- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

CAVS STILL SEARCHING FOR PIECES

With his Cleveland Cavaliers nipping at the heels of the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics, general manager Danny Ferry is trying to ensure two things. The first is putting LeBron James and his posse in the best possible position to dethrone the Celtics, and the second — which is connected to the first — is keeping James content to stay in Cleveland.

Everyone knows James wants to win multiple championships, as his idol Michael Jordan did. It’s also no secret that when James becomes a free agent in 2010, teams will make aggressive pitches for him to leave his hometown team and pursue those championships in their cities.

It’s well-documented that the New York Knicks’ front office cares little about this season or the next. Every move the Knicks make is aimed at freeing cap space to offer James a monster deal. And the neighboring New Jersey Nets, partially owned by James’ buddy Jay-Z, have the same goal.

Of course, James himself has never said he’s going anywhere. Instead, he’s sitting back and watching Ferry and how things in Cleveland unfold. And Ferry knows the best way to ensure a royal exit doesn’t take place in 2010 is to win now and ask questions later.

Last summer, Ferry added point guard Mo Williams, who has eased some of James’ load with his playmaking and scoring abilities. And before the trade deadline, Ferry went after everyone from Amare Stoudemire to Antawn Jamison to Shaquille O’Neal. Ferry failed in each attempt, but just because the trade deadline has passed doesn’t mean he’s giving up.

The latest reports have the Cavaliers recruiting the services of Robert Horry, whose sharpshooting made him a strong contributor on seven championship runs with the Rockets, Lakers and Spurs. The 38-year-old free agent has ties both to Ferry — also a former Spurs player — and Cleveland coach Mike Brown, a former San Antonio assistant. If Big Shot Bob still is in shape and remains a perimeter threat, he could boost the Cavaliers’ depth.

Add Horry to a team that includes Williams, a healthy Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak, and opponents won’t have the luxury of throwing three defenders at a driving James.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

UTAH JAZZ

With a 108-89 victory Monday over Atlanta, the Jazz extended their winning streak to five games — a run that has included wins over both the Lakers and Celtics — and also improved to 8-1 in February. And in addition to pulling within three games of Northwest Division-leading Denver, the Jazz also celebrated the return of Carlos Boozer, who had missed the last 45 games after knee surgery.

What makes the run even more impressive is that the Jazz have managed to remain in the hunt without Boozer, their leading scorer and rebounder, going 26-19 with him sidelined. Keeping the team afloat have been Deron Williams (19.1 points, 10.2 assists) and the development of second-year forward Paul Millsap, who this season is averaging 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds.

Boozer recorded only two points and five rebounds in his return from a three-month layoff. If he can return to form, however, he will give the Jazz an edge that could spark them to a strong push toward the third seed in the West.

POWER RANKINGS

1. L.A. Lakers (46-10)

Kobe and Co. improve to 9-1 in February, though Bynum remains sidelined.

2. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (43-11)

The LeBrons aim to overtake Celtics in the race for homecourt advantage.

3. BOSTON CELTICS (45-12)

No KG isn’t a problem for now, but if he can’t make a speedy recovery, Celtics could slip.

4. SAN ANTONIO SPURS (37-17)

Spurs continue to lurk and will be dangerous once Ginobili returns.

5. ORLANDO MAGIC (41-14)

Trade for Skip 2 My Lou should keep the Magic in the ranks of contenders.

6. DENVER NUGGETS (37-19)

Melo, Chauncey and the gang remain consistent and efficient, but a lack of size could hurt.

7. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (35-20)

No trade, no problem… for now. Blazers continue to get the job done.

8. HOUSTON ROCKETS (35-21)

Now without Tracy McInjured to slow them down, Houston may go on a run.

9. UTAH JAZZ (34-23)

Winners of five straight, the Jazz mourn the loss of owner Larry Miller but get Boozer back.

10. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS (32-22)

Trade fell through, but Hornets should be glad. Without a healthy Chandler, they rank 29 in rebounding.

LOTTERY WATCH

HARDEN AN IMPRESSIVE THROWBACK

At 6-foot-4, he lacks the height of a prototypical shooting guard and isn’t the most athletic player. But Arizona State sophomore James Harden knows how to score. He’s averaging 21.2 points on 53 percent shooting. NBA executives are torn over him. Some think his lack of size and explosiveness will hurt him on the pro level. Others like his style of play, which has been described as a blend of old-school and European. He uses his high basketball IQ to compensate for his physical deficiencies. Analysts have Harden going anywhere from second to fifth in the draft.

THE BOTTOM FIVE

Team Record L10 Pct.*

Sacramento 12-45 2-8 25.0

Oklahoma City 13-43 2-8 15.8

L.A. Clippers 13-43 3-7 15.8

Washington 13-42 4-6 15.8

Memphis 15-40 4-6 8.8

* Chances of landing No. 1 pick

NUMBER OF THE WEEK

32 Points, a career high, scored by Celtics guard Rajon Rondo to celebrate his 23rd birthday on Sunday. Of Rondo, who made 13 of 18 shots in the Celtics’ 128-108 win over the Suns, Paul Pierce said, “If he plays as well as he’s playing, then there’s no way we can lose.”

TROPHY TRACKER

Most Valuable Player

1. LeBron James: With 28.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 7.1 apg, LBJ owns one of most well-rounded stat lines since Michael Jordan’s 32.5, 8.0 and 8.0 in the 1988-89 season.

2. Kobe Bryant: Without Bynum, Lakers continue to roll behind Bryant’s 27.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.0 apg.

3. Dwyane Wade: Appears on his way to the scoring title with 28.8 ppg while also notching 7.1 apg, 2.1 spg and 1.4 bpg.

Rookie of the Year

1. Derrick Rose: Trails Mayo in scoring with 16.6 ppg, but with 6.4 apg and 3.7 rpg, he’s got the more efficient stat line and better team record.

2. O.J. Mayo: Still making a strong case with 19.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 2.9 apg.

3. Brook Lopez: Best big man in his class by far 12.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 1.9 bpg.

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