HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This is how you close the (regular season) show.
We get meaningful games all over the place, playoff position on the line and guys turning in star turns everywhere you look.
There’s even some buzz that LeBron James will join Shaquille O’Neal on the floor for the Cavaliers’ finale tonight against the Hawks at Philips Arena, one of 14 games on the tap for finale night.
The Bulls and Suns certainly got the message, providing the Hump Day Hoops Roundup with this high quality video:
They both played lights out basketball Tuesday night to get us all warmed up for tonight’s action, which includes season-defining games for the Bulls and Raptors, who will sort out the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference with their actions, as well as the Suns and Jazz, who will sort out the final home court slot in the West (the Suns already have at least the fourth spot).
While the Bulls and Raptors are fighting just to get in, the Suns appear to be a team on a different mission. As the Prime Minister pointed out before they dismantled the Nuggets, the Suns could be the dark horse team that upsets the order in the Western Conference playoffs.
They remind us of Orlando last year; a team that played great basketball after the All-Star break but flew under the radar until they knocked off the top-seed Cavaliers and faced off against the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Amar’e Stoudemire has been on a mission since the trade deadline, playing like the MVP of the second half of the season. And Steve Nash remains an ageless wonder. What the Suns have going for them now it momentum and a supporting cast that is playing its best basketball since the Mike D’Antoni days.
Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic helps illustrate:
“The Suns dominated Denver, which has lost its past 11 games at Phoenix, by jumping to an 18-2 advantage and led an entire game for the fourth time this season. The blowout gave Phoenix a 3-1 series edge against Denver, which is one of three teams the Suns could face this weekend when the playoffs begin.
The final night of the season will determine the Suns’ playoff fate.
If Phoenix wins at Utah, the Suns would be the No. 3 seed and play either Portland or San Antonio. The only way the Spurs can find their way into that matchup is to win at Dallas and have Portland lose at home tonight against Golden State.
If Phoenix loses at Utah, the Suns would be the No. 4 seed and face Denver, which has turned into a .500 team down the stretch without coach George Karl, who will not coach in the first round after recently completing chemotherapy.
One advantage of being the No. 3 seed is avoiding a potential matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers until the conference finals. The Suns also could face Portland, which could be the No. 6 seed and might be without star guard Brandon Roy, who has a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Utah is playing for a division title, home-court advantage and maybe even a No. 2 seed if Dallas loses but could be without forward Carlos Boozer, who left Tuesday’s win at Golden State because of a rib-muscle strain. Andrei Kirilenko (calf muscle) did not play.
“In some ways, (tonight) is not as important, and in some ways, (tonight) is a bigger game,” Suns guard Steve Nash said. “This team is excited to go and play in a tough environment and see what we can do. We’re not happy with where we are as far as an end result. We want to keep on going and see how good we can get.”
As fantastic as the Suns looked against the Nuggets, the Bulls might have been even more impressive in their must-win over the Celtics.
Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich put on show worthy of some of the league’s great guard tandems, only to be overshadowed by a previously unreported spat between the VP of basketball John Paxson and head coach Vinny Del Negro that came to light earlier in the day.
David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune on the mess:
“Inside Vinny Del Negro’s office March 30 after a frustrating loss to the Suns, the differences between John Paxson and Del Negro became irreconcilable. A fight ensued. And Paxson’s Chicago legacy was stained.
The Del Negro-Paxson relationship already was beyond repair. This gave it a time of death and a paper trail.
How many pink slips will it ultimately produce?
“Things happen, there are a lot of emotions in this game,” Del Negro said Tuesday night after the Bulls beat the Celtics 101-93 to maintain control of their playoff destiny. “That stuff is irrelevant.”
There is less debate that the details are irresistible. A source late Tuesday night confirmed Yahoo! Sports’ version that Paxson grabbed Del Negro’s tie and poked him in the chest because he was upset Joakim Noah played more minutes than management wanted because of Noah’s plantar fasciitis.
Paxson, according to an independent source, also called Del Negro selfish and at least two Bulls assistant coaches had to restrain him. There was the cursing and yelling often overheard when men act like Neanderthals. A more detailed blow-by-blow account may emerge.”
In the meantime, we’ll focus on Rose and Hinrich and the 69 points they combined for to wear out the Celtics, who were locked into the fourth seed with the loss:
We appreciate Noah’s attitude about the whole thing, which speaks to the mission the Bulls have to be on tonight when they travel to Charlotte:
“Things happen in an organization,” he said. “We deserve not to have these problems talked about right now. We’re fighting as players and that’s all that matters.”
‘NEXT-STOP LARRY’ ON THE MOVE AGAIN?
The Bulls have company in the off-the-floor drama department.
Bobcats coach Larry Brown dismissed reports and rumors that he is considering leaving the Bobcats for Philadelphia when this season is over.
Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer believes the Bobcats not only want Brown to return next season, they need him:
“The Bobcats want Brown, 69, to be in Charlotte again next season. No, it’s more than a want. They need him to be here.
And he told the Observer’s Rick Bonnell on Tuesday he will be.
“I’m not coaching anywhere but Charlotte,” Brown said, responding to the latest spate of rumors that has him becoming the coach of either the Philadelphia 76ers or the L.A. Clippers within weeks.
I want to believe him.
Until proven otherwise, I’m going to. But could Brown change his mind?
The Bobcats are his ninth NBA coaching stop. He has already coached the 76ers and the Clippers before. His wife and his two youngest children still live in Philadelphia. He misses them desperately, and hasn’t been shy about broadcasting that fact.
Anyone who has ever been in a commuter marriage can vouch for its difficulty. Brown is old enough that the 76ers rumors, at least, have a certain logic.
But the Bobcats need him. Brown has rebuilt the team’s roster the way he always does – a master chef assembling ingredients that don’t always seem to make sense but do so in concert. Suddenly, a Bobcats team that has never made the playoffs has 44 wins and will begin its first playoff series in Orlando this weekend.
From a basketball standpoint, it makes so much sense for Brown to stay. He’s just getting started here.
But it has made sense for him to stay in other places before, and he’s left. Those nine NBA stops don’t even include his various college jobs (which included a couple of months as coach at Davidson in 1969. Brown left in a dispute with the administration before coaching a game).
He has long been a bumblebee, always in search of the next tempting flower.
Michael Jordan knew about his wanderlust when he hired Brown in 2008 as Bobcats coach. Jordan correctly grabbed the hall of famer anyway, willing to take the risk because of Brown’s talent.
I like Brown. If you’re a writer, it’s impossible not to. He is insecure, honest and funny. He supplies more material in one postgame interview session than Panthers coach John Fox does in a month.
But you must take a clear-eyed view of Brown. Even if he doesn’t leave Charlotte in the offseason – and again, I hope he doesn’t – you have to realize that he’s going to leave sometime.”
JACKSON STARTS MIND GAMES EARLY
Lakers coach Phil Jackson is preparing early to face Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant, who could become the yougnest scoring champ in league history with a big game against Hang Time’s Grizzlies tonight.
Jackson’s Lakers will host the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs and Jackson is already sending out his Zen messages. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times explains:
“It didn’t take long for Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to start working the referees.
A day after the Lakers found out they’d play Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs, Jackson pointed out that Thunder forward Kevin Durant got a lot of favorable attention from referees.
“Yeah, by the calls he gets, he really gets to the line a lot, I’ll tell ya,” Jackson said Tuesday. “There’s a couple plays in the last game where I was pretty curious how he got there.”
Durant leads the NBA in scoring (30.1 points a game) and free-throw attempts (10.3 a game). By comparison, Kobe Bryant’s best season ever in free-throw attempts was 10.2 a game in 2005-06.
Jackson called Durant a “special player” earlier this season, but, well, this is the playoffs, so Jackson began the mind games several days before the Lakers faced the Thunder.”
As much as we’ve appreciated this regular season and all the spectacular play included, we can’t wait for the playoffs either Phil. And that includes all of the playoff posturing, too.