At what point does Boston start worrying about its backup centers Jermaine and Shaquille O'Neal?
Rasheed Wallace played a huge role for this team in the playoffs last year, and these two guys were supposed to replace him.
Instead, we are left with Semih Erden.
The O'Neals are going to have to perform at the highest level, not only with their physical conditioning but with their knowledge and execution of the team concepts, with their teammates to win a championship.
It's looking more and more challenging as each day passes with each of them missing time due to various injuries.
The Milwaukee Bucks might be the most interesting story down the stretch.
They are 1.5 games out of eighth place in the East (5.5 games from sixth place) and are starting to get their players back.
They could have a full roster by the end of March, including Michael Redd and Drew Gooden.
I've been very critical of Al Jefferson, but I have to give him credit for some plays he made last night against Denver.
He made 1 ½ crucial stops as a help defender on Carmelo Anthony in the final 3:30 to help Utah get the victory.
Lack of help defense for years has been one of his biggest weaknesses.
It was a great job by Jefferson of playing tough defense when his team needed it most.
THE BLACK MAMBA
Henry Abbott released some numbers last week which, at least in his mind, finally proved once and for all that Kobe Bryant isn't as clutch as some think he is.
The funny thing is (I'll pretend I don't know why here), for some strange reason the numbers run all the way back to 1996, when Bryant was a rookie who barely played.
As I remember it, Bryant didn't become clutch until 2000, when he hit the game-winner to beat Phoenix in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs and had that heroic Game 4 at Indiana in the Finals.
The raw numbers Abbott provides really don't mean much. In order to know what to make of this, we need to see the split statistics.
We need to know what Bryant shot in every game, every year against every opponent.
For all we know, Kobe Bryant could be shooting 80 percent against the best teams in the NBA and have all of his misses against the worst teams because they are harder to get motivated to play against.
And for all we know, he could be more clutch as his team advances further into the playoffs, peaking in the NBA Finals when he is at his absolute best.
But we don't know any of this because the splits aren't provided.
And we still don't know what Kobe Bryant shoots in game-winning situations in the last 10 seconds, with game-tying information removed from the data.
An article came out this season showing Carmelo Anthony was the best in game-winning or game-tying situations at .455, and Bryant had the most game-winners with 21, but Bryant's percentage wasn't provided.
Abbott wrote about Bryant's game-winners last season and gave some information which showed that Bryant has been awfully impressive recently. So it certainly appears that the numbers are trending in Bryant's direction.
But without the splits, there is just no way to tell one way or the other.
A funny thing happens when you predict a team to do well.
Because we all want to be right, you sort of adopt that team as your foster team and root for them to win; so they can make you look good.
And let me tell you, rooting for these teams has been such a gut-wrenching roller coaster of emotions that I don't know what to do with myself.
John Kuester fumbled the start of the season by not playing Greg Monroe as much as he should have, and at the start of the season Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince weren't playing with enough passion.
Minnesota had me on the high part of the roller coaster during the preseason. Then Martell Webster had to have back surgery and miss the start of the season.
Jonny Flynn's mid-November return from off-season surgery turned into mid-December.
In between, about every player on the roster had to miss time with injuries.
Darko Milicic sprained his ankle one game on the opening tip.
Anthony Tolliver is a 12th man who takes shot attempts like he's the franchise player. And Kurt Rambis keeps giving him playing time.
As soon as Los Angeles got cooking, Eric Gordon hurt his wrist and hasn't played since.
Jim O'Brien barely played Tyler Hansbrough and benched Paul George for almost two months, and TJ Ford has played a total of 10 minutes in the past nine games.
New coach Frank Vogel has Dahntay Jones higher in his rotation than James Posey, a highly-underrated basketball player with two championship rings, and has AJ Price higher in his rotation than TJ Ford.
Keith Smart just won't stop playing Vladimir Radmanovic at power forward.
Golden State assigned Jeremy Lin to the development league even though in his last action against actual NBA players, Golden State trailed 70-75 when he entered the game; and the score was tied 96-96 when he left it.
And even though Kevin Durant tried to score on him two times when Golden State played Oklahoma City and ended up with nothing but a turnover and a ball deflected out of bounds.
David Lee let the unstoppable Boris Diaw muscle him in the post, along with David West and just about everybody else.
The price we pay to be correct.
Like real foster kids, these teams drive you crazy because they are bad as hell. But you love them anyway because you adopted them, so they are yours.
GLAD TO BE WRONG
About the only time I enjoy being wrong is when a player or team turns out to be better than I thought they would.
And that is the case with the Toronto Raptors.
In my "Eastern Conference Preview" I suggested that their original, expansion roster might be more talented than their current one.
And while praising Jose Calderon in "The NBA's Best Point Guards," I called them a cast of "scrubs, losers, cast-offs and wannabes."
I got this one wrong.
I have an iron-clad rule when it comes to losing teams: at least be entertaining.
And Toronto is fun to watch.
DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems get after it on pretty much a nightly basis, and Andrea Bargnani can light it up at any given moment.
Because of injuries, they are not nearly as bad as their record indicates.
There is a future in Toronto.
Note: Al Jefferson was given a stop for drawing an offensive foul on Carmelo Anthony and ½ of a stop for his blocked shot on Anthony. Raja Bell got the other ½ of a stop for recovering the blocked shot.
For more information on how to figure stops and fractional stops, see my article on advanced defensive statistics.
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