. I'm starting to wonder if McGrady will ever be the same again, as back injuries have claimed more than their share fair of NBA players far too early. Let's hope T-Mac is not one of them, and that he can return pain free -- even if that doesn't happen this season.

- All may not be lost for Houston, however. Anyone remember the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs. That group was a very good basketball team that lost nearly all of their major pieces to injury, including a star center by the name of David Robinson. The team finished with a dismal record near the basement of the league. So what good could come out of situation like this, you ask? Well, the Spurs drafted some guy named Tim Duncan with the #1 overall pick in the draft. Dude turned out to be a pretty good player.

- I know I've been hard on Larry Brown and the Knicks so far this season, but Brown has the team playing great ball in 2006. Look, if Brown can turn the Knicks into a viable championship contender within the next couple of seasons, I don't see how anyone can look at this guy as any less than one of the very best coaches to ever patrol an NBA sideline. But I think that even Larry would tell you that he still has a long way to go with this very young Knicks club.

- The Chicago Bulls may be struggling to win ballgames right now -- but I'll tell you one thing -- these guys can shoot. They lead the league in shooting from distance, and Scott Skiles doesn't lose anything when he goes to his bench, either. But that's what's so confusing about this team. Seven games under .500 is nothing short of abysmal for a team with so much talent. Ben Gordon for Paul Pierce rumors have been floating around, so stay tuned.

- The Memphis Grizzlies are really good and all, but boy are they boring to watch. I think having to watch a Mike Fratello coached team battle a Jeff Van Gundy coached team, just might be a form of torture in some corners of the globe.

- I've figured out a sure fire way to beat the Phoenix Suns. Just make sure to play three overtimes against them, and they're as good as dead. The Suns lost their second three-overtime marathon in less than a month last Tuesday. This time the Denver Nuggets beat them 139-137 courtesy of a Carmelo Anthony game winning basket -- which by the way, was already the fifth game winning shot of Melo's young career.

- Can anyone beat the Detroit Pistons? The way they laid the smack down on the Spurs last week, I'm staring to think that the answer to that question just might be no. It will be interesting to see what happens come playoff time.

- That's it for now guys. Thanks for reading, and a special shout out to all of you who have been translating and reading my stuff at HoopChina.com. Thanks so much for your nice comments!

Have a take about what you just read? Contact Travis Heath at travismheath@msn.com. Heath is a doctoral candidate in psychology, and a freelance writer. Travis currently resides outside of Denver, Colorado, but he has spent time in Washington, Nebraska, and both Northern and Southern California. He is also a self-admitted sports addict, with his primary vice being the NBA.



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