Around the Rim: From cursed to first


1. Double deuce
Los Angeles was without Pau Gasol on Sunday afternoon, but Houston didn’t feel any mercy for the undermanned Lakers, winning its 10th straight game without center Yao Ming by beating LA 104-92. The Rockets used a 35-21 advantage in the second quarter to propel them to a 22nd consecutive victory while simultaneously taking over first place in the Western Conference. Despite Houston’s poor performance in the third quarter when it scored just 12 points, the Lakers could get no closer than two points before the Rockets pulled back ahead. Rafer Alston scored a career-high 31 points by hitting eight 3-pointers to compensate for Tracy McGrady’s 4-of-16 poor shooting performance. Kobe Bryant tallied a team-high 24 points as Los Angeles lost its third game in four outings. The Rockets are now 11 games away from tying the 1971-72 Lakers for the all-time longest win streak, but they have a difficult schedule ahead with a game at home versus Boston followed by a three-game road trip that includes New Orleans, Golden State and Phoenix.

2. Purple Hayes

Detroit has never been lacking in the playmaker department and now you can add Jarvis Hayes to the modern day Bad Boys’ list of multidimensional scorers. Hayes was unconscious in the second quarter of yesterday’s 105-84 Detroit victory over New Orleans, scoring 19 of his 29 points in the period by connecting on 6-of-7 shots, including 5-of-6 from behind the arc. The Pistons have now won four of their last five games, pulling within 4 ½ games of Easter Conference leader Boston. Chris Paul delivered 14 points and 14 assists for New Orleans while Peja Stojakovic scored 21, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Hayes’ big outing. The fifth-year player out of Georgia matched his career-high in scoring, finishing the day with seven treys while Chauncey Billups posted 17 points and Tayshaun Prince added 13.

3. Denver wins BIG
If we told you before the game yesterday that we’d give you Seattle plus 51 ½ points against the Nuggets, you probably would have bet your kid’s college tuition fund on the Sonics. Well, if that was the case, you’d have one pissed off son or daughter right now because Denver defeated the lowly Sonics by 52 points on Sunday, 168-116. That’s no misprint. Led by Carmelo Anthony’s 26 points, the Nuggets scored the fourth most points ever in a regulation game and achieved the largest margin of victory in franchise history. Only the Suns in 1990 (173 pts), the Celtics in 1959 (173 pts) and the 76ers in 1962 (169 pts) can claim better offensive outings than the Nuggets. Seattle didn’t even have an opportunity to blink before Denver posted 48 points in the first quarter! By the end of the contest, four Nuggets put in 19 or more points while all 12 players getting minutes recorded a point. Denver center Marcus Camby finished with a triple-double, scoring 13 points, rebounding 15 balls and dishing out 10 assists.

I’ve never been a part of a game like this where we won by so many points and scored so many points,” Camby said. “This is definitely a game I’m going to keep in my archives.

Sunday’s Player of the Day: LeBron James vs. Charlotte 42 min, 33 pts (FG: 11-24, 3FG: 1-3, FT: 10-16), 7 reb, 10 ast, 1 stl, 2 blk

Monday’s Game to Watch: Boston (52-13) @ San Antonio (44-22)
After briefly sitting atop the talented West dog pile, the Spurs are getting dangerously close to falling out of postseason picture after playing .500-ball over their last 10 games. San Antonio is riding a three-game losing streak while dropping five out of their last six overall. The one game they won was in San Antonio where the Spurs are dramatically better, posting a 27-5 record inside the AT&T Center. Boston has won 11 of its last 12 games and is playing its second game of a five-game roadie that includes the terrifying “Texas Triangle” and New Orleans. Ray Allen missed the road trip opener against Milwaukee on Saturday night with a bruised heel, but he is expected to be ready for tonight’s showdown.

Buzzer Beater: Believe it or not, but the Hawks are on the verge of breaking into the playoff picture. We know that it’s a difficult concept to wrap your head around, but with their 109-98 win in New York, Atlanta tied New Jersey for the eighth and final postseason seed. The Nets still own the tiebreaker over the Hawks, however Joe Johnson is dead set on guiding his squad to the second season. Johnson scored 28 points and assisted on 11 more baskets, bringing his five-game average to 30.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game. It won’t take long for these two teams to settle their playoff-positioning dispute on the court because on Wednesday they’ll go head to head in Jersey.

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