Each Dec. 31, BDL serves up a handful of NBA-related stories to digest with your cold coffee. (Sorry for the late post today, guys. My Internet connection wanted the day off.)
Ken Sugiura, AJC: "It took a season-best night from LeBron James(notes), a controversial non-call and the unlikeliest of 3-pointers for Cleveland to beat the Hawks. Regardless of how the Cavaliers got the win, it still registers as a second consecutive loss for the Hawks to Cleveland. One night after beating the Hawks at Philips Arena, the Cavs dealt them a second bitter defeat Wednesday, this time by a 106-101 count. The Hawks cried foul after the game over an apparent shot-clock error with about two minutes to play. Coach Mike Woodson said the team will file a protest with the NBA. 'It's a shame it's got to come down to that, but, hey, it's what it is,' Woodson said. 'We'll figure it out when the league reviews it.'" (Video via TrueHoop)
Terry Pluto, The Plain Dealer: "Hearts pounding, feet stomping, hands clapping, voices rasping. Once again, it's great to be a Cavaliers fan. Just ask any of the 20,562 fans who turned The Q into the world's biggest birthday party for LeBron James, who delivered 48 points on the day he turned 25. Or how about Anderson Varejao(notes), whose desperation 3-point shot — the first of his five-year pro career — blew out of the candles on the wishes of the Atlanta Hawks to make an early-season statement about being in the same elite class as the Cavaliers? Final score: Cavaliers 106, Atlanta 101. First impressions: This could be a very, very special season for the Cavs, who now have the best record in NBA's Eastern Conference at 26-8. Maybe that doesn't surprise you, but who'd have dreamed the 26-8 Cavs would be at this lofty position after opening the season with two losses? Or that they'd be 8-2 against teams with at least 20 victories, 17-3 against teams with winning records on the day they played?"
Steve Bulpett, Boston Herald: "Celts GM Danny Ainge passed on word to [Rasheed] Wallace from the NBA that he should watch his critical statements, but the forward won't bow to the request. 'Either way they're going to get me,' Wallace said. 'If I don't say nothing I'm going to get fined, and if I say something I'm going to get fined. So I might as well say something about what's on my mind, what I want to say.' [...] When it was suggested he could offer a 'no comment' to questions about officiating, Wallace said, 'Yeah, I could do that, but I think I have to be honest when I'm asked a question. And what happened to freedom of speech? You know, I say what's on my mind, speaking my freedom, and I get fined for it. It's a catch-22 with that (expletive), man.'"
Kerry Eggers, The Portland Tribune: "LaMarcus Aldridge joined the long list of injured Blazers when he went down to a sprained left ankle in the first quarter. Aldridge was off to a good start, hitting 3 of 4 shots and scoring seven points before leaving with 5:40 remaining in the first quarter. The 6-11 power forward limped off the floor, and his ankle was in a protective boot after the game. And suddenly, Portland's second-best player — averaging 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game — is gone. Coach Nate McMillan said he doesn't know how long Aldridge will be out of action. Already missing due to injury are centers Greg Oden(notes) and Joel Przybilla(notes), forwards Nicolas Batum(notes) and Travis Outlaw(notes) and guard Rudy Fernandez(notes). 'This has gone past crazy,' McMillan said as he began his post-game press conference. 'Bad luck or whatever ... to continue to see our guys drop ... to walk in that locker room and see LaMarcus in a boot.'"
Elliott Teaford, L.A. Daily News: "Lakers coach Phil Jackson was about to wrap up his postgame press conference after a 124-118 victory over the Warriors when someone asked if [Andrew] Bynum's lackluster play could be linked to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's lessened role with the team this season. Abdul-Jabbar has served as a special assistant coach to Jackson and as a mentor to Bynum in the past few seasons, but hasn't been around the Lakers as often in 2009-10. What's more, the Hall of Fame center announced last month that he has leukemia. However, Jackson said he didn't believe Abdul-Jabbar's absence has had a profound impact on Bynum's play. Jackson said the loss of assistant coach Kurt Rambis might have had a greater role in Bynum's diminished statistics, however. [...] 'I think maybe Kurt going to Minnesota has had an effect because Kurt was working with him a lot more than Kareem in the last year,' Jackson said. 'I think Kareem had a big impact on Andrew two years ago, three years ago. But Kurt was working more hand-in-hand than Kareem last year. Kareem hasn't been here for maybe three weeks. There's a relevancy to it, but I don't know if they're that close in their communications.'"
Benjamin Hochman, The Denver Post: "The plan made sense — rest Chauncey Billups(notes) during Denver's back-to-back games earlier this week, take four days off, and by Saturday, he'd be back. Not so fast. On Wednesday, when Billups was asked about playing at Utah on Saturday, he said softly: 'I don't know man, I really don't know, to be honest.' Billups' groin strain remains a pain on the court. 'It doesn't hurt to walk around or even jog — I feel good — it's the cutting, trying to get by a defender,' he said. 'That's my problem most of the times.' The all-star point guard missed five of Denver's past six games. He played one half at Portland and has since determined he tweaked the groin and 'kind of weakened the muscle.' The lingering injury for Billups has led to the Nuggets losing five of their past six games."
Michael Lee, The Washington Post: "Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld resisted overtures near the trade deadline last season and last summer for Caron Butler(notes) and [Antawn] Jamison. But the disappointing start has added to rampant speculation that the Wizards could be active between now and the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Grunfeld isn't under any restrictions on making moves following the death of majority owner Abe Pollin last month. Pollin believed strongly in the trio of former all-stars Gilbert Arenas(notes), Butler and Jamison. But as one league source put it recently, with Pollin gone, so is the driving force to keep them together — especially with the trio just 7-13 this season and unable to recapture the magic of the past. A person with knowledge of the Wizards' thinking said that no player on the roster is untouchable."
Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun: "Marco Belinelli couldn't understand the interest in what he deemed 'a good pass.' In fact, he came across offended that it was even a topic of discussion. Holding a two-point lead with about six seconds left in the game, Belinelli took an inbound pass but, instead of wrapping up and waiting to be fouled, he flung a high-risk, cross-court pass toward Chris Bosh(notes). The pass did get through, but Bosh had to leap to keep it from landing in the first row of press seating. He was promptly fouled and converted both free throws to put away the game. Belinelli saw nothing wrong with any of it. 'It was a good pass,' Belinelli said. 'I don't know why everyone wants to talk about that. It was in the court so it was a good pass.' Asked if, given the chance, he would throw the same pass, Belinelli said he would."
John Smallwood, Philadelphia Daily News: "Bad decisions, failed gambles, missed hunches have left the Sixers with a mishmash roster of fading veterans, disappointing underachievers and uncertain young talent. The problem is that even though the Sixers are 22nd in the league in team salary, their bloated payroll of $62.9 million is still well over the NBA cap of $57.7 million. And for the 2010-11 season, when the cap is expected to drop, the Sixers' payroll is expected to rise to $65 million. That's why the Sixers should do whatever it takes to win the Tracy McGrady(notes) sweepstakes. The Houston Rockets are ready to part ways with McGrady and his league-high $23.2 million salary. The Sixers should make the winning offer — not because the oft-injured McGrady suddenly will regain his All-Star form, but because his contract expires at the end of the season. The only way to dramatically change your fortunes in the NBA is either to get lucky with a once-in-a-generation draft pick or create flexibility in your payroll."
Jason Jones, Sac Bee: "So far the news has been good but the wait continues. Kings guard Kevin Martin's(notes) latest CT scan showed more improvement in the non-displaced hairline fracture of the navicular bone in his left wrist. The injury continues to heal but there's still no date for his return to the lineup. Martin, who has been out since playing with the injury Nov. 4 against Atlanta, will be examined again Jan. 12. Martin told The Bee's Sam Amick he's taking more steps toward playing. 'Splint is off,' Martin said. 'Just rehab to work on range of motion. So when that's good I'm good. I got cleared to do all basketball activities without contact until my motion is good. And I'm not putting any dates on anything.'"
John DeShazier, The Times-Picayune: "Don't mistake. What New Orleans is doing is better than one alternative, as it counterbalances road wretchedness (2-13) with home dominance. The Hornets have gotten to the point where, safely, we can assume victory at home no matter which team shows up to sit on the opposing bench. Neither Phoenix, nor Atlanta, nor Denver has left the Arena unscathed. On the contrary, all three contenders have been bruised and scabbed by the Hornets, and Miami (16-13) joined the parade of the fallen in New Orleans. But given that the Hornets proportionately have been on the receiving end of the battering on the road, the home excellence doesn't shine as brightly as it could. If New Orleans merely was OK on the road — say, 6-9 rather than owner of the worst road record in the Western Conference and the third-worst road record in the league — it would be two games above .500 today rather than two games below (14-16). Because it's not, it can string together impressive, last-minute thriller after impressive, last-minute thriller and still be treading water at the end of the day."
Charles F. Gardner, Journal Sentinel: "Wednesday was 19 years ago to the day that Bucks coach Scott Skiles set an NBA record with 30 assists when he played with the Orlando Magic.And it's a record that still stands and is remembered fondly by Magic fans. Skiles set the mark in the Magic's 155-116 victory over a Denver Nuggets team coached by Paul Westhead, and it came in the second year of the franchise's existence, on Dec. 30, 1990. 'That's it in a nutshell,' Skiles said. 'People talk about when Mike (D'Antoni) was in Phoenix, 7 seconds or less (to shoot). Well, Denver was about 3 or 4 seconds or less. They got the ball up the floor, shot it quick. There were a lot of rebounds, a lot of fast breaks, and guys were knocking down shots. It was kind of the perfect storm.' Skiles was asked if he thought his record would ever be broken. 'Ramon Sessions(notes) had 24 (assists) with Milwaukee just two seasons ago,' Skiles said. 'People flirt with it a little bit. Obviously it will be broken at some point.'"
Jimmy Smith, The Times-Picayune: "The agent for New Orleans Hornets guard Devin Brown(notes) said Wednesday a proposed deal that would have sent Brown to the Minnesota Timberwolves fell through for financial reasons. Mark Termini, Brown's Cleveland-based representative, said the Hornets wanted Brown to give up some money in order for the salaries to match, as per the NBA's collective bargaining agreement. Without that sacrifice, the trade for Jason Hart(notes), who was subsequently traded to the Phoenix Suns, would not be approved. 'There are some technical rules as to how the salaries have to match up,' Termini said, 'for those teams to make that particular trade they had envisioned. In order for that trade to work with the numbers, Devin would have had to modify part of his contract that was contained in his trade bonus. Because he has a trade bonus, the amount of that trade bonus (10 percent above Brown's $1.1 million salary) would have caused the numbers not to fit, and therefore the trade could not be done. (The Hornets) inquired whether Devin would be willing to modify that number to allow the trade to go through, and he was not.'"