Thursday, April 9, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. That was a close call Wednesday for the Magic, who very nearly had their chances of the No. 2 seed torpedoed by the Grizzlies. Orlando's sharp-shooters arrived in the final minutes to save the day, rallying the team from a 63-55 deficit to begin the fourth quarter. Hedo Turkoglu and, surprisingly, J.J. Redick combined to score 20 of the team's 27 points in the final period to lift the Magic to an 81-78 victory. Turkoglu finished with 20 points and seven assists, while all of Redick's nine points came in the fourth quarter. O.J. Mayo had two looks from three-point range in the final seconds, but neither went through, capping a 1-for-11 night behind the arc for Memphis. The Magic didn't fare much better, shooting 4-for-21 on three-pointers, but they created more possessions for themselves with a 41-32 rebounding edge, mostly thanks to Dwight Howard's 13 boards. It was enough to overcome a 16-9 advantage in points off turnovers for Memphis, and keep the Magic a game behind Boston for second place in the Eastern Conference.

2. It's amazing how in a few days a matchup with the Spurs in the first round has gone from being a booby prize to a sought-after commodity. But it looks like San Antonio's a lame duck now that Manu Ginobili is out for the year and especially after Wednesday, when Tim Duncan limped with aching knees to just four points in 24 minutes in his first back-to-back in nearly six weeks. Only Tony Parker is at 100 percent, and he was limited to just 17 points by the Blazers, who have won six of seven and got their first win at San Antonio in seven years. Portland erased a 19-point deficit in the second quarter to pull within two at halftime, feeding off its bench, which outscored San Antonio's 35-26. Brandon Roy led all scorers with 26, LaMarcus Aldridge added 20 and Joel Przybilla controlled the glass with 17 rebounds, which not coincidentally was the difference in the 43-26 advantage the Blazers enjoyed on the boards. Yes, Duncan and the Spurs won't have to face back-to-backs once the playoffs start, but it's clear Duncan won't be healthy enough to do the extra work needed to overcome the absence of Ginobili, without whom San Antonio is just 18-16 this year. The Spurs have fallen into a three-way tie for third with the Blazers and Rockets, and with games still left against the Jazz and Hornets, could easily fall as far as sixth place.

3. The Jazz were supposed to finish the season on a roll with all of their key players back in the lineup after early season health issues. It hasn't happened that way. They've lost four of their last five and continue their maddeningly poor play on the road, falling to 15-24 away from Salt Lake after a blowout 130-101 loss at Dallas. The defense just wasn't there for Utah, which allowed 55 percent shooting and 11-of-24 from behind the arc for the Mavs, who are now tied with Utah for seventh place. Dirk Nowitzki was 12-for-18 with 31 points, and Dallas got plenty of production from its backup guards, as Jason Terry had 21 points and J.J. Barea wound up with 18 points and nine assists. The Mavs outrebounded the Jazz 47-34, and capitalized with 27 points on 19 Utah turnovers. It was an all-around whipping that clinched a playoff spot for the Mavericks, who are just a game out of sixth place after languishing in eighth for most of the season.


4. The only team the Jazz beat in the last five, the Hornets, are having similar problems heading into their matchup with the Mavs on Friday. They missed Tyson Chandler dearly in a 105-100 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday, and without James Posey, who has missed the last five games as well, they have next to nothing on their bench. Shaq ate Hilton Armstrong for lunch in the low post, scoring 17 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking two shots as the Hornets countered with a small lineup that kept Armstrong on the bench for all but 17 minutes. His replacements did no better, and the Suns had a 28-11 advantage in bench points. Chris Paul was his usual stellar self with 29 points, 16 assists and seven rebounds, but he was nearly matched by a vintage Steve Nash performance. Nash had 24 points and 13 rebounds, and held Paul, who holds the NBA record for consecutive games with a steal, without a single theft all game. The good news for the Hornets is Posey and Chandler should be back within a week. The bad news is they must make up two games to rise from sixth place and seventh-place Utah and Dallas are nipping at their heels, both just one game behind.

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