Too many teams are missing the points so far this season

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

November 09, 2003|By MILTON KENT

Tracy McGrady has had enough.

The 6-foot-8 Orlando Magic guard, last year's NBA scoring champion, is frustrated with the blanket defensive coverage he has been seeing, and he let his angst flow last week after a 9-for-20 shooting performance in a 106-100 loss Wednesday to the Chicago Bulls.

"I'm frustrated," McGrady said. "I'm frustrated from the simple fact that the NBA needs to take out the zone. ... They say they want to speed up the game. Well, take out the zone.

"To me, it's frustrating because I love to entertain. I mean, you play a zone on me like that and I don't know if you guys realize that or the fans realize that, but my job is real tough when a team zones up on us. I can't do anything."

For whatever reason, teams are having a hard time scoring in the early part of this season. Already, two teams (Minnesota and Toronto) have set franchise lows for points scored.

The Raptors shot 28 percent in scoring 56 points on Nov. 1 against the Timberwolves one night after scoring a franchise-low 27 in the first half against the Wizards. Toronto set six team records for futility in Friday's 86-60 loss in Washington.

Through Friday, teams had failed to score at least 70 points in a game six times. The Bulls posted only 66 in a 32-point home loss to the Houston Rockets, shooting 27 percent for the game and 24 percent in the first half.

In perhaps the worst combined offensive display of the season, the Denver Nuggets lost to the Indiana Pacers, 71-60, in a game in which reserve guard Earl Boykins shot 7-for-7 in the first three quarters and the rest of his teammates shot a combined 7-for-50 in the same span.

"I've never been a part of any game like this," said Boykins, who missed his last four shots. "But you have nights like this."

Far too many teams are having far too many nights like that. Fourteen teams - including Detroit and New Jersey, which played for the Eastern Conference title last May - were shooting below 42 percent from the field entering the weekend. Eight of those teams weren't even hitting 40 percent of their shots.

Zone defense is certainly a culprit, but there are few other factors for why offense has been lagging.

For one, 11 teams have new coaches, which means it will take time for the players to learn how to cut and move within the new plans. Only two teams with new coaches (Houston and Milwaukee) are shooting 45 percent or better.

A second factor is that the players association was able to extract from the league a pledge to allow veterans with four or more years of experience to come to training camp three days after younger players, which gave teams even less time to prepare.

Of course, there may be a third rationale for the poor shooting: Players today aren't all that offensively gifted. For the sake of the league, that had better not be true.

Quiz

The University of Maryland has eight of the 421 players on NBA rosters to open the season, which ties for sixth among all Division I schools. Can you name the five schools ahead of the Terps and the two they are tied with?

Coaching carousel

The whopping number of offseason coaching changes is leading some to wonder what exactly a coach has to do to keep his job. For instance, Paul Silas was let go in New Orleans after taking the Hornets to four straight playoff appearances.

The worst change came in Detroit, where Rick Carlisle was bounced after guiding the Pistons to two straight Central Division titles and 100 wins over two seasons, as well as winning the NBA Coach of the Year award in 2001-02.

"Fan anticipation and the pressure of getting it done today and then even though you win 50 games and a division championship, it's not enough," said Memphis coach Hubie Brown.

"You were eliminated early in the playoffs or you did not meet the expectations. You might have met it for the city, but you are not meeting it for the corporate people up above."

Brown added: "Unfortunately, there were a couple of shocking changes this year. What does that do for the coaching union? It makes you nervous, because who is really safe? The only guys who are really safe are maybe if you are making numbers and you still have multiple years. What was proven this year is you might be making large numbers, but if you only have one year left they can buy you out."

A modest proposal

Not to tell the good folks at ESPN how to do their jobs, but can we please let Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James have a semblance of success in the NBA and lead their teams to at least one playoff appearance before we proclaim them to be the next Magic Johnson and Larry Bird?

That ESPN actually ran ads for the Cleveland-Denver game last Wednesday without actually mentioning either of those teams tells you all you need to know about the cult of personality that has built up in the NBA. Not only are Anthony and James not Bird or Magic yet, but neither the Cavaliers nor the Nuggets will remind anyone of the Celtics or Lakers.

Rivalries are built over time and with meaningful competition. Since neither Denver nor Cleveland is likely to sniff the playoffs anytime soon, let's all agree to let the teams and the players get good before we make them rivals.

Quiz answer

North Carolina leads all schools with 12 players in the NBA, followed by Kentucky (11), Arizona (10), and Duke and UCLA (nine each). Maryland is tied with Kansas and Georgetown with eight players each.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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