LA Lakers

Around the Rim: It’s good to be MVP

1. Fo-fo-fo-fo?
They’ve got a stellar cast of players, including the league’s newest MVP. They’ve got a proven coach who knows how to win and win and win some more. And they’ve got a perfect record through six games in this year’s playoffs. Life is good for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant’s Wednesday night started with commissioner David Stern handing over the MVP trophy and ended 34 points later when Los Angeles increased their series lead to two games with a 120-110 victory. Derek Fisher posted 22 points, Pau Gasol finished with 20 and Lamar Odom had another outstanding game with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting and 16 rebounds. There’s no doubt that the Lakers are starting to look scary-good, but the series now shifts to Utah where the Jazz owned the best homecourt record during the regular season. Carlos Boozer was in foul trouble early and often, making defense difficult for the Jazz all night long. Deron Williams led Utah offensively, scoring 25 points to go with 10 assists. Boozer had just 10 points in 24 minutes of action. The Jazz must now treat Game 3 like a Game 7 because the Lakers are simply playing too good to surrender a 3-0 lead.

2. Working their Magic

The Pistons lost more than Game 3 on Wednesday night, they might have lost their leader. Chauncey Billups left the game early in the first quarter after straining his hamstring and did not return and his status for the next game is up in the air. Detroit defiantly missed Mr. Big Shot against the Magic who routed the Bad Boys 111-86 behind a career playoff-high 33 points from Rashard Lewis. The forward connected on 11 of his 15 attempts, including 5-of-6 from behind the arc, scoring 12 of the team’s final 14 points of the first half. Dwight Howard looked Supermanesque once again with a 20-point, 12-rebound double-double and Hedo Turkoglu nailed three treys for half of his 18 points. Rodney Stuckey played in place of Billups, finishing with 19 points, and could be asked to fill in once again in Game 4. Richard Hamilton (24 pts) and Tayshaun Prince (22 pts) were about the only players to hit shots with any consistency which could lead to a tied series if the pattern repeats itself next time out.

3. Richard Jefferson needs his space
The Nets are going downhill fast. After losing Jason Kidd to the Mavericks, the franchise falls on the shoulders of Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter. Actually, let’s just make that Carter seeing as how Jefferson is having a hard time keeping his nose clean according to a report. The former Wildcat was charged with assault on Wednesday following an incident in a Minneapolis club when Jefferson allegedly grabbed a man by his throat. Jefferson denies that he did anything wrong and went on “The Mike and Murray Show” to try and clear his name.

It was actually Vince Carter’s birthday,” he said. “A party. We were actually, you know, all hanging out as a team. I was in our hotel. Actually, I was in the hotel bar. I wasn’t at a strip club, you know, three hours away. I wasn’t, like, in a casino. I wasn’t doing anything. I was literally in our hotel bar and I had an individual come up to me who was very rude and very disrespectful and, you know, an altercation broke out.”

Jefferson downplayed the severity of the incident.

“There were no punches thrown,” he said on the radio show. “They were saying there was choking. It was more of a getting your space. This individual doesn’t have a scratch on him. There was no mark. There was no blood. There was no anything. Obviously, [athletes] have a target on our back and it is unfortunate that these people would even do this. This incident happened four months ago. I wasn’t drunk.”

Wednesday’s Player of the Day: Rashard Lewis vs. Detroit 43 min, 33 pts (FG: 11-15, 3FG: 5-6, FT: 6-8), 6 reb, 5 ast, 2 stl

Buzzer Beater: San Antonio is in a must-win situation tonight against the Hornets. Trailing 0-2 in the series, the Spurs have looked old, slow and basically unmotivated during the first games, getting popped in the mouth twice. Now the Spurs will have a home crowd on their side as they try to slowly climb out of the hole they are currently being buried alive in. If New Orleans wins tonight the Spurs are dead in the water and it will just be a matter of time, but if San Antonio can pull out a victory then you’d better buckle-up for Game 4 on Sunday because it will be an all-out war!

Orlando Magic

The Magic land Rashard Lewis; take that Billy Donovan!

After Seattle drafted Kevin Durant and then traded for Jeff Green last Thursday evening, it became crystal clear that the Sonics were gently nudging Rashard Lewis out the free agent door. Okay, so it was more like a running shove, but Lewis looks like he might have found his way into a perfect situation because of it.

Lewis has agreed to a “maximum contract” with the Orlando Magic and will round out a trio of budding superstars with Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. No terms of the deal can be announced until July 11, but it will either be a five-year deal as a free agent or it could become a sign-and-trade to allow for a sixth year with an expected income of $15 million per season. While the money is an incredible perk, the real signing bonus for Lewis will be the fact that his seasons will now extend well beyond the 82nd game of the year. No more struggling to stay afloat out west amongst all the elite big men that continually take Seattle’s lunch money. In the Eastern Conference, on a young team overflowing with potential, Lewis’ Magic will be consistently in the running with powerhouses like the Pistons, Bulls, Cavs and Heat.

If other superstars have any desire to compete for a championship, they’d be smart to follow Lewis’ lead and head for the land of opportunity. In the Eastern Conference, guys like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett could dominate on a yearly basis with just a little help from the front office in assembling some complimentary pieces. Out West, if you’re not playing for the Spurs, Mavs, Suns, Jazz or Rockets, you’re playing against them and the odds are you’re not getting past all of `em come playoff time. Seattle and Portland might think they have a bright future ahead of them and they do have a brighter future for sure, but they still have a long way to go before they catch any of the conference’s elite (SA, DAL, PHO). Put Greg Oden or Kevin Durant in Boston, Atlanta or Milwaukee and they could almost immediately compete for a conference crown.


[]: Lewis headed for Orlando
[]: Lewis agrees to maximum contract with Magic

NBA General

Around the Rim: It’s just the beginning for LBJ

1. MJ says that LeBron is a’ight
If you’re a Spurs or Cavaliers fan then you are having trouble sleeping at night as you anxiously await the tip-off of Game 1 Thursday night. And if you’re not a Spurs or Cavs fan then you probably don’t give two craps about the finals but you’ll be rooting for LeBron James and Cleveland because San Antonio is “boring.” Well, hating on the Spurs is your own personal issue but we can’t blame anyone for getting behind LeBron. Heck, Michael Jordan is even giving the young King some dap. “Making ‘The Leap’ is where you do it every single night,” Jordan said. “It’s expected of you, and you do it. … Not one game, not two games. It’s consistent. Every defense comes in and they focus on you and you still impact the game. I think he’s shown signs of that.” Leave it to MJ to say that James has “shown signs” of making “The Leap.” But his Airness is about the only person on the planet that has the ability to criticize Bron-Bron’s game at the moment. You’re certainly not going to hear Flip Saunders saying LeBron hasn’t made “The Leap.”

2. And speaking of Flip

In case you didn’t know, that’s called a cheesy transition kids. But it’s not without merit because we actually have news on Saunders. Turns out that despite getting swept out of the playoffs after taking a 2-0 lead in the East finals, Flip has reportedly agreed to return the Pistons next year. On Monday, in an AP interview, Saunders said in regards to his return: “That’s never been a question.” That’s good news for Detroit because there will probably be some retooling going on with this organization during the off-season. At least they have their head coach in place. Well, that’s only if you believe he’s not gonna pull a “Billy Donovan”; which oddly enough was called a “Kobe Bryant” just days before Donovan crushed the spirits of millions of Mouseketeers.

Buzzer Beater: So, everyone knows by now that Boston got totally shafted at the lottery, therefore putting themselves in perfect position for another draft day nightmare. But there might be a way out of the fifth pick horror slot. Looks like Seattle might be willing to trade away a superstar in the making in Rashard Lewis for the Celtics’ first round selection. Of course there would be some other pieces involved in the trade but that’s the gist of it. Now, everyone knows that Lewis will probably never be the franchise changing player that Greg Oden or Kevin Durant will most likely be for their future squads, but a Lewis/Paul Pierce combination could be the key to a postseason return. Hey, if they can stay healthy for the majority of the season there certainly won’t be any 18 game losing streaks. And that’s pretty good if you’re Boston.

NBA General

Around the Rim: It could be a while before b-ball returns to Utah

1. SA is headed home with a big lead
After getting pounded in the second half of Game 3, San Antonio dropped their first game of the West finals and it was beginning to look like Utah had decided to make a series out of it. But after a fourth quarter surge in Game 4 the Spurs are once again in complete control (3-1) of the conference finals thanks to a 91-79 victory in Salt Lake City. Some questionable calls reared their ugly heads once again around the Spurs during the closing moments of a very physical contest as Derek Fisher picked up a pair of techs to get tossed and joined coach Jerry Sloan in the locker room early. Manu Ginobili had 22 points and three steals, to go along with several key flops in the Spurs first ever playoff win in Utah. Deron Williams (27 points, 10 assists) continues to shine as Mehmet Okur (7 points) continues to struggle offensively with a trip to the finals on the line. The Jazz definitely let a golden opportunity slip through their hands because they are now forced to win Game 5 on Wednesday in a city where they have gone winless since 1999 (0-18).

2. Show me the money!

Rashard Lewis has officially opted out of the final two years of his contract in Seattle, which makes him one of the biggest catches available on the free-agency market when the bidding wars begin on July 1. Lewis will make some team very happy with his long body and excellent scoring capabilities and there should be a long line of GMs lining up outside his door. In fact, Seattle would probably be thrilled to resign the small forward but their recent good fortune in the lottery will most likely land them Kevin Durant in the draft which would definitely make Lewis expendable. There is no telling where this kid is going to end up but we do know that teams could be paying as much as $15 million per season for Lewis.

3. Kobe wants to stay in LA
There were some rumors floating around that Kobe Bryant made a demand for a trade recently. But Bryant put those rumors to rest after he stated that “I want to retire a Laker. I want to fix this thing, or at least help any way I can.” Sadly, Bryant will never be helping himself to another championship as long as he remains in Los Angeles. You just have to look at the basic math of the situation to realize to Kobe has virtually no shot at playoff glory without a serious overhaul in LA or a trade. There are only eight playoff spots available each year. San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas, Utah and Houston aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. That leaves just three spots for 10 other teams to fight it out over. Besides the Lakers, there are up and coming teams like Golden State, the Clippers, Denver and New Orleans wanting to get in on the action. Oh, and Denver and Seattle are probably going to be getting a little better after they make their first selections in this year’s draft. Face it Kobe, it’s time to get out of Hollywood and head out East.

Monday’s Player of the Day: Deron Williams vs. San Antonio 38 min, 27 pts (FG: 11-21, 3FG: 0-3, FT: 5-7), 3 reb, 10 ast, 3 stl, 1 blk

Buzzer Beater: After seeing a pair of 79-76 Detroit victories to open the Eastern Conference finals, we final were witness to a different score in Game 3 (88-82) and a different winner (Cleveland). Looks like LeBron James might not be that bad of a player after all. The King had been receiving serious heat for his late game decisions and the supposed lack of a killer instinct. Well, in Game 3, James had 32 points, nine rebounds and nine assists to go along with some legacy building buckets for good measure. Don’t believe us? Just ask Rasheed Wallace. The veteran Pistons aren’t going to be shaken that easily though because they know that they still have a healthy lead, 2-1, over an inexperienced Cavs club. However, Cleveland could create some Eastern Conference shock waves if they can grab another home court victory in Game 4 on Tuesday. Unfortunately, Larry Hughes is unlikely to play for Cleveland in the game which is a big blow for the Cavaliers. We’ll see if Daniel Gibson can continue to produce on the big stage.