The Utah Jazz looked like one of the biggest disappointments in the NBA earlier in the season. Conversely, the Sacramento Kings appeared as though they were going to be one of the major surprises of 2009-10.
Well, things have certainly changed.
The Jazz was 19-17 after losing to the Grizzlies on Jan 8. Since then, Utah has won 11 of their last 12 games and is currently on a seven-game winning streak after beating the Trail Blazers 118-105 on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, the Kings were 14-16 after beating the Nuggets on Dec. 28, a very respectable record for a team that won just 17 games last season. However, Sacramento has since lost 16 of 18, including dropping a 115-113 decision to the Spurs on Wednesday night, to fall to 16-32.
The Jazz has been playing with a noticeable bounce in its step in the last three-plus weeks.
“I think in the first half of the season we felt like we looked back,” forward Paul Millsap said. “We felt like we weren't playing the basketball that we were used to playing. We just had to turn it around. We’re having fun, getting wins. It’s the will not to lose, an attitude we didn’t have earlier in the season.”
Or maybe it’s just as point guard Deron Williams succinctly put it, “We’re figuring out how to be a good team.”
Sacramento has had a bad team since the calendar turned to 2010 as a promising start and the seeming rejuvenation of a once-great franchise has turned to dust. The frustrating part to center Spencer Hawes is that he believes the Kings aren’t playing poorly but seem to be continually hurt by one bad stretch in each game.
“It’s not that we expect that no matter what we're going to have a bad quarter but we're continually victimizing ourselves with one and taking away otherwise pretty good all-around performances,” Hawes said.
Cavaliers Dominate Trade Rumors
Seemingly everyone from Kobe Bryant to Coby Karl figures to wind up in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform by the Feb. 18 trade deadline if all the trade rumors come true. OK, so Karl has already been with the Cavaliers this year and Bryant isn’t going anywhere, but you get the point and so does Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
“If the Cavaliers get everyone they are supposedly trying to trade for, they will be so deep at every position that it’ll be amazing,” Rivers said tongue-in-cheek.
However, center Shaquille O’Neal, the Cavaliers’ major off-season acquisition, believes general manager Danny Ferry should stand pat just as he did at last year’s trading deadline.
“We're a close-knit group,” O’Neal said. “Everything is going perfect. We've lost 11 games. We gave eight of them away.”
However, it has become very clear that Cleveland's top trade target is Wizards forward Antawn Jamison and Ferry is trying hard to land him. Cavaliers coach Mike Brown would be willing to change the roster if it would increase the franchise’s hopes of winning its first-ever title and what would be the first major sports championship for Cleveland since the Browns won the 1964 NFL crown.
“We have a good team,” Brown said. “We're deep and versatile. I like the team we have. If something comes across the table, though, we'll have to do it.”
The Knicks, meanwhile, could use a point guard in their bid to make the playoffs. However, team president Donnie Walsh wants to clear as much salary cap space as possible to go after free agents in the summer and would be reluctant to take on a contract that extends beyond this season.
“That's the key, it has to fit in the plan and it's got to be right,” Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. “I think we as an organization and Donnie (Walsh), they're looking all the time and trying to better the team without messing up the long-term plans. It's a tricky thing, It’s not easy to do but we'll keep plugging and I'm sure Donnie will keep looking and do what's necessary.”
Karl Thanks Nelson
Speaking of Coby Karl, he has resurfaced in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors. His father, Nuggets coach George Karl, was beaming with pride after his son logged a career-high 24 minutes in his first game with the Warriors last Sunday against the Thunder. Coby Karl had never played more than 12 minutes in any of his previous 20 career games with the Lakers (2007-08) and Cavaliers.
“I called (Warriors coach) Don Nelson to say the gift you gave me is something I've been waiting for for a long time,” George Karl said.
Meanwhile, George Karl is still without a contract for next season after he turned down a three-year, $11.25-million extension offer earlier in the season in which the final year was not guaranteed. However, Karl said he is still receptive to talking to the Nuggets.
“Nothing has been cut off,” he said.
Bryant Honored to Pas West
And speaking of Kobe Bryant, he certainly appreciates what it meant to pass Jerry West on Monday night to become the Lakers’ all-time leader scorer. West was the Lakers’ GM when he traded Vlade Divac to the Hornets for Bryant, who had just been drafted following his senior year of high school in suburban Philadelphia.
Bryant has scored 25,213 points in 998 games and 13 seasons while West scored 25,192 points in 932 games and 14 seasons.
“It’s a great honor, to say the least, to be with all the great players and the rich tradition that we have,” Bryant said. “It’s a great accomplishment. Jerry taught me so much when I was 17 years old. I’ll always be appreciative of what he did for me.”
Bryant has helped the Lakers win four NBA titles. That also gives him a special feeling
“I feel like it’s us,” Bryant said. “It's still Magic (Johnson). It's still all of the other great players.”
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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