Sunday , Jan , 04 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

How the West Was Won

New Year, same old story out West. Lakers, Spurs, Kings, and Mavericks continue to dominate and jockey for playoff position. But this year there may be a few surprise candidates as Denver, Minnesota, Seattle, and Houston look to crash the party.

There is no hotter basketball team on the planet right now then the white-hot San Antonio Spurs; winners of 13 in a row have vaulted themselves from a few games back to leading the Midwest and starting to look like the defending NBA champs. With 2-time MVP Tim Duncan getting his usual double-doubles and Tony Parker running his one man fast break, the Spurs have been beating teams on the break and in a half court game, very important component come playoff time. Also helping in the Spurs run is second year international star, Manu Ginobilli, who is beginning to become an American star as well with his athletic, flashy play and his ability to play the passing lanes (2.2 steals per game) and get easy dunks. The new members of the Spurs Horry, Nesterovic, Mercer, and Turkoglu have finally begun to understand and run the system coach Gregg Popovich has in place which has not only helped the players themselves out but obviously the whole team.

How the West Was Won

Dallas despite their road problems (only 4-10) have been, like most good Western teams, have dominated at home (14-2) and also like the Spurs if they can continue to get their new faces Walker, Fortson, Jamison comfortable with each other and the team Dallas will get it self straightened away and as they proved on Christmas Day no lead is safe when the Mavs’ offence gets rolling (right Sacramento?). The Lakers are the Lakers, they we’re steam rolling along but now have hit a bump with the Malone injury and a couple tough losses, but Phil Jackson knows what he’s doing and as long as Shaq is healthy and interested the Pacific is the Lakers to lose. Sacramento hopes to be the team to knock LA from that perch only a half game behind, but they also have slipped lately with the tough loss at home to Dallas and then a loss at Golden State. Chris Webber though may be back sooner then thought and a frontcourt consisting of himself, Brad Miller, Vlade Divac, and Peja Stojakovic, few teams anywhere will be able to handle that much offensive talent.

Houston gave itself a huge shot in the arm by winning in LA over the Lakers, but there offence is still too inconsistent to be a heavy favorite on any given night. Seattle just got a huge lift by getting Ray Allen back from injury and since it’s been all wins for the Supersonics as they sit third behind LA and Sacramento just on the outside of the current playoff picture. But a trio of Allen, Rashard Lewis, and Ronald Murray will make the Sonics a very quick and dangerous team down the stretch. Minnesota has finally got everything working, namely their “Big Three” of Garnett, Sprewell, and Cassell who on any given night has carried their team to victory and a current 8-2 stretch puts them only a half game behind the Spurs.

NBA Notes

— Quentin Richardson rung up a career high 44 in torching Denver. The Clippers scored 120 without overtime unheard of these days.

— Carmelo Anthony went for a career high 37 the night after Christmas in a one-point win over Houston.

— Golden State’s a weird team, beat the Lakers and Kings at home, and then drop three straight to Denver, Boston and Jersey.

— Welcome home?? Sprewell let Knicks fans have it, the owner, the players, then hung up 31 points in a victory. Talk I guess isn’t all that cheap in New York.

— Isaiah Thomas new president of the Knicks has watched them win 4 in a row, reason?? I think fear; Thomas has proclaimed all Knicks are up for trade or to be cut.