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1. (5): It was a hell of a week for the young Hawks, who outworked the Celtics [1] at the Garden and then swept through home games against the rudderless Hornets, the Blazers and the Heat. By the way, Josh Smith scares me to death. He was never a bad player, yet he’s twice as good now as he was three years ago.

2. (1): The fact that Steve Nash [2] is averaging 12 assists per game is impressive enough, but to be doing it at 35 years old is ridiculous. If Nash can maintain this pace — and he can’t — his numbers will be better than his MVP seasons. Look at the top 15 assist men in league history and none of them has had an assist season close to this at 35.

3. (9): I wonder which Magic player has the most entertaining, profane material on Stan Van Gundy [3]. I’m telling you, despite the wins, they hate this guy. Van Gundy is right not to obsess over stats, but Rashard Lewis won’t soon forget that his head coach held him out the entire fourth quarter when he was a measly assist shy of a triple double.

4. (12): Oh, I know I can be stubborn, but this ranking is also proof that I can prop up teams that I don’t like. It’s not personal. I would never trust this group in a big game.

5. (2): At this point, it has to be mental for Rajon Rondo [4]. He’s missed 12 of his last 13 at the line, a stunning streak for a point guard. I think I’ve heard about 500 commentators say that Rondo can’t shoot, which is irrelevant at the line: it’s possible to be a mediocre shooter and a respectable free-throw shooter (see Jason Kidd [5]). Rondo, at minimum, should be nailing 70 percent of his freebies.

6. (7): Can’t think of many teams who have what the Nuggets do in Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith: two guys, one a starter and the other a reserve, who are absolutely unguardable.

7. (3): You have to give it to Phil Jackson [6]. He may be an opportunist, manipulator, and world-class B.S.-er, but he’s a master at teaching a championship team how to defend a title. The Lakers have looked as good as you could reasonably expect without their second-best player (Pau), who returns next week.

8. (6): Is it too soon on Greg Oden [7]? The kid is just 21. But I can’t help it: every time I see him play I think, “Good player. Special shot-blocker…but he’ll never live up to being the top pick in the draft.”

9. (8): The Lakers and Celtics will have a stronghold on the top 2 spots by the All-Star break, but why do I get the feeling the Cavs will be right here all year? Last year they were an exceptional regular-season team that got exposed in the playoffs. Now, to quote Denny Green [8], they are who we thought they were: some average to good players riding the coattails of the King.

10. (10): Write this down: December 8th. That’s when the Bucks play the Celtics at the Garden. You have to see Brandon Jennings [9] play.

11. (13): I’ve got a few NBA pet peeves. One of them is how GMs go out of their way to tell you either how bad an entire draft is or how there isn’t much outside of the lottery. Nonsense. My theory is that there are seven good to great players in ANY draft. The Rockets found their second- and third-leading scorers, Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry, in the same draft. Brooks was at the back of the first round and Landry was at the top of the second.

12. (19): They’ll find themselves in a Catch 22 come playoff time. They can defend like the top teams in the league, which is good. But they won’t make Round One nearly as exciting as last year if they don’t find someone who can stick it like Ben Gordon [10] could.

13. (4): Rough week for the D-Wades: A 1-point win over the Jokes in Jersey, and double-digit losses to the Thunder and Hawks. Well, I guess it wasn’t all bad for Wade. At least he gets to hang out with Gabrielle Union.

14. (16): And they’re most likely moving up. Danny Granger [11] will be an All-Star until he doesn’t feel like playing anymore, and it looks like Larry Bird [12] got him some help in the draft. Tyler Hansbrough [13] is a player.

15. (14): When will they figure out that they’re not supposed to be here?

16. (18): Pick about 20 games. The Thunder will win 10 that they shouldn’t…and lose 10 that they shouldn’t. Along the way, you’ll thoroughly enjoy watching them. They have become what I thought the Grizzlies [14] were ready to be.

17. (22): Now, that’s more like it. I still think they’d be ecstatic if they could get a taker for Carlos Boozer.

18. (20): Okay, it’s a character flaw. But I get as weepy as Rex Ryan [15] when I see a star player who can’t get it done anymore. That’s why it’s hard for me to watch Elton Brand try to catch his shadow.

19. (11): Speaking of not being what they used to be…the Spurs no longer have dominance in them, but they won’t be this bad by the spring. Gregg Popovich [16] usually starts pacing these guys in March. Maybe he’s started early this year.

20. (17): They’ll keep sliding back this way. They’re not talented enough to play the way they do (no D) and win.

21. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. With roadies at Utah and Phoenix and a home game against the Cavs, the next win is likely to come after Thanksgiving.

22. (21): It’s always heartbreaking to see an old Laker get fired, isn’t it? Seriously, GM/interim coach Jeff Bower loses all credibility by bringing Tim Floyd in as a top assistant. Floyd is one of the worst pro coaches in history. He’s 141 games under .500, which is more than twice as much as M.L. Carr’s 68.

23. (24): It always amazes me when teams give monster contracts to players they know they can’t coach. Manny Ramirez [17] comes to mind. So does Gilbert Arenas [18].

24. (25): If Baron Davis [19], a serious moviemaker, were to put together a Michael Moore-type documentary on why the Clippers are the Clippers, would you watch it? I would.

25. (27): You’re not paid by this team and neither am I. But couldn’t you have seen the Iverson thing coming in the summer? Is anyone at all surprised that things didn’t work out? As an aside, I had this thought the other day: if there were a prison for Coach Killers, AI would be on Skid Row right now. Since he came into the league in 1996, AI has gone through coaches the same way James Bond goes through women. He’s had nine coaches, an amazing number when you consider that he actually had the same coach (Larry Brown [20]) for six consecutive seasons.

26. (29): Perfect seque. The Knicks are now interested in signing free agent Iverson. Isn’t it fascinating to watch this organization work its way out of an Isiah/Marbury/Francis hole, only to jump back in? They’re sick puppies, these Knicks. They’ve cornered the market on dysfunctional point guards, whether it’s in the front office, on the court, or in courtside seats.

27. (26): Save your breath, Nellie [21]. When you talk, the team doesn’t listen. Take the money and run.

28. (23): All right, so we know this without a doubt: the only thing Michael Jordan [22] struggles with on a basketball court is, well, putting a competitive team on a basketball court. I wonder what he sees. Seriously. He didn’t miss anything as a player. As an executive, he can’t get anything right.

29. (28): Since November 1st, the Vikings have played 2 games and the Wolves have played 11. Wins for Vikings since then: 2. Wins for Wolves: 0.

30. (30): There’s a perverse joy in rooting for them to lose as much as I do. I sweat like a degenerate gambler when they’re involved in close games. I know I need help…but I don’t want it.