This Sunday, Atlanta was faced with an arduous task, slowing down the Blazers and star shooting guard Brandon Roy. Roy put on a show scoring 29 points, dishing out five dimes and capping that off his spectacular performance four boards. But I guess Roy hasn’t heard the saying “Anything you can do I can do better,” because Joe Johnson went off on the Blazers. For the fourth straight game, Joe scored more than 30 points, with a grand total of 35 before going to the bench to allow the bench players some playing time. He also added an impressive seven boards and six assists to his scoresheet, showing that he is a versatile, all-around team player that is a force to be reckoned with on the court. Three other Hawks scored in double figures, led by Josh Smith with 19 points and 8 boards. Al Horford contributed 13 points and 5 boards while Mike Bibby was making himself useful at the point-guard position with 5 assists, also scoring 15 and grabbing 4 rebounds. This was an all-around great win for the Hawks, making it five in a row, all on their home-court. They were able to send their reserves in with time still left in the game, ending the game with a final score of 98-70. Blowing out Portland is great, but the Hawks need to keep on their guard for Sacramento. Although Sacramento has the worst record in the NBA, they are a dynamic team that can unexpectedly bring their A-game on any given day. Let’s hope that the Hawks will bring their A-game on Tuesday in Atlanta against the Kings to extend the winning streak to six games.
In a day of comebacks, homecomings and clinched playoff spots, perhaps the most thrilling game of the day took place in South Beach. The high-scoring affair pitted Phoenix and All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal against Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat at home. It was a homecoming for Shaq, who called Miami home for a few seasons before being traded to the Suns. Dwayne Wade went off on Phoenix, putting up 35 points, 16 dimes and 6 boards en route to an impressive 135-129 win. The Miami Heat bench, fueled by rookie phenom Michael Beasley and hot-shot 3-point shooter Daequan Cook supplemented the incredible performance by Miami’s starting 5 by going off for a combined 55 points. This sealed the deal for Miami, who after facing struggles in recent games was able to finish this one out and get a good win against a talented Suns squad led by Shaq. Dwayne Wade, who has averaged 37.3 points per game over his last 6 games has come alive for the Heat, who are trying to fight for the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference.
One team that no longer has to worry about their chances of making the playoffs are the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs, fresh off a win in Miami took complete control at home and cruised to a 91-73 against a sub-par Milawaukee Bucks team led by Richard Jefferson. The Cavs are the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff spot, but that won’t be enough for them. Look out for Lebron and the Cavs to keep fighting for that number one seed and ideal homecourt advantage. With games against Boston, Miami and Phoenix coming up within the next week, the Cavs will have their work cut out for them.
Coming off a two-game skid, the Celtics were in desperate need of a win, and they managed to scrape one out against Devin Harris and the New Jersey Nets. Led by Paul Pierce’s 31 points and 5 assists, the Celtics were able to overcome a Nets 4th-quarter comeback to win 115-111. Vince Carter’s 34 points and 4 assists was just not enough to propel the Nets against the defending champs, so the Nets will look to rebound against Dwight Howard’s Orlando Magic. Meanwhile, the Celtics will have to buck up because they are facing a surging Cleveland Cavaliers squad at home Friday, the Orlando Magic on Sunday and Dwayne Wade’s Miami Heat on Wednesday. Without KG, Boston will have to find some answers in order to keep their dreams alive of repeating as NBA champions.
Other teams around the NBA had some hard-fought games tonight as well. The Hawks fought back in the 4th quarter against the Knicks at Madison Sqaure Garden but came up short as they lost the game 109-105. Despite the valiant efforts of Tony Parker and his 37 point performance, the Dallas Mavericks were able to withstand the furious onslaught by the San Antonio Spurs to win 107-102. The Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off an 88-83 win against the struggling Washington Wizards due to a balanced attack from their 5 starters, all who ended up scoring in double figures. The Chicago Bulls completely demolished the Golden State Warriors, having six players score in double figures on their way to a 110-88 victory at home. The Portland Trailblazers were able to capitalize on an impressive 28 point performance by Brandon Roy to beat the Indiana Pacers 107-105. The Pacers continue to miss All-Star Danny Granger, who has been sidelined with a foot injury since February 19th. The Utah Jazz were able to pull of a 101-94 victory against the ailing Houston Rockets, who are without Tracy McGrady for the remainder of the season. This win marks their 9th in a row, which poses the question can anyone stop them? We will get the answer to that when they face off at home against the Denver Nuggets. The Memphis Grizzlies got a good win against the Los Angeles Clippers. Not that it matters for either team, as they are both clearly out of the playoff races with Memphis having 16 wins and 44 losses and the Clippers having 15 wins and 47 losses. Rudy Gay was the shining star of the night, putting up 35 points and 8 boards to go along with Marc Gasol’s near triple-double effort of 20 points 10 assists and 8 boards. Tomorrow, the New Orleans Hornets face off against the Dallas Mavericks, who are fresh off a huge emotional victory against the San Antonio Spurs. Later in the night the Nuggets take on Brandon Roy and the Trailblazers in an attempt to continue their quest for a Western Conference playoff spot.
Tomorrow I’ll be covering the NFL Free Agency, including Terrell Owens being released by the Dallas Cowboys. Also will be covering the GHSA basketball state playoffs and Manny Ramirez signing back with the Dodgers.
With the end of February drawing near, the precedent is being set by certain NBA teams for what will be required to be considered as a worthy adversary in this year’s playoff race. Some teams have made moves hoping to further their playoff hopes. The Celtics made the most out of players on the market, signing center Mikki Moore, and also finalizing the signing of Stephon Marbury this morning. Although Starbury has had his fair share of both on-the-court and off-the-court problems, he has something to bring to this Celtics squad, and that is a quality bench presence and a big relief for Eddie House. House is a true shooting guard, and having Marbury there will allow him to be exactly that, as Marbury will be doing most of the ball-handling.
Another team that made a major move was the Orlando Magic. Acquiring Rafer Alston was a very smart move for the Magic. No offense to Jameer, but with him being out for the rest of the season, the Magic were in great need of a quality point guard who can bring that powerful point-man presence to the floor, and that is what Alston has to offer. With the Magic trying to legitimize their status as a true powerhouse and playoff contender, it is very important that they continue to win, especially with the Hawks and Heat both coming into stride in the closing months of the season.
Now some teams did not make as much of an effort to make changes, whether it be trades or free agent signings. The Hawks were one of those teams who made no moves at all. The Hawks are a young team with a lot of talent, and it often shows in their games. By keeping their roster the same, the Hawks are trying to continue the building of a solid young squad that can win games. With veterans Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby anchoring the young guns like Marvin Williams, Al Horford and Solomon Jones, the Hawks are hoping to build their team of the future, and win some playoff games while they’re at it. They continued their quest tonight against a surging Heat squad led by superstar Dwayne Wade.
Wade, who has had a record-breaking week was surprisingly quiet against the Hawks in a 91-83 loss. Although he still put up 21 points, 10 dimes and 3 steals, his team was not able to overcome the Hawk’s Al Horford with his 21 point and 22 rebound performance. This has been the story of the year for the Heat, who have folded several must-win games against formidable opponents. They were one of the teams who made a move, but it has not paid off so far. With the addition of Jermaine O’Neal, they have added a legitimate post player to strengthen their frontcourt attack and provide adequate support for Wade, Beasley and Chalmers.
On to other teams in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers are having one of the best seasons in franchise history. With Lebron James stepping his play up to a whole different level, the Cavs have streaked to a conference-leading 44-12 record, 1/2 a game ahead of the defending champ Celtics. However, with the loss of Ben Wallace down low with a broken leg, the Cavs have been left searching for answers. There’s Anderson Varejao, who is the definition of a hustle player. He can make the plays his team needs, but isn’t powerful enough to dominate down low. He is joined by veteran Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who can hit the 17 foot jumper, and occasionally post up down low. J.J. Hickson has provided some quality minutes off the bench, and his playing time will certainly be up now that Wallace is sidelined. Although he is young he is a tremendous competitor with a desire to win so he is definitely one player to keep on your radar in the next couple of weeks. Tonight against the Spurs the Cavaliers are completely dominating in every aspect of the game. After 3, they are up 21 points and Lebron has already went for 30 points, 14 boards and 4 assists. Looks like they are on their way to a huge road win in San Antonio, one that will help them forget the horrible loss to Houston last night. When it comes down to it, coach Mike Brown better hope that these three guys can step up their games, because the Cavs are going to need it to help them maintain 1st place and homecourt advantage for the playoffs.
The playoff seeds for the Eastern Conference are still up in the air right now. The top three teams right now are Cleveland, Boston and Orlando. Only time will tell if they can hold onto their spots as the end of the season draws near. The 4th seed is currently taken by the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are two games up on the 5th seed Heat, and if they keep playing like they have of late, then they will continue to win and solidify their hopes to keep the 4th playoff spot. If the Heat can incorporate Jermaine O’Neal into the offense and keep the emerging rookie studs Chalmers and Beasley hot, then they will have a good chance of keeping the 5th spot. The final three spots are definitely a toss-up. If Detroit can find a solution to their recent slide, they’ll definitely have one of those three spots. That leaves us with two spots, up for grabs between several teams. The Sixers look like they are going to make the playoffs, which leaves one spot for the rest of the conference to fight over. That is, except for the Wizards, who do not look like they have any chance whatsoever of making the playoffs.
More to come tomorrow on the playoff race in the Western Conference, and talking about if anyone can stop the Los Angeles Laker squad led by Kobe Bryant.