Saturday, April 11, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. Injuries have done in plenty of teams this year, but the Magic can blame only themselves if they fail to go any deeper in the playoffs this year than they did last. Orlando lost in stunning fashion at home to the Knicks, and fell to two games behind the Celtics for the No. 2 seed in the East with three games to play. The Magic failed to do Friday what just about everyone has done against the Knicks, letting New York win the battle of the boards 49-44, forcing only nine Knick turnovers and falling short of 100 points in the 105-95 upset. The Magic took 11 fewer shots, and their three-point shooting, so critical to their chances in any game, was largely absent on a 7-for-28 night from behind the arc. Even more telling of Orlando's perplexing offensive woes was New York's 25-15 advantage in assists, as the ball stagnated whenever the Magic had possession. Now the Magic will more than likely have to win a game in Boston, where the Celtics went 13-1 in the playoffs last year, to get past the second round.

2. James Posey, supposedly the key pickup of the offseason, looked nothing like it as he made his return from a sprained elbow in a huge game Friday. Chris Paul and David West were left with little but a two-man game with Tyson Chandler still out with an inflamed left ankle, and the Hornets dropped the front end of a critical back-to-back with the Mavericks 100-92. Paul had a brilliant 42 point, nine rebound and seven assist night, while West had 20 points and 14 rebounds, but they were stranded by their almost-invisible teammates. Posey was a non-factor, shooting 1-for-6 from the field and providing little defensively either in 19 non-descript minutes. Peja Stojakovic found only seven shots for nine points and though the hero of a few nights ago, Rasual Butler, had another late three-pointer, he scored only five points all night. The Mavs dominated the front line, getting 25 each from Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard while Erick Dampier had 12 points and eight rebounds. Reserves Jason Terry had 18 points and Brandon Bass 13 rebounds in further demonstration of the greater all-around night Dallas enjoyed. The two teams play again Sunday in New Orleans, and another Dallas win would leave the two teams tied for sixth. Chandler is likely to return for the playoffs, but by then, the Hornets could easily be No. 8 in the West, facing a first-round series with the Lakers.

3. The Jazz, however, are making a strong case that they will be forced into the executioner's ring with the Lakers after dropping yet another road game Friday in a 105-99 loss at San Antonio. The Spurs, without Manu Ginobili but looking to keep home court advantage in the first round, received a boost from their bench, as late-season pickup Drew Gooden scored 14 and Ime Udoka, who has long been a key reserve for San Antonio, added 13. Utah was outscored 33-16 in bench points, but couldn't make the argument it would have been better with frequent sixth man Andrei Kirikenko in reserve. Kirilenko went 1-for-9 for four points in his starting role, while Carlos Boozer, the other starting forward, provided less than a stellar effort, shooting 4-for-12 for 15 points and eight rebounds. Tim Duncan, on aching knees, played Boozer evenly, scoring 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds. The Spurs, though unlikely to advance as deep as they're accustomed, can still get home court for at least one series if they can finish in front of the Blazers, with whom they are currently tied, or Rockets, who are a half game in front. The Jazz, though slumping, hold the tiebreaker over both New Orleans and Dallas, and face an easy schedule of the Warriors, Clippers and a Laker team that may rest its starters on the season's final night.


4. The Lakers now have little to play for in their two remaining games after the Blazers sent them a message Friday. Portland made sure the L.A. knows the Pacific Northwest is their Bermuda Triangle, winning its eighth straight at home over L.A. 108-96. It was a game the Lakers needed to keep pace with Cleveland, which would now have to lose two of its last three to cede the No. 1 overall seed for the playoffs. Kobe Bryant was his usual self, scoring 32 and getting to the line a dozen times, but the rest of the team only got there eight times as the Blazers enjoyed a 37-20 advantage in free throws attempted. Portland kept Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in check, limiting Bynum to 13 points and six rebounds while Gasol had just 12 and four. Joel Przybilla reaped the bounty on the boards, collecting 13, while LaMarcus Aldridge outplayed the Laker bigs, going for 16 points and eight rebounds. Steve Blake scored 16, too, and served up six assists as he dominated the point guard matchup with Derek Fisher, who had just two points and two assists. Rudy Fernandez, who was clotheslined by Trevor Ariza the last time the Lakers played in Portland, got the last laugh, popping for 15 points off the bench while Ariza had only four. The result essentially locks in the Lakers into the second-best record in the NBA, while Portland, now in fourth place, is in position to leapfrog Houston for third and perhaps even Denver for the No. 2 seed in the West if the final few days of the regular season break their way.

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