1. LeBron at 80% is better than most players at 100%
After missing a game versus the Celtics on Sunday due to tendinitis in his right knee, LeBron James returned to the Cavs lineup last night in Minneapolis and nearly torched the Timberwolves for a triple-double. King James finished the game with 31 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and four steals in the Cleveland victory. And LeBron’s performance came at a time when he considered himself to be “about 80-85 percent.” If that’s at 80 percent, just wait until we get to see him run the floor at full strength. Just one game separates the Cavaliers from the Bulls, but if Cleveland loses their grip on the slim lead they would slip from the second seed to the fifth seed and lose home court advantage in the post season.
2. Indiana locks up losing record
With eight games remaining in the season for Indiana, they have already clinched a Pacer benchmark that hadn’t been touched in a decade. Thanks to a 15 point loss at the hands of the Pistons, Indiana secured the franchise’s first losing season since 1996-97, which was also the last year that the Pacers failed to make the playoffs. But, that’s what happens when you go 3-18 over your last 21 games. Jermaine O’Neal refused to talk to reporters after the game as his frustrations continue to mount. This season could be last time O’Neal suits up in the yellow and blue; but a change of venue would be good for O’Neal. Unless he wants to follow in Kevin Garnett’s footsteps and simply decides to sink with the ship.
3. No Dirk, no problem
The Dallas Mavericks were forced to take the court against the Kings without their superstar and MVP candidate, Dirk Nowitzki, due to a nasty case of food poisoning. But the Mavs still managed to stay the course without their stud and defeated Sacramento by four points, 97-93. The loss of Nowitzki didn’t weaken the club, as the Kings hoped it would, but instead it simply allowed for other players to step up offensively and fill the scoring void. Josh Howard led the way for Dallas by scoring 29 points to go along with eight rebounds, while Jason Terry finished the game with 27 points. Oh, but that’s not enough 20+ point games by one team in a game; Jerry Stackhouse came off the bench to rack up 23 points of his own.
Tuesday’s Player of the Day: Gerald Wallace vs. Washington 44 min, 34 pts (FG: 16-24, FT: 2-5), 14 reb, 1 ast, 3 stl, 2 blk
Wednesday’s Game to Watch: Toronto (41-33) @ Orlando (34-40) The Raptors are coming off a close, three-point loss to the Heat last night but are still sitting one game ahead of Miami for the third spot in the East. Chris Bosh continues to impress as he scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Miami’s stout frontcourt. But Bosh will have to take on another All-Star big man as Dwight Howard will look to slow down Bosh in the paint. Howard’s numbers have fallen a bit since the season began but he is still only .7 rebounds per game away from becoming the youngest player ever to win the league’s rebounding title.
Buzzer Beater: Apparently, the Memphis Grizzlies are prepared to offer Billy Donovan a multiyear deal. As a two-time NCAA champion, Donovan really has nothing left to prove on the collegiate level so it would make sense to advance his career to the next stage. But, then again, the Gators could probably smoke the Grizz at this point so it’s not going to help his legacy any to jump on the back of the sorriest team in the NBA. In the end, this will be a financially motivated decision for Donovan; the only question remaining is will the cash be stuffed into his pockets by Florida, Memphis, Kentucky or someone else?