Imran peeks into December’s NBA match-ups

It’s a week into December and if the playoffs were to begin right now, the Los Angeles Lakers would be noticeably absent. The Lake Show represents a record of 5-9. However, Shaq is now back, and as a result the record has improved, but they are still at 4-6 in their last 10 games and are second to last in the Pacific Conference.

Jerry Stackhouse was once quoted saying that Kobe should be about the most thankful two-guard in the NBA. Why? Because if he didn’t have the big man in the middle, he would just be another “jacker” like many other two-guards are considered in the league who shoot poorly with bad shot selection.

The point Stackhouse made is valid, because without Shaq, the Lakers were 3-9. Kobe couldn’t find a way for his team night in and night out. There was no continuity to their offense and no rhythm to let the winning overtake the losing. With O’Neal back in the lineup, the Lakers can count on open looks as a result of double-teams and a focus on the paint from opposing defenses. I would look for the Lakers’ record to improve drastically over the month of December.

My Blazers are at 7-8 right now. Portland has its ups and downs like any other team. What amazes me about this team is how it can match up with any other team in the league.

Although the Blazers are sub .500, they still play teams like they’re top in the league. I feel like it’ll just be a matter of time before both sides come out consistently every night. One thing I would like to see change is Wallace touching the ball more. Especially down the stretch, Cheeks has this habit of going Derek Anderson, but I like to see ‘Sheed have the ball and pressure on him to convert in the closing minutes or seconds.

I can’t say enough about the West. Dallas has only lost one game and is not only offense this year, but they’ve added defense. They’re second in the league with fewest turnovers at 12.2 per contest. Dirk hurts you, then Finley, and then teams deal with Steve Nash making plays. So far the Mavs have been very efficient and have exploited teams’ weaknesses, while utilizing their strengths. And if you keep doing that, it’s hard to lose.

In the East, who would have thought Indiana would be in first place? Well, they are posting a record of 14-2 and are on a four-game winning streak. They did most of this without Mr. Indiana Pacer himself, Reggie Miller.

Yet they do have Brad Miller scoring in double digits these days. Ron Artest plays the toughest defense of any guard in the league, but it’s really all about his hustle.

Jermaine O’Neal continues to put up numbers in the middle, with 17.8 points and 10.9 boards per game. The Pacers’ record should improve through December, and I see them staying in the top three through January. Staying consistent will be the challenge for Indiana.

Also in the East, Philadelphia and Detroit are in the top three teams. Philadelphia is at the top of the Atlantic, and Detroit is second in the Central only to Indiana.

Iverson is second in the league in scoring, with 29.2 points per game. As much as people emphasize his distributing to teammates is important, it is his scoring threat that has helped Philadelphia to 14 wins so far.

Detroit brings a nice mix to the floor. Richard Hamilton is top on the team in scoring at 20.6 per game, but the Pistons find many different ways to hurt teams. Sometimes with their defense and Ben Wallace and other times they will hit 10 to 15 threes in a game. The Pistons should continue to be effective as long as they mix it up on the floor and don’t go back to just jacking threes or not playing any defense and relying on Wallace to stop everyone.

Now that I’ve gone over which teams are doing well, December will tell us much more. Besides that, I agree with Bill Walton when he said he’d like to see some one-on-one match-ups for fun. How about if on all-star weekend there’s a little one-on-one tourney or something. I wouldn’t mind watching T-Mac and Kobe go against each other. Or how about Dirk against K.G. Sounds like an idea to me. Hopefully the NBA will take this into consideration.