- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

MARBURY WORTH THE ‘RISK’

When there was chatter about the Boston Celtics having interest in exiled New York Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury in early January, the popular reaction around the NBA was one of panic and disdain.

The self-dubbed “Starbury,” critics believed, would take his bad attitude to Boston and derail the defending champs’ quest for an 18th NBA title this season. The Celtics signed Marbury last week after he reached a buyout with the Knicks, whose new coach, Mike D’Antoni, never had any use for the mercurial guard and had banished him for the first 57 games of the season.

The Celtics took all the pros and cons into account and deemed adding Marbury well worth the risk. Coach Doc Rivers and general manager Danny Ainge consulted Kevin Garnett, who teamed with Marbury in Minnesota from 1996 to 1999.

And Rivers and Ainge know the deficiencies of their bench, which lost James Posey, P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell from a year ago. Eddie House isn’t a true point guard, and he’s not the scorer or playmaker comparable with Marbury. The Celtics’ latest experiment at backup point guard was Gabe Pruitt, who in addition to averaging 2.3 points and 0.8 assists just got arrested for drunken driving.

So Marbury, who for his career has averaged 19.7 points and 7.8 assists, is an upgrade.

“It gives them another vet, which you always can use,” one NBA front office official said. “They won’t have to worry about him bringing down the locker room or anything. It’ll help them.”

Marbury has had a knucklehead reputation wherever he goes, but after spending more than half a season in exile and now paired with a strong leadership trio of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, he likely will reform his ways. He said he has been “humbled” with his situation the past year. He wants to prove the Celtics were right in acquiring him.

Now Marbury must show he can contribute to the greater good. It will take him some games to get back into the flow, but once he does, Boston again will have the depth needed to hoist the trophy.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

Two weeks ago the New Orleans Hornets tried to trade center Tyson Chandler to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox to save money against the salary cap. That deal was voided after Oklahoma City’s team doctor conducted a physical on Chandler and deemed an old toe injury — which wasn’t bothering him at the time — a potential risk for reoccurrence.

So that sent Chandler back to New Orleans. When that happened, Hornets officials said publicly they would welcome Chandler, who had missed 15 straight games with an ankle injury, back “with open arms.” And they should have. Since Chandler made a healthy return to the lineup, his skills as a rebounder and defender have powered the Hornets to a five-game winning streak.

Chandler’s numbers this season (9.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg) are down from last year’s (11.8 ppg, 11.7 rpg), but injury has a lot to do with that. Healthy again, he gives the Hornets a legit shot at contending with Western Conference front-runners Los Angeles and San Antonio.

POWER RANKINGS

1. LAKERS (48-12)

Offensively they’re still fine, but Bynum’s defense is definitely needed for them to win a title.

2. CAVALIERS (47-12)

James finishes off week that included win over Spurs (without Duncan) by outdueling Wade.

3. CELTICS (47-14)

Celtics begin working in new pieces, Marbury and Moore, while Garnett continues to heal.

4. MAGIC (43-16)

Magic need 10 victories to surpass last season’s total.

5. SPURS (40-19)

San Antonio gets Duncan back and rebounds from loss in Portland by thrashing the Clippers.

6. NUGGETS (39-21)

Billups’ bunch remains atop the Northwest Division with wins over the Hawks and Lakers.

7. TRAIL BLAZERS (37-22)

Blazers rebound from 99-84 loss to the Spurs last Wednesday with a 102-84 revenge win over San Antonio.

8. HORNETS (37-22)

Good thing they held on to Chandler; Paul and the Hornets have won five straight.

9. JAZZ (37-23)

Utah extends its winning streak to eight games and pulls within half-game of sixth-place Portland.

10. ROCKETS (38-22)

No McInjured? No Problem. Rockets beat Portland and Cleveland to remain in the hunt.

LOTTERY WATCH

HILL ON THE RISE IN WEAK DRAFT

In a draft class that aside from Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin appears to have virtually no sure-bet players and even fewer solid big men, Arizona power forward Jordan Hill is one of the exceptions. The 6-foot-9, 211-pounder is gradually improving his stock while averaging 18.2 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

He bolstered his standing in the eyes of NBA scouts with a 22-point, 13-rebound performance last month against UCLA and has been considered a top-five pick since. But despite his great quickness, leaping ability and strong work ethic, Hill has been criticized for low basketball IQ and lack of strength in the low post. Scouts believe he can develop into a starter in the NBA for sure, but it could take a season or two.

THE BOTTOM FIVE

Team Record L 10 Pct.*

Kings 12-45 2-8 25.0

Wizards 14-46 4-6 19.9

Clippers 15-45 3-7 15.6

Thunder 15-46 3-7 11.9

Grizzlies 15-43 2-8 8.8

* Chances of landing No. 1 pick

NUMBER OF THE WEEK

8 40-point games this season for Heat guard Dwyane Wade, the NBA’s leading scorer.

TROPHY TRACKER

MVP

1. LeBron James: He hit the game-winning free throw against Atlanta and scored 42 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Miami.

2. Kobe Bryant: In the last week, Kobe has improved his scoring average to 28.0 points a game.

3. Dwyane Wade Feeling James (28.5 ppg) and Bryant on his tail, Wade ups his scoring average to 29.2.

Rookie of the Year

1. Derrick Rose: With 16.6 points and 6.3 assists, he continues to lead an underwhelming draft class.

2. O.J. Mayo: Memphis guard leads all rookies in scoring with 19.2 points a game.

3. Russell Westbrook: Raises his stock, posting first triple-double in a win over Dallas.

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