New Jersey Nets

Around the Rim: Jason’s still a Net, no Kidding!

1. Devean George is not a Jersey kinda guy
The Dallas Mavericks were just about to give away half their roster for Jason Kidd, but then Devean George decided to go `Kobe’ on the league and nix the trade. As it turns out, George has a loop hole in his contract giving him ultimate approval of any trade. This doesn’t mean the deal that would send Devin Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, DeSagana Diop, Maurice Ager and George (plus $3 million and two future first-round picks) going to New Jersey for Kidd and Malik Allen is completely done, but it will need to be tweaked. According to reports, the Mavs might replace George with Eddie Jones and Nick Fazekas or Jones and Juwan Howard. The Nets were so sure this deal was done they sat Kidd against Toronto on Wednesday. And as fate would have, they lost big.

2. Never doubt Dwight Howard

Stan Van Gundy called out his star player for wanting to score more than play defense. Against the Nuggets, Dwight Howard proved he can do both. Howard exploded for 23 points, 24 rebounds and a pair of blocks in a 109-98 Magic victory in the Magic Kingdom. Rashard Lewis threw in 25 for Orlando while Hedo Turkoglu and Brian Cook added 18 points apiece. The Nuggets were in the game for about a half; unfortunately, it was the first half. Carmelo Anthony scored 32 points before fouling out in the fourth and Allen Iverson put in 21 points on a horrible 5-of-16 shooting performance.

About a month ago the Cavaliers got a measure of revenge against the Spurs, winning a close one in San Antonio after being swept out of last year’s Finals. On Wednesday, the Spurs returned the favor, beating Cleveland 112-105 on their home floor. And they didn’t even miss Tony Parker thanks to an outta-his-mind performance by Manu Ginobili. The Argentinean drilled a career-high eight 3-pointers en route to a season-high 46 points with eight assists, five rebounds and three steals. Ginobili was money in the final period, connecting on all four 3-point attempts for 18 points in the period. For the game, San Antonio shot 12-for-20 from behind the arc. Oh, and according to the box score, there were a couple of All-Stars on the court as well. Tim Duncan did his usual double-double thing, scoring 23 and grabbing 13 while LeBron James had himself a humdinger of a contest with 39 points, six rebounds and nine assists.

Wednesday’s Player of the Day: Manu Ginobili @ Cleveland 40 min, 46 pts (FG: 15-20, 3FG: 8-11, FT: 8-9), 5 reb, 8 ast, 3 stl, 1 blk

Thursday’s Game to Watch: Dallas (35-17) @ Phoenix (36-16)
We know Jason Kidd won’t be in the lineup for the Mavericks and it’s doubtful that Shaquille O’Neal makes his Suns debut against Dallas, but there are still plenty of reasons to watch. It’s always a track meet when these two hook up and it usually goes down to the wire. Dirk Nowitzki should love not having to deal with the pesky Shawn Marion in this rivalry anymore, but Steve Nash is still around and so is some young stud named Amare Stoudemire. It should be interesting to see how the Mavs react with a roster full of players they tried to cut ties with less than a day before.

Buzzer Beater: Gilbert Arenas is thinking about changing his last name to East after realizing the fashionable perks it would bring.

That’s going to be the coolest jersey ever though … that David West jersey for being a Western Conference All-Star … West on the front, West on the back. That’s going to be the bomb jersey.

Orlando Magic

Dwight Howard is going to suck the oxygen outta the building on Saturday

Everybody and their mother knows Dwight Howard was robbed at last year’s slam dunk competition. Luckily, he’s getting another shot at the crown this year and according to his practice sessions, he’s gotta be the favorite.

If you think those are some sick dunks, can you imagine what the kid could do if he actually got to raise the rim to 12 feet? Unfortunately, we might never know because for the second straight year the NBA has denied his request to raise the rim an additional two feet.

Boston Celtics

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.

Houston Rockets

Around the Rim: Eyeing a comeback

1. Rockets taking off without McGrady
The Rockets are finally getting used to playing without Tracy McGrady. In fact, Houston won their third consecutive game by beating Washing 92-84 on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, T-Mac might be back in uniform for Friday’s game at home against the Timberwolves after being sidelined since Dec. 23. Hopefully for Houstonians, McGrady adds to the team’s current success instead of devolving the chemistry. Led by Luther Head’s 24 points, three Rockets reached double-figures against the Wiz, including Yao Ming who finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. With the win, Houston (18-17) jumped above .500 for the first time since being 12-11 almost a month ago.

2. Are you Kidding?

Jason Kidd racking up a triple-double is nothing new, but do it three games in a row and, now, we’ve got something to talk about. On Tuesday, Kidd became the first player since Grant Hill to record a triple-dip in a trio of consecutive games by scoring 13 points, grabbing 11 boards and passing out 12 assists against the Bobcats. And if Kidd hadn’t come up two assists shy in a game against Orlando, he would be looking at four straight triple-doubles. The last person to do that was, you guessed it, Michael Jordan who had seven consecutive way, way back in 1989. Oh, and if you care about things like team play and scores then you might be interested to know that Charlotte defeated the Nets quite easily, 115-99.

3. Fancy meeting you here
LeBron James didn’t have to go pro. Kevin Durant didn’t need to go to college. But regardless of their individual paths, the two superstars (one established and one in the making) met on the hardwood for the first time Tuesday night. Durant played one of the best contests of his rookie campaign, scoring a game-high 24 points on 10-of-20 shooting and grabbed six rebounds before spraining his ankle late in the game. Despite the early exit, Durant won the one-on-one offensive battle against LBJ, but his team lost the war with the Cavs. James finished with 22 points and Cleveland cruised to a 95-79 home victory.

Tuesday’s Player of the Day: Dwight Howard @ Sacramento 38 min, 29 pts (FG: 11-13, FT: 7-8), 15 reb, 1 ast, 2 stl, 1 blk

Wednesday’s Game to Watch: Detroit (26-8) @ Dallas (23-11)
The Pistons have been off since Saturday and in that time, you know the Bad Boys have been stewing over their loss to East’s glitzy favorites, the Beantown Celtics. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, they’re next in line and the Pistons are dying to get back to their winning ways. Before the loss to Boston, Detroit won 11 consecutive games and 18 out of 20, but Dallas is finally catching fire as well. After bouncing back and forth between wins and losses, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs seem to have found some consistency, winning four straight and nine of their previous 11 contests. Since scoring a season-low seven points against New Orleans on Dec. 14, Nowitzki has topped 19 points in the last ten games, scoring 30 or more four times.

Buzzer Beater: Losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves is pretty much the lowest of low, even for the lowly Miami Heat. But that is exactly what happened on Tuesday when the T-Wolves picked up their fifth win of the season by spanking the Shaqless Heat 101-91. After the game, Dwyane Wade made the understatement of the year.

We’re not exactly 28-5 this year,” Wade said of his 8-27 Heat, who have the worst record in the Eastern Conference. “We’re one of the worst teams in the league as well.

Boston Celtics

Around the Rim: Kevin Garnett carries his club into the record books

1. Big Three hit the big two-seven

Kevin Garnett needed four stitches to close a gash over his right eye sustained against the Lakers on Sunday, but the cut wasn’t enough to stop the Big Ticket from punching Boston’s ticket into history. Scoring 11 of his 26 points in the final seven minutes, Garnett lifted Boston to their 27th win of the season in just 30 games with a 97-93 victory over Houston. The 27-3 mark matches five other squads, including the 1995-96 Bulls that went 72-10, as the only teams to accomplish the feat. The Rockets sorely missed their leading scorer down the stretch as Tracy McGrady missed his fourth consecutive game with an injury to his left a knee. Unfortunately, McGrady is expected to miss about three weeks with a “deep bone bruise,” leaving Houston rapidly sliding down the standings out West.

2. On again, off again

The Orlando Magic looked poised to join Boston, Detroit and Cleveland as one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams after they rushed out to a 14-3 start. But as quickly as they rose to contender status, they quickly rejoined the mass of mediocrity by dropping eight of their next 12, and just when the Magic men looked to be climbing back to their feet, putting together a four-game winning streak, the Nets come to town and demoralize Orlando with a fourth quarter knockout. New Jersey trailed by 10 points after 36 minutes, but outscored Orlando 30-18 in the final period and squeaked out a 96-95 victory. Dwight Howard scored 13 points in the loss, marking the fourth time in five games that the superstar has failed to reach 20 points.

3. LeBron-ckets red glare
LeBron James welcomed in the New Year by giving the Cleveland crowd of 20,562 in attendance his own version of a fireworks celebration. James went out of the first half against Atlanta like a lamb, scoring just four points, but he came roaring out of the locker room like a lion, guiding his cubs to a 98-94 win. LBJ continued to improve as the game went on, scoring 32 of his 36 points in the second half with 19 coming in the fourth quarter and 12 coming in the last 1:50. The Cavs are still sitting two games under .500 (15-17) and are a full 10 games behind Detroit in the Central Division standings after the Pistons won their 10th consecutive game by dismantling the Wizards in D.C. by 13, 106-93. Detroit (25-7) has now won 17 of their last 19 games, climbing to within three games of Boston (27-3) for the league’s top record.

Wednesday’s Player of the Day: John Salmons @ New York 43 min, 32 pts (FG: 13-18, 3FG: 1-2, FT: 5-5), 11 reb, 6 ast, 6 stl, 1 blk

Thursday’s Game to Watch: San Antonio (21-8) @ Denver (18-12)
Despite their recent struggles (5-5 in their last 10 games) and injuries, San Antonio is still sitting atop the Western Conference standings thanks to a rejuvenated Tim Duncan. Known for sacrificing his numbers in exchange for teammate’s productivity, Duncan has been single-handedly taking over games for the Spurs lately, averaging 19.6 points, 14.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 blocks per game over his last five games. However, the Spurs are surprisingly soft on the road this year with a 5-6 record. The Nuggets are 12-5 at home where Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson both average 26.0 points per game. Marcus Camby (14.2 rpg, 3.66 bpg) draws the unappealing assignment of defending Duncan, but perhaps nobody is more prepared for the challenge than the league’s defending Mr. Defense.

Buzzer Beater: The game between the Timberwolves and the Trail Blazers was delayed for over half an hour on Wednesday night when a pair of gaps developed in the Target Center court. So, while the entire arena waited for a couple dollops of putty to harden in the floor, players and fans alike had plenty of time to complain about the delay.

Timberwolves forward Al Jefferson, for one, couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. He walked over to Blazers swingman Travis Outlaw, a fellow native of Mississippi, and said, “We’re from Mississippi man, we play on glass.

Eventually Portland would run all over Minnesota, winning 90-79 for their 14th victory in 15 contests.

Orlando Magic

Around the Rim: It’s no illusion, the Magic are for real

1. Road warriors
It took an extra five minutes to get the job done, but the Magic continued their winning ways by outscoring the league’s highest scoring team in an East vs. West track meet. 240 total points were scored as Orlando downed Golden State 123-117 in Oakland. Dwight Howard almost cost his team the game when he picked up a technical late in the game, but he still gets `Beast of the Game’ honors for collecting 18 points, 23 rebounds and seven blocks. Jameer Nelson almost had himself a triple-dip as he finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists. Orlando is still giving Boston a run for their money in conference race. The squads are currently tied for first place, but the Celtics (14-2 – .875) have a better statistical record than the Magic (16-4 – .800)

2. TD’s knee screen is clean

Gregg Popovich felt his heart sink into the pit of his stomach when Tim Duncan crumpled to the parquet on Sunday and was subsequently carried off the floor by his teammates. Well, Pop’s heart started beating again on Monday afternoon when doctors discovered no significant damage to the two-time MVP’s right knee or right ankle. There’s still no concrete timetable for when Duncan will return to the lineup for the silver and black, but the team spokesman confirmed that TD would miss the rivalry game against the Mavericks. We’re figuring that the Spurs are going to sit Duncan until he’s absolutely, undoubtedly, 100 percent healthy. Popovich ain’t no fool; he’d much rather take the extra losses than rush his goldmine back on the court too soon and risk further damage.

3. Score one for the Americans
By many accounts, Steve Nash is just about the best thing to happen to basketball since the shot clock went into effect. Other people can’t believe he has more MVPs than guys like Allen Iverson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett or David Robinson, to name a few. Either way you look at it, he’s about all Canada’s got when it comes to international competition. Correction: `he’s about all Canada had.

On playing for the Canadians in the 2008 Olympics, should they qualify:

I would say no, but I can’t really talk about it until the situation arrives and this season’s come to a conclusion,” Nash said. “But in my mind right now, I’m not going to play for Canada anymore. I just can’t do both.

Okay, can someone talk Manu Ginobili out of playing now?

Monday’s Player of the Day: Carlos Boozer vs. Miami 40 min, 24 pts (FG: 10-18, FT: 4-6), 15 reb, 5 ast, 4 stl, 1 blk

Tuesday’s Game to Watch: Phoenix (13-4) @ Indiana (9-9)
Phoenix’s three All-Stars have been playing accordingly all year long, but now they’re benefiting from a former All-Star who’s looking a lot like a youngster who use to dazzle in a Detroit uniform. Grant Hill might be 35 years old according to his birth certificate, but 28 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals certainly doesn’t sound like the production of someone who should be using the Clapper and watching The Peoples Court according to young NBA standards. On the other side of the court, the Pacers are sporting a crew of anti-Hills. They’re young and wild and you never know what you’re going to get, good or bad. This has the potential to be a nail-biter or a blowout, just depends on which crew shows up next for coach Jim O’Brien.

Buzzer Beater: We’re seriously starting to worry about Gilbert Arenas. The guy has always been a little loopy, but now that he’s injured and without the mental drain of basketball, there’s a lot of crazy stuff backing up in his cranium. Not only is he pushing a shoe that comes with a dry erase marker so you can write messages on your kicks, but he’s also devoting his time to a project known as GilTV. It’s an interesting endeavor to say the least. Still, those aren’t the oddest tidbits of information that Agent 0 reveals in his blog.

So, Gilbert, why don’t you like to take pain pills?

I didn’t take the pills for two reasons:

1. I’m against pills in general. I think it’s a coward’s way to deal with pain. You take some pills, then the pills get you sleepy.

2. The main reason is though that it blocked my stomach up last time and I couldn’t use the restroom. I couldn’t use the restroom for like five days, and I didn’t want to go through that pain again.


New York Knicks

Around the Rim: Somebody must pay with their head!

One of these people just doesn’t
belong here.

1. 45-point blowout!?
Does the NBA need to start investigating players for being involved with fixing games? Sounds stupid, but how else do you explain a 45-point victory? Well, coach? Explain your team’s performance.

I don’t know where this game came from. I thought we played extremely selfish tonight … Definitely didn’t see this type of game coming after the last two games we played. This was just not a good night.

Not a good night? Try the third-worst beating in the storied franchise’s history and the second-lowest offensive production since the shot-clock went into effect! Oh, and if Nate Robinson didn’t get lucky and nail a half court, desperation heave at the end of regulation to make the score 104-59 then it would have been the lowest output EVER. That a getting-caned kinda night, Zeke.

2. 45-point swing

The Lakers fell down by 17 points early to the Denver Nuggets, but by the time the final buzzer sounded, Kobe Bryant was chillin’ on the bench and the Lakers had a 28-point victory, 127-99. Bryant had 24 points and Andrew Bynum had a nice double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Even Sasha Vujacic got into the act and scored 22 off the bench. But the real news out of Los Angeles has to do with the Zen Master signing on for another two years of drama, which begs the question: Does this move effect whether Kobe is in or out of L.A.? $24 million says Phil Jackson really doesn’t care.

3. Back to their old Mavericks-beating form
After starting the season off by dropping their first six games, the Warriors coasted to an 8-7 record by beating the Rockets 113-94. Since Stephen Jackson returned from his suspension, Golden State is 7-1. And while some of those wins are coming against creampuffs, they have quality Ws over Toronto, Phoenix and now Houston. Al Harrington deserves an expensive steak dinner from his coach after manning up big time against Yao Ming on Thursday. Harrington (6-9, 245) limited Ming (7-6, 310) to 4-of-12 shooting for 10 points and seven rebounds while scoring 18 points on the offensive end.

Thursday’s Player of the Day: Baron Davis vs. Houston 40 min, 27 pts (FG: 9-14, 3FG: 1-3, FT: 8-11), 5 reb, 8 ast, 5 stl

Friday’s Game to Watch: Orlando (14-3) @ Phoenix (11-4)
Remember the good old days when you anticipated big-man match-ups like Charles Barkley vs. Karl Malone or Hakeem Olajuwon vs. David Robinson? Well, in 10 or 20 years, you might be reminiscing in the same way about Amare Stoudemire vs. Dwight Howard. These are two of the most blinding young stars working the post today and both of their teams are continually improving. Unfortunately, since these two studs are running in different conferences, this individual battle doesn’t come along all that often. In fact, the only way this becomes a truly intense 1-on-1 rivalry is for the Suns and Magic to square off in the Finals. Fortunately, that’s not an impossibility.

Buzzer Beater: Nicknames are some of the coolest things in the world. The great ones just naturally fit with the person and no explanation is needed, like “Magic.” Then you’ve got nicknames that just seem uncreative and forced, like “Youngrich.”

Nuggets guard J.R. Smith is nicknamed “Youngrich.” It’s even written on his shoes. So why the nickname? “Because I’m young and I’m rich,” the New Jersey native said.

What? Was “Denvernugget” taken by a teammate already?

NBA General

Around the Rim: A pair of underdogs win must win Game 3’s, sorry Orlando

That kind of night for the Rockets.

1. Jazz finally tune up the band
The Rockets won the first two games against the Jazz with relative ease in Houston, but what a difference a change of scenery can make. Back in Salt Lake City, Utah held the Rockets to just 67 points in an 81-67 Game 3 romping as Houston hit just 21-of-64 shots from the floor. And the 19 turnovers didn’t help any either. Oh, and did we mention that the Rockets became the first team in playoff history to have only four players score in a game (Yao Ming – 26 points, Tracy McGrady – 24, Shane Battier – 11, and Rafer Alston – 6)? On the winning side of things, Carlos Boozer showed why he was considered to be an MVP candidate before breaking his leg earlier in the season by carrying the offensive load with a team-high 22 points to go along with a dozen boards.

And for all you Andrei Kirilenko fans out there, it looks like Masha still hasn’t convinced Jerry Sloan to get that interpreter because AK-47 finished the game with just two points on 1-of-2 shooting.

2. When the stars come out, the Suns set

After suffering a 28 point spanking at the hands of Phoenix in Game 2 the Lakers promptly opened Game 3 by falling behind by 17 points before the end of the first quarter. But LA has Kobe Bryant and no lead is safe when Kobe is in the building, and in typical Mamba fashion Bryant loaded up his team and took them on a ride as he blew up for 45 points. And, believe or not, he even got a little help from his friends as Kwame Brown scored 19 points (we didn’t believe it either, but its true) and Lamar Odom put in 18 of his own along with 16 rebounds. The game got a little chippy at the end as Smush Parker went up for a slam with time expiring and the game in hand which drew a hard foul from Raja Bell and some naughty words form Mike D’Antoni. Looks like we’re establishing quite an impressive card for NBA Fight Night as D’Antoni vs. Parker will warm up the crowd for the main event: Tim Duncan vs. Joey Crawford. Let’s get it on!

3. The Magic need to pull a rabbit out of their hat
The first two games of the Pistons/Magic series were both decided by eight points as Detroit left Mo Town with a 2-0 lead. But a funny thing happened when the series shifted to Orlando; the Magic actually got worse and suffered a 16 point beating, 93-77, at the hands of Flip Saunders’ boys. All five starters for the Pistons finished the game in double digits with Tayshaun Prince leading the way with 23 points while Cha-Cha-Cha-Chauncey Billups was next in line with 21. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard‘s limited scoring capabilities are being exposed as his All-Star caliber season is ending with disappointment. Howard has been held under 13 points in all three games while never making more than five field goals in a single contest. Hopefully Howard’s inability to lead the team offensively will motivate him during the off-season and the world will be witness to a whole new monster come next November.

Thursday’s Player of the Day: Kobe Bryant vs. Phoenix 45 min, 45 pts (FG: 15-26, 3FG: 2-3, FT: 13-13), 6 reb, 6 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk

Buzzer Beater: ESPN released a list of “the 30 best international players in the NBA” and in a shocking move ESPN Insider John Hollinger named Dirk Nowitzki as the baddest man in the Association not American as apple pie. Why so shocking? Well, Hollinger clearly states in his “ground rules” that “I’m not basing the rankings solely on a player’s performance this past season; instead I’m looking at the big picture.” If that’s the case, how can Nowitzki be ranked ahead of a three time champion and five time MVP (2 regular season, 3 Finals) in Tim Duncan? Or even the two-time defending MVP Steve Nash? Hey, we’ll give Dirk his props; he’s probably going to grab the MVP this season and could possibly end the playoffs with a ring on his finger but none of that has happened yet. And until it does even if it does, he’s still gotta play second fiddle to Timmy D.

NBA General

Around the Rim: Utah gets floored by the Rockets

1. Clutch City is back on track
Carlos Boozer tied a career-high with 41 points to go along with 12 rebounds and six assists but it was his critical turnover with 20 seconds left in the game that will be remembered. Boozer dribbled the ball off his foot and helped Houston secure a 98-90 victory, giving them a 2-0 lead in the series. The Jazz started the season by jumping out to a 12-1 record but ended the year by dropping seven of their last 11 games, and if you throw in their playoff woes, they have lost nine of their last 13 contests. If that’s not bad enough, the Jazz have never won a playoff series after falling behind 0-2. Houston is riding a momentum tidal wave of monumental proportions behind the efforts of their droopy-eyed superstar Tracy McGrady (31 points, 10 rebounds, five assists). If the Rockets can hold on to their lead over the Jazz they’ll be on their way to the second round for the first time since 1997, not to mention it would be T-Mac’s first trip past the opening round in his ten year career. Just keep your mouth shut Tracy; Houstonians don’t want a repeat of your big mouthed fiasco during the 2003 playoffs.

2. The 151st best player in the league

Some observers of the game have been saying that Phoenix has the best starting five in the league, but on Monday the Suns showed that they have a pretty good bench as well. In a landslide, Leandro Barbosa took home the Sixth Man Award (and a nice sized bonus check in the process) to join the likes of Mike Miller, Ben Gordon, Antawn Jamison and others. Barbosa finished with 578 points, including 101 first place votes, to blow away Manu Ginobili (269 points) and Jerry Stackhouse (210 points). This could be the first of many post season awards for Phoenix considering that Mike D’Antoni, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion are all candidates for various awards. The “Brazilian Blur” averaged 18.1 points off the bench to compliment the Suns’ starters; all that’s left for Barbosa to do now is work his way into the starting lineup. And come up with a more creative nickname.

3. The Magic’s disappearing act
The series score is 2-0, but it might as well be 4-0 after Detroit put another hurting on Orlando and held Dwight Howard to just eight points on three-of-nine shooting. Howard has as much potential as any young superstar in the league but his playoff immaturity is definitely shinning through as he has only scored 21 points in the first two games. As it is every night, the rebounding was there on Monday against the Pistons but the Magic won’t even sniff a post season victory until Howard can learn that he must carry the load offensively, as well as defensively. But Howard can’t be held completely accountable for the Magic’s current situation; after all, there aren’t a lot of teams that can compete with the Pistons’ efficiency. Detroit was led by Richard Hamilton’s 22 points but it was a complete effort from the starting five that earned the team a 98-90 victory. In fact, only 10 points came off the bench during the game.

Monday’s Player of the Day: Carlos Boozer @ Houston 42 min, 41 pts (FG: 17-30, FT: 7-9), 12 reb, 6 ast

Buzzer Beater: Since Orlando has been visiting Detroit over the past couple of games, it’s needless to say that Darko Milicic has been taking some crap from the fans of his old club. But he’s not letting it get him down; well, at least that’s what he says. “I don’t really care,” said Milicic. “Back home fans used to throw the baseball (bats) and stuff at me – everything. They tried to kill me back home. That’s why I don’t really give a (expletive) about it.” We can see why a little taunting wouldn’t phase you, considering your countrymen attempted to murder you. But we wanna know why the Pistons’ fans are harping on Darko so much in the first place? After all, it was Joe Dumars who blew the pick; all Milicic did was get drafted. Last time we checked it wasn’t Milicic who passed on Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

NBA General

Around the Rim: Let’s get it on!

1. He said, he said
The Spurs and Mavericks got together in Dallas on Sunday and as usual, they tore the house down with an extremely competitive game that we can only hope to see duplicated in the Western Conference Finals. The Mavs limited San Antonio to just 10 points in the fourth quarter to win 91-86, but the turning point of the game came in the third quarter when Joey Crawford decided to flex his officiating muscle by slapping Tim Duncan with his second technical as he sat on the bench laughing. Duncan claims that Crawford came into the game with a personal vendetta against him and the old man even challenged Timmy to a fight. “He looked at me and said, `Do you want to fight? Do you want to fight?”‘ Duncan said. “If he wants to fight, we can fight. I don’t have any problem with him, but we can do it if he wants to. I have no reason why in the middle of a game he would yell at me, `Do you want to fight?”‘ Meanwhile, Crawford said that Duncan called him a piece of $#*! as he walked off the court. Wow; forget about Barkley vs. Bavetta 2, we wanna see Duncan vs. Crawford in a boxing match during next year’s All-Star weekend.

2. The Oden Ordeal

So, what’s the deal with Greg Oden? We already know that Kevin Durant is bolting from the Longhorns and into the pros, but conflicting reports over the weekend are leaving people scratching their heads about Oden’s intentions. First Oden’s old man told The Indianapolis Star that his boy was leaving Ohio State because “They had an exciting season, but why take the chance on him getting hurt?” But then Mike Conley Sr., father of Oden’s teammate Mike Conley Jr., basically told the press that Greg Oden Sr. was completely out of the loop. “The process for Greg Oden is, he’s going to talk to his mom today, he’s going to talk to me tomorrow, and he’s going to talk to Thad Matta on Monday,” Conley Sr. said. “And after that, he’s going to decide what he’s going to do and when he’s going to report it.” Conley Sr. can claim whatever importance in the equation that he wants to, but we’re going to believe Oden’s pops on this one.

3. The Magic’s Magic Man
The Orlando Magic guaranteed themselves a spot in the playoffs on Sunday when they narrowly defeated the Celtics, 88-86. Thanks to the victory, the Magic are back in the post season for the first time in four years and nobody is happier about it than Dwight Howard. Not only did he hit the final point of the game on a free throw with 4.6 seconds remaining, but he is also having some monster games as his team prepares for a playoff run. On Saturday night against the 76ers, Howard scored a career-high 35 points on 14-of-15 shooting and despite a poor offensive performance against Boston (3-8 FG, 4-12 FT), Howard still managed to pull down 14 rebounds. Howard now just needs to grab 18 rebounds while keeping his field goal percentage high over the final two games of the regular season to become only the second player in NBA history to shoot 60 percent and grab 1,000 boards in the same year. Not too bad for a 21 year old.

Sunday’s Player of the Day: Kobe Bryant vs. Seattle 42 min, 50 pts (FG: 18-25, 3FG: 3-6, FT: 11-13), 8 reb, 3 ast, 2 stl

Monday’s Game to Watch: Phoenix (61-19) @ Houston (51-29) With the playoffs beginning in less than a week, it’s match-ups like these that really get you excited about the post season. The Suns and Rockets are currently the two hottest teams in the West as they enter the games with five and four game winning streaks, respectively. Houston has looked like a completely different team since Yao Ming returned to form and is providing the perfect compliment to Tracy McGrady‘s stat sheet stuffing ability. But the two superstars are going to have to be at their best when the All-Star adorned Suns come to town. Phoenix really has nothing to play for considering they have already locked up the second seed in the playoffs, but this will be a great chance to get a feel for their possible second round opponent.

Buzzer Beater: The Lakers have been in a free fall for the past three weeks, but in their next to last game of the regular season they finally locked up a playoff spot by beating Seattle 109-98. In the process Kobe Bryant became the most prolific scorer in league history not named Wilt Chamberlain by racking up his 10th game with at least 50 points as he racked up an even fity against the Sonics. Los Angeles has a tough road ahead of them with a first round match-up against Phoenix or Dallas but, hey, at least Phil Jackson’s streak continues as his teams have never missed the playoffs in his 17 years as a coach.