... about the NBA:
1. The Hawks and Heat are just four games into the playoffs, but attrition has already set in. Both teams were missing their power forwards Monday, Marvin Williams out with a sprained right wrist for Atlanta and Jamario Moon strained a lower abdominal muscle for Miami. Dwyane Wade was hobbled by a sore back and what appeared to be a variety of other ailments in the second half, and struggled to a 9-for-26 shooting performance. Yet the Heat can't lay the blame on Wade, or Moon's absence for that matter, for their 81-71 loss that allowed Atlanta to pull even at two games apiece. Any team that shoots 38 percent, gets outrebounded 40-33 and gets a puny two points from its bench is bound to fail. Daequan Cook went scoreless in 23 minutes of play, Michael Beasley hit two free throws in 10 minutes and Yakhouba Diawara didn't attempt a shot in his six-minute appearance. The Heat's offensive woes extended to its starters, as Udonis Haslem went 2-for-8 for just four points and Mario Chalmers had four points and a single assist in 38 minutes. All of the offense came from Wade, who had a game-high 22 points and seven assists, Jermaine O'Neal, who scored 20, and James Jones, who replace Moon in the starting lineup and scored 19. The Hawks didn't exactly light up the scoreboard, but had a remarkably balanced attack, as seven players scored between 10 and 15 points. The only Hawk to see significant playing time and fail to reach double-digits in points was Al Horford, who was saddled with foul trouble and wound up with four points in 17 minutes. Atlanta's defense isn't usually as impenetrable as it was Monday, and for the Hawks to advance they'll need Horford to reverse his poor play on both ends against O'Neal the past three nights.
2. It may very well go down as the worst night of Chris Paul's career. The Nuggets jumped all over the Hornets early, opening up a 36-13 lead after the first quarter and never looking back in a 121-63 embarrassment of the Hornets. Paul struggled through 36 long minutes, shooting 2-for-7 for just four points, and committing just as many turnovers (six) as he had assists. No one found any sort of success for New Orleans, which finds itself down 3-1 headed to Denver for Game 5. The Nuggets outshot the Hornets 57 percent to 32 percent, and made 10 of 20 three-point shots compared to New Orleans' 2-for-15 performance behind the arc. Carmelo Anthony had 26 points, seven assists and six rebounds to lead seven Nuggets in double-figure scoring. The series, almost certain to end Wednesday in Denver, has starkly displayed the opposite direction in which each franchise is heading. The up-and-coming Hornets would have been favored over the disorganized Nuggets at the beginning of the year, but now it's New Orleans in disarray and Denver with a shot at going to the Finals.
3. Everyone knows the Lakers can score. The question as these playoffs go on is how well they can stop people. The kind of performance they delivered Monday should be their benchmark. It was by no means a stellar defensive effort, but it was enough to close out a 4-1 first round series victory over Utah in a 107-96 win. The Lakers held the Jazz to 40 percent shooting, and made it difficult for Utah's top three options. Deron Williams shot 4-for-12 for 14 points, Carlos Boozer was 3-for-8 for 10 points and Mehmet Okur went 2-for-9 en route to scoring eight. Lamar Odom's work on the glass, pulling down 15 boards, helped L.A. limit Utah's opportunities with a 50-43 rebounding advantage. Odom has had double-figure rebounds in the last three games as he has had no trouble adjusting back to the starting lineup. He had his best night of the series Monday, scoring 26 points, second only to Kobe's 31. Kobe began the series deferring so everyone could get involved, but he's been much more aggressive since his 5-for-24 showing in Game 3, breaking 30 points for the second time in a row Monday with 31 points. The Lakers have shown they can win whether or not Kobe is a ball-distributor or primarily looks to score. It's on the defensive end where their fate will be determined.