By Andy Roth
New York, NY (Sports Network) -
Is Indiana on pace to playoff basketball? Does it really matter if the Knicks get Carmelo? I've got the answers to those questions and more in my latest take on the NBA.
The coaching change has made a world of difference, and the Pacers could be looking at their first playoff appearance since 2006. Indiana is 7-1 since Frank Vogel took over as the interim coach, replacing the fired Jim O'Brien, and is currently occupying the eighth and final playoff spot in the East at 24-28, two games ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Pacers' three main players - Danny Granger, Darren Collison, and Roy Hibbert - have all benefited from Vogel's approach. "I think he's making it easier for us to play more to our strengths," said Collison.
"For myself, he's making it easier to get to the paint and create for myself and others. For Danny, he's making it easier for him to get better shots. And Roy Hibbert, he's keeping him at the blocks. He's just simplifying the game for us."
The Pacers' third-year center seems to have benefited most from the coaching change. Even when Hibbert was playing well early in the season, he drew criticism from his former coach. "I think that Roy would say - and I certainly share this belief - I don't think he's having a very good season," said O'Brien, who was fired on January 30th. "I don't think he's being the facilitator of our offense that he's going to become. I think he's a great passer. I think he can become a much better rebounder. And my expectations probably aren't as high as Roy's expectations."
Since O'Brien's departure, Hibbert's game has taken off again. He's averaging 16.3 points-per-game, while shooting 50% from the floor. He's had four double- double games, including three in which he put up at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Cavaliers finally tasted victory on Friday, snapping their NBA record 26- game losing streak with an overtime win against the Clippers. But the Cavs suffered further humiliation in their next game, as the Wizards won in Cleveland on Sunday for their first road victory of the season.
Can there be any silver linings in this season dominated by clouds since LeBron made his "Decision"? I say definitely maybe. Whereas many games during the losing streak were blowouts, Cleveland started to play competitive basketball despite the losses continuing to pile up before the losing skid came to an end. The five defeats prior to the streak ending were all by less than double digits, including a down-to-the-wire three-point loss in Dallas.
Two players who have helped bring up the level of Cleveland's play are J.J. Hickson and Ramon Sessions. Hickson has had a roller coaster season, but really has been a force lately. He's averaging 19.9 points and 11.1 rebounds in eight games this month, and has eight double-doubles over his last 11 games.
Sessions, meanwhile, got his big chance to contribute when starting point guard Mo Williams went down with a hip injury January 15th. Since that time Sessions has averaged 15.6 points and 7.6 assists per game and has been especially impressive this month, putting up averages of 17.9 points and nine assists.
NEW YORK KNICKS
The continuing "Melo-Drama" surrounding the Knicks is reaching a feverish pitch, but whether or not they're able to acquire Carmelo Anthony prior to the February 24th trade deadline may not have a big impact on the current season.
If they have to give up two players from the combination of Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Landry Fields, they'll still have holes in their starting lineup, and even less depth than they have now, which already is a big problem.
For example, if Fields and Chandler go in the deal, the Knicks will be left without a quality shooting guard and still have either Ronny Turiaf or rookie Timofey Mozgov as their starting center. And with Chandler gone, there's nobody to back up Stoudemire at power forward.
I think Knicks fans will eventually find out that the toughest way to build a true title contender is through free agency. When you allot a good majority of your payroll on two or three players, it's extremely difficult to fill in the rest of the pieces to put together a true championship roster.
The Heat may be the exception to the rule, but in their case, two of the free agents they signed - LeBron James and Dwyane Wade - are arguably two of the three best players in the game. Make no mistake about it, a pairing of Anthony and Stoudemire is not in the same league as a James and Wade or Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Unlike these great star tandems, Carmelo and Amar'e don't make other players better and aren't good defenders.
I guess, in the end, Knicks fans should just "Melo-Out" when it comes to the prospects of Anthony playing in the Big Apple.
The Celtics held on for dear life on Sunday and improved to 3-0 against the Heat this season, escaping with an 85-82 victory. I have a strong feeling we'll see this matchup in the Eastern Conference finals. If the Celtics can stay healthy, I give them the edge, but with the way the Heat play defense, they are very capable of knocking off the defending conference champions.
Not much has been made of Matt Barnes' absence, but he's been sorely missed by the Lakers with Ron Artest playing so awful. Artest has gone from being a lock-down defender to a defensive liability, and he's averaging a career-low in scoring (8.0 ppg) and rebounding (3.0 rpg).
The Sixers have an up-and-coming point guard in Jrue Holiday, but he also has a teammate who's creating shots for other players and is playing a big role in their resurgence. Andre Iguodala, who's known more for his athleticism and ferocious dunks, has been playing like a point-forward. He's averaging six assists per game, and his playmaking abilities seem to be getting better as the season progresses, as he's putting up a season-best 8.0 per game this month, including a career-high 16 against the Knicks.
Andy Roth covered the Knicks for NBC Radio and AP Radio for eleven years and
was an NBA Columnist for Celtics Pride Magazine for two years. He's covered
many of the major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA
Finals, U.S. Open Tennis and Golf.