Monday, March 23, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. The week after the All-Star break is starting to look like the turning point in the race to be the primary challenger to the Lakers out West. That's the week Houston learned it would be without Tracy McGrady for the rest of the season and traded Rafer Alston to the Magic. That week was also when Manu Ginobili missed his first games for the Spurs with the ankle injury that has kept him out ever since. The Rockets have been on a tear over the stretch, going 14-4, while the Spurs have gone a pedestrian 10-8. The teams met Sunday in San Antonio, and even though they were playing on the road and got a less-than-stellar performance from Yao Ming, the Rockets came up with an 87-85 win that vaults Houston past the Spurs into second place in the Conference. Ron Artest, with a game-high 24 points, and Luis Scola, who had 19 points, including the final five for Houston, and 17 rebounds, supplemented 13 points for Yao, while the Spurs continued to lack credible offensive support for Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. It's the sort of contribution they usually get from Ginobili, who returned to practice this week, four weeks after an injury that was supposed to keep him out of games for no longer than three weeks.

2. Miami's comeback was critical. The Heat were on the verge of their second loss to a depleted opponent in three nights as they trailed the Pistons by six Sunday at the end of three quarters. Dwyane Wade had 31 points so far, but no one other than Jermaine O'Neal, who had only 10 points, was scoring in double figures. Miami didn't turn up its defensive intensity nearly as much as its offensive arsenal for the stretch run, as seven players scored for the Heat in a 34-point fourth quarter that proved the difference in a 101-96 win at Detroit. Jamario Moon, who had eight in the fourth quarter, wound with 17 of his own, good for second on the team behind Wade's 39. Udonis Haslem scored the last six points of the game to finish with 16, while O'Neal ended the night with 14. The Heat can't simply rely on Wade to get them past the first round in the playoffs. They need 48 minutes' worth of what they got for 12 on Sunday.

3. How bad are the Clippers? They were whipped 100-76 Sunday by a team that started Jake Voskuhl at center. The journeyman Voskuhl, who started nine games for a 33-win Charlotte team in 2007 and hasn't been in for a tipoff since, was substituting for Andrea Bargnani, who had a sore left heel. No one on the Raptors scored more than 16, either, but Chris Bosh had 13 rebounds to go along with those 16 points, while Shawn Marion had 14 points and 13 rebounds, while three other Raptors scored in double figures. It was more than enough for the Clippers, who got mauled 57-34 on the boards. The game was an example of the difference between the average lottery teams and the truly rancid. The Clippers are two games better than league-worst Sacramento, but don't be surprised if it's a Southern California team with the most ping-pong balls for the fifth time in franchise history.

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