1. Naughty, naughty Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki’s frustrations were evident just five minutes into the game. And they were equally obvious by the time the final buzzer sounded in Utah’s 116-110 home victory over the Mavericks. With Big D down 19-6 in the opening minutes of the game, Dirk’s dark side came out as he took an obvious cheap shot at Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, knocking him out of the game with a hip injury. However, Utah rallied without AK-47 in the lineup, producing a late-game 16-0 run to secure the victory. Deron Williams finished with 17 points and an eye-popping 20 assists to compliment Carlos Boozer’s game-high 28 points and Mehmet Okur’s 20-point, 12-rebound double-double. Dallas was led by Josh Howard’s 25 points and Jason Kidd’s nine assists, but Nowitzki managed to produce 23 points while being hissed at for the entire evening. After the game, he pretended he had no idea why the crowd wanted his blood.
I kind of tried to grab him, and unfortunately grabbed him around the neck,” Nowitzki said. “Things went so fast, I didn’t mean to grab the neck, but I just tried to hold him so he doesn’t score. I happened to grab his neck and it was a bad fall.
2. Welcome to Club 40
With a 100-88 smackdown of New York on Monday night, the Hornets became the third Western Conference contender and fifth team overall to reach the 40-win plateau. More importantly, New Orleans pulled within 1 ½ games of San Antonio in the race for the Southwest Division crown. Chris Paul had another big performance with 27 points, eight assists and three steals while teammate Tyson Chandler scored 15 to go with 18 rebounds. The Knicks were without Zach Randolph for the contest which might help fans excuse the loss, but it certainly can’t explain the seven years of futility in the Garden. The home shellacking gave New York an 18-42 record, securing their seventh consecutive season under .500.
3. Cheer up China
Not that it matters a whole heck of a lot at the moment to Rockets fans, but Yao Ming underwent successful surgery on his left foot on Monday meaning that if all goes according to plan, he’ll be ready to suit up for the Chinese team at the Olympics is Beijing. yeah. Despite the injury, Houstonians can’t be too disappointed with their squad…at least, not yet. The Rockets will be riding a 15-game winning streak when they meet up with the Pacers on Wednesday. After being expected to sink into the deep, dark Western Conference waters, Houston has continued to stay float, winning three consecutive games since losing their Mr. International. The question is how much longer they can keep their emotional life preserver inflated? After Indiana, the Rockets take on West powerhouses in Dallas and New Orleans.
Monday’s Player of the Day: Deron Williams vs. Dallas 45 min, 17 pts (FG: 7-17, 3FG: 1-5, FT: 2-2), 5 reb, 20 ast, 2 blk
Tuesday’s Game to Watch: Toronto (32-26) @ Orlando (38-23)
It doesn’t get much better than Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh. Unfortunately, Bosh won’t be in uniform for this round as he continues to nurse a bum knee. However, just because the Raps are without their alpha male, it doesn’t take any importance away from the budding rivalry. Orlando has won five of their last six games in an effort to rundown the Pistons and Celtics before season’s end. Currently, the third-place Magic are six games behind Detroit in the Eastern Conference race. Meanwhile, Toronto is just a game behind Cleveland for fourth place and the first round home court advantage that comes along with it.
Buzzer Beater: Sam Cassell is set to officially become a member of the Boston Celtics today, reuniting with Kevin Garnett as they prepare to take their second swipe at the elusive golden apple. The Celtics critics have been taking shots at Rajon Rondo all season, crying that his inexperience would cost Boston when the playoffs roll around. Well, that argument is now squashed. Cassell might be 38 years old and injury prone, but when he is healthy, he is undoubtedly a winner. It’s been a long time since he had a championship reign and you know he is just dying to get his bony little fingers on his ‘precious’ once again.