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NBA Second Half Run + Trade Route
by Scott Spreitzer

It was a big week in the NBA, starting the second half of the season plus all the trades that did (and didn't) happen. The Cleveland Cavaliers have the best record in the NBA, and they were so fired up about acquiring Antawn Jamison…they went out and lost to the Nuggets, 118-116.

Cleveland is No. 3 in points allowed and No. 3 in field goal shooting defense, but gave up the most points in a game all season. Did the Big Z mean that much to their interior defense? Of course not, although they are on a 7-2 run over the total.

Jamison brings a skilled big man in the low post, while shipping out a limited, though a team player and fan favorite, in Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Ilgauskas was coming off the bench, starting only 6 games, and his numbers were way down after they acquired Shaq. Cleveland got killed on the glass in the playoffs by Orlando last spring, so adding Shaq and Jamison alongside energetic Anderson Varejao gives the Cavs plenty of muscle and rebounding strength.

It is interesting that a year ago GM Danny Ferry was rumored to be interested in trading for Shaq, but didn’t pull the trigger. After they flamed out in the playoffs as the top seed, Cleveland has not been shy about moves, trading for Shaq and now Jamison.

Oddly, Lakers coach Phil Jackson and Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers criticized the move. Especially since Ilgauskas will probably get bought out by the Washington Wizards and is expected to return to Cleveland after 30 days.

"They're going to get Ilgauskas back and it's going to be one of those scenarios that we see in the NBA where you ship a player out, you get another player, then your player retires or they pay him off and then he comes back in 30 days," Jackson said. "I don't know what that does for the league." "I have a problem with that," added Rivers.

Those coaches see the mighty Cavs as getting much better, a major concern for them in the playoffs. A TV ratings blockbuster is lining up for June: Kobe against Shaq and LeBron.

The Celtics made a minor trade, shipping out guard Eddie House for NY sparkplug guard Nate Washington. Washington adds some backcourt depth behind Rajon Rondo, something that was needed. There are two real stories in Boston: Health and Defense.

The Celtics got sixth man 6-6 Marquis Daniels back this week, a good role player, out since early December. Daniels has shot 68.8-percent (11-of-16) in his two games since returning from a thumb injury (both wins). Plus, Glen Davis missed the first three months of the season but is back. Combined with the injuries to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, this talented team hasn't been healthy.

That's really their main goal the next two months. They also are making a stronger effort on defense, on an 11-4 run under the total. They have topped 100 points on offense only once in the last 14 games. The big win at LA, 87-86, was amazing in that they trailed 84-80 late and scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter. Yet, they won by holding the Lakers to just 2 points in the final 7:30! Kevin Garnett (13 points, 8 rebounds) looked as good as he has since returning from a hyper extended knee.

While all the focus out West is on the defending champion Lakers, this Denver Nuggets team is capable of beating anyone. The Cavaliers whipped the Lakers twice, but quietly the Nuggets have beaten the Cavs twice, including this week, 118-116 at Cleveland. The Lakers are No. 1 in the West, and Denver has defeated them in both matchups so far, and the second win at L.A. came without Carmelo Anthony. Impressive, isn't it?

The Nuggets did make a push to get Tyrus Thomas, but couldn't pull it off. The one concern is that Denver is dominant at home, as usual, but a .500 road team. And defensively, which shines in the postseason, Denver is 16th in field goal shooting defense, 22nd in points allowed. By contrast, the Lakers are fifth in field goal defense and ninth in points allowed. Denver is also an impressive 7-4 SU, 7-3-1 ATS as a dog.

Then there's the Dallas Mavericks, who for the second time in three years rolled the dice and shook up their team. Two years ago it was Devin Harris for Jason Kidd. Now, a 7-player trade brings Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. I still think they would be a better team if they hadn't busted up the group that blew the 2006 NBA Finals to Miami.

I recall when the Celtics got swept by Milwaukee in the 1983 playoffs that many were screaming for the Celtics to make a trade, such as sixth man Kevin McHale to get a big guard. Would have been a BAD move. And a few years later after the Lakers got upset in the playoffs, the owner wanted to trade James Worthy for Mark Aguirre, but GM Jerry West remained calm and talked him out of such a rash move. It's important to assess what you have rationally and not panic to make a move just because you feel you HAVE to make a trade.

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