Apparently you double-team David Andersen these days (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

ONE: It’s been a mixed bag for the Aussie Contingent this week with some real highs and lows. It started last Sunday with Bogut’s season-high 27 points to go with 9 rebounds and 3 assists over the Trailblazers (Bogometer @ 91%). It was the kind of performance that bought serious cred into the ‘Bogut for All-Star’ claims I started a couple of weeks back, but the big man’s form dwindled over the next three games and the Bucks experienced some heart-breaking victories. It started with a 107-106 loss to LA – a game Bogut had the chance to win with free-throws in the last minute of regulation. To rub salt into the wound, Bogut was called for a blocking foul as Kobe converted a three-point play, setting him up for his buzzer-beating heroics. Firstly, let me say that blocking foul was without doubt the incorrect call – I thought Bogut did a great job of getting position, before Kobe just bundled into him and also probably travelled (loved this reaction from Bogut on Twitter about Kobe: “Sometimes he just takes CHARGE :) ” But am I surprised the call was made? Not really. There’s a handful of guys in this league who will regularly get those kind of favourable calls in late-game situations. You can debate how unjust this is, but just know it’s been happening long before the Donaghy scandal. Superstars just get those calls in the NBA, that’s the way it’s always been.

Dusting themselves off from that bitter victory, the Bucks travelled to Cleveland for another daunting assignment. There’s no nice way to say this, but Bogut kind of stank in this game.  He was in early foul trouble and had difficulty handling Shaq – he only played 17 minutes for 4 points and 8 rebounds, and shot 2-7 (Bogometer @ 40%). Despite this, the Bucks have to feel good about being able to stay with contending teams who are supposed to beat them easily. Which is what made today’s loss against the Kings – a team they are supposed to beat – so gut-wrenching. At first glance Bogut’s numbers look good – 15 points, 13 boards, 5 assists and 3 blocks – but again he missed critical free throws in the final minute that could have sealed the game, not to mention missing on a tough baseline jump shot at the buzzer that would have won it (oh yeah, and there’s the 6-20 shooting). In the most fascinating subplot of the game, rookie Tyreke Evans outplayed Brandon Jennings and continues to prove that Jennings is not the lock for ROY we all thought he was a few weeks back. Tyreke’s numbers through December: 21.8ppg, 5.6apg, 5.3rpg, 1.8spg on 50% shooting from the field. If he keeps this up he could join that very exclusive club of players to go 20-5-5 in their rookie season. That is a ridiculous club, by the way – Jordan, Oscar and Lebron.

TWO: If Bogut’s last three games were disappointing, they were more than countered (from an Aussie’s perspective) by David Andersen’s last three games. Against Denver, Dallas and Oklahoma, Andersen had the first string of three consecutive 10+ point games of his NBA career. He came within one rebound of a triple double (17-9) against Denver, which honestly surprised me because that is a big, tough frontline that I didn’t expect Andersen to thrive against. Then the Rockets stunned the Mavericks in front of their home crowd, with DA putting up 16 points and 3 boards, and earning this wrap from The Dream Shake: “I’m not entirely sure how to categorize his performance. His basic numbers don’t look too great, and he didn’t shoot so well towards the end, but he was finding open looks and was destroying his man in the post. And he was +21 on the night. +/- numbers don’t mean much on a night-to-night basis, but they means something. In any case, I think his defense is looking a lot better, and he’s getting the hang of the NBA.“ Today Andersen topped the double-figures again with 10 points against OKC . Let’s hope his form can continue and the Rockets can continue to make me look like a dick for doubting them.

Over in ‘Sota, Nathan Jawai has managed to find some recent minutes thanks to blow-outs: 9 points, 7 rebounds, 18 minutes in a 25 point loss to the Clippers, and 4 points, 1 rebound, 16 minutes in a 16 point win against the Kings. Of course we expected Jawai’s minutes to slide thanks to Jefferson and Love’s return, but the great thing about playing for the Timberwolves of course, is that you’re going to get blown-out every second or third night, so maybe the minutes won’t diminish as much as we initially thought? Doesn’t hurt when your coach is saying positive things either, this from Kurt Rambis after Jawai’s 9 point effort:

We weren’t playing hard, we weren’t playing with the effort it takes to get stops, so I was looking for somebody to go out there and put that effort out there on the floor. Sometimes you need a player to come out there to catapult everyone out there. And I thought he [Jawai] did a good job of that.”

Also, you gotta love this little bit of hyperbole for the local boy from The Cairns Post: “A brilliant burst of power scoring from Minnesota Timberwolves forward Nathan Jawai failed to lift his side to victory against the Los Angeles Clippers in their NBA game yesterday.” Amazes me to think what they’d write if he had 20-10 and lead his team to victory! In all seriousness, I see articles at Cairns.com.au almost every week featuring Jawai, and it’s great that they’re giving him that much support from Downunder.

Photo via cairns.com.au

THREE: Hard not to talk about Kobe after his heroics this week. After breaking his finger and then struggling against the Jazz, he came back with a 42 point effort against Chicago and 39 plus the game-winner against Milwaukee. I’m not a Lakers fan so I’m not going to rant about how awesome Kobe is (Don at WithMalice has you covered here), but I will point you towards two very interesting articles from Henry Abbott at TrueHoop: Kobe Bryant in a nutshell and Henry’s own stance on crunch time performers. I should preface these articles with the disclaimer that Abbott often goes out of his way to make Kobe look bad and will often pop up with posts to try and deflate any excess Kobe love going around. I’m ok with that, it’s nothing new, he’s not the only journalist who has taken this angle over the years. But I’m really interested in other people’s thoughts on Abbott’s view in those articles. Can a quality like “clutchness” really be captured by statistics? Do those numbers mean anything? If you applied these new fancy stats to Michael Jordan’s career, would we also find he wasn’t among the most clutch performers in the league?

Reading those two posts has got me thinking deeply the last couple of days, and it all comes down to one question for me: can you be crunch-time hero and make a heap of game-winning shots without missing a whole lot of them too? I’m pretty sure the answer is no. I’m pretty sure the competitive desire of a Kobe or Jordan in demanding to take those shots necessitates a far-from-perfect record, purely because of the sheer volume of last-minute possessions. Jordan missed more game-winners than he made, yet he is the undisputed clutch king. Jerry West lost in eight NBA Finals yet is known universally as “Mr Clutch”. Surely, numbers will lie if you’re talking about performances in the clutch, right?

Sidenote: Great article describing how Phil drew up that final play for Kobe.

FOUR: Go check out Bloguin’s NBA-A-THON #2 at Knicks Fanatics, a look at the top ten New Years Resolutions for 2010 and a good roundup of some of the best Bloguin blogs out there.

FIVE: The Wine and Gold Rush has a nice little summation of what’s been going on with the Cavs the past couple of games. Which is, as they put it, “A win is a win” mode. Yes Cleveland are on a nice little win streak, but their opposition has been sub-par and they’re now entering a stretch of tough games where they’ll really be tested. Away at Dallas, Phoenix and LA are all games I’d expect the Cavs to lose based on current form. From what I’ve seen of them, their offense is still way too one-dimensional (i.e. Lebron-reliant), they cannot figure out how to integrate Shaq (some good evidence here), and they’re too reliant on their three-point shooting. Cleveland look like a team who can’t find their equilibrium– they’re a slow tempo team (fourth slowest in the league) yet they have their most success when they’re gunning from long-range and their transition game, thanks to Lebron, is nearly unstoppable. This leads to awesome-looking quarters where they blow games open, and ordinary 5-10 minute patches where nothing is working. I get frustrated watching the Cavs, because I don’t think they’ve quite figured out their system. Of course, Lebron James is so freaking amazing that they’ll continue to be a .750 team even if they can’t figure it out. But they’re worlds apart from the Lakers who’s on-court performances look like deliberately choreographed masterpieces. I want to believe the Cavs can get everything working seamlessly because I want to believe there’s at least two quality contenders out East who can pressure the Lakers. But the more I watch Cleveland, the more I think the fate of the East rest in Boston’s hands.

SIX: Have some links.

- A growing interest in sleep science could lead to an end of the pregame shootaround, New York Times, via BallerBlogger
- Ron Artest’s impact on the Lakers cannot be underestimated, CBSSports.com
- Nate Robinson has requested to be traded, ESPN
- Suns Trounce Wizards: Live by the Gilbert, Die by the Gilbert – Bright Side of the Sun
- Kevin Love is the Wolves best player? According to Canis Hoopus, yes, he is.
- FYI Magic Fans, what was once Third Quarter Collapse is now Orlando Pinstriped Post
- Great piece from Loscy on the recent form of Sheed and Perk
- Pounding the Rock asks the question on the Spurs general underachievement so far this season – Who’s to Blame?
- From Slam Online, the Detroit Pistons are this decade’s most Loveable Losers… really?
- I thought this was a joke when I first read it, but alas it’s true: there is a “Design a Play” for the Wizards competition that Flip Saunders actually plans to use. Needless to say, it only took a couple of days for Mark Jackson and Coach to start trashing the idea
- Dirk Nowitzki collides with Carl Landry, knocks out three teeth. Check the vid.

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