NBA Playoffs
The Pulse of the NBA

By Andy Roth
Contributing Editor

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    New York, NY (Sports Network) - Chicago is bullish on Boozer. The secret weapon to the Spurs long-term success. A potentially devastating Dallas injury. I've got those stories and more in my latest take on the NBA.


    After dropping the first two games following Carlos Boozer's return, the Bulls have won 13 out of their last 15. During this run, Boozer has averaged 22.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

    His presence has eased the blow of losing starting center Joakim Noah to a torn ligament in his right thumb. Chicago has gone 6-2 without Noah, who is expected to be sidelined until at least mid-February.

    The fact that the Bulls have the fifth-best record in the NBA at 22-10, despite Boozer (15 games) and Noah (8 games) missing significant time, is a credit to the MVP-type play of Derrick Rose. Chicago's talented point guard can score (24 ppg) and distribute (8.6 apg), and has taken his game to another level this season with a much improved perimeter game. Over his first two seasons, Rose shot just 24% from three-point range. This year, that figure is up to a very impressive 39%. If he can continue to hit his outside shot, it will make his game off the dribble that much tougher to stop, and he'll cause even more havoc for opposing defenses.


    The Wizards have the unenviable distinction of being the only team in the league yet to win on the road, with the embarrassing mark now at 0-16. Washington is a respectable 8-8 at home, so even with just a few road wins this team would be in the playoff hunt in an Eastern Conference loaded with a lot of bad teams. "We've got to find a way to get a win on the road," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. "Even if we're below average on the road, if we win a few games, we're right there for the eighth, ninth or tenth spot fighting for something."

    And how does Saunders explain the difference in his team at home versus on the road? "It seems that at home we play with a lot more urgency and aggressiveness, and on the road, we seem to come out passive. I love the way our crowd gets us into the start of the game, but we just don't seem to come out with the same passion on the road."


    "Defense" and the "Phoenix Suns" are not terms usually associated with each other, but head coach Alvin Gentry wants that to change immediately. After snapping a four-game losing streak on New Year's Eve with a 92-75 win over the Pistons, he was very clear in his message to his team. "I told the guys, 'We are going to start judging our defense from this day forward,'" said Gentry.

    The Suns had allowed more than 100 points in 10 of their last 11 games, seven of which resulted in losses. "We didn't care about offense because you figure if you can defend, you can score every time,"

    Phoenix guard Goran Dragic said following the win against Detroit. "Everybody was engaged, everyone was pressuring. Rotation was good. Hopefully we're going to play like this in the future."

    Let's see how the Suns fare against some teams that are a lot more potent offensively than the Pistons before we believe they've adopted this new approach.


    The team with the NBA's best record (29-4) may also have the league's best GM, and he constantly flies under the national radar. R.C. Buford has been with the Spurs in various capacities since 1994, and he's played a vital role in coming up with some of the best steals of the draft, which has played a vital role in building one of the league's most successful franchises during his tenure.

    Manu Ginobili was the next-to-last pick (57th overall) in the 1999 draft, Tony Parker was taken with the 28th pick in the first round in 2001, George Hill was the 26th selection in the first round in 2008, and DeJuan Blair was taken with the seventh pick (37th overall) in the second round in 2009.

    This year's big find by Buford wasn't even via the draft. Guard Gary Neal, who went undrafted in 2007 and played one season in Spain and two in Italy, was signed by the Spurs after an impressive showing in the Las Vegas summer league. Neal led the team in scoring with 16 points in 25.8 minutes per game over five games. He was 30 of 60 from the field and 17 of 34 from three-point range.

    Neal's summer league play has carried over to the regular season as he's been a regular part of the Spurs' rotation from the start. He's averaging 8.4 points in 18.1 minutes per game and is hitting on 39% of his three-point shots. After hitting five threes on his way to a 21-point night in a win in Dallas last Thursday, Tim Duncan had some high praise for the rookie. "He hasn't earned our respect, he's taken it. He's a stone-cold shooter."


    The Mavs looked like legitimate championship contenders this season, but that may have all changed on New Year's Day, when Caron Butler went down with a possible season-ending knee injury against the Bucks in Milwaukee. Early indications are that he has at least a partial tear of the patellar tendon in his right knee which could sideline him for two months. However, if it's a full tear, Butler, the Mavericks' third-leading scorer at 15 ppg would be out for the season. Not only will Dallas miss his scoring punch and perimeter game, it will leave them thin up front. Shawn Marion normally backs up Butler and Dirk Nowitzki, but with having to fill Butler's shoes, the Mavs are left with Brian Cardinal as their backup power forward and not much to speak of coming off the bench at small forward.


    Lost in the on-going Carmelo Anthony saga is the fact that the Nuggets have played pretty well this season (19-13) despite the distractions, and rarely playing at full strength due to a host of injuries. When this team is healthy, it can still give any of the top teams in this league fits on any given night. The Nuggets' Western Conference rivals should be elated that Anthony will likely be dealt before the trading deadline, and not have to face a Denver team with Carmelo in the playoffs.

    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.

    Copyright 2010

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