As the weekend comes to a close with selection Sunday, we must not digress from the games that players actually get paid for. So put your brackets away and let’s talk some grown-man basketball. This weekend saw many games each with its own weight in importance as playoff pictures develop for some and fade for many others.
The Dallas Mavericks entered this weekend on a 13-game win streak that was making their acquisitions of Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler look more and more ingenious with each ‘W’ they notched on their schedule. The run brought them into second place in the West as their high-octane offense averaged just above 104 points a game. Seven of those wins were against teams that will be appearing in this season’s playoffs. Just when they looked poised to run this streak up to 15 wins, they lost to the Knicks. In the 128-94 loss, the Mavs gave up more points than any other game of the season. For the Knicks, it was their highest scoring game of the season. Rick Carlisle played a small set for almost the entire game with Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier only playing a combined 21 minutes. Al Harrington had a very impressive game with 20 points and 8 rebounds and Tracy McGrady, who only had 11 points, was a pest with three steals. Towards the end of the Maverick’s win streak, opposing teams would start out hot and slow down over the course of the game. The Knicks never slowed. The Dallas offense looked terrible only hitting 34 of 80 shots on the night. Roddy Beaubois looked good but the Mavericks are really missing the jump-start that Jason Terry can instill off of the bench. He is expected to make his return next week from facial surgery.
With the loss by the Mavs, a certain team from Denver gained. The Nuggets regained their spot at second in the West, just three games behind the ailing Lakers. They blew past the hot Memphis Grizzlies that were coming off of a hot week including a win in Boston. J.R. Smith delivered with 30 points and seven threes off of the bench. Defensively, they held Rudy Gay to only 12 points and only sent him to the line once. They too are missing one of their stars with Kenyon Martin out with tendinitis in his knee. Martin has not played since March 3. Since then they have won five games. However, they will need him back by the playoffs to maintain this heightened level of offensive power. Most of their losses are in games where they don’t score at least 100 points and J.R. will not be scoring 30 a night. I don’t like Johan Petro in the starting lineup and Kenyon’s ability to score will be needed come April.
Last week, we saw the Lakers end their three-game skid with a win against Toronto. On Friday, they beat the Suns (102-96) in Phoenix to string together their first back-to-back wins of the month. It was the first time since December 21 that the Suns have been kept to less than 100 points at home and only the second time this season this has happened to them. The Lakers’ starting lineup looked a little better with everyone scoring in double figures led by Kobe Bryant’s 21 points, eight assists and 10 rebounds. However, the bench is still looking below par other than Lamar Odom who is essentially a starter due to the amount of minutes he logs (read “Tale of two Bynums”). The timing couldn’t have been better for these Lakers to get their act back together. The Mavericks and Denver have both been gaining major ground on the defending champs.
Only two players in history have averaged 20 points or more against the Celtics in their career. LeBron James is one. The other is a man named Michael Jordan. LBJ kept building his resume with a 30-point performance against the geriatric green men on Sunday afternoon in a 104-93 win. The Celtics looked worn out and lifeless as usual. It never really felt like Boston considered this a must-win game with Doc Rivers sitting a majority of his starters in the fourth quarter and only an eight-point deficit. Cleveland’s big men looked good as Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson really held their own against the oversized (and overage) Celtics. The Cavs’ depth really showed its teeth as well with 27 points off of the bench. When Shaq and Big Z return, this team should be set for what should be a challenging postseason. Antawn Jamison is still finding his place in the offense but looked good with 15 points and 12 rebounds. As for the Celtics, we never know when this team is going to lose. In the last month they have managed to loose to New Jersey, Milwaukee and Memphis. Nate Robinson is looking like a worthless pickup and Rasheed Wallace isn’t who he used to be. Kevin Garnett’s legs are looking worse and worse while he continues to look more and more frustrated. He, along with three other starters, accumulated 19 personal fouls.
Lastly, the Bobcats are probably the hottest team in the NBA that no one is talking about. On Sunday, they defeated the Magic 96-89 and rolled to their sixth win in a row. In addition, they won without big man Gerald Wallace who sprained his ankle on Friday against the Clippers. Wallace is having the best season of his career with 18 points and 10 rebounds a game. Tyrus Thomas has filled in well though and so has Stephen Graham who helped the Bobcats pull off a late 12-2 run to help close out the game. Orlando was marred by sloppy play with multiple turnovers and several lost rebounds. In addition, their starting lineup accumulated 21 personal fouls as Charlotte made 21 points alone at the foul line. So far, the Bobcats have wins against Cleveland, Boston and LA. However, they have lost to New Jersey twice accounting for two of their seven wins so far this season. Many speculate that Larry Brown is in the hot seat now that Michael Jordan has taken over the team but if the Bobcats keep raking up wins like this, Brown can sit more comfortably.
March Madness isn’t just for collegiate basketball fans. Your local NBA team doesn’t take a break because your alma mater made the big dance. Stay tuned and stay informed. Enjoy the Tournament but make sure you know where your team stands come April.