With a record number of new coaches and dozens of players in new places, scoring in the NBA has reached record lows.
It's been so difficult to score that 11 of the league's 29 teams are averaging less than 90. The scoring malaise has fans grumbling, players miffed about the various zone defenses and coaches at their wit's end trying to figure out how to generate more offense.
At 91.5 points per game through the first 138 games, teams are posting the lowest average since the inception of the 24-second shot clock in the 1954-55 season.
"Overall, teams are just not shooting the ball well right now," said Alvin Gentry, Hornets assistant coach. "The other thing is we're seeing a lot more zones. ... I think that's kind of slowed the game down a little bit."
After the Knicks beat the Magic 75-68 on Nov.3, Tracy McGrady said he was tired of facing zone defenses and that the league needed to do something about it. Six other games have ended with opponents scoring fewer than 70, including the franchise-low 56 the Raptors managed in their 17-point loss Nov.1 to the Timberwolves.
"The younger players in the league have made it so that offenses don't flow as smoothly as they did, and execution is not as good," Mavericks assistant Del Harris said. "They haven't learned a lot of the more technical aspects of the game in college because they didn't stay in long enough, if they went at all."
GREAT DEBATE: Seven years ago, when the NBA released a list of its 50 greatest players, the inclusion of Shaquille O'Neal, who at the time had four years' experience, touched off a minor controversy. That furor may be nothing compared with the discussion that will emerge from a new book that contends O'Neal is the greatest player in history.
According to Elliott Kalb, the lead statistician at NBC for 15 years who now works with ABC and ESPN, O'Neal earns the top spot over Wilt Chamberlain, Kalb's runner-up, because his dominance over the current field of centers is greater than anyone's.
"He has scored like Chamberlain, won like (Bill) Russell and (Kareem) Abdul-Jabbar and been as dominant as any of them," Kalb wrote in Who's Better, Who's Best? in Basketball.
After O'Neal and Chamberlain, Kalb lists, in order, Michael Jordan, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Tim Duncan and Bob Cousy as his top 10.
Let the debate begin.
SMALL MOVE, BIG PAYOFF: Some of the best free-agent moves are way under the radar, including Denver GM Kiki Vandeweghe's signing of 5-foot-5 Earl Boykins, who was allowed to leave after making a splash in Golden State last season.
Said Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, "There hasn't been a guy like this in the league since Spud Webb who comes at you literally 100 mph and can pull up on a dime and hit 18-foot shots. He's really special."
AROUND THE RIM: Fired Magic coach Doc Rivers told ESPN.com he asked team management Monday to either fire him or leave him alone. He got the ax. ... Six of the eight teams that made the Eastern Conference playoffs last season have changed coaches. ... Entering the weekend, there were two Western Conference teams, Phoenix and Golden State, with below-.500 records. ... In a Lycos ranking, Cleveland's LeBron James, 18, is the third most-searched teen on the Internet, and Carmelo Anthony, 19, is No.10. Even James can't compete with top-ranked Hilary Duff and No.2 Avril Lavigne.
- Information from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Associated Press, the Baltimore Sun, the Rocky Mountain News and the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.