New Orleans Hornets

Around the Rim: Still the best in the West, but just barely

1. Hornets almost get stung
New Orleans needed a win on Tuesday night to keep pace with the streaking Spurs. Thanks to a sharpshooting Peja Stojakovic, they got it. OK, maybe “sharpshooting” is an overstatement considering he only connected on 2-of-11 field goals against the Magic, but Stojakovic came through in the clutch, connecting on a trey and hitting three big free throws in the final minute to help the Hornets sneak out of Orlando with a 98-97 victory. MVP candidate Chris Paul finished with 19 points and 12 assists and fellow All-Star David West double-doubled with 18 and 11 rebounds in Nawlins’ franchise-best 24th road win. Paul almost choked the game away by missing a pair of shots from the charity stripe with less than 10 seconds remaining. But when Keyon Dooling’s jumper fell short, the Hornets were able to breathe a sigh of relief. New Orleans holds a slight edge over SA which means they are still sitting atop the West with a game against Miami scheduled for tonight.

2. Nuggets get revenge against Suns

The home team continues to reign supreme in the battle between Phoenix and Denver. Just one day after losing by 15 points in Phoenix, the Nuggets returned to Denver and grabbed a 126-120 victory over the Suns thanks to stellar performances from Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. A.I. finished with a game-high 31 points while Melo scored 25, including a pair of big free throws in the final 30 seconds to give Denver its seventh win in 10 games. More importantly, the Nuggets took a half-game lead over the Warriors for the West’s final playoff spot. The Suns did all they could, connecting on 53 percent of their shots, but homecourt advantage proved to be critical once again as the home team grabbed the win in every game between the two this season. Leandro Barbosa led the losers with 27 points while Shaquille O’Neal (14 pts, 13 reb), Amare Stoudemire (25 pts, 10 reb) and Steve Nash (17 pts, 18 ast) all recorded double-doubles.

3. Kings keep Rockets reeling
The Rockets are in free fall after reeling off 22 consecutive wins and Sacramento took full advantage on Tuesday night. Tracy McGrady scored a game-high 32 points, but it wasn’t enough to keep Houston from losing its fifth game, 99-98, in eight tries since going on the second-longest win steak in league history. Ron Artest finished with 30 points and Kevin Martin posted 27 as the Kings won their 34th game of the season which surpasses last year’s win total, marking the first improvement from one season to the next since 2001-02. For the Rockets, the loss sent them into sixth place out West. Houston took a one-point lead with time running out, but Martin knocked down a couple free throws with 48.9 seconds left on the clock, giving the Kings their final points of the night. Artest almost blew the victory by turning the ball over in the final moments, but McGrady’s shot was off the mark and Artest was saved by the buzzer.

Tuesday’s Player of the Day: Michael Redd vs. New York 46 min, 36 pts (FG: 12-22, 3FG: 4-9, FT: 8-11), 6 reb, 9 ast, 2 stl

Wednesday’s Game to Watch: Golden State (45-29) @ Dallas (46-28)
Playoff implications are abundant in this matchup as either team could still conceivably fall out of the conference’s elite eight with a poor showing down the final stretch of the season. Luckily for Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki could be making an early return to the lineup after suffering a lower leg injury against the Spurs on March 23. At the moment, the Mavs are sitting in seventh place, just one game ahead of Golden State who is in ninth. Dallas would clinch the tiebreaker with a win which would be huge in a jam-packed race, but these are the Warriors we’re talking about and when it comes to ruining Dallas’ fun, nobody does it better than Don Nelson. And let’s not forget about the stat that just won’t go away for Dallas. The Mavericks are currently 0-10 against teams with winning records since acquiring Jason Kidd at the All-Star break.

Buzzer Beater: ESPN released its list of the top players under the age of 23 and we really can’t argue with the rankings. Can you?

1. LeBron James

2. Dwight Howard

3. Chris Paul

4. Deron Williams

5. Carmelo Anthony

6. Kevin Durant

7. Greg Oden

8. Andrew Bynum

9. Brandon Roy

10. Monta Ellis

Dallas Mavericks

Around the Rim: Second half, second wind

1. Dirk shows why he’s an MVP
The Mavericks looked dead in the water when they fell down by 24 points to the Raptors last night, but Dirk Nowitzki led a furious comeback that ended with Dallas on top by six, 105-99. This was the second time the Mavericks erased a 24-point Raptor advantage and it was the biggest comeback in franchise history that ended in regulation. The last time Dallas came back big on Toronto, they needed overtime to seal the deal. Nowitzki nailed four consecutive 3-pointers during the last 1:41 of the third en route to 18 points for the quarter. He finished the game with a season-high 32 points to go with seven rebounds. The Mavs turn right around for another tough test, traveling to Houston for a game tonight in which Tracy McGrady might be reinserted into the starting five after missing a week with an elbow injury.

2. Devolution

The Baby Bulls are back and it’s not pretty for Chicago fans. The once proud franchise is now sitting in a 2-8 hole to start the season, their worst beginning since going 0-9 in 2004-05. The Nuggets rolled over them in the Mile High City last night 112-91. The Bulls played a pretty solid game statistically, but their 40 percent shooting (38-95) killed them, along with their 24 fouls which translated into 28 points for Denver from the charity stripe. Perhaps most disturbing was the fact that goof-ball Joakim Noah led the way offensively with 16 points off the bench. Ben Gordon was a pitiful 2-of-14 from the floor for six points and the rest of starting crew brought a whopping 32 points to the table. If Chicago can’t turn this around over the next four games then they’ll never turn it around. Coming up are back-to-back road games with the Knicks and Raptors before a home stand against Atlanta and Charlotte.

3. Who he play for?
We didn’t know who Andray Blatche was before last night, but now we sure do. The 6-foot-11-inch, 248-pound forward from South Kent Prep in Connecticut came off the bench for game-high/career-high 26 points on 12-of-14 shooting while grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out four assists. Of course, Gilbert Arenas was out of the lineup with a knee injury and remains a gametime decision for the near future. But, don’t worry; Blatche is doing an excellent job of filling in for the big-mouthed Arenas, both on and off the court.

I’m getting me a blog,” said Blatche, referencing Arenas’ popular offbeat Internet journal. “Y’all stay tuned. Coming to a town near y’all, I’m getting my blog. It’s going to be: ‘When keeping it real goes wrong.’

Tuesday’s Player of the Day: Michael Redd @ Cleveland 39 min, 34 pts (FG: 8-15, 3FG: 3-5, FT: 15-20), 7 reb, 6 ast, 3 stl, 2 blk

Wednesday’s Game to Watch: Orlando (10-2) @ San Antonio (9-2)
Orlando’s play has been incredible to say the least. The Magic are off to one of the greatest starts in club history and with just 12 games under their belts, they have already amassed a three game advantage over their closest division rival. And even though all the praise in the East is going to the Celtics, the Magic actually hold a ½ game lead in the standings and they are the only team in the league with a victory over Boston. San Antonio is on a two-game win streak after falling to the Mavs last week. Something has to give tonight as the Spurs are a perfect 6-0 at home while Orlando is undefeated through seven contests on the road.

Buzzer Beater: We knew the Wizards were a so-so organization on the court, but we never knew they were complete imbeciles in the front office (other than the Kwame Brown fiasco, of course). The Wiz finally decided to honor the greatest player in team history (MJ doesn’t count) and it only took them 36 years! Earl “The Pearl” Monroe’s jersey will be hoisted into the rafters on Dec. 1, and it’s just 27 years after his retirement. The Pearl spent nine years in New York after the Wizards Bullets traded him in 1971, where he remained until calling it quits, but once Monroe said he wanted to go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Bullets jersey, the organization should have sprung into action. Unfortunately, that was in 1990. You hearin’ this Agent 0?

NBA General

Around the Rim: Knucklehead Nelson’s Short Fuse Blows It

1. Geez, Thanks Coach
With under a second remaining in yesterday’s game between the Wizards and the Warriors, Don Nelson picked up a technical foul after a questionable call gave Gilbert Arenas a pair of free throws with Washington down by two. But thanks to Nellie’s tech, Agent 0 went to the line and drained three consecutive freebies with 0.1 seconds remaining on the clock. Arenas was 12 for 12 from the free throw line as he went off for 32 points, six assists and five rebounds in the home win. By sinking the clutch free throws, Arenas has joined a pretty elite club. In the last two seasons only three players have hit game-winning free throws in the final second of play (Channing Frye, Darrell Armstrong and Zach Randolph). However, Arenas became the first player since Karl Malone against the Suns in 1999 to give his team a one point victory on three free throws with under a second remaining in the game.

2. Garnett Seeing Green
As unbelievable as it may sound, the Boston Celtics are NOT the worst team in the NBA. The combination of a Boston four game winning streak and a Memphis four game losing streak has given the Celtics a three game cushion over the grisly Grizzlies. Yesterday, the C’s beat the Timberwolves in a double overtime marathon despite another big day from the Big Ticket. Kevin Garnett seems to like playing Boston as he picked up his second triple-double of the season against the men in green. But the last time these two hooked up, Boston fell to KG and crew for their 18th consecutive loss. Seems like Garnett could use a little help in Minny, but, yet again, the entire weight of a franchise is riding completely on his shoulders. You don’t think Allen Iverson, Ben Gordon or Ray Allen could have helped to distribute the burden; do you?

3. Altitude Agrees With The Answer
He hasn’t even been in Denver for a year yet but Allen Iverson has already said that he wants to remain a Nugget for the remainder of his career. Sounds familiar, didn’t he say the same thing in Philadelphia? But things change and you can’t blame AI for wanting to leave the Sixers, considering their current condition. And Iverson is probably truthful about staying in Denver. The Nuggets have a bright future with Iverson and Carmelo Anthony leading the way. When Iverson was traded to the Nuggets, the duo was ranked number one and two in scoring; now they are first and fifth with AI’s numbers dropping a bit. But that was expected; what wasn’t expected was that the Nuggets would be clinging to the eighth playoff spot with only 25 games left in the season.

Sunday’s Player of the Day: Kevin Garnett @ Boston 51 min, 33 pts (FG: 14-28, 3FG: 1-1, FT: 4-5), 13 reb, 10 ast, 2 stl, 3 blk

Monday’s Game to Watch: Houston (36-23) @ Cleveland (34-25) He’s back and he’s not hard to spot. The 7-6 Yao Ming is expected to hit the court for the first time in 32 games after breaking his right leg on December 23. Tracy McGrady is going to have to get use to sharing the load again after making a late MVP push as he carried the Rockets during Yao’s absence. But before Houston can celebrate the return of Yao, they will have to pick up a win in Cleveland where the Cavs are 22-8 this season. And if T-Mac has been hot of late, then LeBron James has been scorching. James has scored between 29 and 39 points in each of his last seven games. This could become a scoring duel between two of the game’s most explosive superstars.

Buzzer Beater: Hitting the century mark has typically been the benchmark of a good offensive game for NBA teams. But what makes a game great is when two players combine for a hundred. That’s what Ben Gordon (48 points) and Michael Redd (52 points) did during the Bulls’ 126-121 victory over the Bucks on Sunday. In the last 30 years, only eight games have seen a duo combine for 100 points and this is the first time since the 1989-90 season that the game didn’t involve Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady. For comparison sake, the feat is one of the rarest in all of sports. In the same 30 year span there have been eight perfect games thrown in the MLB, seven 500-yard passing games in the NFL, and five baseball games with four homeruns from a single player.