Dallas Mavericks

Around the Rim: Dallas continues to lose its grip on a playoff appearance

1. Free fallin’
Dallas thought trading for Jason Kidd would give them the magic they needed to keep pace with the other big time teams in the West. However, with Dirk Nowitzki riding the pine with an injury, the Mavericks are now in danger of becoming the team to miss the postseason after falling to their rivals in Golden State 114-104. The loss was the second consecutive for Big D and they are now sitting in a three-way tie with Denver and Golden State for the final ticket to the second season. Obviously, one of these three teams will be worrying about ping-pong balls come playoff time instead of looking to grab a ring and at this pace, don’t be surprised if it’s the new-look Mavs. Dallas is 5-5 over its last 10 games and must now prepare for contests against the Warriors (again), the Lakers and the Suns.

2. Rockets need a booster

The Rockets’ big win streak continues to look more and more and more like a fluke everyday. On Sunday, they looked like the team that earned the No. 1 pick to get Yao Ming instead of the team that went on the second-longest successful streak in league history, losing to San Antonio by 21 points. The Spurs dominated from the get-go, rushing out to a 35-24 first quarter lead before winning 109-88 behind 22 points each from Tony Parker and Michael Finley. The victory was the seventh consecutive for SA and put them into second place in the Western Conference race while dropping the Rockets to sixth. Luckily, Houston has an excellent opportunity to increase its stock as they wrap up the regular season with contests against Sacramento, Portland, Seattle and the Clippers coming up; unfortunately they are all on the road.

3. The many faces of Kobe Bryant
Just one game after dropping 53 points in a loss to Memphis, Kobe Bryant decided to be a facilitator against the Wizards and led his team to a 126-120 overtime win. Bryant finished with 26 points and 13 assists to snap a two-game losing streak and move back within one game of the West’s best record. The victory gave LA its 50th of the season for the 29th time in franchise history. Caron Butler went off for a triple-double (17 pts, 12 reb and 12 ast) and his team connected on 17-of-30 treys (.567). But Washington wasn’t alone in its three-point accuracy. Los Angeles hit 14-of-27 (.519) and the game marked the first time in league history that both teams shot over 50 percent from behind the arc, but under 50 percent from the floor (LA: .494, WAS: .466).

Sunday’s Player of the Day: LeBron James vs. Philadelphia 42 min, 26 pts (FG: 11-18, 3FG: 1-2, FT: 3-3), 9 reb, 9 ast, 3 stl, 1 blk

Monday’s Game to Watch: Denver (45-28) @ Phoenix (49-24)
The Nuggets currently own the final playoff spot in the West, but that doesn’t mean anything at the moment.
If they want to hold onto their position then they will have to rise to the occasion once again in an arena where the home team is 26-10. Denver is streaking with five straight wins, however in a super competitive race, all it takes is one loss and the Nuggets will be back on the outside looking in. Barring a complete collapse, the Suns are in, but they are defiantly looking to improve their seed because as it sits now, they would most likely have to play on the road for the opening round against Utah. But like we said, everything can change with one game and this very well could be that one game.

Buzzer Beater: The Miami Heat set another record in futility against the Celtics on Sunday by connecting on a mere 17 field goals – the fewest since the shot clock came into play – in an 88-62 loss. After the game, the Truth told the truth about the horrible, horrible Heat.

They got D-Leaguers out there, so I think we just handled our business,” the Boston forward said (Paul Pierce), listing some of the five Miami players who spent time in the developmental league this season. “We’re supposed to do that. We knew this was a game we were supposed to win, and we just focused from the jump and went out and did it.

Phoenix Suns

Around the Rim: That’s Amare!

1. The Suns can still run
There was some serious doubt about whether Shaquille O’Neal could physically keep up against the Warriors. Well, he couldn’t, but the Suns didn’t need him to. Shaq spent most of the evening in foul trouble, finishing with nine points and 14 rebounds, but Amare Stoudemire more than made up for the Big Cactus’ off night by scoring 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking four shots in a 123-115 victory. The Suns were smoking hot shooting the ball, converting 45-of-82 for a blistering 55 percent field goal percentage. Steve Nash was key down the stretch, scoring eight consecutive points for the Suns at one point in the fourth quarter, finishing with 21 points and 13 assists. Baron Davis missed tying his career-high by two points, producing 38 in the loss as Golden State continues to hold onto the eighth spot in the West, sitting two games ahead of Denver.

2. Shining Wizards

After missing 16 games with a hip injury, Caron Butler returned to the Wizards roster on Thursday to score a team-high 19 points. Butler was on fire early, hitting six of his first eight shots, but it wasn’t the former All-Star’s quick start that sealed the 101-99 victory; rather, it was the Cavaliers horrible finish. Cleveland could only muster up 45 points in the entire second half after taking an eight-point lead into halftime. LeBron James posted 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, but it wasn’t all pretty as he committed seven turnovers. During the game, Gilbert Arenas said in a sideline interview that he was supposed to make his comeback against Cleveland, but the doctors nixed the idea prior to tipoff.

3. The Blaze get burned
Portland looked as they were destined to defy the odds a couple months, but after losing to the Kings last night, they simply look destined for the lottery. Sacramento lost two games in a row at home prior to knocking of the Blazers 96-85, but with the win the Kings are just four games behind Portland in the standings. Ron Artest led all scorers with 22 points to go with six steals while Brad Miller and Beno Udrih scored 14 apiece. Brandon Roy scored 21 for the Blazers who were a miserable 30-of-78 (.385) from the field while committing 27 fouls and giving up 19 turnovers.

Thursday’s Player of the Day: Baron Davis @ Phoenix 46 min, 38 pts (FG: 15-30, 3FG: 6-11, FT: 2-4), 9 reb, 8 ast, 3 stl, 1 blk

Friday’s Games to Watch: Tonight is such a big night in the Association, we just couldn’t limit ourselves to a single game. So, we’ve got four – yes, four – must-see contests lined up for your viewing pleasure.

Utah (43-23) @ Boston (51-12)
Carlos Boozer. Kevin Garnett. Deron Williams. Ray Allen. Paul Pierce. Andrei Kirilenko. Mehmet Okur. Rajon Rondo. Should we continue?

Los Angeles Lakers (45-19) @ New Orleans (43-20)
The Hornets just knocked off the Spurs by 25 points and now they’re welcoming the best of the West into their home hive. New Orleans is 23-10 on its own court, but the Lakers don’t care what court they’re playing on, posting a 20-10 record on the road.

San Antonio (44-20) @ Detroit (46-18)
It might not be the most edge-of-your-seat basketball matchup in the league, but it is a rematch of the 2005 Finals and a possible preview of the 2008 Finals. The Spurs must overcome their recent road woes on a court where the Pistons are 24-6 if they don’t want to slip further down the stacked West standings.

Charlotte (24-40) @ Houston (44-20)
A chunk of history will be on the line as the Rockets attempt to claim sole possession of the second longest winning streak in NBA history by knocking off their 21st consecutive opponent.

Buzzer Beater: Smush Parker was released by Miami earlier in the week and on Thursday he decided to return to Los Angeles. Unfortunately for Smush, he signed with the Clippers and not the Lakers. Talk about jumping out of the pan and into the fire. Sure, things might be slightly better in that other L.A. compared to Miami, but there certainly won’t be any celebrations in the streets any time soon. This is the sixth team for Parker in his short career.

NBA General

Around the Rim: Houston, we have lift off

1. Rockets booster
There were lots of questions about Tracy McGrady’s health during the season and there were even more questions about Yao Ming’s health after he broke his leg, but now all the questions have been answered and the results are not good for the rest of the West. The Suns certainly took notice after Houston pulled out an impressive 120-117 victory behind 39 points from McGrady and 34 from Yao. As if 39 points isn’t enough, McGrady chipped in 11 rebounds and nine assists as well. With the win, Houston gained home-court advantage in their first round series against Utah despite being the fifth seed in the playoffs, and considering that Houston is currently the hottest team in the West, the slumping Jazz are suddenly looking like the underdogs in this much anticipated series.

2. Reappearing act

When Caron Butler first got diagnosed with a broken hand two weeks ago, the outlook was bleak. But now things are starting to look a little more promising for the All-Star forward who says that he is still hopeful he will make a full recovery before the playoffs are over. The only question that remains is if the Wizards will still be playing when he does. Butler was originally supposed to be out of action for six weeks but on Monday he took part in practice with the team. This is great news for the Wizards as they need all the help they can get since Gilbert Arenas had to cut his season short with an injury. Butler’s return probably won’t be enough to get Washington past Toronto or Chicago but it definitely gives them a better chance than having Jarvis Hayes in the starting five.

3. One spot left; who wants it?
With only one day left in the regular season, oddly enough there is still one playoff spot up for grabs and it is for the very undesirable final seed in the West which yields a first round match-up against the Mavericks. The only teams that are in left in contention for the post season are the Warriors and the Clippers. Neither team has an easy opponent but luckily for them their games involve teams that have nothing to play for. The Clips are in the worst position possible as they need to not only defeat the Suns, but they also need the Warriors to lose to Dallas. On the other hand, Golden State has their destiny in their own hands as they simply need to win and they’re in.

Monday’s Player of the Day: Tracy McGrady vs. Phoenix 41 min, 39 pts (FG: 14-31, 3FG: 3-7, FT: 8-11), 11 reb, 9 ast, 2 stl

Tuesday’s Game to Watch: Toronto (47-33) @ Detroit (51-29) The Raptors will get an excellent opportunity to get a feel for the post season waters as they travel to Detroit for an early battle against the Eastern Conference’s best team. Both teams will probably take it kind of easy during the game in order to avoid any unnecessary injuries before the playoffs but it could still prove to be a great game of chess between the two coaches. This could be a preview of a second round series between these two in a couple of weeks but Chris Bosh and TJ Ford will have to survive a series in the unfamiliar post season before they can start hoping of knocking off the former champs.

Buzzer Beater: One day after the Spurs’ Tim Duncan got teched up, thrown out and supposedly called out, Gregg Popovich decided that he wasn’t going to take any chances with his stars’ futures before the post season. So, last night as the Spurs took on the Grizzlies, Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all enjoyed the entire game from the comfort of the bench. Well, enjoyed might not be the most accurate term considering that Memphis grabbed a 10 point victory, 101-91. But what can realistically be expected when 55 points per game plus a bunch of rebounds, assists, steals and blocks are riding the pine? Hopefully James “Flight” White enjoyed what will most likely be his only chance to ever lead the Spurs in scoring after he tied Michael Finley with 17 points on Monday.

NBA General

Around the Rim: Sun burned

1. Another Mavs’ streak bites the dust
The last time the Mavs and Suns got together it was an instant classic, but the rematch didn’t quite have the same pizzazz. Dallas got spanked by 22, 126-104, as Phoenix shot 65 percent for the game and Steve Nash had another great game against his former club. The teams are 2-2 in the season series and the way it appears it’s going to shake out the two won’t be meeting up again unless they make it to the Western Conference finals. But Dallas shouldn’t take the loss too hard because they can still claim an impressive 61-8 record since beginning the season with a four game losing streak, and they are expected to sign veteran big man Kevin Willis to a 10-day contract today. That’s a great move because you can never have too many big bodies when it comes time to bang it out with the other power teams in the West.

2. Broken hand, broken heart

The Wizards win over the Bucks, coupled with a Miami loss to Detroit yesterday gave Washington a ½ game lead over the Heat in the Southeast Division. But the results of the day aren’t that great; after all, Washington lost their second best player with a broken hand which will keep him sidelined for what will most likely be the remainder of the year. Even if the Wiz get home court advantage in the playoffs, the loss of Caron Butler leaves Washington as a one man show with the hopes of the franchise riding solely on the shoulders of Gilbert Arenas. If the post season began today Agent 0, I mean the Wizards would be facing the Bulls in the first round. Good luck with that one.

3. It’s so good to be back
Toronto fans have known that this day was coming for some time now, but yesterday their dreams became a reality as the Raptors locked up a post season berth for the first time in five years. As usual, it was Chris Bosh who led the way by scoring 24 points and pulling down 16 rebounds in the 107-94 victory over the Bobcats. Right now Toronto has the third seed in the East which would place them against a hot Heat team that will be welcoming D-Wade back to practice today. So, the Raptors might want to enjoy this feeling while it lasts because it could be a very quick return to the playoffs, perhaps only a four or five game stay.

Sunday’s Player of the Day: Yao Ming vs. Utah 40 min, 35 pts (FG: 11-24, FT: 13-15), 16 reb, 4 blk

Monday’s Game to Watch: Sorry, no games on the schedule for today. But do you really want to watch the pros play tonight anyway?

Buzzer Beater: Jordan Farmar became the first player to ever to pull off a head scratching feat in the NBA, and it wasn’t going 2-for-5 from the field for four points. However, Farmar did become the first player to play a game in a Development League and the NBA in the same day. Before joining the Lakers for a contest against the Kings in LA, Farmar scored 18 points to go along with six assists and three steals for the Los Angeles D-Fenders. While the pay isn’t as good, Farmar had to enjoy racking up 41 minutes and jacking up 16 shots in the contest. That’s the closest he’ll ever get to being like his MVP candidate teammate.