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On The Beat: Western Conference, Southwest Division (December 16, 2004)

San Antonio Spurs (18-4)

This Western juggernaut are rolling on all cylinders now winning ten of their last twelve games, which included an eight-game winning streak.  They have a sparking 10-1 record on their home floor…  Rumors have circulated that F-Karl Malone is close to reaching a deal that would see him join the Spurs.  The second all-time leading scorer in the NBA had contacted coach Gregg Popovich about a possible role on the team.  Malone has been out all season with injuries, but should be healthy soon.  It was unknown whether Malone would return for the team he played for last season, the Los Angeles Lakers, but after recent arguments with G-Kobe Bryant, it appears that he won’t…  A bright spot in the Spurs season has been the emergence of G-Devin Brown as their key bench contributor, a role that G-Brent Barry was suppose to assume.  Brown has been coming on as of late, with Popovich giving him increasing minutes.  Brown is the fifth leading scorer on the team with 7.3 points, but over the last 10 games he has been averaging 12.5 points and 4.1 rebounds.  He has also brought considerable excitement to the team’s play with his highflying dunks that consistently makes the nightly highlight reels…  It has been announced that former Spur great, F-Sean Elliot will have his number 32 retired in a halftime ceremony when the Spurs host the Utah Jazz in March.  Always a class act, Elliot is forth in career scoring for the Spurs with 9,659 points.  He also amongst the all-time Spurs leaders in games, rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks.  Elliot, always a fan favorite, will be remembered for his resiliency especially returning to the game following a kidney transplant surgery.  Elliot, who played 11 seasons in San Antonio, will have his jersey joining greats, George Gervin, David Robinson, James Silas, and Johnny Moore, in the rafters.     

Dallas Mavericks (15-9)

After a sizzling 7-1 start to the season, the Mavericks are starting to spiral down towards mediocrity.  A reason for this is that teams are starting to focus on F-Dirk Nowitzki, the Maverick’s main offensive weapon, and forcing other players to beat them.  Despite the immense talent that composes the roster, the lack of a true point guard is starting to become the team’s Achilles heel, as the ball is not being distributed as effectively.  Another thing that has concerned coach Don Nelson is the team’s lackluster 7-6 record on home court, although he isn’t complaining about the team’s play on the road…  The shuffle at point guard continues with Nelson handing the starting reins to Jason Terry, who had not started a game this season.  The team had acquired PG-Darrell Armstrong from the New Orleans Hornets in early December for G-Dan Dickau, and had started Armstrong for five games, but his play has proven ineffective.  Rookie G-Devin Harris had been the starting point guard for the majority of games, but he has since been an afterthought being buried deep on Nelson’s bench…  All-star G-Michael Finley is starting to round into form after coming back from injury.  In his last four games, Finley has averaged 24.0 points on 49.3% shooting from the field, including 48% from 3-point range…  The same cannot be said for C-Erick Dampier who continues to struggle in Dallas after signing a 7-year, $71-million contract.  Dampier has only been averaging 8.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks a game.  A far cry from last season’s averages of 12.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks for Golden State.       

Houston Rockets (10-12)

Maybe, just maybe, the Rockets are finally coming together, although they are not playing to the level that many analysts thought they would.  They have four of the last five games (Atlanta, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Philadelphia) following a horrendous five game losing streak.  Ever since, acquiring G-Tracy McGrady in the summer, many predicted lofty championship goals for the Rockets with powerful combination of McGrady and C-Yao Ming.  22 games into the season, and the chemistry (or lack thereof) between the two superstars is still questioned, especially in coach Jeff Van Gundy’s defense-oriented system…  Point guard remains a big issue in Houston.  No one has emerged as the team’s floor general among Tyronn Lue, Charlie Ward, Bob Sura, and Andre Barrett.  Lue is leading the group with points (6.2), Sura with assists (3.5; but also leads in turnovers with 2.8), while Ward has been the best defensive option…  Where is Yao Ming?  Ming, widely predicted to have a breakout season with McGrady beside him, have had relatively little impact during the Rocket’s woeful season so far.  The 7’6” Chinaman has averaged 18.3 points but only 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a game.  He may be turning his game around now though.  In the last six games, Yao has averaged 19.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks a game…  Houston Rockets great G-Calvin Murphy has been acquitted of sexual abuse charges against him filed by five of his daughters.  Murphy, who has 14 children stemming from 9 women, had always maintained his innocence and said that the allegations revolved around issues of money.  Murphy hopes to return back to his job as a popular Rocket’s broadcaster.    

Memphis Grizzlies (9-15)

The Grizzlies’ season keeps getting more and more out of whack.  Coach Hubie Brown’s announcement of his retirement at the end of November was a surprise to everybody.  Brown, was highly popular among his players, and led the Grizzlies to a surprising 50-win season last year that also saw him awarded as the NBA Coach of the Year.  Brown cited health reasons for his retirement.  The team announced Mike Fratello as Brown’s replacement.  The team was 5-9 when Brown retired.  Fratello’s record since arriving has been 4-4.  Fratello had coached the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers in the past and owns a career coaching record of 576-469…  Much of the losses the Grizzlies have surrendered have come during the forth quarter.  The team is averaging an NBA-worst 19.7 points in the crucial final quarter, and have been known to lapse defensively…  There are rumors that the Grizzlies are interested in acquiring G-Vince Carter from the Toronto Raptors and/or F-Eddy Curry from the Chicago Bulls.  Players mentioned on the trading block include G/F-Mike Miller, G/F-Bonzi Wells, F-Stromile Swift, F-Lorenzen Wright, and G-Jason Williams…  A silver lining in the Grizzlies otherwise disappointing start has been the play of PG-Earl Watson.  Coach Fratello has been playing Watson more often than the flashy Jason Williams.  Watson has started the last seven games where he has averaged 11.7 points, 7.1 assists, 1.7 steals in 32.8 minutes a game.       

New Orleans Hornets (2-19)

The Hornets’ chance of making the playoffs is largely insurmountable in the tough Western Conference.  With their horrendous record, epidemic of injuries, and backlash from their new city, the Hornets just hope to recover from the dismal start and gain some semblance of respectability.  The good news is that the Hornets won their last game over the Golden State Warriors 98-89, making it their first home win.  The Hornets have loss three overtime games this year, the latest being a 93-94 loss in Charlotte, their old home, against the expansion Bobcats…  It is still unknown when all-star PG-Baron Davis will return to the lineup after suffering an inflamed disc in his lower back.  Davis, who has only played in five games this season (averaging 24.6 points and 8.0 assists a game), has been riddled with back problems over the last few seasons.  Coach Byron Scott wants to make sure the Davis is fully recovered before returning…  F-Lee Nailon is expected to return next game, after he missed five games due to a strained groin.  Nailon is one of the team’s few offensive threats thanks to injuries to all-stars Davis, C-Jamal Magloire, and F-Jamal Mashburn (who is out all season).  Nailon has averaged 13.1 points in 27.5 minutes a game this season…  The Hornets have hired their own marketing firm, SMG, to attract a buyer for naming rights to the New Orleans arena.  SMG has been responsible for procuring naming rights for the PETCO Park in San Diego, the Toyota Center in Houston, U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Ford Field in Detroit and PNC Park in Pittsburgh.