Around the Rim: Blaze extinguished


1. Beantown bounces back
The Blazers were scorching hot coming into their contest against the Celtics in Beantown, but they weren’t hot enough to knock off the league’s top dogs. Ray Allen was on fire, hitting 12-of-20 shots for a game-high 35 points while Kevin Garnett scored 26, helping Boston grab a 100-90 win. After dropping three of their previous four games, this could be the beginning of another big run for the Leprechauns with Philadelphia, New York, Minnesota and Miami coming up on the schedule. Despite their winning ways of late, Portland has struggled away from home this season, losing 12 of their 18 road games. Against the Celtics, the Blaze committed 17 turnovers, including four apiece from Brandon Roy (22 pts) and LaMarcus Aldridge (16 pts).

2. Welcome back, here’s a trouncing

Sacramento and Miami were thrilled before tipoff of their respective games on Wednesday thanks to the return of Shaquille O’Neal and Mike Bibby to the active roster. But that was before the game; afterwards was a whole different story. The Diesel had a great game in his return, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds against the Bulls, but as Charles Barkley would say “The operation was a success, but the patient died” because Miami lost by 30 points at home, 126-96. Up in Canada, it wasn’t much better for the Kings who had Mike Bibby (19 pts, 6 reb) in uniform for the first time this season but lost by 25, 116-91.

3. Heart attack Cats
Well, we’ll be darned if they ain’t done done it again. The Bobcats went into halftime against the Magic down by 15 points and fell down by 19 early in third quarter before making another furious rally to victory. Gerald Wallace netted 36 and grabbed 14 points while teammate Jason Richardson scored 26 points, including a bevy of clutch shots in the final moments, giving the Cats a 99-93 win. Charlotte (15-23) has now won four of their last six games against some pretty decent competition, knocking off the Nets, Celtics, Nuggets and, now, the Magic. Dwight Howard was ginormous in defeat, going for 24 points and 21 rebounds.

Wednesday’s Player of the Day: Dwight Howard @ Charlotte 42 min, 24 pts (FG: 8-15, FT: 8-13), 21 reb, 1 ast, 4 stl, 1 blk

Thursday’s Game to Watch: Phoenix (26-12) @ Los Angeles Lakers (26-11)
The race for the postseason in the West is tighter than it has been in years and when a team slips-up, they can go sliding all the way down the ladder. Phoenix just learned this lesson the hard way by losing to the Clippers and dropping like a stone from first to fifth in the conference standings. And thanks to the Hornets defeating the Sonics on Wednesday, Phoenix now has the sixth seed behind New Orleans. The lucky beneficiaries of the Suns setting was the Lakers who jumped all the way to the top of the West, a place they hadn’t been since the Diesel was rolling in L.A. This should be a brawl between a pair Pacific Division rivals that hate each other with a passion.

Buzzer Beater: Oddball Joakim Noah and Ben Wallace had a bit of tiff during the Bulls loss to Orlando on Tuesday, just don’t tell Joakim that.

You know what makes me mad, that somebody actually said and told you guys that there was a situation,” Noah told WSCR radio station in Chicago. “That’s what makes me mad. That’s the only reason why I’m doing this right now. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.

“For people to say we’ve had a clash … this is the kind of stuff that divides a team. You guys write these stories and hype things up. It’s crazy.

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