Hawks rookie Al Horford has serious board skills

Coming into the season everyone recognized that big, strong Atlanta Hawks rookie Al Horford had an NBA-ready body. But early in the young season he’s looking like an even better rebounder than expected. Here’s the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

I can’t remember seeing a player (rookie or not) go after rebounds the way Al Horford did last night. He was more than relentless. He was surgical (don’t know if that’s the right word or not) in the way he diagnosed his pursuit of the ball. To get 15 against anyone is something, especially for a guy playing his fourth NBA game. Marvin Williams articulated it better than anyone else could after the game when he said, “Al Horford is a beast. We’ve all said that before, but for a rookie to come in and get 15 boards like that is unbelievable.” I don’t know how you sit this kid down with Zaza Pachulia returning to action Friday night. I just can’t see it being a good thing, Horford going to the bench. I can’t see it.

After four games, Horford is grabbing an extremely impressive 10.8 rebounds in just 29.3 minutes per game.

Phoenix to host 2009 All-Star weekend

Phoenix has been selected as the site of NBA All-Star 2009, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced today. The 58th All-Star Game will be played at the US Airways Center, home of the NBA’s Suns and 2007 WNBA Champion Mercury, on Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009. A worldwide television audience spanning over 200 countries will view the events. Fans in the United States will watch the action on TNT.  Phoenix also hosted All-Star in 1975 and 1995.

Is Shaq all washed up?

The Heat aren’t expected to do much until Dwyane Wade returns from injury, which should be this month, but even so, they are playing even worse than expected. A huge factor is Shaquille O’Neal playing like he’s ready to retire any second.

We’re just four games into the 2007-08 season but in 30 minutes per game Shaq is putting up 12.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

That’s about the same production Mark Blount put up for the Timberwolves last season.

Shaq is also averaging 4.5 fouls per game, a lot considering his modest playing time so far.

Will Shaq be a bigger, poor man’s Blount by the end of this season? Or sooner? The horror.

Doc Rivers back with Celtics after death of father

Sad spirits in Boston as head coach Doc Rivers recently lost his father. The AP reports:

Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers has rejoined the team after flying to Chicago to be with family following the death of his father.

Rivers said he planned to coach the Celtics in Wednesday night’s home game against the Denver Nuggets and Friday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks. He then planned to return to Chicago.

The Celtics  played at home today where they destroyed the  Nuggets.

Matt Barnes has a dislocated finger

Golden State Warriors swingman Matt Barnes, who is only playing 18 minutes per game this season so far, has a dislocated finger. The AP reports:

Barnes, who missed Wednesday’s practice, dislocated the knuckle on the ring finger of his right hand. The injury could sideline him when Golden State hosts Dallas on Thursday night in a rematch of last season’s playoff shocker, when the Warriors became the first No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed.

The Warriors are off to a winless start to the 2007-08 season.

Despite being 58 years old Sam Cassell scores 35

Gotta love Clippers point guard Sam Cassell, still scoring in the face of defenders. The AP reports:

Sam Cassell scored 35 points to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to a 104-89 win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night in a matchup of unbeaten teams.

Cassell was 13-for-20 from the field to tie his highest point total since he joined the Clippers in 2005.

The Clippers and Pacers were both surprise early success stories and came into this game undefeated.

Hedo Turkoglu gets career-high 15 rebounds

Turkoglu made history, for himself, in helping the Magic beat the Raptors. The AP Reports:

Hedo Turkoglu had 24 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, Rashard Lewis scored 24 points, and the Orlando Magic beat the Toronto Raptors 105-96 on Wednesday night.

For the season, which is still very young, he’s averaging 20 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 35 minutes per game.

Clippers 3-0, Bulls 0-4: What’s going on here?

Quick, raise your hands if you called some guy that handles your money and told him you were willing to gamble that the Clippers would be 3-0 and the Bulls would be 0-4. After all wasn’t this supposed to be another losing season for Los Angeles’ other team and a step up for the Bulls.

Wasn’t it supposed to be this way for the Clippers, especially when Elton Brand went down. Well a funny thing happened on the way to the first full week of the NBA season, Chris Kaman lost some weight and his hair. Kaman had his third straight double-double, something he did once last season and five times during the extremely fun 2005-06 season.

I have to admit, I haven’t seen much of the Clippers. I only watched some of the fourth quarter against Golden State on Friday so I’ll be interested to see how their game with the 3-0 Pacers goes Wednesday.

Now should I get excited about the Clippers just yet? I’d guess probably not, wins over the defensively challenged Warriors, the fourth-quarter deficient SuperSonics and one over the what the heck is going here Bulls, might be reason for skepticism, especially since they were 5-1 last season and did not even make the playoffs.

What I will be excited about is the night that Cuttino Mobley had. He was 10-for-10 in the first half, 13-of-17 overall for 33 points. What you also have to like is the final moments of the fourth when the Clippers turned an 89-85 deficit with 4:05 remaining into the victory – a full detailed synopsis can be found here .

That brings us to the other end of the spectrum – the 0-4 Chicago Bulls. Now keep in mind they also started this way three years ago and made the playoffs but the expectations were different this time around. In case you need to be reminded about that, here’s some the lead paragraph from the Sporting News NBA preview magazine:

“John Paxson has slowly built the Chicago Bulls over his five seasons as general manager into of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the franchise with the most upside in the years to come.”

So what’s the problem?

The fourth quarter seems to be an issue. They missed their final seven shots against the Clippers. Saturday in Milwaukee, they were down five with 2:07 remaining and missed five of their final six. A night earlier against Philadelphia, they were down two with 5:16 remaining and missed their final seven shots. And finally a week ago in New Jersey, they had a three-point with 4:14 remaining in regulation and missed 14 of their final 20 shots. That adds up to 1-for-19 in the last three games when it was theirs to win.

I’m not panicking and neither are the Bulls. After all they’ve made the playoffs in three straight seasons in spite of a combined record of 13-26 in the first month of the season. It is just troubling to see a team who many think is the cream of the crop in the East perform like this, especially against three teams that aren’t projected playoff teams.

Knicks win a home opener and other Sunday items

How long has it been since a Knick team won their home opener? A little over six years, a time that is so long that Jeff Van Gundy was coaching and Michael Jordan was playing.

It’s so long that none of the central figures in the 97-93 win were remotely close to the scene on October 30, 2001.

For example, Jamal Crawford led the Knicks with 24 points. The last time the Knicks won their home opener, he was on the injured list, which has since been replaced by the inactive list.

Zach Randolph, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds in his home debut, including a key defensive rebound down the stretch, made his NBA debut for Portland and played one minute in a loss to the Lakers.

Eddy Curry had not even made his debut, that came a night later in 12 minutes off the bench for the Bulls where two of his teammates were Charles Oakley and Greg Anthony.

Stephon Marbury was starting over this time with the Phoenix Suns and scored 14 points in a 98-96 win over the Nuggets.

Isiah Thomas was coaching across the river for the Pacers in New Jersey. His team blew an 11-point deficit and wilted in the fourth quarter of a 103-97 loss.

You get the idea.

The quality of play may not have been the greatest but there was enough things to like if you happen to root for the Knicks.

Jamal Crawford – 24 points, 49 in his first two games. The totals in the previous three seasons were 33, 15 and 26. Might this be a sign of a breakout? One thing that is certain is he has bulked up and can absorb that contact a little better.

Fourth quarter – 20 points allowed, big defensive rebound by Zach Randolph, who has two doubles-doubles already.

I’m not going to wax poetic about this one. It’s not Game Seven of a playoff series, it’s game one of 41, game two of 82 but anyone associated with the Knicks will take a 97-93 victory or similar.

From an entertainment standpoint, this game is about a B. Watching Crawford was exciting, waiting to see if and when the other shoe would drop (a collapse by the Knicks) was interesting and seeing Randolph beat Ryan Gomes for that rebound was nice to see.

I thought the shoe would drop when Eddy Curry forgot that when the shot clock is turned off, all you have to do is pass it out and let the perimeter guys milk it. D’oh. He picked up an offensive rebound, had his shot blocked and Antoine Walker missed a three-pointer that would have tied it, forced overtime probably and given the Knicks more chances for the shoe to drop.

Those things put a player, especially a new one on the plus side with the tough New York crowd.

As for Minnesota, this is a young team with an interesting collection of players. Craig Smith is a nice little bruiser down low, I’ve always liked Gomes and of course Al Jefferson is solid, although he has to score more than six points after the first quarter.

The theme with them is forging an identity of a team that is coming to scratch and claw and be successful some of the time (probably 25-30 times this season).

Anyways back to the rest of the association:

Not counting watching the ending of Boston-Toronto and Atlanta-Detroit on the internet, I caught some of that Lakers-Jazz game.

From that, I saw a lot of hustle plays as they pulled away for a 119-109 win over Utah. It was so impressive that even Kobe Bryant got into the act, blocking a dunk attempt by Andrei Kirilenko. That would have made it a five-point game but it was not a coincidence that minutes later the Lakers went up by double digits.

Had I been hanging out on the couch and not at the Knick game, I probably would have watched the Hawks-Pistons game. The Hawks were solid Friday against Dallas and for three quarters were the same in Detroit. We’ve seen that before, the Pistons tease their opponent into thinking they can win and then get it rolling in the fourth. Of course they may or may not have been jipped by the refs (again that comes down to earning the respect, which teams such as them and the T-Wolves will get by playing hard and competing) .

So how did the nine-point lead evaporate?

Well with 11:27 remaining, Josh Childress puts in a layup for a five-point lead. Six turnovers and eight missed shots later, they’re down by six. And the linked text will cover the rest of the details.

It looks like we’ll have to add the Heat and Sonics to the 0-3 club .

The Heat fell 90-88 to the Bobcats and until “Flash comes back, who’s getting the ball in clutch situations. Here’s who got the ball in the final six minutes when Charlotte almost squandered a 16-point lead. Shaq got it twice for a dunk and free throws, Chris Quinn then had two free throws, missed a three, Haslem missed a 17-footer, Wright hits a jumper and two from the line but misses a three. Ricky Davis hits a three and Haslem gets another crack. I’m sure Pat Riley is eagerly anticipating me writing a post where Wade is the one, maybe next week in New York.

The Bobcats are 2-0 for the first time and I’m not getting the bubbly just yet. After all, they won the first game against a team who had a player forget what the score was (Maurice Williams) and almost coughed up a 16-point lead before. If anything I’d celebrate the final minute on defense because Sam Vincent was obvious in saying our inepxerience showed there.

So how’s PJ doing? It was another fourth quarter to forget for the 0-3 Sonics. They haven’t been this bad since 1985-86. Kevin Durant is obviously good, but those fourth quarters need fixing. It was 37-25 today in favor of the Clippers and through three games, it is 98-66 in favor of Seattle opponents in the fourth.

It sounds a little frustrating for PJ doesn’t it?

“We need to develop a little more aggression than we have right now, especially in the fourth quarter,” Carlesimo said. “Our defense is lousy, but every game it’s 20-something turnovers and 25 points. It’s just not bad half-court defense. It’s giving up 25 points in transition.”

I won’t tell you what the article contains but you can find out that Durant is averaging four points in the final 12 minutes.

And finally, I can’t believe we’ve gotten this far without discussing the Raptors-Celtics game. Sounded like fun as it went to overtime and Ray Allen won it with a three-pointer. Our condolences to Doc Rivers, who had to miss due to his father’s death. But imagine having those three choices to get the shot and none would have been wrong, that’s a nice problem to have.

By the way, I’d have watched that game over the football – even Patriots-Colts.

A walk around Knicks-Wolves pregame

Pregame –

Isiah Thomas talks for five minutes or so, mainly questions about Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry. He also reiterates his “whoever is playing the best” mantra, which basically means he plans on rewarding good play which could lead to wins. He also addresses the fact that Al Sharpton canceled his protest.

Randy Wittman, who some of you may or may not know is a former teammate of Isiah Thomas from their days at Indiana. He does his pregame business in a much more informal setting, sitting on the scorer’s table while his team shoots around. He says he is there for his friend and that famous smile needs to return.

After the meet and greet with a few reporters, I relate to him my autograph story about how in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I used to mail away cards to get autographed and I have his from when he played with the Pacers. I said, I often wondered if they were legitimate or if some intern signed them and he says that I’ll have to show him the card.

As this informal conversation is happening, Antoine Walker is shooting and I must say he looks kind of thinner, which kind of contradicts Pat Riley’s contention that he wasn’t in shape. (Of course I could be wrong as I’m not a fitness guru).