NBA General

Around the Rim: Another ESPN Instant Classic was just born

And this was the scene before the game.

1. Phoenix gets burned in the Valley of the Sun
Game 5 between the Spurs and the Suns was a tale of two halves. The first half saw Shawn Marion light up the jumbotron with 20 points and 11 rebounds en route to an 11 point lead at the break as San Antonio was a nonexistent 0-of-7 from behind the arc. Fast forward past the Frisbee catching dog or whatever ridiculous half time gimmick the Suns front office pulled out of the hat for this game and in the second half, the Spurs were a very existent 8-of-16 from three land as Marion could only score four points and grab six boards over the final 12 minutes. Algebra 101 taught us that if you add those two halves together you get an 88-85 San Antonio victory, which is equal to one whole win for the guys in black; giving the Spurs a grand total of a 3-2 lead in the series. And you thought we slept our way through high school. The Suns fought a heck of a fight without their All-NBA first teamer Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw but Manu Ginobili played terrific down the stretch, minus a few unforgivable turnovers, while Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley hit several ginormous shots. Throw in the usual 20 point, 10 rebound, 3 block (21, 12 and 5 to be exact) game from Tim Duncan and the incredibly unyielding NBA rulebook and it all simply added up to odds that Phoenix just couldn’t overcome.

2. Like nats, the Nets just won’t go away

There must be something in the water over in the Eastern Conference because the Nets, like the Bulls, keep finding a way to avoid elimination and keep their postseason hopes alive. Perhaps they’re using the Vitamin Water that failed to get Tracy McGrady out of the first round but allowed him to perform one of the sweetest sheep tosses ever caught on camera. Now, Game 5 between the Nets and Cavs was nowhere near being as interesting as the Highland Games, but how could it when the final score was 83-72 and the Nets won despite scoring just six points in the final quarter on 1-of-15 shooting. Still, what the game lacked in excitement, it certainly made up for in importance as the Nets are now within one game, 3-2, of Cleveland with the series headed back to Jersey for Game 6. Whatever the mystery substance might be that New Jersey is chuggin’, they certainly didn’t share any of it with LeBron James. His royal highness finished the game with just 20 points as he missed nine of his 14 field goal attempts. Thank goodness for free throws.

3. Whoa No Nellie!
He’s only been back behind the clipboard for a year now, but Don Nelson could be done with the Golden State franchise that he rapidly resurrected into the feel-good story of the year. Well, at least until they got eliminated by the Jazz they were. And forget about all their poor sportsmanship that resulted in tons o’ techs and flagrant fouls. But, other than that, totally a feel-good story. Still, Nellie might not be ready to write another chapter in this book because, as he says, he’s “not so sure it’s important that I stay on.” C’mon, Nelson, stop being modest. This team would be on the fast track to a Jailblazers-esque reputation without the Don around to keep this fast paced squad in check, both on and off the court. Talk about a fork in the road! Golden State could grow into a Western Conference contender with Nelson at the helm or they can take their old position alongside the Clippers, Hawks and Bobcats of the league with some other ham-fisted, poor excuse of a coach. Fans of The City better hope Nellie feels like his body can take another yearlong beatdown or they can forget about using those yellow “We Believe” shirts for anything other than wearing to the gym.

Wednesday’s Player of the Day: Shawn Marion vs. San Antonio 46 min, 24 pts (FG: 9-16, 3FG: 2-4, FT: 4-4), 17 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk

Buzzer Beater: Mark Cuban is one of the most annoying, childish and arrogant human beings to ever walk the face of the earth. Oh, and he cries like a baby too! Having said that, he also makes some pretty solid points from time to time. After all, he didn’t become a billionaire by being an idiot. So, as much as it pains us to agree with this jackass, here’s an excerpt of what Cubes had to say about the Spurs/Suns suspensions in his blog.

First, let me go on the record as saying that in the event that a vote comes up to change the rules about suspensions for players leaving the bench, I will vote against changing it.

Why ? Because its incredibly simple to educate players about the rule. Its a rule they fully understand and they understand the consequences of violating the rule. That makes the NBA stronger because it removes uncertainty. Can it result in a game(s) being impacted , yes. However, that impact results from an action a player knew violated the rules and was a mistake. There is no uncertainty about it. All they had to do was not leave the bench.

NBA General

Around the Rim: Spurs and Suns get even more physical

Nash is mad as hell and he’s not
gonna take it anymore!

1. Wait; who won that game?
If you decided to turn in early last night and skip out on the end of Game 4 between San Antonio and Phoenix then shame on you. The Spurs were in control for almost the entire game, but almost was just enough space that the Suns needed and they put together a late surge that closed an 11 point gap and gave Phoenix a 104-98 victory that tied up the series at two games apiece. It was a stunning turn of events in SA as it looked like the Spurs were ready to take a commanding 3-1 advantage but it quickly fell apart as Tim Duncan got nailed to the bench with his fifth foul. As the game was coming to an end tempers began to flare as Robert Horry delivered a hard forearm shot that sent Steve Nash flying into the scorers’ table. A brief melee broke out with Horry, Nash and Raja Bell but the situation was quickly diffused as Horry was ejected from the game. However, what could prove to be quite costly was Amare Stoudemire‘s and possibly Boris Diaw‘s decisions to leave the bench area when the scuffle broke out. If David Stern decides to go by the book then their actions are worthy of an automatic one game suspension.

2. Cavs advance; well, almost

The Nets stuck around until the final buzzer but when the horn sounded it was Cleveland who had grabbed a 3-1 lead in the series and put themselves in an excellent position to finish this thing off at home on Wednesday. LeBron James is just one little victory away from etching his name into Cavaliers history by taking the team to their third conference finals ever. It has been 17 long, long, long years since the Cavs last made an appearance in Eastern Conference’s big show. And New Jersey made it a lot easier than it should have been as the Nets’ big three just couldn’t get anything going offensively because they combined for a pathetic 11-of-48 from the field. Sorry, Jay-Z, but that’s just not gonna cut it when King James is exploding for 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Cleveland fans finally have some positive postseason memories to hold on to; hopefully Michael Jordan’s runner over Craig Ehlo hasn’t been too damaging over the years.

3. Could Larry Brown and Greg Oden be a package deal?
It looks like Larry Brow is the top candidate for the open head coaching gig with the Grizzlies, but in typical Larry Brown fashion he’s not making any decisions until he’s sure he’s going to get exactly what he wants. And apparently what Brown wants is the same thing that every coach is desires, Greg Oden. The draft lottery will be held on May 22 which means that we should know exactly where the ol’ ball coach stands by the time the last logo gets pulled from its oversized envelope. Memphis has a great chance of grabbing the top pick which would give the Grizz a solid core for the Yoda-like guru to mentor into young Jedi masters. But the journeyman doesn’t have the patience these days to groom some stick figure into the defensive stopper that his systems so desperately require. It’s an all or nothing situation for Memphis in this year’s lottery. But, then again, we can’t imagine the Grizzlies being too disappointed if Kevin Durant falls into their laps.

Monday’s Player of the Day: Steve Nash @ San Antonio 41 min, 24 pts (FG: 8-12, 3FG: 2-3, FT: 6-8), 2 reb, 15 ast

Buzzer Beater: After two long years of singing the praises of Steve Nash, today we finally usher in a new era of elite as Dirk Nowitzki dons the MVP crown and reduces Nash from “reigning” to “former” MVP. Dirk will probably be so stoked during his press conference that he starts doing his best impersonation of German sensation David Hasselhoff during his acceptance speech. Not! But if Dirk started mumbling while picking at a plate of food with his shirt off, you’d have to admit that it would make for some entertaining television. Hell, we couldn’t really blame the guy if he did show up to the ceremony in a drunken stooper just like his childhood hero. It’s gotta be rough when your best friend and the previous MVP is still ballin while you’re having to pretend to be happy and smile for the cameras when all Dirk really wants to do is hide under a rock until training camp begins.

NBA General

Around the Rim: Now that was some smooth Jazz styling

Carlos Boozer is at the edge of his
first conference finals appearance.

1. The City is becoming a ghost town
After the Warriors eliminated the Mavericks from the playoffs, the Golden State faithful celebrated to a point that even Joakim Noah thought was a bit over the top. Well, after the Warriors lost Game 4 to fall down 3-1 against the Jazz, the largest crowd to ever see a basketball game in the state of California (20,679 to be exact) reacted as if they had just seen their precious Warriors for the last time this season. And they were right. Golden State is a completely different team at home than they are on the road and in Game 5 the supportive sea of yellow that cheers insistently for the Warriors’ excessively ridiculous 3-point attempts will now become a baby blue lagoon of venom and hate for any and all outsiders. Especially Jason Richardson after he delivered a hard, flagrant foul to Mehmet Okur in the late moments of the game that got him sent to the showers a bit early. But it didn’t really matter at that point; Utah already had the game well in hand and J-Rich was having a horrendous shooting game (3-12 FG) anyways. And after mesmerizing the nation with a dunk of John Starks over Michael Jordan or Kevin Johnson over Hakeem Olajuwon proportions, Baron Davis also struggled (6-16 FG) when it came time to draw the series even. Guess the motivation of having Jessica Alba in the crowd has to wear off at some point.

2. No mo’ “fo’ fo’ fo'”

Remember the Luol Deng that exploded onto the postseason scene during Chicago’s first round sweep of the defending champion Heat? Well, after virtually disappearing in the first two games of the Pistons/Bulls series, it seems safe to say that Deng is back on track and Chicago can finally remember how it feels to win because of it. After putting up 21 points and 14 rebounds in Game 3, Deng had another outstanding performance with a game-high 25 points to go along with a baker’s dozen off the glass. That’s 13 for all you non-pastry chefs out there. But Detroit still has a 3-1 advantage in the series and it is doubtful that starters Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Chris Webber and Richard Hamilton have a repeat of their pitiful shooting performance (13-of-45 FG) when Game 5 takes this rivalry back to the hardwood at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

3. Spurs/Suns saddle-up for Game 4
After Game 1, Steve Nash had a gash on his nose and Tony Parker had a bump on his noggin. After Game 2, Amare Stoudemire called Bruce Bowen “dirty” because he says that Bowen tried to purposely injure him. That’s about as physical as it can get, right? Wrong, because in Game 3 Manu Ginobili got a nice sized mouse under his left eye thanks to an inadvertent Shawn Marion poke and Nash took a knee right to the jewels when he tried to guard Bowen a bit too tight. But in the end it was San Antonio who grabbed a 108-101 victory in the game and a 2-1 advantage in the series. Phoenix is now facing, for all intensive purposes, a must-win situation for Monday’s Game 4 in SA because the Suns do not want to be looking at a scenario in which they must win three straight against a team as good as the Spurs. Put your mouthpieces in because this series is turning out to be the championship caliber slugfest that we never got to see between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather.

Sunday’s Player of the Day: Carlos Boozer @ Golden State 44 min, 34 pts (FG: 13-19, FT: 8-11), 12 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk

Buzzer Beater: The Cleveland Cavaliers had been quietly and effortlessly making their way through the playoffs until New Jersey finally knocked them off their high horse and handed the Cavs their first loss of the postseason. In a statistical abnormality, the Nets were led in scoring by not one, not two, but three players who finished the game with 23 points apiece. Oddly enough, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd weren’t the only players to finish with 23 points as Larry Hughes racked up the night’s magic number as well. LeBron James finished the contest with just 18 points even though he’s got the number 23 on his jersey. Oh, well, it’s not like it would have mattered; the Cavs would have still lost by six points even if James had reached the 23 point plateau.

NBA General

Around the Rim: A pair of easy wins for the home teams

Suddenly Nelly’s Band-Aid is looking a lot

1. Happy 56th birthday Coach D’Antoni, we’re got you a win!
The Suns did a much better job of getting into the paint against the Spurs in Game 2 and as a result Phoenix evened the series at a game a piece with a 101-81 victory. Steve Nash hooked up with Amare Stoudemire a whole bunch of times during the game but it was their second quarter contributions that helped Phoenix put together a 30-17 effort that opened up a solid halftime lead. The Spurs had won five consecutive playoff games in the Suns’ gym but nobody can put the blame on Tim Duncan who had a stellar game for SA. However, their will be lots of fingers pointing at the other Spurs’ stars. Tony Parker was just 5-of-14 from the field and Manu Ginobili went 3-for-9 for just six points. But the Suns still have to win a game in San Antonio in order to advance and that’s just where this series is heading next, Saturday to be exact. However, if Stoudemire gets another 27 points while Nash is dishing out 16 assists and scoring 20 then Phoenix could very easily leave from deep in the heart of Texas with 3-1 strangle hold on the series.

2. The Cavs and the have nots

LeBron James had a head cold before Game 1 and he managed to hit the game winner. In Game 2 he was feeling even better and it showed as the Cavaliers took a 2-0 lead in the series with a 102-92 victory. King James put up 25 points in the second half to finish with 36 and 12 assists as he is now poised in prime position to take his team to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in a long time. For the second game in a row, Cleveland has obliterated New Jersey on the glass as the Nets got outrebounded by 17 (49-32) but James had virtually nothing to do with that stat as he only pulled down ONE board. What’s worse is that Jersey could only muster up three offensive rebounds compared to the 19 that Cleveland pulled down. Wait; you don’t thing those extra 16 offensive possessions might have had something to do with the Cavs 10 point win, do ya? Guess Lawrence Frank never got to the chapter about boxing out in the NBA 101 textbook.

3. The Captain and the King
In more Lebron James news…with his 36 point outing last night, LBJ scored at least 20 points in each of his 19th consecutive playoff games. That puts the King just eight games behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (27) for the record for 20+ point games to start a playoff career. It looks like the Cavs will advance past the Nets which will give him an opportunity to break the record in a long series against the Pistons most likely. The Detroit defense will probably focus in on James during the series, but holding LeBron under 20 points is like trying to keep Charles Barkley down to just two dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts during TNT’s double-header action. Either way you look at it, 19 just ain’t gonna be enough for these guys.

Tuesday’s Player of the Day: Tim Duncan @ Phoenix 35 min, 29 pts (FG: 12-20, FT: 5-7), 11 reb, 1 ast, 2 blk

Buzzer Beater: The NBA All-Rookie Team was released on Tuesday and, yawn, oh who cares? Wake us up when any of these guys actually become ballers. We’re sure that some of these guys will eventually pan out, Brandon Roy appears to have the most potential, but this has got to be one of the most boring draft classes in the history of the league. It’s pretty bad when you rookie class highlights are, uh, highlighted by Jorge Garbajosa’s broken leg and Tyrus Thomas’ stupid comments before All-Star weekend. We can almost guarantee that Kevin Durant and Greg Oden will provide more memorable moments as rooks next year than this entire sorry class did this year. Never thought we’d say this, but Joakim Noah could have really improved last year’s draft!

NBA General

Around the Rim: Ding! Ding! And round 2 is underway!

1. A bloody good game
The incredible upset of Dallas by Golden State in the first round was undoubtedly the best series of the 2007 postseason, well, until now. With the Mavericks out of the picture, San Antonio and Phoenix are now the two best teams (record wise and otherwise) remaining in the playoffs and on Sunday they put on a memorable show as the Spurs squeaked out a 111-106 victory on the road. It was a physical contest but you don’t have to take our word for it, just take a look at the reigning MVP and his bloody beak that was running like a faucet til the final buzzer after he had a good old fashioned meeting of the minds with Tony Parker in the fourth quarter. But Parker gave the Suns more headaches than headbutts as he torched Phoenix for 32 points on 14-of-22 shooting to go along with eight assists. Throw in 33 points and 16 boards from the Big Fundamental and it’s going to be tough for almost any team to compete. Ah, but Phoenix is not just any team and despite losing their MVP in the late, critical moments of the game, they still almost grabbed the first game. Whew, hold on tight because that was only Game 1 and we just might see six more of these bad boys.

2. Winning is the best medicine

LeBron James had a really bad cold with all the usual symptoms before Cleveland took the court for an early tip against New Jersey in Game 1, but you wouldn’t have known it by the way he played. He must have taken a couple of Dayquil; you know, the daytime, non-drowsy, congested-stuffy head, sore throat, cough, aching, fever so you can get trough the day medicine. King James even felt good enough to hit the final shot of the game with 32 seconds remaining to give the Cavs an 81-77 victory and a 1-0 lead in the series. The score might have been close but the rebounding battle was completely dominated by Cleveland as their starting frontcourt outrebounded the Nets starting big men 39-9. 30 rebounds; wow! The last time that happened in a playoff game was on May 9, 1979 (Washington at San Antonio, 47-16).

3. Van Gundy Out?
Tracy McGrady said that all the pressure, as well as the blame, of the Rockets first round series against Utah was to be placed squarely on his shoulders. Well, it’s sounding like coach Jeff Van Gundy might be the one who takes the fall for Houston’s home floor loss in Game 7 which knocked them out of the postseason. Van Gundy has only been with the Rockets for four years but in that time they have failed to reach the second round three times, and for the second time under JVG the Rockets have blown a 2-0 lead in a series. Now, four years might not seem like a long time but in today’s NBA it’s more or less an eternity. In fact, only two coaches have been with their teams longer than Van Gundy has been with Houston: Jerry Sloan has been with the Jazz since 1988 and Gregg Popovich has been roaming the SA sidelines since 1996.

Sunday’s Player of the Day: Tim Duncan @ Phoenix 40 min, 33 pts (FG: 12-24, FT: 9-15), 16 reb, 1 ast, 3 blk

Buzzer Beater: John Amaechi thought that America was full of insensitive, gay-hating, jerks (Wonder where he got that idea? Tim Hardaway maybe.), but he was wrong. Turns out that most of the nation, 95 percent according to Amaechi, have actually been pretty open to his coming out of the closet. “I imagined that it would be a firestorm, that it would be some insane number of letters demanding my deportation or my death,” said Amaechi. Hey, John, don’t flatter yourself buddy. Nobody cares enough about your sorry ass to actually demand that you be deported or put to death. Give us a break! Everybody knows that you are attempting to use your homosexuality to sell a book and further line your pockets, and more power to you for doing so. But don’t act like you thought you were going to be some type of martyr. You’re a gay, retired ball player; big freaking deal.

NBA General

Around the Rim: The Warriors’ grip slips

1. Another fight to the finish
The Warriors were down by 21 points in the first half of Tuesday’s Game 5 against Dallas, but a 3-point barrage helped them fight all the way back and take the game to another exciting finish. In the end, despite the fantastic comeback by Golden State, it was Dirk Nowitzki and his boys who barely made it off their home floor with a win, 118-112. Dallas was finally able to prevent the Warriors from getting all the way to the hoop in transition but it almost didn’t matter as GS went 16-of-35 from behind the arc. Now, the Warriors will take a 3-2 lead back to Oakland where a rowdy arena full of yellow-shirted fans will be going bonkers in hopes of seeing the first ever No. 1 vs. No. 8 upset in a seven game series. Golden State better treat this like a Game 7 because they won’t win in Dallas should the series return.

2. Marie Elie wants to be a rookie again

The Charlotte Bobcats are in need of a head coach to turn the franchise around and Larry Brown has been rumored to be in the running for the position. Brown has evolving pretenders into contenders for his entire career (minus that New York thing of course), but apparently the Cats aren’t quite ready to enter the cocoon. Well, maybe they are just exploring all their possible options because on Tuesday Charlotte interviewed former Rocket great Mario Elie for the head coaching vacancy. Elie might have potential but he’s not going to be taking this crummy team to the playoffs anytime soon. If the Bobcats decide to save some cash and go with Elie they can give their post season dreams the kiss of death.

3. Raptors almost blow a lead of Jurassic proportions
Game 5 between the Raptors and the Nets turned out to be a lot closer than anyone expected, especially Toronto’s fans. The Raptors were up by 17 in the second half but almost gave it away as New Jersey got to within two points at the final buzzer, 98-96. But hey, a win is a win and when you’re facing elimination you’ll take `em any way they come. Four of the five Toronto starters finished the game with double figures in scoring, the only one not to reach that plateau was T.J. Ford who went down in the first quarter after getting walloped and flopped on by Vince Carter. Eh, no biggie; Jose Calderon came off the bench to score a team-high 25 points to go along with eight assists. With a 3-2 Nets’ lead the series will shift back to Jersey for Game 6; maybe Chris Bosh will figure out how to be a post season All-Star by then after going just 3-11 for 11 points in the last game. Guess it was good that Ford got injured so Calderon could save the day.

Tuesday’s Player of the Day: Dirk Nowitzki vs. Golden State 40 min, 30 pts (FG: 7-15, 3FG: 2-3, FT: 14-15), 12 reb, 3 ast, 1 blk

Buzzer Beater: Chauncey Billups will become a free agent at the end of the year and there are tons o’ teams who are desperate to add the former Finals MVP to their squad. One unexpected team to be making at run at Billups is the former champs turned first round sweep victims, the Miami Heat. Now, talk about a dynamic duo in the backcourt; Billups and Dwyane Wade would make quite the formidable threat as the Heat tried to bounce back from their fall from grace. Personally, we don’t care where Chauncey ends up as long as it’s not with that retarded PA in Detroit as he stutters out Mr. Big Shot’s first name. Hell, we’d rather see Billups suit up with Memphis than stick around for another year of Detroit’s gi-gi-gi-gimmick.

NBA General

Around the Rim: Happy Trails, Florida

I came back for this?

1. No more magic, no more heat: The two Florida franchises were knocked out of the NBA playoffs over the weekend. Swept out even. On Saturday, the Pistons took care of the Magic in Orlando. Detroit was down by 5 points with 3 minutes left but rallied to win the game and series. The Magic weren’t supposed to be anything more than a roadbump for the Pistons and the series went as expected. The Heat, on the other hand, were supposed to defend their NBA title and set up a stellar series with the Pistons. Instead, they went meekly into the night after the baby Bulls ran all over them from the getgo. The Heat were toast after losing game 3 at home on Friday night but we expected them to salvage some pride and win a game. Nope. Despite coming out quickly in the first quarter, they couldn’t keep the lead in the second half and the Bulls took care of business in the knockout game.

2. On the brink: Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire had stellar games for the Suns to put the Lakers into a 1-3 hole but the big story out west is the Golden State Warriors completely outplaying the Mavericks on the way to a 3-1 series lead. Baron Davis is playing the best basketball of his career at exactly the right time. He scored 33 points and handed out a team high 4 assists in Sunday’s 103-99 victory. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki is playing like the anti-MVP. His stats still lead the Mavericks and he did have those two big 3s at the end of the game but it was too little too late. Already down 2-1 in the series, Nowitzki can’t wait the final minutes to start making big shots. He’s not Robert Horry, situational big shot Bob. He’s gotta dominate from the start. The Warriors have two shots to win this thing: Tuesday night in Dallas and then back home Thursday. There’s no way they win a game 7 in Dallas if it comes down to that, even though TNT is praying for that to happen.

3. On the brink 2: The Raptors might be the higher seeded team but the Nets are absolutely taking them out to the woodshed in this series. Sunday night’s game was especially embarassing for Chris Bosh and company as the Nets more than doubled them up in the first quarter and lead by as much as 33 points during the game. That’s two games in a row that the Nets have practically gone wire to wire. The Raptors will have to come out swinging in front of their home crowd on Tuesday, if not for their fans, then for NBA broadcasters who must be disgusted with the Eastern conference this year. Two 4 game sweeps that likely will turn into 3 when the Cavaliers take on the Wizards tonight. These playoffs aren’t doing much for the perception that the East is the JV league.

NBA General

Around the Rim: Da’ Bulls are dancing all over Miami

1. Repeat defeat
Most people seem to think that a team isn’t in trouble in the playoffs until they lose a game on their home court. Well, Miami hasn’t lost on their home court but they still appear to be in serious trouble after the Bulls ran over Miami for a 107-89 win and took a 2-0 advantage in the series. The defending champions are getting thoroughly thrashed by what appears to be a more complete team unit in the Bulls. Luol Deng continues to abuse defenders as he put together another impressive outing with 26 points and six assists to go along with Ben Gordon’s game-high 27 points. But you can’t count out the Heat just yet; after all, Miami did drop the first two games of last year’s finals before going on to take the title away from Dallas in six games. Chicago, on the other hand, blew a 2-0 lead in the first round to the Wizards two years ago.

2. The Mamba strikes and misses

At the end of the first half of game one it looked like Kobe Bryant was going to carry the Lakers on his back to playoff victory. The past six quarters between the Phoenix and Los Angeles have proven that nothing could be further from the truth. Even if Bryant could string together another batch of 50 point games like he did earlier in the year, it still wouldn’t be enough to get this lackadaisical Lakers squad past the first round. The Suns just toyed with LA like a cat with a mouse on Tuesday as Steve Nash dished out 14 assists and newly crowned Sixth Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa put up a game-high 26 points off the bench in the 126-98 win. The odds are definitely going to be stacked against Los Angeles when the series heads to Hollywood and it’s going to take a lot of extra rooting from Jack, Denzel, Dyan and the other famous faces in the Staples Center crowd to keep the Lakers from falling down 3-0.

3. Sam’s the man
There were lots of worthy candidates for this season’s Coach of the Year award, but when it came down time to vote only one man could earn the honor. Toronto’s Sam Mitchell was named that man on Tuesday and rightfully so. Mitchell took the award with 394 total points, including 49 first place votes, over other possible candidates like Jerry Sloan (301 points), Avery Johnson (268 points) and Jeff Van Gundy (134 points). Who would have ever guessed that Mitchell would turn around a struggling Toronto franchise that was widely considered to be one of the black holes of the league? Certainly not the players of the Association because last April a Sports Illustrated informal poll amongst league ballers declared Mitchell to be the NBA’s worst coach. But nobody is saying Mitchell is a bottom feeder anymore since the Raptors made a 20-game improvement over last year’s dismal 27-55 record. And just hours after receiving the award, Mitchell went out and led the Raptors as they evened up their series with New Jersey by defeating them 89-83. Suck on that SI!

Tuesday’s Player of the Day: Steve Nash vs. Los Angeles Lakers 25 min, 16 pts (FG: 7-11, 3FG: 2-4), 5 reb, 14 ast

Buzzer Beater: Danny Ainge thought he was getting Boston’s point guard of the future last year when he made the trade for teenage phenomenon Sebastian Telfair. Turns out that he got a giant headache instead and after just one season the Celtics have decided that enough is enough and cut ties with the 21-year-old. “I wanted to let you know that we have removed Sebastian’s nameplate from his locker in Waltham,” said managing partner Wyc Grousbeck in an e-mail to the Boston Globe. Geez, you removed his nameplate; guess there’s no turning back now. Telfair was arrested on Friday after a gun was found in his car, but his attorney, Ed Hayes, thinks that Boston’s decision to get rid of Telfair is far too sudden and they should reconsider. Save your breath Ed; didn’t you hear? They already removed his nameplate, it’s over.

NBA General

Around the Rim: The month long first round has begun

NBA playoff action is fantastic!

1. Home-court disadvantage
Most teams won their home games when the opening round of the playoffs began this weekend, but there was a trio of teams who failed to please the fans inside their own gym and they are now looking to crawl out of a 1-0 hole. New Jersey grabbed a victory from a very inexperienced Raptors team in Toronto, but that wasn’t all that surprising. What was really shocking was that Denver and Golden State took advantage of a couple of Texas powerhouses by utilizing some great games from their stars. Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson combined for 61 of the Nuggets 95 points against SA, while Baron Davis, Jason Richardson and Stephen Jackson hooked up for 69 of the Warriors 97. These series aren’t even close to being over but for the clubs that dropped game 1 at home, their next game is pretty darn close to a must win.

2. The Big Ticket’s possible big mistake

Nobody in Minnesota is talking, but rumor has it that Kevin Garnett is talking with the Timberwolves management about getting a contract extension. Why, KG, why?! Garnett seems to be the only person, besides the organization and their fans, who is content with him simply wasting away the remaining years of an incredible career as the big brother for a revolving door of lottery picks. Open your eyes Garnett; you might want to think that you can turn this team around but you can only do so much with the garbage that Kevin McHale surrounds you with. Garnett is signed through next year, then he’ll become a free agent, but we suggest that he faces the truth and forces a trade. He might not even have to go very far; the high-priced Jermaine O’Neal is need of a change of scenery as well.

3. Suns are too hot to handle for LA
Kobe Bryant tried to carry the Lakers on in game one of their series against the Suns, and it worked for about three quarters. That’s when the weight became too much, and Phoenix’s team ball offered too many solutions for problem posed by Bryant’s one man show. Bryant had 28 points in the first half but was then limited to just 11 in the second and, if that’s not devastating enough for LA, the team only scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. Phil Jackson said that his superstar “ran out of gas” down the stretch as he went 1-for-10 during the final 12 minutes. The odds are already stacked against the Lakers, but if Bryant can’t be stellar in this series then they won’t make it back to Phoenix.

Sunday’s Player of the Day: Baron Davis @ Dallas 44 min, 33 pts (FG: 11-20, 3FG: 4-7, FT: 7-8), 14 reb, 8 ast, 3 stl, 1 blk

Buzzer Beater: Just one game into the post season and Shaquille O’Neal is already complaining about the refs. And he’s not doing it quietly either. “My intention was to come out and be myself, until Eddie Rush derailed me,” said O’Neal. Shaq seems to feel that Ben Wallace was dropping like the flop king Vlade Divac and so he’s going to retaliate in the only way he knows how; by crying. Considering that he’s the biggest, baddest kid on the block, the Daddy sure does whine like a spoiled brat every time he doesn’t get a call. Sad thing is that his rant will probably change the way things get called in the next game. Now it is going to be up to Wallace to adjust his game accordingly or he’ll be the one watching the end of game 2 from the bench, instead of O’Neal.

NBA General

Around the Rim: The NBA’s call was too sweet to resist

Kevin Durant has millions of
reasons to leave his coach
and school behind.

1. The NBA hooks Durant
Kevin Durant was only at Texas for one year, but that was all it took for the 6-9 forward to become the elite of the Big 12 Conference, as well as the NCAA. Now, Durant has made his intentions public as he threw his hat into the NBA draft pool with the worst case scenario being selected as a second pick. There is no way that Durant can improve on his current standing as the recipient of every major national award while he rewrote the Texas record books. The only question left is if the nation’s other freshman phenom, Greg Oden, will be joining Durant in the upcoming draft. If Oden decides to make the jump, he will probably be selected first by most teams based on his defensive potential, but don’t get fooled into thinking that only the sorry teams will have a shot a the young `ens. Plenty of franchises will be dying to put together deals for this year’s exceptional cornerstone pieces.

2. NJ has pieces, just not the passion

The Nets have got to be one of the most pathetic franchises in recent history. Despite having a starting lineup that is stacked with three of the most athletic players the league has and being in a position where they are close to losing their current playoff spot, the Nets can’t put away the injury plagued Wizards until 30 seconds remain in the game. But regardless of the aesthetic quality of the win, the Nets still came out of the contest with a much needed victory and can now breathe a sigh of relief as it looks like they have virtually secured a post season berth. But if NJ is having trouble putting away a demolished Washington crew, how are they possibly going to handle a healthy Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto or Miami club? Easy answer, they’re not.

3. Bonsai! Bonzi bails
Bonzi Wells left the Rockets high and dry on Monday night when he simply didn’t show up for the team’s road game against the Sonics. Wells reportedly didn’t want to be a further distraction to the team and basically bailed on his boys without even telling his coach what was up. “He’s not here tonight. I don’t know where he’s at. I haven’t talked to him,” Van Gundy said. “I want to make sure he’s safe first.” Don’t worry coach, the only danger Wells faced was a possible brain freeze as he lounges back with some ice cream and a remote control. Wells had been in the dog house all season because of his lack of fitness after he was expected to be the X-factor for the Rockets. But now, he’s just destined to be an ex-Rocket.

Tuesday’s Player of the Day: Elton Brand @ New Orleans 45 min, 37 pts (FG: 15-23, FT: 7-9), 10 reb, 3 ast, 2 stl, 1 blk

Wednesday’s Game to Watch: Denver (41-36) @ Utah (48-29) The Nuggets have gained some late season momentum and are now rolling on a six game win streak as they prepare to unleash Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson on their playoff opponent. Utah on the other hand needs to grab a victory if they don’t want to be the victim of circumstance by winning their division but losing home-court advantage in the first round to Houston. The Jazz are the only team besides the Lakers in the West who are currently riding a losing streak. With four inexcusable losses over the past week, Utah is definitely due for a dominating performance and their 19-8 home record can only help their cause.

Buzzer Beater: Adam Morrison had a bit of a meltdown during the Bobcats 111-103 victory over the Heat in overtime on Sunday. But it wasn’t an on-court dumb decision that made Morrison look like a fool. No it was an on-bench hand gesture that got the rookie in hot water. Apparently some dude kept calling Morrison “white trash,” and eventually the cry baby, adolescent mustache sporting Morrison shot the bird to the heckler in the stands. The Charlotte big wigs fined Morrison $25,000 for his actions, but you can’t really blame Morrison for getting frustrated. However, you’d expect that he could handle the ribbing because with facial hair like his, teasing should be second nature by this point.