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ISSUE 119 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/24/2006

Inside the Lines: The good, bad and ugly

By Matt and Mark Everhart
Staff Writer

Friday, February 24, 2006

It’s time for the NBA’s yearly checkup at the All-Star break, looking back at the year so far. Some things may surprise you, some things may scare you, and some things have stayed the same…after all, this is the NBA. So now it’s time for a round of the Good, the Bad, and the downright Ugly.

The Good Detroit Pistons: How can we not start with the 2005 runner-ups, who have more than lived up to expectations. Only three teams in history have started with a better record than Detroit, most recently the 72-win ’96-’97 Chicago Bulls. With the introduction of former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, Detroit’s offense has been brought to life with their team-style basketball and arguably the best starting five in the league. They’re the early favorite to win it all come June.

Phoenix Suns: The reason they make this list is not because they’re simply dominating the Pacific Division once again – they’re doing it without superstar Amare Stoudemire. Steve Nash and Shawn Marion are both putting up career-best numbers, especially impressive considering Nash won the MVP last year. Stoudemire’s absence has been filled by the play of stellar role players Raja Bell, Boris Diaw and Eddie House.

New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets: This squad has got to be the feel-good story of the year. The team with the worst record in the West last year, an abysmal 18-64, is now making a strong push for the playoffs. This is especially amazing considering their home, New Orleans, is still decimated from Hurricane Katrina and unfit to host an NBA team. In addition, the team is basically made up of cast-offs, role-players and inexperience. The catalyst for the upsurge has been young Chris Paul, a 20-year old rookie who is running away with the Rookie of the Year title.

Kobe: The Man, the Myth, the Legend. He has established himself as one of the greatest players of all-time after his amazing, record-shattering 81-point performance on Jan. 22 against the Toronto Raptors. Bryant’s accomplishment was the highest single-game effort since Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point night in 1962. He’s leading the league in scoring this year and almost single handedly keeping the Lakers in the playoff hunt.

Honorable Mention Los Angeles Clippers: The once-cursed Clippers look to be making their first playoff appearance since 1997 on the backs of MVP candidate Elton Brand and veteran Sam Cassel.

The Bad Houston Rockets: Preseason prognosticators predicted they would make the playoffs, but because of numerous injuries and the inability to win without the oft-injured Tracy McGrady, they have struggled mightily. Yao Ming continues to improve, but it hasn’t been enough for Houston and Jeff Van Gundy, who is rapidly losing his hair.

Seattle Supersonics: They are averaging the second-most points per game in the league, but it’s tough to win games when you let up a league-worst 106 points per game. This team had a promising start last year, but the loss of key role players and lack of tough interior defense have crippled their playoff hopes. It looks like rainy times ahead for the Sonics.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Another disappointing season for Kevin Garnett and the Wolves forced a trade of Wally Szczerbiak to the Celtics for fresh blood, but so far the trade hasn’t worked out in the Wolves’ favor. They’re doubtful to make the playoffs again, and the 2004 MVP looks like he’ll have another long summer.

Dishonorable Mention Ron Artest: While he has recently picked up his game in Sacramento, the former Pacer hasn’t played most of the season after refusing to play for Indiana and in turn, demanding a trade. His rap label, Truwarier Records, is also struggling.

The Ugly New York Knicks: Where do we start? Perhaps with the inept management of GM and former “Bad Boy” Isaiah Thomas? Or with a weak lineup of overpaid players past their primes and unmotivated youngsters? Or what about Larry Brown’s coaching ability, which looks pretty bad in light of his 2004 Olympic failure and Detroit’s performance under Flip Saunders? This is a train wreck of a team. Worst of all, they have one of the league’s highest payrolls to go along with one of its worst records. Ouch.

Atlanta Hawks: The biggest reason why they’re on this list is because they could have drafted Chris Paul, who is quickly blossoming into one of the best point guards in the league, and instead drafted Marvin Williams, who is underperforming. It’s a team of inexperienced rookies and small forwards. They’re going nowhere fast.

Latrell Sprewell: After his infamous “feeding my family” comment before the season, no team wanted to touch the aging, problematic Sprewell. He hasn’t played a game this season, and he represents the negative stereotype of professional basketball players being whiny, overpaid brats. A shameful moment for sports in general.

Reprehensible Mentions Charlotte Bobcats: A young squad crippled by injuries, they have the worst record in the league and can hardly call themselves an NBA team with their roster.

Portland Trailblazers: Holders of the worst record in the West, the Jailblazers’ latest incident was young guard Sebastian Telfair boarding a plane with a loaded gun. Nice one.

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