Then & Now: Your Weekly NBA Digest, 3/9

Welcome to Then & Now, where Shoals sums up the week in NBA hoops and tells you what to ↵look for. Find it here every Sunday (usually) evening. ↵
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↵Point Guards Are the Engine of the Future: Okay, the Jazz are ↵still on fire. Eleven straight and counting. But in the tightly-packed ↵West, the real news this week was the Hornets, who found out that nothing sets a ↵team off like trying to trade a key piece. The Tyson Chandler trade ↵got nixed by OKC's doctors, and Chandler promptly returned playing ↵every game like it was his last. David West, whose second half has ↵justified that All-Star appearance, followed a Player of the Week ↵award with more strong play. And Chris Paul has ↵just gone nuts. Finally, the team that broke out last year is back ↵and making moves. ↵

↵Rondo for President: The Celtics beat the Cavs without Kevin ↵Garnett on Friday, making a convincing case for their depth, maturity ↵and poise -- and the likelihood of their surviving this long-simmering ↵stand-off at the top of the East. Then on Sunday, with Rondo and Big ↵Baby on the bench, they were forced to start that rascal Stephon ↵Marbury, and walked away from their home floor with a loss to the team ↵that, since Jameer Nelson went down, has been seen as a distant third. ↵No one's blaming Steph, or firing up the Marbury Doomsday Clock, but ↵yet again, it shows how important Rondo is to that team. KG's absence, ↵on the other hand, is probably making Boston stronger. ↵

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↵Shut Your Mouth; You're Talking About Shaq: You're excused for ↵not knowing that, even with Nash now back, the Suns have now lost four ↵straight and are slipping into the lottery. Shaquille O'Neal had a ↵full-on revival this past week, piling up points in wins against the ↵Raptors and Lakers, then grabbing attention by calling ↵out former coach Stan Van Gundy for saying he'd flopped on Dwight ↵Howard. Van Gundy and Chris Bosh, whom Shaq compared to RuPaul earlier ↵in the week, brushed it off -- not without a little condescension -- but the ↵press ate it up, and if you squinted, it was just like old times. ↵

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↵FILM CRITIC ↵

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↵No, this isn't a fluke. Watch enough of the Bobcats and you'll get ↵used to the Boris Diaw/Emeka Okafor two-man game. Diaw's more ↵complete, and aggressive, than he was in that Most Improved season ↵under D'Antoni -- supposedly the coach whose system made him successful ↵in the first place. And Okafor, while he's not Dwight Howard, is ↵intimidating inside, the perfect match for the versatile Diaw. Worth ↵noting that Marvin Williams also is coming into his own. ↵

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↵COMING ATTRACTIONS
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↵-- Let's force the metaphor one more time: All eyes are on Detroit, as ↵they count down the halcyon days until Allen Iverson returns and ↵has to come off the bench. Basketball-wise, there's not much to ↵worry about here; AI will provide instant offense and play in the ↵fourth if he's really on fire. No one knows, though, what will happen ↵when one of the league's most charismatic stars is thrust into a ↵supporting role. Iverson's no Marbury, and will try to be a good ↵soldier, but the question remains whether he's fundamentally ↵incompatible with Dee-Troit Basketball. ↵

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↵-- Speaking of Iverson's old team, Denver's got to be the most ↵schizophrenic show in town these days. They're still sixth, headed ↵for the playoffs, and a more cohesive unit than in the past. Chauncey ↵Billups has been everything the Nuggets possibly could've asked for. ↵It's not even like they're in a slump. But Melo and Karl are ↵feuding again, a distraction that not only gets in the way of the ↵present -- it casts a pall of uncertainty over the future. Anthony's ↵having his best overall season as a pro, but is still most valuable as ↵a scorer. J.R. Smith could readily step into that number one option ↵slot, everyone's looking to save money ... could Melo be headed ↵to the Knicks, who have probably given up on Wade or Bron? ↵

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↵-- Ah, continuity: For MVP, it's Wade or Bron. Kobe's in the ↵running, technically, but he got one last year. Wade has been ↵absolutely scintillating as of late, while James has been content ↵merely to lead a team that's finally back at full-strength (and beat ↵the Heat twice this past week). Then again, the Heat have a shot at ↵home court advantage, when few people pegged them as a playoff team ↵heading into 2008-09. And they don't have the likes of Mo Williams to ↵get their superstar's back. Expect LeBron to be rewarded for his ↵team's success, but it will be a close vote if Wade continues this ↵run. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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