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Eastern Conference, November 24, 2004

Atlanta Hawks (2-7)

After winning two of three games last week against New Orleans and Houston, the Hawks have since loss two straight to Indiana and Utah as the Hawks appear to be reverting to their losing ways. The Hawks are still a two-man team with F-Antoine Walker (20.9 ppg) and F-Al Harrington (16.8 ppg), with both players taking almost 50% of the shots... A footnote was Harrington's superb performance in a losing effort in the first matchup against his former Indiana Pacers team. Harrington scored 30 points on 12-19 shooting and had 6 rebound. However, tensions within the team were high after the game as a shouting match ensued between G-Kenny Anderson and Harrington in the team's dressing room. The two had to be restrained by some players and head coach, Mike Woodson... G-Tony Delk, who was acquired in a trade that sent he and Antoine Walker to Atlanta for G-Jason Terry and F-Alan Henderson, is play his first game of the season in a loss to 92-79 loss to Utah. Delk returned from knee surgery to play 15 minutes, scoring 2 points.

Boston Celtics (4-4) 

At 4-4, the Celtics are currently atop the weak Atlantic Division. The team is getting a balanced scoring effort from the team - SF-Paul Pierce (23.4 ppg), SG-Ricky Davis (16.0 ppg), PG-Gary Payton (13.0 ppg), C-Raef Lafrentz (10.5 ppg), and PF-Mark Blount (9.9 ppg)... The Celtics won their last game 102-83 against the Seattle Supersonics, snapping that team's 9-game winning streak. It also was the first game Gary Payton opposed his former team and he had 12 points and 7 assists in the victory. Payton was the franchise player for the Sonics when they were a Western Conference powerhouse during the 1990s... The feel-good story of the Celtic's young season has been Ricky Davis. Known league-wide for amazing athleticism as much as his bad-attitude and selfish play, Davis has embraced his role as the team's sixth man. He has responded with 16.0 ppg, all while playing within coach Doc River's system. It could be a sign of his maturing, which will do wonders should the Celtics aspire to go far in the playoffs.

Charlotte Bobcats (1-8)

Despite their record, the Bobcats are playing surprisingly well, competing in most of their games. There were three games that the Bobcats had a chance of winning - a 102-100 loss to Milwaukee, a 105-107 loss to Utah, and a 116-117 overtime loss to defending champions, Detroit... The lack of size is obvious on the Bobcats team. In order to address this issue, the Bobcats activated 6'11" Jamal Sampson while placing G-Tamar Slay on the injured list. The Bobcats only have two big presences in C-Primoz Brezec and PF-Emeka Okafor. Both are playing well under heavy minutes, but it appears that they are already starting to feel fatigue from the rigors of the NBA season. Brezec is leading the team with 13.6 ppg, while Okafor is leading the team in rebounds with 9.2 rpg.

Chicago Bulls (0-9)

The Bulls are of to a horrendous start with absolutely no consistency and continuity to their games. Their start ties the 1967-68 Bulls for the worst in the franchise's 39 seasons of existence... There are some positive notes to draw upon - rookie F-Luol Deng (4th overall pick in 2004 draft) is leading the team, and all rookies, in scoring with 15.7 ppg. Also PG-Kirk Hinrich is settling in nicely into the point guard's role. He is the second leading scorer on the team (14.4 ppg) and is 6th in the league in assists (7.6 apg) while keeping his turnovers down to 2.6 a game... There have been trade discussions with the Denver Nuggets involving C-Tyson Chandler. According to reports, the Bulls have their sights set on Denver's Brazilian big man, F/C-Nene Hilario. Hilario, who is in his third season, is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury and recently had his fourth-year option exercised by Denver. The other part of the young Baby Bulls, Eddy Curry, is being shipped around after his agent had publicly stated that Curry is demanding a trade, although recently Curry has stated that he wants to remain with his hometown team.

Cleveland Cavaliers (6-4)

After starting the season with three straight losses, the Cavs went on an impressive 6 game winning streak, which ended with a 98-88 loss to the New York Knicks. Despite the loss, Cav fans are excited about the prospect of this team, especially with G/F-Lebron James elevating his level of play. James is averaging 25.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, and 6.1 apg. He has also taken over in situations where the Cavs appear to be in an offensive lull... The Cav's starting unit has been solid thus far, with C- Zydrunas Ilgauskas averaging 18.9 ppg and 8.4 rpg, PG-Jeff Mcinnis averaging 15.6 ppg and 5.2 apg, and PF-Drew Gooden averaging 12.4 ppg and 10.6 rpg, filing in for the departed Carlos Boozer admirably... Newly acquired G-Lucious Harris' has been disappointing so far. He's lost his starting job and is in danger of losing his minutes to G-Sasha Pavlovic and G-Dajuan Wagner. Harris signed a two-year contract in the summer, paying him $2.5 million this season and $2.75 million next.

Detroit Pistons (5-4)

In the aftermath of one of the most brutal brawl in North American professional sports history between the Pistons, the Indiana Pacers, and Piston fans, league commissioner has suspended C-Ben Wallace for 6 games, and G-Chauncey Billups, F-Derrick Coleman, and C-Elden Campbell were suspended for a game - all missed the Piston's last game, a 117-116 double overtime victory over the Charlotte Bobcats..... Head coach, Larry Brown, will miss the next two games on the road to minimize any complications resulting from his recent hip surgery. Lead assistant, Gar Heard, will take over head-coaching duties in Brown's absence... Up to the brawl, the Pistons starters are playing a balanced game with all of them averaging double digits in scoring - SG-Rip Hamilton (21.8 ppg), PG-Chauncey Billups (18.7 ppg), PF-Rasheed Wallace (13.8 ppg), SF-Tayshaun Prince (12.1 ppg), and C-Ben Wallace (11.8 ppg). The Pistons are still looking for consistent production from their bench though.

Indiana Pacers (7-3)

The Pacers' season has gotten a lot more difficult following suspensions of their three leading scorers, all of whom played significant roles in the massive spectacle of a brawl involving Piston players and fans. G-Ron Artest (24.6 ppg) has been given the largest suspension in league history. He will be suspended for the rest of the NBA season, an unprecedented 73 games. G/F-Stephen Jackson (15.3 ppg) will be suspended for 30 games and PF-Jermaine O'Neal (22.6 ppg) is suspended for 25 games. Additionally backup G-Anthony Johnson is suspended for 5 games and G-Reggie Miller is suspended for one game. As expected, the NBA Player's Association will appeal the sentences given... The Pacers will play their first game since the brawl with only seven to eight players dressing. The league is allowing the Pacers to add more players to their roster in light of the suspensions. The team will need players such as F-Austin Croshere, F-Jonathon Bender, C-Scot Pollard, and C-David Harrison to step up and contribute in what will be significantly more playing time than what they were use to... The Pacer's starting PG-Jamaal Tinsley injured his right wrist during Friday's brawl at Detroit. He will be a game time decision for the Pacer's next game against the Boston Celtics.

Miami Heat (8-3)

The Heat are so far living up to season expectations leading the Southeast Division. The play of G-Dwayne Wade has been unexpected even to his coaches. Wade has been averaging 26.1 ppg (4th best in the league) and 7.2 assists pg (10th best in the league). And more importantly, has been taking advantage of the distraction that C-Shaquille O'Neal provides inside... Although Shaq is posting his lowest scoring average ever, 19.7 ppg, and is taking less shots than he has in his career, he is arguable making more of an impact on the game than ever. Playing inspired basketball, Shaq's value has been most notable on the defensive end where his presence is deterring the opposition from driving the lane. Shaq is averaging 3.2 blocks a game, the most he's had since his rookie season... The Heat are seen as the main beneficiaries of the aftermath from the Pistons-Pacers-fan brawl. The suspensions to key Pacer players should give the Heat the edge in earning a top playoff seed. The Pacers and Pistons are widely seen to be the Heat's major opposition in their objective to win the Eastern Conference... F-Shandon Anderson has been signed by the Heat after being waived by the New York Knicks. Anderson was in the Knicks GM Isiah Thomas and Coach Lenny Wilkens doghouse at the end of last season and the beginning of this season. The Heat made room for Anderson by waiving G-Matt Frieje.

Milwaukee Bucks (3-5)

After winning three of their first four games, the Bucks are in midst of a four game losing streak. Besides an overtime loss to the Miami Heat, the Bucks have not been close in any of the losses. Apart the expected high play of G-Michael Redd (25.3 ppg), the Bucks are getting good performances out of F-Keith Van Horn (18.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg), F-Desmond Mason (16.8 ppg), F-Joe Smith (10.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg), and G-Mo Williams (9.4 ppg, 7.6 apg). Past these guys, the production falls of dramatically... Things are going to get much easier for the Bucks as they complete their Western roadtrip with visits to the Portland Trailblazers and Phoenix Suns. After that, their next seven games will be against teams with a winning record including playing the Los Angeles Lakers twice and the depleted Indiana Pacers twice.

New Jersey Nets (2-7)

It is surprising that this team has won two games. Out of all the teams in the league, except possibly the Charlotte Bobcats, the Nets have the least talent in my opinion. The team is limited to one legitimate scorer, G-Richard Jefferson has been seeing heavy minutes (42.3 minutes pg), and leads the team in scoring (21.9 ppg), rebounds (9.3 rpg), assists (3.8 apg). However, he also leads the league in turnovers with 5.4 a game. That equates to one turnover to every four points he scores... C-Alonzo Mourning is playing remarkably well in light of his medical condition. Mourning is the team's second leading scorer and rebounder with 12.8 ppg and 7.4 rpg. He has expressed dissatisfaction, echoing G-Jason Kidd, about the direction the Nets are heading... G-Ron Mercer, who injured his left knee over a week ago, is scheduled to undergo surgery, and will be out of action for the next month... G-Jason Kidd is still recovering from surgery on his left knee. The team reports that they don't know when he will return, but most likely will be at some point in the end of December...

New York Knicks (4-5)

Although their offense has been erratic, the Knicks have won 2 of their last 3 games. The team is receiving consistent efforts from G-Stephon Marbury, G-Jamal Crawford, and F-Kurt Thomas, but C-Nazr Mohammed, F-Tim Thomas, and G-Penny Hardaway must be more consistent if the Knicks have visions of contending... Allan Houston, the team's outside shooter, may be returning to action within the next two weeks. Houston missed 30 games last season and all of the playoffs due mostly to the aftereffects of microfracture surgery on his right knee in 2003. With his presence, New York will boast a dangerous backcourt that also features G-Stephon Marbury and G-Jamal Crawford. However, many basketball pundits believe problems will arise over the three of them sharing (or not sharing) the ball. Crawford and Marbury have meshed well in the backcourt with both players leading the team in scoring with 17.7 and 19.7 ppg respectively.

Orlando Magic (6-3)

The Magic have been a pleasant surprise thus far in the young NBA season. The Magic have won their last two games, and remain unbeaten on home turf. The trade that sent G-Steve Francis, G-Cuttino Mobley, and C-Kelvin Cato to Orlando for G-Tracy McGrady and F-Juwan Howard, has been deemed a success by fans (so far). Francis has been one of the most exciting players so far, playing inspired basketball that has led to his nightly feature in the highlight reels. There is a sense of something great happening here in Orlando... Of course, contributing to this feeling, is the sparkling return of F-Grant Hill, who still hasn't shown any signs of injury that has afflicted him over the past 4 years, where he played a total of only 47 games. Hill is leading the team in scoring with 21.3 ppg. Over the past week, Hill was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week where he averaged 30 points, 6 rebounds, and 5.5 assists in the Magic's two victories. In those games, Hill looked the player he once was, when he was one of the league's best and most exciting players... Rookie F-Dwight Howard has also been getting some attention for his stellar defensive plays. Howard is averaging 11.4 rebounds a game, and has at least 10 rebounds in all his games played. If he continues this up for the next two games, then he will have surpassed Shaquille O'Neal's rookie record of having at least 10 boards in his first 10 games. Howard is also averaging 2.11 blocks per game.... With all the feel good stories going around in Orlando, it is easy to overlook the performances of Orlando's two main bench players, F-Hedo Turkoglu and F-Pat Garrity. Turkoglu signed as a free agent over the summer, and is third on the team in scoring with 15.3 ppg. Garrity missed all of last season to injury where his 3-point shooting was sorely missed. Garrity is averaging 9.1 ppg.

Philadelphia 76ers (4-6)

The Sixers are on a bit of a skid right now losing their last three games against Seattle, San Antonio, and Miami. G-Allen Iverson missed the team's last game in Miami to rest his sore elbow and both archilles tendon. Iverson is the team's leading scorer (26.1 ppg) and main playmaker (6.1 apg)... Past Iverson, the team has no other proven scorers, aside from F-Glenn Robinson, who has yet to see any action. Without Iverson, the team becomes unbearable to watch besides solid contributions from former Rookie of the Year, C-Marc Jackson (13.0 ppg) and F-Kyle Korver (12.7 ppg)... Two of the team's starters, F-Andre Iguodala and F-Kenny Thomas are not performing up to expectations. Well Iguodala's play is not poor, he should assert himself more in the offense like he did in the preseason, where he beat out Glenn Robinson for the starting spot. Thomas is currently in a shooting rut, making less that 33-percent of his shots so far this season.

Toronto Raptors (5-6)

After a 4-1 start, the Raptors have loss 5 of their last 6 games.  If it wasn't for a San Antonio 4th quarter meltdown which saw their 19-point dissipate, the Raptors would have been on a six game losing skid.  Credit to the Raptors, who at least, are competing with teams late in games, and doing it in an entertaining manner…  A notable trend has been coach Sam Mitchell playing his bench in late game situations, with their maxed-out stars, G-Vince Carter and F-Jalen Rose watching from the bench.  Mitchell has been getting solid contributions from his second unit particularly, F-Mo Peterson, F-Lamond Murray, G-Milt Palacio, and rookie F-Matt "The Red Effort" Bonner…  Jalen Rose bruised his thigh in the Raptors win against the Spurs and is doubtful for the Raps next game against the Washington Wizards.  Rose has been disappointing thus far in the season, averaging 14.5 ppg on a woeful 40% from the field.  He name has been mentioned in rumors along with G-Vince Carter…  It has been a tumultuous last two weeks for G-Vince Carter.  Not only is he getting a lot of criticism from his coach and fans from his poor play (15.4 ppg, 38% from the field), his has been the key ingredient of trade talks.  The Raptors were reported to be close on a blockbuster deal with the PortlandTrailblazers that involves the Blazers F-Shareef Abdul-Rahim.  Other names involved include the Raptor's G-Jalen Rose, F-Jerome Moiso, and G-Milt Palacio.  On the Blazer side, G-Derek Anderson, G-Nick Van Exel, and C-Vladimir Stephania has been mentioned.  Carter was also told by the league that he can no longer use his iPod during warm-ups.  He has also been getting irate with the media, telling them that he would not be dunking anymore, then retracting – saying he was "just kidding"…  G-Alvin Williams has opted to undergo season-ending knee surgery.  The outstanding play of new PG-Rafer Alston has allowed Williams to make this decision easier.  Alston has been a pleasant surprise as a starter for the time in his career.  He is leading the team in scoring with 16.2 ppg, as well as providing 7.1 assists and 4.9 rebounds a game. 

Washington Wizards (5-4)

The Wizards are playing surprisingly well as a team winning their last two games.  They have been doing this without F-Kwame Brown who still remains out indefinitely due to injuries…  F-Antoine Jamison has been everything the Wizards have expected and more.  On the court, he leads the team in scoring (24.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg).  Off the court, he has provided leadership and a positive locker room presence.  He is bringing out organized team play among his talented, but often selfish, guards-Gilbert Arenas (19.9 ppg) and Larry Hughes (18.4 ppg).  The team also has a potent weapon in F-Jarvis Hayes (13.1 ppg), who I feel, is being underutilized…  Although they are not involved in trade discussions with the Toronto Raptor's G-Vince Carter, the Wizards could potentially have the best deal for the Raptors.  How's this: the Wizards give up F-Jarvis Hayes and F-Jared Jefferies for Carter and perhaps another player to be named later.  Washington could be the perfect place for Carter to revitalize his game.  Being teamed with best friend, F-Antawn Jamison, and along side another former North Carolina Tar Heel, C-Brendan Haywood, Washington would provide a comfortable environment where Carter could thrive.  Hayes and Jefferies could provide the inside presence that Toronto desperately needs.  They are young, and would get the minutes they deserve in Toronto.