Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. The Hornets precisely followed the script they need for the playoffs in a major win on the road Tuesday. They got a marquee performance from Chris Paul, strong support from David West, and, in a departure from most nights this year, a third 20-point scorer in Peja Stojakovic. They also got key contributions from their role players when they were most needed, most notably Rasual Butler's 30-footer at the buzzer to force overtime. David West, who had 20 points and six rebounds hit the clutch shot in overtime, sinking a 16-foot jumper to break an 87-87 tie with eight seconds to go. New Orleans then sealed the 93-87 win with free throws by Stojakovic, who had 24 points and nailed five of seven from behind the arc, and Paul, who scored 26 points and was a rebound and an assist shy of a triple-double. The Hornets were also spared the usual clutch play of Dwayne Wade. He led all scorers with 32 and added seven rebounds and six assists for Miami, but a missed free throw at the end of regulation and a turnover late in overtime fueled his frustration which sparked two technicals and his ejection with 1.4 seconds to go in the extra period.

2. Yao Ming knows Manu Ginobili's season-ending ankle injury leaves the door open for another Western Conference team to make a leap in place of the Spurs. So Yao did his best Tuesday to move his team into the position of second title-contending team from the West by clearly outplaying Dwight Howard. The matchup of the top two centers in the game went the way of Yao, who had 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting and 16 rebounds to Howard's 13 points on 5-for-11 from the field and 10 rebounds. Rashard Lewis did his best to keep Orlando competitive with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but Houston's defense was otherwise too tough, limiting the Magic to 38 percent shooting. The Rockets remain just a half game behind San Antonio and crept to two back of Denver for the Western Conference No. 2 seed.

3. Committing 19 turnovers and allowing your opponent to shoot 52 percent is a formula that gets you in a lot of trouble. That's exactly the situation in which the Blazers found themselves, down as many as 14 points in the second half at lowly Memphis. They were down 84-79 inside of five minutes to play when Brandon Roy showed why he is to be considered among the elite players in the game. He either scored or assisted on five of the Blazers' last six baskets from the field, scoring 11 of his team-high 24 points when it mattered most. He stripped Mike Conley with the Blazers up 94-93 and seven seconds to go, and made both free throws after getting fouled, forcing a three-point shot by O.J. Mayo that went awry at the buzzer. Travis Outlaw hit a couple of clutch shots, too, including what turned out to be the game-winner with 13 seconds to go, and Rudy Fernandez and LaMarcus Aldridge played an effective two-man game at times to finish with 15 points each, but the night was all about Roy, who refused to let the Blazers slip in the standings. Portland remains in fifth place, a half-game behind fourth-place Houston and one game up on sixth-place New Orleans.

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