Around the Rim: LeBron lights up the Garden


1. Battling it out
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are running neck-and-neck down the final stretch as they both try to grab their first regular season MVP trophy. Currently, James has a slight advantage, but that is only because he was the last one to play. The King almost racked up a wicked triple-double against the Knicks on Wednesday by scoring 50 points, dishing out 10 assists and grabbing eight rebounds in a 119-105 victory in the Garden. It was James’ second 50-point outburst this season as he shot a blistering 16-of-30 from the field, including 7-of-13 from behind the 3-point arc. In fact, LBJ was so hot that the New York natives were chanting “MVP! MVP!” for him during the final moments. And why not? After all, James became just the third player ever to get 50 points and 10 assists in the historic building. The other two: Stephon Marbury and Michael Jordan. While Bryant takes a couple of days off before taking on the Clippers on Friday, James will be busy putting in more groundwork for his award ceremony by playing the Bulls tonight.

2. Boston mails in its R.S.V.P.

The Celtics are in. It seems like an eternity has passed since the last time Boston was involved in postseason play, but on Wednesday they became the first team to secure a spot in the playoffs by defeating the Pistons 90-78 in Beantown. Kevin Garnett set a season-high by scoring 31 points, helping to mask the horrible shooting performance by teammate Ray Allen who was just 1-of-9 from the floor for three points. Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups finished with 23 points apiece, but Detroit could only must 11 points in the fourth quarter which proved to be its downfall. While the win put Boston into the second season, perhaps more importantly it gave them a 2-1 advantage in the series, meaning should the two reunite in the playoffs, the home-court advantage goes to the Celtics.

3. Shaq’s Suns slip and slide down the standings
The Shaquille O’Neal experiment continues to go sour in Phoenix. Down the stretch, the move could prove invaluable, but, as of now, the Suns are just 3-5 with O’Neal in the lineup and they are losing ground quickly in the Western Conference race. Last night, Denver ran over the normally fast-paced Suns 126-113 behind Allen Iverson’s 31 points and Carmelo Anthony’s 30-point, 13-rebound performance. As a result, Phoenix woke up this morning sitting in sixth place in the standings. Sure, with just a couple of wins, they could hop right back up to the top of the list, but with a couple more losses, they could easily slide to eighth place or possibly find themselves in a dog fight if they drop out of the top eight altogether. It would seem that eventually the Suns will mesh all of their talent into a cohesive unit, but it might not be anytime soon as they have games against Utah and San Antonio looming on the upcoming schedule.

Wednesday’s Player of the Day: LeBron James @ New York 44 min, 50 pts (FG: 16-30, 3FG: 7-13, FT: 11-16), 8 reb, 10 ast, 4 stl

Thursday’s Game to Watch: Houston (40-20) @ Dallas (39-22)
The Rockets are rolling right along, not even missing a beat without their starting center. Thanks to Tracy McGrady and the rest of the supporting cast, Houston currently has a franchise-record 16-game winning streak under its belt with four of the victories coming after Yao Ming’s season-ending injury. In fact, their current tear is tied for the 12th longest streak in NBA history. The odds of reaching 17 straight improved dramatically with the news that the Mavericks MVP Dirk Nowitzki is suspended for the contest following his WWEesque clothesline on Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko. Still, Dallas is 25-3 at home and they are currently fighting for their playoff lives, sitting just 2 ½ games ahead of ninth place Denver. A streak snapping victory without their main man could be exactly what the Mavs need to get rolling toward the postseason.

Buzzer Beater: Pat Riley is pissed off…again.

After watching the Heat lose for the 29th time in 32 games, Riley said he should personally write refund checks to season-ticket holders, plus — once again — questioned Miami’s effort, saying it was “so unprofessional, it’s ridiculous.”

He’s seen enough. Problem is, there’s 24 games left.

“I’ve got to ferret out the guys who really don’t care,” Riley said. “I’ve got to ferret them out of here and just put them on the bench and bring in a bunch of young guys. … The season’s over for them. That’s how they’re playing, some of them, anyhow.

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