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.