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Western Conference, November 23, 2004

Dallas Mavericks (8-4)

The Mavericks are of to a great start so far in the young season, with coach Don Nelson making the most of his deep bench. Everybody has been contributing so far the team's high-flying offensive system, but also buckled-down defensive pressure... PF-Dirk Nowitzki twisted his left ankle late in the second quarter of a 110-82 loss at Denver. He missed the team's last game, a loss to Minnesota, and is expected to miss a few more games. Without him, the Mav's have loss two straight games. This was a turn for the worst as the Mav's loss their best player, to go along with injuries to started SG-Michael Finley (ankle) and C-Erick Dampier (hip).

Denver Nuggets (5-5)

The Nuggets appear to be settling into a rhythm as they have won 4 of their last 5 games. They will play the New Jersey Nets tonight, marking the first time F-Kenyon Martin will oppose his former team. Martin signed a lucrative long-term contract (7years, $92-million) with Denver in the offseason, and has since been averaging 14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, and 2.1 steals pg, despite being not yet fully adjusted to coach Jeff Bzedlik's system... Denver appears to be interested in the Chicago Bull's young C-Tyson Chandler. Chandler entered the league with high expectations but has thus failed to meet those expectations, being injury-prone for his first two seasons. It is reported that Bulls are looking for the Nugget's F-Nene Hilario as part of a potential trade situation... The Denver's sixth man, 5'5" G-Earl Boykins is making a case for more minutes with his effective play. He is the Nugget's second leading scorer with 14.7 ppg and leads the team with 5.2 assists pg, all in 29.7 minutes per game. He has scored 32 points twice in Denver's last 5 games... Denver's leading scorer, F-Carmelo Anthony (21.4 ppg) had charges of marijuana possession dropped against him by prosecutors. Anthony was charged with possessing less than 1 ounce of marijuana on Oct. 15 after a bag with the drug was found in his backpack as the team waited to board a flight to Milwaukee for a preseason game. He had always claimed that the drugs were not his, but a friend's.

Golden State Warriors (2-8)

The Warriors are of to a dismal start, being the basement dwellers of the Pacific Division, although they have won 2 of the last 4 games following six straight losses to start the season. The losing has been new to rookie coach, Mike Montgomery, who had won 70% of the games in 18 years of coaching the NCAA's Stanford Cardinals... The Warriors' leading scorer G-Jason Richardson (17.6 ppg) is scheduled to have the torn tendon in his right hand examined in Los Angeles. Richardson has been playing hurt through the short season, and may potentially need surgery to correct his ailment... F-Mickael Pietrus returned to play his first game of the season after having shoulder surgery in July. Pietrus averaged 5.3 ppg as a rookie last season but has demonstrated a lot of potential, which will sorely be needed if Richardson is shelved because of injuries... The Warriors' worked out F-Troy Bell last week. Bell was released by the Memphis Grizzlies.

Houston Rockets (6-6)

Despite being a .500 team, the Rockets concede that they season has been disappointing thus far, as they are not meeting the lofty expectations from their fans. The team's two superstars, G-Tracy McGrady (21.8 ppg) and C-Yao Ming (18.9 ppg) have been performing solidly, but they must further increase their production to offset the rest of the team's inconsistency... Rocket C-Dikembe Mutombo has publicly stated that his trade to the Bull's last season was because of a long-running feud between the Knicks' General Manager, Isiah Thomas and Mutombo's high-profile agent, David Falk. Discrediting the statement, Knick officials point out that their outstanding young F-Michael Sweetney is also Falk's agent.

Los Angeles Clippers (5-6)

After winning 5 of their first 8 games, the Clippers have loss three straight. Despite the setback, the Clippers have been playing surprisingly well as a team as their starters are all averaging double digits in scoring: SG-Cory Maggette (19.5 ppg), PF-Elton Brand (17.4 ppg), SF-Bobby Simmons (16.0 ppg), C-Chris Wilcox (15.5 ppg), and PG-Marko Jaric (10.8 ppg)... Rookie G-Shaun Livingston dislocated his right kneecap during practice. The Clipper's 4th overall selection in the 2004 NBA draft, Livingston is expected to be out of action for the next 8 weeks... G-Kerry Kittles made his much-anticipated debut in the Clippers' 122-111 loss to the electric Phoenix Suns - Kittles played 24 minutes, scoring 2 points. Kittles came over to Los Angeles in the summer when the New Jersey Nets traded him for a second round draft pick. A right knee injury has sidelined him up until this point... C-Chris Kaman is expected to return to the lineup when the Clippers play New Jersey on Thursday. Kaman was the Clippers 6th overall selection in the 2003 NBA draft. It will be his first game of the season.

Los Angeles Lakers (6-5)

The Lakers are above .500 in what has been an inconsistent team performance over the course of the season, although they have won 3 of their last 4 games. G-Kobe Bryant has been his usual self, averaging 27.9 ppg (2nd in the league) although he is shooting under 40-percent from the field. F-Lamar Odom also has been another consistent player on the defensive end with 10.5 rebounds pg, but still needs to assert himself on the offensive end (14.3 ppg) instead of deferring to Kobe and G-Caron Butler. All the Laker starters are averaging double-digits in scoring with Butler's 14.5 ppg, C-Chris Mihm's 11.9 ppg, and PG-Chucky Atkins 10.8 ppg along with Bryant and Odom... C-Vlade Divac may return back to action this week after being sidelined with a herniated disc. This would mark Divac's first game with the Lakers since he last played for them in 1996. Divac was acquired as a free agent signing this summer after playing the last six seasons in Sacramento... F-Jumaine Jones scrimmaged for the first time since injuring his right calf Nov. 12. Jones, who was acquired from the Boston Celtics along with C-Chris Mihm for G-Gary Payton, said hopes to play this week. He has played in 5 games this season, averaging 18.6 minutes and 5.8 points a game.

Memphis Grizzlies (5-6)

The Grizzlies are bouncing back winning 5 of their last 7 games following 4 straight losses to kick of the season. The Grizzlies have been doing it like they did it last season, utilizing their deep bench where nine players are averaging over 20 minutes a game... In their last game, a 93-90 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, F/C-Stromile Swift left the game early after being poked in the eye resulting in a scratched cornea... The Grizzlies loss their star player, F-Pau Gasol, after he injured his right ankle. Gasol is the team's leading scorer and rebounder with 18.2 ppg and 8.2 rpg respectively. Gasol missed the last game against the Spurs, and is listed as day-to-day... F-James Posey is eligible to return to the active roster from the injured list this week but his availability and the status of a sore left foot are still uncertain. Posey has only played in 3 games this season... Trade rumors have been circling the team with F-Bonzi Wells and F-Mike Miller mentioned in a possible trade involving the Toronto Raptor's G-Vince Carter.

Minnesota Timberwolves (6-3)

The T-wolves continued with their consistent performance from last season, winning four of their last five games. F-Kevin Garnett is also continuing his stellar play following his MVP season last year. He is leading the team in points (23.8 ppg), rebounds (12.6 rpg), assists (6.8 apg), blocks (1.78 bpg), and steals (1.56 spg)... Coach Flip Saunders is utilizing a deep bench that goes 10-deep that features G-Troy Hudson, who missed all of last season, and newly acquired F-Eddie Griffen, a gifted big man with a checkered past... The 73-game suspension of Indiana Pacer's G-Ron Artest for his role in a massive brawl against the Detroit Piston fans, now bests G-Latrell Sprewell, who possessed this dubious record for physically assaulting his then-coach, P.J. Carlisemo during his days with the Golden State Warriors. For that act, Sprewell was suspended for 68 games during the 1997-98 season. Sprewell declined to offer his own comments following the Pacer-Piston fracas last Friday night.

New Orleans Hornets (1-8)

The Hornets finally recorded their first victory over the season with an ugly 76-75 win over the Utah Jazz. C-Jamal Magloire, who posted 20 points and 11 rebounds, led the team in the victory. The Hornets have been woeful offensively with a poor field goal percentage and a penchant for settling for jump shots and not getting to the free throw line. The win for the Hornets was a big lift, as Utah was the first game of a 5-game road trip where the Hornets will be facing Golden State, Phoenix, the Los Angeles Lakers, and Denver... The Hornets will continue to struggle after receiving news that their best player, G-Baron Davis will be out for at least two weeks with an inflamed disk in his lower back. Davis was leading the team in points (24.6 ppg) and assists (8.0 apg). The scoring slack will fall upon Magloire, G-David Wesley, and F-Lee Nailon, all not known for their scoring prowess... Because of their anemic offense, the Hornets are investigating options into acquiring the Philadelphia 76ers' disgruntled F-Glenn Robinson. It could be a perfect fit since the Hornets need Robinson's scoring touch, which is not used at all in Philadelphia.

Phoenix Suns (9-2)

The Suns are playing some of the most entertaining basketball since the throwback days of the 80's, and their winning in the process, leading the Pacific Division. From the outset, the Suns push the ball and play at a speed that very few teams can match. They are built perfectly for this kind of game with frenetic PG-Steve Nash (16.2 ppg) leading the attack, and four accomplished players who can finish the break in SG-Quentin Richardson (9.6 ppg), SF-Joe Johnson (16.0 ppg), PF-Shawn Marion (18.9 ppg), and C-Amare Stoudamire (28.0 ppg). With the bevy of scorers at his disposal, Nash is leading the league in assists with 11.6 apg... The emergence of Stoudamire as the team's undisputed go-to guy is remarkable given that he is 21 years of age and playing in only his third season. Stoudamire has responded above and beyond expectations, leading the league in scoring, and recently earning the Western Conference's Player of the Week honors... The team is still winning despite the shooting slump that mires Richardson that has seen him shoot a dismal 29-percent from the field. Richardson was acquired over the summer from the Los Angeles Clippers because of his deft shooting touch... Although he still has an entourage of media that follows his every move, G-Yuta Tabuse still remains on the injured list. Tabuse is the first Japanese player to make the NBA. But with the Sun's acquisition of C-Bo Outlaw, he was placed on the injured list and has stayed there since early November.

Portland Trailblazers (4-5)

The Blazers are of to a sub-par start due to wildly unpredictable play. Besides the always-consistent performances of F-Zach Randolph (21.2 ppg, 12.3 rpg) and F-Shareef Abdul-Rahim (14.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg), there has been little to cheer about in Blazer land. The trio guard combo of Damon Stoudamire, Nick Van Exel, and Derek Anderson are all shooting below 40-percent from the field... The Blazers and the Raptors have been involved in a possible blockbuster trades. The Blazer's F-Shareef Abdul-Rahim, C-Vladimir Stephania, G-Derek Anderson, G-Nick Van Exel, and F-Qyntel Woods names have been thrown around, along with the Raptor's G-Vince Carter, G/F-Jalen Rose, G-Milt Palacio, F/C-Jerome Moiso. League sources said that a deal was close to being completed before Toronto asked for more. Since, talks have cooled off... In a game against the Houston Rockets last Friday, Trailblazer great, Clyde "The Glide" Drexler was honored during halftime for being the most recent inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Drexler was known mainly from his days with Portland before his last two seasons with the Houston Rockets. In his career, Drexler averaged 20.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 1,086 career games.

Sacramento Kings (6-4)

Sacramento looks like their on the good ship to recovery after beginning the season with three straight losses, all on the road.  Now they are on a five game winning streak, and have looked virtually invincible back home at Arco Arena…  It was a close game against the Milwaukee Bucks up until the forth quarter, when the Kings went on a run to win the game 88-79.  The Bucks had been the only Eastern Conference team to beat the Kings in Arco since March 3, 2002.  Since that date, the Kings have gone 39-1 against Eastern teams…  The starting unit is starting to come together with balanced scoring: SF-Peja Stojakovic (19.5 ppg), PF-Chris Webber (18.9 ppg), PG-Mike Bibby (16.9 ppg), and C-Brad Miller (15.3 ppg), plus supersub, G-Bobby Jackson is adding an extra 10.5 ppg…  Chris Webber seems to be dispelling his naysayers who predicted ineffective play.  While his field goal percentage is a little down (41.3%), he has been active around the glass (10.3 rpg), and still remains one of the best passing forwards in the game (5.3 apg)…  Despite scoring 10.3 ppg, Bobby Jackson has been struggling on the floor trying to find his game.  The former 6th Man of the Year winner, is shooting 38% from the field, including 17% from 3-point range.  The Kings hold an option on Jackson's contract for the 2005-06 season, the last one on his deal.

San Antonio Spurs (8-3)

As expected, the Spurs are on top of the Southwest Division.  But coach Gregg Poppovich is upset as the team has lost two in a row against Toronto and Memphis.  The loss against the Raptors was particularly sore since the Spurs were up 19 points going into the final quarter.  The team has shot only 41% in the last two games, are missing critical free throws late in the game, and defensive lapses has been evident…  G-Brent Barry has fitted into the team's structure quite seamlessly.  As a valuable contributor of the bench, Barry has been averaging 25.5 minutes pg, 9.6 pgg including 38% from 3-point range.  He also factors in 3.1 rpg and 3.3 apg on 0.6 turnovers a game.  F-Tim Duncan has played like an MVP as always with 24.4 ppg, 12.9 rpg, and 2.36 blocks.  However, his free throw in late-game situations still needs work.  Like the other dominant big man in the league, Shaq, if Duncan's free throw shooting improves, it could seal many a games for the Spurs.  Unlike Shaq, we believe that Duncan is physically capable of doing this – He had once averaged 80% during the 2001-02 season but his percentage has dropped to a career low of 60% last season.

Seattle Supersonics (9-2)

The Sonics and the Phoenix Suns have been the major surprises this season.  After losing their first game, a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Sonics went on a nine game winning streak, before recently losing a game to the Boston Celtics.  They are the leaders in the Northwest Division.  Unlike the Suns who are playing a running game, the Sonics have been defeating teams with their 3-point shooting.  They are leading the league with a blistering 41.2% from 3-point range as a team.  Individually, G-Ray Allen is scoring 25.3 ppg with an amazing 53.5% from 3-point range.  F-Rashard Lewis is scoring 21.0 ppg with a 3-point field goal percentage of 40.9%…  Ray Allen has been suffering from a bad cold that has been looming over him the past week.  What started as a sore throat a week ago had caused him to be bedridden the last couple of days.  He still played in games, although looking a bit slow – yet effective.  Allen was just shooting 40% from the field but scoring 19.6 ppg over the last three games…  Much of the credit of the Sonics success has to go to the point guard play of Antonio Daniels and Luke Ridnour.  Both have been splitting minutes equally, and together are averaging 22.6 ppg, 10.0 assists per game…  Another equally, yet important change in this team from last year, is the notable inside presence of Seattle's F-Danny Fortson and C-Reggie Evans who have been averaging 6.9 and 9.3 rpg respectively.  Fortson has been very efficient at work.  He has an 8.5 ppg along with his rebounds in only an average of 17 minutes a game.        

Utah Jazz (7-4)

The Jazz are second in the Northwest Division trailing the surprising Seattle Supersonics.  Although they looked like the real deal early on in the season, they have cooled of considerably losing three of their last four games…  Former Jazz great, G-John Stockton, had his number retired during a halftime ceremony as the Jazz hosted the New Orleans Hornets, where the Jazz lost 76-75 in an ugly display of basketball…  F-Carlos Boozer is looking like a great investment, leading the team in points (20.3 pg) and rebounds (10.3 rpg).  Andrei Kirilenko has been a monster defender with a league best 5 blocks a game, although he has not asserted himself on the offensive end.  Kirilenko is averaging 15.1 ppg on 50% shooting from the field.  But he is averaging less than 10 shots a game.  He should look to take more shots especially in late game situations.  He has to know that Utah is his team now, and his more than talented enough to shoulder this responsibility…  G-Carlos Arroyo is back from a sprained left ankle and has played, and started, in the Jazz's last five games.  In that span, Arroyo has averaged 9.8 points and 6.0 assists per game.  G-Keith Mcleod and G-Raja Bell have filled in admirably for his place…  The Jazz are considering placing F-Matt Harpring on the injured list to give his bruised left knee time to completely heal.  Harpring has not played in the Jazz's last three games…  G-Raul Lopez is making progress in rehabilitation from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, and the Jazz plan to increase his activity as much as he is able to handle it.  Lopez will be re-examined by his surgeon at the end of the month to evaluate his return status.