Around the Rim: Big time battle in the Lone Star State


1. Suns rise to the occasion
With 12 minutes left in the game, San Antonio looked like they might once again crush the hopes of the Suns, but Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Nash didn’t allow that to happen. Phoenix ran out of SA with a 96-79 victory after outscoring the Spurs 24-11 in the fourth quarter. Shaq recorded half of his 16 points in the period and two-time MVP Nash scored eight of his 12 points (10 ast) to win the season-series 3-1. The Suns are still sitting in sixth place, but with the victory they are now just ½ a game away from catching San Antonio, currently second, in the standings. As always, the bad blood was flowing throughout the contest, culminating in the furious fourth quarter when Bruce Bowen sent a forearm into the chest of Amare Stoudemire as the Suns forward set a pick at halfcourt. Guess who got called dirty after the game.

Bruce came elbow first. Elbowed me right in my rib cage,” Stoudemire said. “You know, definitely wasn’t a basketball play on his part and I reacted. I definitely didn’t appreciate it. So, I let him know about it.

2. Hornets romp the T-Wolves

The Hornets needed a win over Minnesota in order to maintain their lead over the rest of the West and, of course, they got it. Using a 41-point, third-quarter outburst, followed by 33 points in the fourth, New Orleans cruised to a 122-90 victory, grabbing its team-best 55th win. Chris Paul was back to his old tricks, posting 19 points and 16 assists while Peja Stojakovic finished with 24 and David West scored 22. It’s starting to look more and more like the Hornets are really going to grab the top seed in the West after missing the second season entirely last year. Byron Scott won’t get the coach of the year award over Doc Rivers this season, but the guy has got to get some credit for his abilities. He helped turn around the Nets when he was there and he’s shocked the world this season by taking his Bugs from worst to first.

3. Wiz continues to improve
Boston doesn’t have much to play for as the season comes to a close, but Washington certainly does. Thanks to a 109-95 home floor victory, Washington is now just two games behind a struggling Cleveland squad. The Wizards would love to steal homecourt advantage in the playoffs away from the Cavs and surprise the league with a deep run. It might sound crazy, but with a healthy roster and a raucous crowd, the Wiz could be in line for some a serious magic act. Antawn Jamison double-doubled with 27 points and 11 rebounds while Caron Butler scored 13 to go with 10 assists. Gilbert Arenas came off the bench to post 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting. The Celtics got 63 points out of their Big Three, but couldn’t recover from a 27-18 spanking in the third quarter.

Wednesday’s Player of the Day: Chris Bosh vs. Milwaukee 40 min, 32 pts (FG: 11-18, 3FG: 1-2, FT: 9-11), 11 reb, 2 ast, 3 stl, 4 blk

Thursday’s Game to Watch: Denver (47-13) @ Golden State (47-31)
Sure, Utah and Dallas are hooking it up in a battle of the West’s big boys, but the big game tonight comes from the worst of the conference’s best. The Nuggets and Warriors are sporting identical records, but thanks to a tiebreaker, the Nuggets are currently holding the last playoff spot. Of course, that might not last long because Denver isn’t nearly as good on the road (16-23) as they are at home (31-8). And we all know what an overwhelming atmosphere Golden State can be after watching the crowds go wild in last year’s postseason. If you want a preview of playoff intensity then this is the place to be.

Buzzer Beater: In the “no duh!” moment of the day, O.J. Mayo declared that he is forgoing the remainder of his eligibility at USC in order to go pro. Mayo is expected to go in the first 10 picks and there’s no doubt that he will make some sorry team very, very happy. The freshman led the Trojans to a first round defeat at the hands of fellow phenomenal freshman Michael Beasley and his Wildcats by posting team-highs of 20.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Unlike his college coach, we should expect big things from Mayo in the NBA.

This comes as no surprise,” coach Tim Floyd said in the statement. “We are appreciative of everything O.J. did for all of us the year he was with us. We wish him well. I have no doubt that he will be a great professional.

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