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NBA PM: Was The Clippers’ Streak Legit?
Posted By Bill Ingram On January 2, 2013 @ 5:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Prior to the start of the 2012-13 NBA season my friend and colleague Steve Kyler described the NBA in this way: You have five teams that are legitimate contenders and then you have 25 teams that are hoping you’ll pay big bucks to watch them get whipped by those five teams.
This may be a slight over-simplification, but it is against this backdrop that some are questioning the legitimacy of the Los Angeles Clippers’ 17-game winning streak which was terminated at the hands of the Denver Nuggets last night. How impressed should we be by the streak, given that so many games on a good team’s schedule seem to be foregone conclusions?
There’s no question that contenders were conspicuous by their absence during the Clippers’ impressive December run. In fact, the team mostly feasted on teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Charlotte Bobcats, while winning three games against the Utah Jazz and two against the Sacramento Kings. The only teams they faced that are currently in the playoff picture were the Chicago Bulls sans Derrick Rose and the road-wearied Denver Nuggets, who have already played half of their road games after just two months.
How impressed should we be by a winning streak that saw the Clippers do little more than win the games they were supposed to win?
First of all, any time a team can string together a series of consecutive wins it is an impressive accomplishment. Sometimes it’s even more impressive when they beat the bad teams, as it can be more difficult for a good team to get up for a bad team, and that bad team is generally hungrier for wins. That’s why we saw the Charlotte Bobcats beat the Bulls and the Washington Wizards beat the Miami HEAT over the past week.
Second, it’s not as though the Clippers have struggled against the league’s top teams, and should therefore lose credit in some way for basically just taking care of business in December. After all, they opened the season with a win over the Memphis Grizzlies and then went on to beat Miami, the Golden State Warriors, the Atlanta Hawks and take two from the San Antonio Spurs in November.
It’s certainly possible for detractors to look at the Clippers’ perfect December and decide that there was something about it that makes it less impressive upon close examination than it might be at first glance. However, if you take an honest look at the season the Clippers have put together, it’s clear that they are one of the NBA’s best to date. They have to maintain that, of course, as no number of impressive wins in November and December translates into a great season without many more impressive subsequent achievements.
The bottom line, though, is that the Clippers have proven they belong among the league’s elite, and they’ve done both by handling the teams they’re supposed to beat as well as by taking out the recognized contenders, few as they may be.
One Maverick Getting The Point
It was, admittedly, pretty convincing.
When the Dallas Mavericks literally paraded Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones out for an event both for media and for season ticket holders, it was pretty convincing to hear team owner Mark Cuban, team president Donnie Nelson and the players themselves talk about how their hunger was going to drive the Mavericks to be back in the mix for the championship this season despite another round of radical changes.
Kaman and Brand wanted to show they still had the ability to contribute at an elite level, Mayo wanted to show the teams who overlooked him in free agency that they were wrong to do so and Collison wanted to prove that he deserved to be a starter in the NBA after struggling to hold the spot in Indiana. Combine those agendas with Dirk Nowitzki’s indomitable drive to win and surely this Mavericks team would prove everyone wrong and rise to the class of elite teams once again.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t exactly gone that way. Brand seems to have all but lost his ability to score, Kaman can score but rebounding and defense are highly questionable and Mayo’s turnovers and lack of defense have hurt the team even when his three-pointer has been scorching the nets. One thing, however, seems to be working itself out as the season progresses, and that is the ability of Collison to rise to the challenge presented by Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle.
“I think it’s extremely important for me,” Collison tells HOOPSWORLD of earning back his starting role after losing it temporarily to Derek Fisher and Dominique Jones. “I pride myself in being a starting point guard in this league and even when I didn’t for the last few weeks, I continued to work, stay focused and grind the best way I can. When things don’t go your way, that’s when everybody sees the true character about yourself, and I didn’t feel sorry for myself, I just continued to work and get better.”
Collison struggled to find himself as a reserve, even as he worked to earn his starting spot back. It wasn’t until Derek Fisher decided to retire and Jones played poorly in his stead that Collison heard his number called again. After playing poorly in three of four games, Collison stayed tough and led the team in scoring as a lone bright spot in a drubbing at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs and was rewarded next game with a starting spot. He responded with 32 points, five rebounds, four assists, four steals and an overtime-forcing, buzzer-beating three against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s started the three games since then, including an 18-point, eight-assist, five-rebound showing in their last game, a loss to Denver. The Mavs were +19 with him on the court in their win over the Wizards last night.
“Just try to be more of a consistent three-point shooter in this offense, especially around Dirk,” Collison says of Carlisle’s clear expectations for him. “I think guys are going to eventually leave me, or leave O.J. or whatever the case may be and we’ve got to be ready to knock that shot down. I think Derek Fisher did a good job of doing that his whole career and now I have my opportunity and just continue to get better behind the arc.”
Though Fisher played just a handful of games for the Mavericks, he left a lasting impression on Collison.
“I think it was more of his mannerism,” says Collison. “He didn’t really say much, but you could see by his actions, the things he did off the court, he was a professional. He always said the right things, he wasn’t negative, always positive with his teammates, and I think that’s the most important thing that I learned from him.”
Nowitzki is finally back on the court after a knee injury cost him basically a month and a half of the season, and while he is a far cry from the player who won Finals MVP two seasons ago, Collison can already see how the team will improve when Dirk is back to 100%.
“By far, Dirk has been good for us even when he wasn’t playing and now that he is on the court I think everybody is excited,” says Collison. “It’s going to take some time for him to get back to where he needs to get back to, but you can kind of see what the makeup of this team is going to be in the long run.”
As poorly as the Mavericks have played, Collison has been through adversity before. He had to replace Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he had to fight for his starting spot with veteran George Hill on his heels in Indiana. Collison believes the Mavericks have what it takes to turn things around.
“We are going through a tough stretch, a little bit of transition bringing Dirk into the lineup and we are going to be fine,” says Collison. “The NBA is about highs and lows and you can’t get too high on the high or too low on the low, so we will be fine. I am confident enough that we will turn this thing around.”
A win over the lowly Wizards may not be something to brag about, but it did end the Mavs’ six-game losing streak and might help them establish a much-needed winning streak for their New Year’s resolution. Clearly Collison has a huge role to play in any success the Mavs have, and the fact that he has turned his game around is a great sign going forward.
Nets Down to Phil Jackson or P.J. Carlesimo?
The Brooklyn Nets have already had more than their share of excitement this season, and the 2012-13 campaign is just over two months old. They moved into a new building, put a largely revamped team on the court, played well enough to see head coach Avery Johnson win Coach of the Month for November, then played badly enough in December to get him fired.
What’s over the next hill for the roller coaster ride in Brooklyn?
According to multiple reports, the coaching job just might be P.J. Carlesimo’s to lose. He stepped in as the interim in the wake of Johnson’s firing and has already improved the atmosphere around the team. Much like he did in San Antonio, working under Gregg Popovich, Carlesimo has gained the respect and trust of his players, and that goes a long way in the NBA. He still needs to start posting wins, of course, but he has quickly put a salve on the open wound that was, at times, Johnson’s relationship with the team.
The name Nets fans want to hear, of course, is that of Phil Jackson, the former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers head coach who held down the bench while Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant won multiple championships. His legendary ability to get the most out of his players and balance egos may be just what the Nets need. For now, however, the Nets appear eager to see what the team can do under Carlesimo this season, and then possibly address the head coaching position long-term at season’s end.
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