Happy Boxing Day! Hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas holiday. Here are five quick NBA thoughts.
1. STEVE NASH (Lakers): Over 40 minutes vs. Golden State and then 38 minutes vs. the Knicks on Tuesday. Coach Mike D'Antoni better watch himself with this 38-year-old point guard. The guy is coming back from injury and over the last few years, the Phoenix Suns did a great job keeping him fresh and relatively injury-free. He is a wonderful player and you've got to make sure you keep this guy healthy and fresh through the long grind of the season. D'Antoni is a guy that rides his starters hard and has little use for anyone beyond the 8th man at best. Nash and Kobe, in particular, aren't young guys; you've gotta be wise with the usage. I know expectations are high and the pressure is off the charts. Just get to the playoffs with this group. If you ride them too hard they might break down and then forget your chances then. You can't be short-sighted.
2. AMARE STOUDEMIRE (Knicks): The drama is building around this guy and his team. Where does he fit? It's been obvious that he and Melo don't have great chemistry together. Mike Woodson will figure it out. He'll have to play them together and yet every minute that Melo is off the floor, those minutes have to be played by Amare. It will be a work in progress but I look at it as a positive problem. You're adding talent to the mix and he's a pretty good guy. It will look ugly and out of sorts at times but it will get worked out. Not like you can trade Amare anyway; his Contract isn't protected with the insurance and no team in their right minds would take a chance on that pact and those knees. Find a way to make it work.
3. RUSSELL WESTBROOK (OKC): Love his game, toughness, talent and potential. OK, I got all of that out there. Late in games, he drives me nuts. He bugs out and loses his mind. I know he's still maturing but c'mon already! Hasn't he learned by now?? Gotta settle down and make the right/high percent decisions down the stretch of the game. Minutes 43 to 48 of an NBA game are precious. Time, score and making the proper reads is imperative. This isn't summer league pickup or even minute 17 of a game. There were about 4-5 trips on Tuesday in Miami that he just had me shaking my head by his careless and clueless act. Hard guy to trust late in a game yet, if he figures it out he can be an even better player. Scott Brooks and Mo Cheeks are trying to get through 100 per cent to this guy - he's not there yet. Work in progress but it's time to show you can and will do it the 'right' way late when the game is on the line against elite competition. It's time for the light to come on, particularly when the lights are shining the brightest.
4. MATT BARNES (Clippers): Man what a pickup for the Clips. He's playing really well for them. Defends hard all the time and backs down from no one. Doing a really nice job playing within himself on the offensive end and shooting it with confidence. The Clippers' second unit is terrific and he's fit in beautifully here. Understands what's expected of him and produces. Good under the radar pickup.
5. OMER ASIK (Rockets): 20 and 18 versus his old team, the Bulls, Tuesday night. Lots of folks were shaking their heads this past summer when GM Daryl Morey gave this guy a big money deal. His confidence in him is being realized. He's incredibly rugged and has wonderful rebounding and interior defensive instincts. He's a limited skill guy as a scorer but he'll offensive rebound and dunk it off of penetration with authority. He's got a coach in Kevin McHale who was one of the great all-time skill guys in the post and will develop him over time in that area. In the meantime, I think the Rockets have to be pleased by his overall progress and performance. Pretty good get.