5-on-5 Roundtable: Filling In The Blanks
1. The Miami Heat are __________.
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: Counting down the days until April. If there is any team with a legitimate on/off switch, it's the Heat. The team has the fourth-best record in the league, but it feels like a disappointment. But when the playoffs arrive -- when the team will be able to devise team-specific strategies and matchups -- we'll start seeing the genius of last season reemerge.
Aaron McGuire, Gothic Ginobili: Coasting. Some defending champions emerge from their championship primed to obliterate the league in their title defense. Miami is emphatically not one such team; they prefer the Phil Jackson route. Of course, it barely matters. They're still great enough to take half the nights off and stay healthily atop a poor Eastern Conference. Still coasting, though.
Benjamin Polk, A Wolf Among Wolves: Biding their time. The season is long; the Eastern Conference is soft; the champs know this. As these Heat jaunt through the playoffs, I would not be the least bit surprised to see their defense slowly become the suffocation machine that it was last season.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: The only team in the East worth taking seriously. The Knicks were great early, the Nets have been riding a wave since they canned Avery Johnson, the Pacers have a world-class defense, and the Bulls could beat anyone if Derrick Rose comes back healthy. But all these "contenders" are a clear tier below the reigning champs.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Right on schedule. What other team that has been in first place in either conference this season has been as criticized as the Heat? Yes, the defending champs will have bouts of boredom, stints of less-than-stellar play and a few mind-boggling losses. But as long as they remain relatively healthy through the rigorous regular season, they're fine.
Andre Drummond The Next Shaq?
Andre Drummond put up 18 points and 18 rebounds in just 28 minutes on Tuesday, the latest in a series of big stat lines in short minutes for the 19-year-old rookie. Pistons fans, enduring what looks like a fourth straight season without De-troit Bas-ket-ball in the postseason, are clamoring to see more of the prodigiously talented young center -- and to make their case, they point to his stats.
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The Marginalization Of Steve Nash
In his first time back inside the Phoenix Suns' building since joining the Los Angeles Lakers in July, Steve Nash could only watch from the right wing.
In the most critical possession of Wednesday's game, Kobe Bryant tried to go 1-on-4 after a drawn-out isolation with 35 seconds left in the game and the Lakers down 88-86. Nash, along with Pau Gasol and Earl Clark, were left alone on the perimeter as Bryant put his head down, muscled toward the rack and missed a layup that was contested by a trio of Phoenix defenders. The Suns secured the rebound and converted the ensuing pair of free throws to put them up by four. Ballgame.
It must've startled Phoenix fans to watch Nash, their former two-time MVP, mostly reduced to a catch-and-shoot statue. When asked about the lack of offensive involvement down the stretch, Nash told our own Marc Stein: "Those are things we've still got to work out."
Nets' Run Due To P.J. Carlesimo?
All day Wednesday, I heard about what's different with the Brooklyn Nets under P.J. Carlesimo. LeBron James addressed the situation. So did Erik Spoelstra. I asked an Eastern Conference advance scout, and a Nets player as well.
The answer? Not much.
The preeminent opinion as to why the Nets, who were an underachieving 14-14 under Avery Johnson, have gone 13-5 under Carlesimo boiled down to this: They're trying harder and playing together.
As far as strategy goes, about the only thing I could get out of the experts is that the Nets under Carlesimo are pushing the ball a bit more and relying less on isolation basketball. And Carlesimo is letting the guys play. Unlike Johnson, he's not calling plays on most of the Nets' offensive possessions.