HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS —You’ve probably seen the highlight clip a zillion times already.
(And once more won’t hurt.)
But what did you miss that might have escaped the cameras during and after the Magic-Hawks game last night? Apparently, being arguably the best team in the league since the All-Star break doesn’t insulate you from the bickering that goes on in throughout a long NBA season.
HT’s main man in Orlando, Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel, suggests a few cracks surfaced in the Magic Kingdom after Josh Smith stuffed the Magic at the buzzer.
Schmitz broke it all down in his Post Game Post:
“Well, thanks for breaking up the musical interlude. I was falling asleep.
It had been absolutely boring and too quiet around Magicdom for too long.
A playoff berth was a sure thing as a Dwight Howard double-double since opening night. And lately, the Magic have been methodically mowing down opponents.
Leave it to Stan Van Gundy to stir the pot.
Van Gundy just didn’t throw Rashard Lewis under the bus after the Magic’s 86-84 loss to Atlanta on Wednesday night. He left him there and let the wheels make an imprint on his backside.
Van Gundy blamed Lewis for failing to box out Josh Smith, who slammed home a game-winner to beat the buzzer.
“Unfortunately, we forgot to box out on the weak side, and Josh was able to make a great play. We became spectators and didn’t block out,” he said.
Lewis privately muttered something about Van Gundy’s offense on a night he was 2-of-9 for six points. Matt Barnes was seething at the coach, too.
Van Gundy took out defensive specialist Barnes for a long stretch in the fourth period, trying to get the Magic back in the game with shooters, and Barnes took it as a personal affront.
“He obviously doesn’t trust me down the stretch,” Barnes huffed.
Ah, don’t you love it?
The Magic and Van Gundy sparring after a loss. Classic stuff. And typical of a title-contender after a bitter defeat.
Combine a lockeroom full of egos and glow-in-the-dark personalities with a coach who can go nuclear, taking every loss like it’s the end of the world….and there can be explosions.
Truth is, it probably wasn’t Van Gundy’s best night on the bench as he chased all night to match up against the athletic Hawks.”
I guess Van Gundy forgot about those three tail-whippins his team put on the Hawks earlier this season. Either way, we don’t mind some good-natured Van Gundy angst after a game, win or lose.
He makes it more fun around here anyway.
ARE THE LAKERS BETTER THAN THEY SHOW?
I know it was cool to trash the Lakers a while back for struggling on the road against lesser opponents.
But the time for that seems to be over.
They jumped all over the Spurs last night in San Antonio, getting huge games from Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest, while also smothering Tim Duncan and holding him to just six points.
T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times has spent some quality time with the Lakers recently and shares some of what he’s learned:
“Five games, eight days of bonding with the Lakers, and we begin two hours before tipoff here with the Sputtering Machine shooting free throws all by himself.
He makes 105 in a row before missing, making the ballboy run up and down the court for doubting him, and I really like our chances of winning tonight if Sasha Vujacic is standing at the free-throw line.
That would be a pretty good indication the Lakers are already up by 20 or so if he’s in the game.
I might’ve suggested backing up a few feet since the Machine is being paid $5 million to hit three-pointers and that’s not going so well, but I came here intent on seeing only the good in our heroes.
That’s why I start by tossing a softball to Phil Jackson, an appetizer for when we go to dinner, asking before the Spurs’ game if he felt this group of guys was championship timber, using a Montana term as an indication of fellowship.
“I can’t really judge or gauge that right now,” he says after a number of what he calls “lackluster” wins. “I haven’t been sufficiently impressed by them, but keep getting assurances that they are better than they show.”
Lamar Odom is saying the same thing inside the locker room, no doubt in his mind, though, this team is championship material despite some less-than-inspiring basketball recently, “because I think some people forget the importance of getting there.
“We lost in the Finals and then we won, so we can honestly say we know what it takes, individually and as a team to get there.”
PLAYOFF PRIMER FOR THE KING
With just a couple weeks left in the regular season, it’s easy to spot the teams gearing up for the postseason.
It’s not hard to spot the players that are doing the same. And Brian Windhorst of the Plain Dealer points out that no one does it better than the King:
“Right about this time every season LeBron James flips a switch. It isn’t always easy to see because his play on the floor always looks about the same. But in the middle of March he begins to slowly dial up his intensity as he heads toward the playoffs.
You really start to see it on gamedays. For the last couple of weeks, James has been starting to crank up his routine. He takes more time after shootaround and he prepares more before games. When on the road, there are two busses that come over from the team hotel, an early and a late. Most of the season James comes on the late bus, which is a half hour behind and gets to the arena about two hours before tip off. When he starts his playoff mode, James starts coming on the first bus to get extra shooting and pregame work in.
Before the game with the Hornets, which James takes a little more seriously because it is against close friend Chris Paul, James got his own ride and came to the arena before anyone else on the team to do shooting work. In fact, James did two shooting sessions before he even came out for the standard pregame warmups. Then he went out and went 15-of-22 shooting and scored 38 points.
When the cameras are on and when fans are in the building pregame it can look like James is just messing around, dunking and trying halfcourt shots. At some points in the season he is. But don’t just believe what you see, James is working harder than ever.”
CELTICS FIGHTING FOR THEIR PLAYOFF LIVES, EVERY NIGHT
Give the Celtics credit for proving their doubters (like us) wrong.
They are competing like a team that knows that every second of every game counts.
No longer are they cruising through games with the swagger of an aging team resting on the belief that they can turn it on whenever and wherever they feel like it.
They proved with their win over the Nuggets that they are still going to be a factor this postseason, no matter how ugly things might look sometimes. Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe:
“The Celtics are tied with the Hawks for third place in the East, but technically Boston is up a game, even though Atlanta swept the season series.
As a division leader, the Celtics hold the first tiebreaker over Atlanta, which defeated Orlando, 86-84, last night. Meaning, the Hawks have to be a game better than the Celtics at season’s end to finish third.
It’s a system that even Celtics coach Doc Rivers wasn’t aware of until a few days ago.
“I didn’t even pay attention to it,’’ he said. “I actually did think if we tied, Atlanta would get it. I think Danny [Ainge] called me and he said, ‘Did you know?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I didn’t either.’ No one knew.’’
The perceived advantages of being the third seed are avoiding a matchup with the Bucks in the first round and, more important, the Cavaliers in the second.
“I don’t even know who we play past today,’’ said Ray Allen. “I’m just trying to stay in the moment.’’
The Bucks are one of the hottest teams in the league, having won 10 of 11. The Celtics have played the Bucks twice this season, with each team protecting its home court. They play each other twice in the final five games of the season.”
THUNDER SEND MESSAGE WITH WIN OVER ROCKETS
Those upstarts in Oklahoma City don’t plan on going into the offseason quietly.
They never did, as Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman explains:
“For the moment, the victory puts to rest questions about the direction this Thunder team is headed down the stretch. After winning five straight and eight of nine, Oklahoma City had lost three of its past four games, including what anyone with a pulse would consider bad losses at Charlotte and at Indiana last week. The current four-game homestand began with encouraging effort but a three-point loss nonetheless to San Antonio.
[Coach Scott] Brooks and several players, however, insisted they weren’t growing concerned.
“I wanted to just see how the team would react,” said Russell Westbrook. “And I think we did a good job as a team of coming out and competing and playing together.”
In a much smaller victory of sorts, the Thunder defeated the Rockets for the first time since April 4, 2006, when the team still was in Seattle and Nick Collison was the only current player on the roster.
The Thunder put on one of its best offensive showings this season, leading by as many as 25 points, scoring 101 points through three quarters and shooting 58.8 percent for the game. Brooks challenged his team before the game to record at least 25 assists, and the Thunder went out and tied a season-high with 30.
Crisp ball movement and dead-eye shooting led to a 39-25 lead on 81-percent shooting after one quarter and a 74-57 lead at the half. The Thunder’s point total in the first half is a season-high and the most the Thunder franchise has scored in a half in Oklahoma City.
“If we share the basketball, it’s tough to stop us,” said reserve point guard Eric Maynor, who had 10 points and nine assists.”
BUCKS LEARN LESSON THE HARD WAY
The hunter for weeks now, the Bucks were reminded what it’s like to be on the other side of the equation when the 76ers showed up at Bradley Center Wednesday night.
When it was over the Bucks eight-game home win streak was finished, as Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel explains:
“The Milwaukee Bucks’ late-season ride to the playoffs took a bumpy detour Wednesday night at the Bradley Center.
Milwaukee’s starting five was sluggish and ineffective and coach Scott Skiles went to his bench players early in the first quarter, but nothing slowed down the Philadelphia 76ers as they cruised to a 101-86 victory.
“This appears to have been brewing a little bit,” Skiles said after his team saw its eight-game home winning streak snapped and lost for just the third time in its last 18 games. “The Denver game (on Saturday) we were very good. But the rest of the games – Clippers, Sacramento, Atlanta and tonight – we’re not doing anything to set a tone.
“We’re starting the game kind of passive and teams are taking it to us. We’ve been fortunate to get back in those games and win the Atlanta game and the Sac game. But tonight was much more like the Clipper game where we just couldn’t get back into it.”
The Bucks (39-31) lost ground to Charlotte (37-34), which beat Minnesota and moved within 2½ games of Milwaukee for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Idle Miami (37-34) also gained on the Bucks to pull within 2½ games entering back-to-back games in Chicago on Thursday night and against the Bucks on Friday night.
Milwaukee sank just 5 of 28 shots from three-point distance, shooting a season-low 17.9% from outside the arc, and allowed the 76ers to shoot 52.6% from the field.
After a three-pointer by guard Brandon Jennings to open the game, the Bucks missed their next 14 three-point attempts, until Carlos Delfino finally sank one with 8:40 left in the third quarter.
“It’s too many,” Skiles said. “A couple times we got it to 12 or whatever and we took a couple ill-advised threes. If those go down, maybe we get back into it. But we seemed too sluggish to even attempt to drive the ball by anybody.”
Bucks center Andrew Bogut continued a recent slump and had just eight points and three rebounds in 20 minutes. Jennings finished with 12 points and three assists in 19 minutes.
“We’re not overly concerned,” Skiles said about Bogut’s fall-off in production. “Any player can go through a three- or four-game stretch during the season where they’re not the same.
“But it’s there; everybody can see it.”