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LCB Recap: December In The League

January 4, 2011

After a predictably unpredictable first month of the season, things started to become a little more normal in the NBA's second month. Miami figured out that they can be pretty good with 3 of the top 15 players in the league, traditional West powers continued to build upon strong starts, and Derrick Rose further proved that he's the greatest point guard ever in the history of mankind (Chicago-based hyperbole that I'm required to put into anything I write. Settle down Rajon Rondo).

Here are my current power rankings, "Man of the Match" front-runners, and a quick look at who has been deserving of All-Star nods so far this season. Enjoy.

Power Rankings
1. San Antonio (29-4): Gary Neal is the latest “who the hell is he?” guy contributing.
2. Boston (25-7): If they get healthy all at the same time, watch out. 
3. Miami (26-9): Starting to roll, but they still need a big. Preferably not named Zydrunas.
4. Dallas (25-8): I just turned 30, and Jason Kidd was a frosh at Cal when I was 12.
5. Lakers (23-11): Despite turmoil, they'll still right the ship.
6. Oklahoma City (23-12): Kind of wish the Bulls still had Thabo. He has Bruce Bowen-like impact.
7. Chicago (22-10): See Celtics, Boston.
8. Orlando (21-12): I really liked the trade. J Rich for Vince is a significant upgrade.
9. Denver (19-13): It's time for the BirdMan to fly
10. Utah (23-11): Give Gordon Hayward more minutes.
11. Atlanta (22-14): Survived the Joe Johnson injury, but no longer a Top 4 East team.
12. Knicks (19-14): When they make 3's, they can beat anybody.
13. New Orleans (20-14): Fallen back to earth a little bit.
14. Portland (18-16): Wes Matthews was a great signing.
15. Houston (16-17): 11-5 in December, slowly starting to get it together.
16. Memphis (15-19): I jinxed them when I said they were going to win 50.
17. Phoenix (14-18): Adding Gortat was good, adding Vince not so much.
18. Golden St. (13-20): Keep an eye on an emerging Ekpe Udoh off the bench.
19. Indiana (14-18): We've now entered the crappiness that is the bottom of the East. 
20. Milwaukee (13-18): They'll climb a little when they get healthier.
21. Clippers (10-24): I never thought Eric Gordon would be this good.
22. Charlotte (11-20): Stephen Jackson, how does Chicago sound?
23. Minnesota (9-25): Keep this core together and get Ricky Rubio to come play here, please. 
24. Detroit (11-22): TMac, surprisingly, had a couple of frisky games in December.
25. Philly (13-20): Had a decent month, could push for the eight-seed.
26. Sacramento (7-24): Tyreke Evans leads the league in half-court game-winners.
27. Washington (7-24): A chance to see Wall play live may or may not have played a factored into my return to Northern Virginia. 28. New Jersey (9-25): After he looked like he wanted to kiss D.Rose after they played the Bulls, I'll never look at Brook Lopez the same.
29. Toronto (11-22): DeMar DeRozan alert: 37 points on New Years Eve.
30. Cleveland (8-26): Lebron's visit to Cleveland, at this point, looks to be the death of Cleveland's season.

Man of the Match

1. Amar'e Stoudemire: 8 M.O.T.M. ( 30 pts,10 rbs, 3 blks)
2. Dwyane Wade: 7 (28 pts, 7 rbs, 4 assts, 2 stls, 1 blks)
2. Derrick Rose: 7 (22 pts, 5 rbs, 9 assts, 1 stl)
2. Lebron James: 7 (25 pts 8 rbs, 7 assts)
5. Chris Paul: 6 (17 pts 9 assts, 3 stls)
5. Al Horford: 6 (17 pts, 10 rbs, 3assts)
5. Carlos Boozer: 6 (21 pts, 10 rbs)
9 Kyle Lowry: 5 ( 13 pts, 8 assts, 2 stls)

Amar'e owned the month of December, with his string of 30 point games, and all-around dominant play lead the Knicks climb in the East. Wade and Lebron turned it up a couple of notches as they look to be learning after a shaky November how to play with one another. Rose is a legitimate MVP candidate with his improved jumper. Two names that stand out are Al Horford and Kyle Lowry. Horford was an All-Star last year, but seems to have brought it to another level becoming an effective passer out of the post. Lowry has taken advantage of the injury to Aaron Brooks, spearheading the Rockets turnaround. .

Looking Ahead to Los Angeles
I'm going to try my hand at talent evaluation here, as I feel it's still too early to come up with definitive All-Star rosters just yet. I made a list of 40 players, that I will cut down week by week until we find the ultimate and most deserving all-star roster.

Eastern Conference
(Rondo, Ray Allen, Felton, Fields, Jrue Holiday,
Derrick Rose, Darren Collison, Brandon Jennings,
Mo Williams, Wade, Carlos Arroyo, Jameer Nelson,
Jason Richardson, Joe Johnson, Stephen Jackson,
John Wall)
Point guards make up the majority of the two guard spots in the East. Derrick Rose is having a dominant year on both sides of the court, Raymond Felton is helping turn the tide for New York, and Rondo leads the league in assists. Questionable calls include John Wall, Mo Williams, Landry Fields, and Carlos Arroyo. When he's been healthy, Wall has shown flashes of greatness. Mo Williams appears on my radar solely because I wanted to have each team represented. He's Cleveland's only real consistent offensive threat. Landry Fields has come out of nowhere to become one of the conference's best rookies, while Carlos Arroyo almost literally makes every shot he takes.

( KG, Paul Pierce, Glenn Davis, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala,
Linus Kleiza, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, 
Danny Granger, Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Josh Smith)
Lebron has been the best forward, so far, especially with his strong December. I also called Chris Bosh a disaster in the last column, but he's played considerably better as of late. Big Baby has been an excellent sixth man for Boston, and he'll be increasingly more important if Garnett is out for a long stretch. Suprises include Kleiza, Gallinari, and Elton Brand, with Kleiza having a strong year coming back from Europe, Gallinari shooting the ball well  and showing some athleticism, and Brand bouncing back from injury to have a solid season.

( Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Andrew Bogut, Ben Wallace,
Dwight Howard, Al Horford)
The East seems to have a much stronger group of Centers, although it was much harder to make the list for the West in general. I talked about the impact of Amare and Horford earlier, but Bargnani has been the best player on a team I thought would be much worse than they are. Ben Wallace is a reach, but he's playing for Detroit. A team that has fallen off the map faster than a cast of reality stars.

( Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry,
Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefoloshia, Chauncey Billups, Wes Matthews, Steve Nash, Monta Ellis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans)
A good mix of young and old highlight this group. Elder statesmen like Nash, Kidd, and Jason Terry are having good years coinciding with the collective leaps from the likes of Eric Gordon, Monta Ellis, and Russell Westbrook. I think Thabo Sefolosha deserves consideration, simply for his defensive skills. He doesn't shoot, but still provides OKC with a lot of the dirty work that many seem to overlook.

( Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson, Dirk Nowitizki, David West, Luis Scola, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Paul Millsap,
                                                                 Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus
                                                                 Aldridge, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom,
                                                                 Grant Hill, Dorell Wright, Blake Griffin)
If this was a solitary man's decision, I don't know see how this list gets chopped down to 5 or 6. Much like the guards of the west, the mix of old guys still going strong coupled with fast risers like Griffin, Kevin Love, and Beasley, makes this an extremely stout group. That's not to mention the dirty work guys like Odom, Jeff Green, and Scola who don't get enough credit. Addendum: Dorell Wright should get some consideration as he might be the league's most improved player.

( Tyson Chandler, Emeka Okafor, Al Jefferson, Serge Ibaka, Nene, Marcus Camby, Pau Gasol)
Like the East shooting guards, this list is relatively weak position group. Yao Ming is the leading vote getter in the fans vote. Could someone please notify China that he's not playing anymore? Please? Tyson Chandler is having a great year for Dallas. Gasol has done the same for L.A., although he's not even really a center with Bynum back in the lineup. Lastly, Okafor has provided New Orleans with a rim protector helping their improved defense.


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