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| Jan. 30, 2006

The NBA Through Travis Colored Glasses

- Sure Kobe can score 81 points in one game, but could he write 81 NBA notes in one column?

- So everyone is of course talking about Kobe and his 81 points. A number of people have asked for my take. Well, here goes: It was certainly a spectacle watching one person score that many points, and I was one of the people who actually watched the game while it transpired wire-to-wire. I couldn't take my eyes off the television screen. If someone would have told me that a player today could score that many points in one outing, I would have told them that they were certifiably crazy. It was an amazing performance.

- That said, I think it will be bad for the Lakers in the long term, and it's not just because Kobe was the one who dropped 81. I don't care who scores 81, LeBron, Iverson, Nowitzki, McGrady, etc. it's bad for their respective teams. And despite what Laker lovers may tell you, other guys still aren't going to want to play with Kobe. Instead, they are going to want to go head-to-head with the guy and outplay him. When this season is finished and we all look back, I think Kobe's 81 will be looked at as the beginning of the end for this Laker club. I know this is not the dominant view being spewed throughout the popular media where everyone is instead touting Kobe as the next you know who, but if you wanted to read a dominant perspective you probably wouldn't be reading this little column, anyway.

- The Philadelphia 76ers have been up and down this year, and this past week there was a little bit of friction in the locker room between coach Mo Cheeks and forward Chris Webber. It remains to be seen whether or not this team can regain their stride and finish off the season strong. However, if you're wondering what the formula for success for this club has been, I think I've figured it out. When the Sixers have more rebounds than their opponents this season, they are 17-2. So if Webber, Samuel Dalembert and company can control the glass in the second half of the season, this team could be dangerous.

- Things are sure going downhill in Golden State. It's starting to look like coach Mike Montgomery is losing control of the team. There are rumblings that Baron Davis is doing whatever he wants on offense and frequently disregards Montgomery's play calls. If they don't get it together soon, their playoff drought just might continue.

- Speaking of the Warriors . . . Talk around the NBA is that GM Chris Mullin is considering a blockbuster trade before the deadline. Forward Troy Murphy's name has come up in trade talks a number of times previously, and he seems to believe he's on the way out. He was so sure he was going to Indiana for Ron Artest that he reportedly didn't renew his membership to a local gym he frequents.

- The Los Angeles Clippers are playing great basketball. I know I said in this very space awhile back that I don't believe Elton Brand is a superstar. Well in my humble opinion, he's playing his way towards such status this season. So do I believe he's a superstar right now? Nope, not yet. But if the Clippers hold on and make the playoffs and play well in the postseason, I'll give him the nod. He is, however, an NBA All Star this season, and if the coaches don't vote him in, they shouldn't bother having the game.

- Another Clipper observation: Shaun Livingston has tons of potential. I like his size and his knack for passing the basketball. One area where he needs to improve though is his ball handling. Opponents have been trapping the youngster more and more when he's running the point, and he's turned the ball over a little too frequently for my taste. However, the Clippers have been able to circumvent this by playing both Sam Cassell and Livingston simultaneously with Cassell logging the bulk of the ball-handling duties.

- A lot of folks have been weighing in lately with regard to who came out on top in the recent Minny-Boston trade. I'm of the opinion that this was a fairly solid trade for both sides. That said, I think Boston did a little bit better for themselves. While Ricky Davis is an explosive scorer and was a solid citizen in Boston, he tends to be a little bit erratic - and that's the last thing the Timberwolves need. The team also took on the albatross contract of Mark Blout (although I do think that his scoring ability in the pivot could help the Wolves). The Celtics on the other hand, acquired the expiring contract of Michael Olowokandi and the outside shooting touch of Wally Szczerbiak. While I will concede that Szczerbiak is overpaid, I think he compliments Paul Pierce better than Ricky Davis did. That is if the Celtics don't trade Pierce in the next month.

- And I would of course be remiss not to touch on the Ron Artest fiasco, which finally came to a conclusion last week. Believe it or not, I think Indiana did extremely well in this deal. Most clubs that have a player holding them hostage like Artest was, don't get anywhere close to equal value for that player. In this case, I think the Pacers got equal value and then some. Everyone is aware of the fact that Peja Stojakovic has been struggling this season and most of last season as well. However, if he returns to his old form, I believe that the Pacers will be a much-improved team. Besides, you don't acquire a player like Stojackovic when he's going well, because at a time like that, he's virtually untradeable. It's the old buy low sell high philosophy. All I know is that when Jermaine O'Neal comes back healthy, he'll probably be double teamed more cautiously with a player like Peja on the perimeter. I believe that Artest will help the Kings in the short-term, but Stojackovic has a chance to help the Pacers in the long-term.

- Onto some e-mail:

Why do the pistons keep getting ignored? They have the best record in the NBA, and their franchise history. Have beaten the Spurs twice. They are playing the best defensive game in the league and bar Saunders being Eastern All-Star coach by default have still not been honored by the NBA. Their games receive much less hype than the Lakers or Cav's or even Heat games, fair enough I realise there are no superstars (holding my breath for Billups) but i get tired of 81points by one player. The pistons are the least selfish team in the league with assists (or maybe the raptors who are self-less enough to include their opponents). I love watching them, i love how flip coaches them, fine if other people don't wanna watch but do you know why they are so overlooked? Yours with her head on the side in wonder, Lia. N.Z

Hello Lia. I couldn't agree with you more. The Pistons are playing amazing basketball, and they aren't getting the attention they deserve. Heck, I am as guilty as anyone. Look who I started out this column talking about. Mr. 81 points himself. I think one reason why they are so overlooked is they don't play a really flashy style of basketball. Instead, they are a blue-collar team that just methodically wins games. For whatever reason, people in the media really haven't started talking about this club until it became apparent that they could actually surpass the Bulls' all time mark of 72-10. I too hope that Chauncey Billups finally gets the recognition that he deserves this season.

Bravo, my good man, on the Dirk-Nowitzki-as-a-viable-MVP-candidate statement. So many people are failing to see that Dirk's improvements aren't stat-visible. But, don't you think stats (i.e. Kobe's, Lebron's, Kevin *gag* Garnett's) are the primary criteria for MVP? I feel like Dirk's at that level, but his improvements are more about leadership and his ability to create [my criteria] (not to mention he's the only All-Star who still dives for loose balls) than statistically represented. I'd love your take on this. Jared Culpepper

Hello Jared. I like the term "stat-visible" you used. It seems like statistics do play a large role in determining who wins the MVP. That said, the trend in recent years seems to be that a player must have impressive stats, but also play on a winning club. Hopefully that will continue this season. For example, if Chauncey Billups were to win the MVP this season, I would be very excited. That would show that team success now trumps individual performance. However, if Kobe's Lakers stayed right around .500 like they are now, and he were to win the MVP, that would a major step backwards in my opinion. Bottom-line, if Dirk's Mavs ends up winning the Southwest Division, he should be among the top three in MVP voting.

- That's all for this week friends. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to talking NBA basketball with you again soon.

Have a take on what you just read? Contact Travis at Travis Heath is a doctoral candidate in psychology, and a freelance writer. Travis currently resides outside of Denver, Colorado, but he has spent time in Washington, Nebraska, and both Northern and Southern California. He is also a self-admitted sports addict, with his primary vice being the NBA. is the web's best basketball site. Read daily.

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