1. Little lead, big advantage
After winning 18 of their last 22 games, including Tuesday night’s 117-108 victory over Toronto, all the Lakers have to show for their effort is a ½ game lead over the defending champs. But ½ a game in this wild Western Conference race could make all the difference in the world when the second season comes along. Kobe Bryant finished with 34 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to lead the best team in the West. However, as we’ve seen so many times already this season, being at the top and staying at the top are two totally different matters. If the Lakers are to maintain their positioning they’ll have to do it on the road because their next four games are at New Orleans, Houston, Dallas and Utah.
2. Suns rise to the occasion, twice
On Tuesday, Shaquille O’Neal and the Suns did something for the first time since joining forces 11 games ago – they claimed consecutive victories. It wasn’t even close as Phoenix held leads of 32 points in the opening half and 39 down the back stretch as they pounded Memphis 132-111. Amare Stoudemire delivered a double-double with 29 points and 13 rebounds to lead a Suns squad that shot a sizzling 60 percent from the floor. Shaq only managed two points and eight rebounds in the game, but he dished out six assists and the led the team in hustle stats, grabbing a steal and blocking three shots. Phoenix is now 5-6 with the Diesel in the lineup which is showing improvement, but it still only has a sixth seed in the playoff race to show.
3. Bulls are charging
It isn’t the end of the world, but losing to the Bulls certainly didn’t help Utah legitimize themselves in a stacked Western Conference. Chicago took advantage of a 30-19 scoring run in the second quarter to run away with a 108-96 victory on its home court. Drew Gooden scored 24 points and Ben Gordon finished with 19 points, including a barrage of long bombs in the second half. The win brought the Bulls within ½ of Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference – a race as highly contested as the top of the West. Utah is currently clinging to the fourth and final conference playoff spot. The good news for the Jazz is they welcomed back Andrei Kirilenko (12 pts) after he missed three games following a hard foul from Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki.
Tuesday’s Player of the Day: Kobe Bryant vs. Toronto 46 min, 34 pts (FG: 12-20, 3FG: 4-8, FT: 6-6), 7 reb, 7 ast, 4 stl, 1 blk
Wednesday’s Game to Watch: San Antonio (44-19) @ New Orleans (42-20)
At the beginning of the season, everyone knew the Hornets would be pesky, but nobody could have expected this. Though New Orleans has slipped a bit since the All-Star break, they are still in the battle with Dallas, Houston and San Antonio for Southwest Division supremacy. In fact, the Hornets are currently just 1 ½ games behind the Spurs for the division lead and now is a perfect time to go in for the big sting. San Antonio owns a mediocre 17-14 road record, including back-to-back losses in its last two away from home. However, the Spurs might as well get used to living out of a suitcase because they’ll be traveling to Detroit, Dallas and Orlando during its next seven contests.
Buzzer Beater: Golden State offered coach Don Nelson an extension on Tuesday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Nellie will be back on the sideline next season.
It’s very nice of the organization,” Nelson told Bay Area reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s always nice to be wanted, especially when you’re 67. It’s a very nice gesture on their part.
“[But] I’m going to have to think about that. I’m going to have time to reflect [after this season]. My wife and I will have to talk about it, we’ll talk to the team about it, see how they’re feeling. There is another part of life,” Nelson added, “that I’d like to explore.