Posts Tagged ‘John Salmons’

Fear The Deer (The Remix)

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Posted by Sekou Smith

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Our infatuation with the Chicago Bulls this summer has angered some in the shadow of the Windy City, namely a few fans of their neighbors to the north and west in Milwaukee.

“The Bulls aren’t the only Central Division team on the rise,” one email reminded us late last week.

“We’ve got our own [potential] superstar point guard in Brandon Jennings, an All-Star caliber big man in Andrew Bogut and a proven coach in Scott Skiles,” another said, “plus we’ve got the reigning Executive of the Year in John Hammond, who has put together a solid supporting cast that is every bit as good as what the Bulls will trot out on the floor this season. Fear the Dear!”

These don’t register as simple complaints from biased observers. Bucks fans have a right to demand their team receive its due as one of the league’s up and coming outfits. They were better than the Bulls at the end of last season, playing without Bogut down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Why shouldn’t they be included in the conversation of the most promising young teams in the league?

No team in the Central Division, including the Bulls, has added more than the Bucks. They traded for assets — Corey Maggette, Chris Douglas-Roberts and the highly underrated Jon Brockman, an instant fan favorite in Fear The Deer Country. They signed free agents — John Salmons, Drew Gooden, Keyon Dooling — to fit specific needs. And they drafted plenty of talent, including Larry Sanders, Darrington Hobson, Jerome Jordan and Tiny Gallon (Sanders is the only draft pick guaranteed a roster spot).

Hammond loves his team, as he explained to the Journal Sentinel recently:

“It’s players that can help us win and players that we think are assets around the NBA,” he said. “That’s really what it comes down to when you put your roster together. If you look at guys on your roster and say that he’s not an asset around the NBA and he’s not an asset on your team, then you have yourself in a position where you need to make some moves.

“The thing I like about our roster is all 12 guys that we have are assets to us and assets around the NBA. I like that part about where we’re at.”

A healthy Bogut turns this team into a major problem inside. And having Salmons and Maggette on the wing alongside Jennings keeps things intact on the perimeter. Dependable role players like Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Mbah a Moute, should not be overlooked either.

The one player the Bucks lost that worried us was HT fave Luke Ridnour, who has moved on to that point guard festival in Minnesota. But the signing of Dooling takes care of that.

Dooling is bigger and more physical than Ridnour, giving the Bucks a veteran option behind Jennings capable of handling the bigger guards teams used to defend the surprisingly durable Jennings (he started all 89 games for the Bucks last season) in an attempt to slow him down.

Bucks assistant GM Jeff Weltman summed it up best:

“In today’s NBA, with the way the rules are, it’s so important to have a guy who can guard the ball on top,” Weltman said. “And Keyon has always been a premier NBA defender. He’s got length and quickness and as he’s gotten older, he’s figured it out.

“The other nice thing about Keyon is he takes pride in it. He’s a good fit with (coach) Scott (Skiles); he fits into the team we want to be.”

Plenty of folks have fallen in love with the star power the Bulls will have on display this season. And we’re on board. We believe Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and the crew will be a major factor in the Eastern Conference this season.

But the Bucks should be in the mix, too.

They’ve got all the ingredients to make some noise of their own this season.

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What’s Next For Johnson, Boozer?

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Posted by Sekou Smith

SALT LAKE CITY — Their seasons finished on the same night and in a similar fashion.

Where Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson and Jazz former All-Star Carlos Boozer go from here remains to be seen. They will both be a part of the celebrated free agent class of 2010, so this will not be the last time we discuss these two men before they decide on their futures.

Just like the vibe coming from Atlanta regarding Johnson, the mood here about Boozer seems to be split.

The gist: You don’t just give up players of this caliber without a guarantee of replacing them with comparable talent. Yet neither of them showed “max player” skills in the postseason.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz is ready to trade Johnson, whom he refers to as a “second tier star,” among the many changes he suggests for the Hawks:

I thought it was at least 50-50 Johnson would re-sign with the Hawks until his comments after Game 3. He has proven himself to be in that second tier of stars, which is fine. But his lack of leadership and three years of mostly dreadful playoff performances have damaged his reputation. Even worse, Johnson seems to have checked out mentally. He still has value on the open market. There are enough teams out there who are looking for a scorer and have money to spend. A sign-and-trade could net a nice player in return: whether a shooting guard, point guard or starting caliber center. Among the backup options at shooting guard, one name that already has popped up as a possible replacement is Milwaukee’s John Salmons. He obviously isn’t the scorer Johnson is, but he averaged nearly 20 per game in Milwaukee after a trade from Chicago this year.

Meanwhile, Boozer’s no-show in Game 4 here Monday night only fueled the local debate about his future here and whether or not the Jazz can compete with the best of the best with him as their inside force.

Boozer swears his future wasn’t on his mind during the game, even if it was on the mind of many in the crowd of EnergySolutions Arena Monday night, per Jody Genessy of the Deseret News:

“I wasn’t thinking about that. I was disappointed in our effort. I didn’t play my best game,” Boozer said. “Our team didn’t play our best game of the series. I’m just disappointed that we lost in that fashion. I expected us to win tonight and take it back to L.A.”

Amplifying Boozer’s woes was the fact that one of the guys he guarded outscored him by 23 points. Gasol punished Boozer and other Jazz defenders inside and out, scoring a game-high 33 points with 14 rebounds.

“We give them all the credit,” Boozer said. “They kicked our butt.”

Moments after falling in a 4-0 sweep, Boozer didn’t feel like talking about his future. He will be an unrestricted free agent come July.

“We’ll figure it out later, man. It’s too soon for all that talk, guys,” Boozer said. “Right now we’re disappointed that we lost and our season is over. All the free-agent talk we can talk about in July.”

Asked about the likelihood of him returning to Utah, Boozer simply said, “I hope it’s good.”

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These Bucks No More?

Posted by Sekou Smith

ATLANTA — Now that the Fear The Dear movement is officially over, Bucks coach Scott Skiles made me wonder if the FTD era is over altogether.

Did you hear him after the Hawks punished the Bucks in Game 7 Sunday afternoon?

All it took for me was one sentence:

“In the summer a lot of moves are made so there is a high probability that this is the last time they are together as a unit,” Skiles said.

Now I’m not crazy enough to think that the Bucks planned on this being their team of the future.(John Hammond didn’t win that Executive of the Year award by spending his offseason on the golf course.)

And you have to know that the building blocks will remain the same (Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bogut, hopefully John Salmons, Carlos Delfino and perhaps even Luc Mbah a Moute and my main man Luke Ridnour, too — has to get him in there).

But the rest of the this most motley of crews could be totally different by training camp.

I’d gotten attached to these Bucks the past couple of weeks. There’s something about underdogs scaring the daylights out of the establishment that makes me feel better about the world of basketball. I needed everyone to Fear the Deer, even if they didn’t finish the job.

But Skiles brought me back to reality. There’s a good chance we won’t see Kurt Thomas doing his MMA routine for this team again next season. Rid is a free agent this summer as well, meaning he might not be a part of this crew next season. Jerry Stackhouse, Primoz Brezec and FOHT Royal Ivey are all free agents this summer.

We’re going to miss this team, folks.

We’re going to miss this movement.

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Pressure Gets Best of Bucks

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Posted by Sekou Smith

MILWAUKEE — That 34-31 halftime lead and the raucous Game 6 Bradley Center crowd was fool’s gold.

Bucks coach Scott Skiles knew something wasn’t right from the start.

His team appeared to be paralyzed by the moment, knowing that if they didn’t finish the Hawks on their home floor they’d face the prospect of a Game 7 in a similarly hostile environment.

“We came out and scored the first basket [of the second half],” Skiles said. “We were up five. But we were concerned, as a staff, at halftime, just because when you’re around each other, you see looks on faces and see what’s going on in the game and guys weren’t comfortable out there. They weren’t relaxed and comfortable and just playing basketball and communicating with each other like we do when we’re good. We just had some blank stares going on out there.”

Bucks guards Brandon Jennings and John Salmons were a combined 6-for-28 from the floor and 1-for-12 from beyond the 3-point line, ending their assault on the Hawks’ defense. They had been averaging 20 point each in the series but combined for 20 in Game 6.

The Hawks’ mixed their defense all game long, including an effective 2-3 zone after halftime that stymied the Bucks.

“We were out of sorts from the opening tip,” Skiles said. “We weren’t as aggressive as we’ve been, we were just standing around and watching each other a little too much. We just had open guys once again who had tunnel vision going on and we couldn’t get out of it. We were a little panicky out there tonight. They outplayed us. They deserved to win the game, so I don’t want to take anything from them. We really didn’t see people like we do when we are playing well, and they confused us quite a bit out there tonight.”

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Not Bad, For Rookies!

Posted by Sekou Smith

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brandon Jennings and Jamal Crawford made quite the pair.

They were just two (playoff) rookies Saturday night, taking their turns dazzling the crowd at Philips Arena as Crawford’s Hawks outlasted the Bucks, led by the rookie point guard who played like anything but.

They combined for 51 points, nearly as many wicked crossover dribbles and 100 times as many head shakes by the fans they delighted with their performances.

Jennings was magnificent in defeat, leading all scorers with 34 points on 14-for-25 shooting in 40 minutes of jaw-dropping offensive wizardry. He led the Bucks’ charge by his lonesome for a long stretch, before John Salmons joined him in the third quarter.

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His was the fourth-best scoring debut by a rookie in league history. But the best part was Jennings didn’t seem terribly impressed with himself, which was refreshing to see from one so precocious.

“I think we were a little nervous,” Jennings said, clearly speaking for some of his teammates and not himself.

It was clear, however, that not even his monster scoring effort was enough to help the Bucks get by. Still, Jennings knew he had to try to do something to spark his team.

“I just feel like without having Andrew Bogut, I had to go back to the way the way I was early in the season being more aggressive trying to score,” he said. ” That’s the only way we’ll have a chance to win.  Me, John and a couple of other guys are going to have to try to take the scoring load for us.”

Crawford didn’t have to worry about toting the load for the Hawks, who had six players in double figures by the end of the third quarter.

His appearance in the postseason was as much about erasing a stigma as it was anything.

After 676 games in the league (a full 10 years worth of basketball), he finally set foot on the floor in the playoffs. And it was everything he thought it would be.

“It definitely was,” Crawford said, answering the question with the same words nearly every time it was asked in the Hawks’ locker room after the game. “I got goosebumps as soon as we were on the court and saw everybody waving the white towels. It was just an amazing, amazing feeling.”

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Crawford’s 17 points were timely and much-needed, but he was just getting adjusted in Game 1.

“The intensity level, just like going from preseason to regular season. But it’s even more magnified here.” Crawford said. “You tire a little bit faster going up and down the court, and we’re all in shape at this point. It’s just that your adrenaline is rushing so hard. But we settled down, and we got the win … it just felt good to finally be out there.”

We can’t wait to see what these two have in store for us in Game 2!

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Life After Bogut

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We told you the other day that the Bucks would remain dangerous after that horrific injury to Andrew Bogut (and no, you won’t see a replay here).

Clinching their playoff spot with a gritty win over Chicago Tuesday night is proof that there is life in this Bucks team after Bogut:

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I love that the Bucks aren’t asking for anyone’s sympathy. They’re going to keep smacking people in the mouth on the defensive end, the way Scott Skiles loves it, and dare you to underestimate them.

Beside, they’ve been talking playoffs from the start, or at least that’s what Brandon Jennings told my main man Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel after the win in Chicago:

“I’ve been preaching it all year, since the first day of training camp, was trying to get to the playoffs,” Jennings said.

That’s what you want to hear from your rookie point guard, who assumes an even larger leadership role, along with John Salmons, with Bogut out.

The men charged with picking up the slack in his absence showed up against the Bulls, too. Kurt Thomas played well defensively and snagged 14 rebounds. He pointed to a couple of other veteran big bodies the Bucks will rely on as they head into the playoffs.

More on that from my main man Tom Enlund of the Journal Sentinel:

“We’ve got two 7-footers over there,” said Thomas.

The reference was to the Bucks’ twin-tower duo of 7-1 Primoz Brezec and the 6-11 [Dan] Gadzuric, who haven’t seen much playing time but now could figure in the rotation due to Bogut’s injuries.

Brezec, who was obtained by the Bucks in a trade with Philadelphia on Feb. 18, did not play against the Bulls and has played a total of 47 minutes in 10 games with Milwaukee. For the season, he has played a total of 114 minutes in 27 games (4.9 per game).

Gadzuric is averaging 9.3 minutes in 27 games.

Going into Tuesday’s game, both players admitted it was difficult to stay ready for game action when playing so infrequently, but both vowed to be ready when called upon.

“It’s always hard because you’re not in game-like situations,” said Gadzuric. “So when you’re out of the game, you do practice, you do one-on-one, two-on-two or do some skill work. But it’s never the same as being thrown into a game-like situation where there’s so many different X-factors that are going on that you normally don’t get out of practice or individual workouts.

“So when you’re put in the fire, you’ve got to apply all the stuff that you’ve done practice-wise and try to get into the chemistry and just try to just go with the game-flow.”

Said Brezec, “It is (difficult to stay ready). I can’t say (it isn’t). But I’ve been trying to do everything that I can to stay in shape, running on the treadmill and spending some extra time in the weight room. Work on my pick and roll stuff and just conditioning-wise.

“But it’s still different when you go into the game. But we’re professionals and we know that when we step on the court you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, you know?”

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Pick Your Playoff Poison

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Go ahead, stick your hand in that basket and see if you come back out with everything in place.

It’s April, the playoffs are around the corner, and anyone foolish enough to think they can dive into this snake pit and come out unscathed is dreaming.

Every night we get a perfect example of why certain teams (the Prime Minister pointed out three in particular) need to be avoided at all costs.

The Thunder showed that their youth and energy (and attention to defense) will carry them in difficult situations by winning on the road in Boston. Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns continued their buzz saw ride through the stretch run of the season, winning their ninth straight game in New Jersey. And the Jazz showed once again that they can play any style, outrunning the Warriors in the last game of the night.

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Who wants a piece of the young Thunder in the first round of the playoffs?

Who wants to see Steve Nash and Stoudemire on that pick and roll night after night in the first round?

And who thinks they’re going into Utah and winning a series against Jerry Sloan‘s team in a seven gamer?

Since the order seems to change daily, we’ll have to hold off before announcing the potential victims of these three teams (as of today we’d get a Jazz-Thunder matchup in Round 1).

But everyone has been warned!

More news, notes, quotes and opinions from around the league:

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CELTICS MOWED DOWN BY THE KD’S CREW

Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe: “They put six players in double digits, got 36 points from their bench, and saw Rasheed Wallace (team-high 18 points) submit the type of scoring performance they hadn’t seen in months. But in the end, a defensive-minded team found itself playing a game of last shot wins against a team with arguably the best scorer in the league. “It’s tough,” said Paul Pierce, who shook off the effects of two shoulder stingers in a three-day span to score 15 points. “You look at it, shooting so good and it not paying dividends in the win column. It’s tough to swallow.” Kevin Garnett put up 18 points and nine rebounds. Rajon Rondo posted a 16-point, 11-assist double-double. Glen Davis added 10 points off the bench, and yet it wasn’t enough. The Celtics hit 44 of 74 field goals, but they got into a shootout with a team that came in averaging 100 points. They “held’’ the young, explosive Thunder to 50.7 percent shooting. But the one factor they couldn’t control was Kevin Durant, who has made scoring binges look routine. Last night’s 37-point outing — his 40th game this season with at least 30 points — was no different. Durant quietly threw darts at the Celtics, going 10 of 20 from the floor. When Wallace knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 99-98 with 4:22 left, Durant answered with a 20-footer that put the Thunder back up by 1. But Durant’s most damaging blows came from the free throw line, where he knocked down all of his game-high 15 attempts, including two after drawing a foul on Pierce that left the Celtics captain so mad that he stomped from the free throw line to the corner of the court. The free throws put the Thunder ahead, 102-101, and from that point they never trailed. “It was a battle of the offenses, it seemed like, and whoever had the ball last was going to win,’’ Pierce said. “Both teams really had a good rhythm going on the offensive end and we were struggling to get stops and they were, too. It was that type of night. They really executed well, they put Durant in great positions to score, where it was really hard to trap him, and they spread the court and that’s why it was a big game. He goes to the line 15 times and that’s why he’s the league’s leading scorer.”

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JAZZ STILL MARCHING

Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune: “If they were paying attention to the out-of-town scores, the Jazz would have realized in the first half Wednesday that they would have to wait for another night to take over second place in the Western Conference. That didn’t stop them from flattening the Golden State Warriors like a runaway cable car, opening with a 40-point first quarter, continuing to a 76-point first half that was their highest scoring all season and rolling to a 128-104 victory at EnergySolutions Arena. Building a 27-point lead by halftime, the Jazz went on to extend their home winning streak to nine games. They closed an unforgiving 17-game schedule in March 12-5 and reached 50 wins for the third time in the last four seasons. “We think Utah is probably as good as anybody in the West that we have seen,” Golden State coach Don Nelson said. “We have a lot of respect for them. They did what they were supposed to do.” “We came in [shorthanded] and didn’t have any size and they just didn’t give us a chance. They put the screws to us in the first quarter and just added to it. That’s what good teams are supposed to do.” … After facing four consecutive lottery-bound teams in Indiana, Washington, New York and Golden State, the Jazz will take a major step up Friday against the defending champion Lakers, who completed a disappointing 2-3 trip with a loss Wednesday in Atlanta. The Jazz have dropped 13 consecutive games to the Lakers at Staples Center, counting the 2008 and 2009 playoffs, and scored just six points in the fourth quarter of a 101-77 loss back on Dec. 9. “It’s going to be tough,” Williams said. “We know they’re going to be hungry after the way they played the last five games. It’s a good test for us.” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said simply: “I hope we go and play them and not be intimidated.”

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SUNS BLOW BY NETS FOR NINTH STRAIGHT

Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic: “The Suns have not won this many games in a row since their 17-game win streak in the 2006-07 season. They rarely take a night off, winning their past 15 games against teams with current losing records. “We can’t afford a slip-up,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s important that you play your best basketball in April. I think we’re doing that.” They have won 23 of their past 28 games, a stretch matched only by Cleveland, but remained in fourth place in the West after Dallas and Utah won Wednesday. “We’re playing well enough to become a force, but we’re trying to do more,” Stoudemire said. Phoenix (49-26) trailed New Jersey (10-65) by three at the half, just as they had against Chicago on Tuesday. The Suns scored 13 unanswered points, including eight by Richardson, to start a game-turning, 38-point third quarter. “They came out guns-a-blazing,” New Jersey point guard Devin Harris said after shooting 2 for 10 while also battling a sore back. Stoudemire’s NBA-best active streak of 27 games of 18 points or more ended Wednesday, but the effect of his two-month tear is loosening defenses. “They’re definitely sagging on me to distract me from scoring out there, but the guys are doing a great job of knocking down open shots,” said Stoudemire, who shot his fewest free-throw attempts (two) since Jan. 26, the previous time he failed to score 18. “They’ve got to respect the inside game or the outside one. They’ve got to pick their poison. It’s all right as long as we keep winning.”

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MAVS’ DECADE OF WINING CONTINUES

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “The Mavericks  don’t consider 50 wins a big deal, but they should. Assistant coach Dwane Casey was talking before the game about how Seattle, for whom he was an assistant during much of the ’90s, expected 50 wins every season in the Gary Payton era. The Mavericks are the same way in the Dirk Nowitzki era. But it’s not something to be taken lightly, even if the Mavericks won their 50th game this season Wednesday night and have 10 consecutive 50-win seasons. “It’s a benchmark for a successful season,” Rick Carlisle said. “Most people around the league view it as a significant number. For us, I don’t know that it is. We’re always trying to get more, more, more.” As J.J. Barea said: If you told any NBA team before the season that it would finish with 50 wins, nearly all of them would take it. Yes, these Mavericks have bigger fish to fry. But consider that only four franchises in NBA history have strung together 10 consecutive 50-win seasons, and you realize how good the Mavericks have been. And how appreciative fans should be. There hasn’t been a title, and that’s something the Mavericks have to deal with. But it’s impossible to say they haven’t given themselves a chance – and fans their money’s worth.”

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GASOL’S TOUGHNESS STILL IN QUESTION

T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: “I think I’m very very tough,” [Pau] Gasol says, and later when  Phil Jackson is told that Gasol considers himself very very tough, he says with a grin, “I think two verys is too many.” Gasol disagrees, apparently mistaking Jackson for a referee, and saying, “I would never have been as successful as I am if I wasn’t tough.” Jackson calls it “grit,” and says Gasol is lacking it. Others simply say he’s too soft. Jackson says most teams come out with the intention of beating him up, “and he is who he is and we can’t change that.” When it does appear as if Gasol is playing with more verve, as it did the other night, Jackson isn’t buying it, calling Gasol, “nifty.” “Is that what he said?” Gasol says. “That’s interesting how he plays with words. But that’s Phil. I understand where he comes from. Yeah, he tries to motivate me by giving out those comments, but sometimes I don’t really listen.” Or so he says, Jackson knowing differently, telling Gasol the other night Gasol has difficulty posting up New Orleans center Emeka Okafor, and “so Pau scores the first 14 points in the game,” Jackson says. “And five of the seven times he scores, he looks over to the bench. I told him later he doesn’t have to look, ‘you know how to motivate yourself.’ “

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COACH JAMES DRAWS UP WINNING PLAY

George M. Thomas of the Beacon Journal: ”When he brought it up, I kind of chuckled because I was like: ‘Really? Are you kidding me?’ And lo and behold, they went out there and executed the play to a T,” the coach said. ”I don’t know if we’ve ever run the play before in that situation.” James said it’s a play that the team doesn’t use a lot intentionally. ”We lull teams to sleep and we keep it in our back pocket and I knew it was a set they wouldn’t be ready for, because we hadn’t run it all day,” he said. It was one that certainly came in handy, as the Bucks wreaked havoc on the Cavs for much of the game. Anytime the Cavs got any sort of separation, the Bucks would come right back at them. Forward John Salmons caused much of the trouble, scoring 28 points, grabbing five rebounds and handing out seven assists. Anytime the Bucks needed a significant basket, Salmons seemed to be ready to deliver it. With the Cavs up by 10 points and looking to create more separation, Salmons began the 10-0 run that helped bring the Bucks back. He connected on a 5-foot layup to start it. And about six minutes later, he helped to give the Bucks some momentum by hitting a 24-foot, 3-point shot to put them ahead 80-79. He wasn’t alone in his efforts. The Bucks’ defense clamped down on the Cavs, holding them scoreless for 6:05 from the third quarter leading into the fourth. ”We did a nice job battling and getting back in the game,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. ”We just weren’t able to close it.”

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BEASLEY HEATS UP

Michael Wallace of the Miami Herald: “It was the ultimate luxury for the Heat. With the offensive clicking and the defense swarming, Dwyane Wade checked back into Wednesday’s game after an extended rest in the second quarter in an unfamiliar spot. When Wade went to the bench at the end of the first, the Heat trailed by two points. When Wade came back late in the second, Miami was up by 13. That’s what the stretch run of the season is all about for the Heat — stretching the potential of Wade’s supporting cast as Miami prepares for the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Heat worked wonders without Wade while working over the Detroit Pistons for a 98-81 victory at The Palace. With the victory, Miami (41-34) extended its longest winning streak of the season to six games and is the hottest team in the East. It also moved to within a half-game of the Milwaukee Bucks for the fifth seed with seven games remaining. “We have that confidence going,” said Wade, limited to 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting. “I’m not going to be spectacular every night. I can’t be. We know what works for us. That’s playing defense and everybody stepping up and making plays.” The big quarter for the Heat this time came in the second, when it outscored the Pistons 31-20, with the second unit taking charge after a sluggish opening from the starters. Miami’s lead grew to 18 in the third and reached 20 early in the fourth. Miami got a timely boost from forward Michael Beasley, who abandoned his errant jumper and attacked the paint to get 28 points and nine rebounds. The performance came on the heels of a 1-for-10 outing Sunday against Toronto that left Beasley seeking advice from team president Pat Riley, among others, about ways to improve. “A wise man once told me that my greatest gift is forgetting,” Beasley said of moving past his struggles. “I wasn’t trying to do too much. All I tried to do is stay really aggressive.”

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BLAZER CLINCH PLAYOFF SPOT, AIMING FOR MORE

Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune: “Portland couldn’t have had an easier time securing a spot in the postseason for the second straight year in lambasting the Knicks 118-90 at the Rose Garden. The victory, combined with Dallas’ win over Memphis, put the Blazers’ magic number at zero. It was the ninth victory in 10 games and 12th in 14 for Portland (46-29), which remained in seventh place in the Western Conference playoff race with seven games left on the regular-season schedule. Considering the rash of injuries the Blazers (46-29) have incurred through the season – causing players to miss 293 games, second-most in the NBA to Golden State – coach Nate McMillan was glad to wrap up the playoffs early. “It’s a great accomplishment,” said McMillan, said. “Losing so many guys, we knew it was going to be a challenge, but it remained a goal to get here. “Now we get that opportunity (to participate in the playoffs) again. This is what it’s all about. This is what we play for. And we still have games remaining that we’re going to focus on, starting (Thursday) in Denver. We’ve been able to clinch. Now let’s see if we can continue to play good basketball and move up.” Portland is in the seventh spot in the West, only four games back of No. 2 Dallas (50-25), 3 1/2 games behind No. 3 Utah (50-26), three games back of No. 4 Phoenix (49-26) and two games behind No. 5 Denver (48-27). Unfortunately for the Blazers, all the other West playoff teams except the Los Angeles Lakers – including No. 6 Oklahoma City (46-28) and No. 8 San Antonio (45-29) – also won Wednesday night. Moving up to fourth and gaining homecourt advantage in the first round “is definitely still possible,” Portland point guard Andre Miller said. “We’ll see how that works out.”

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HAWKS DANGEROUS, TOO?

Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “The knock on the Hawks — even they concede the point — is that they don’t always fight as hard against the minnows as they do versus the barracudas. But soon that will become a non-issue. The Knicks and the 76ers won’t be playing beyond the 82nd game. Said Crawford, smiling: “In the playoffs you only get good teams. That’s good for us.” And it is. When the Hawks lock in, they’re a load. The Lakers were motivated in a way great teams seldom are motivated in the 75th game of a regular season — “We tried our best,” Ron Artest would say — and it didn’t matter. The Hawks seized the lead with 1:35 left in the first quarter and never let it slip. This wasn’t just a victory. This was domination. The Hawks outscored the defending champions by 12 baskets. They made only five turnovers, none in the second half. (Think about that.) Seven Hawks scored in double figures. Their bench outscored the Lakers reserves 48-22. “They’ve got a lot of hard-nosed guys on that team, like Ron Artest and Lamar Odom,” Josh Smith said. “It felt good to see everyone play hard and not back down.” On the contrary, it was the Lakers who conceded. Kobe Bryant sat out the final 2:32, his services rendered inoperative. Splendid as he is, there are no 17-point shots in this sport. “We were solid from beginning to end,” Woodson said, and if the Hawks stay solid there’s no telling how high they can fly this spring. (Indeed, they nosed ahead of Boston on Wednesday for the third spot in the East.) No, they don’t have a Kobe or a LeBron, but they do have a deep and talented and resourceful team. The consensus holds that the Hawks are doomed to lose either to Cleveland or Orlando in Round 2, but if you’re the Cavs or the Magic do you really want to see this team in a best-of-seven? The Hawks finally broke through against Orlando last week, and they’ll have another chance at LeBron’s crew in Cleveland on Friday. And is there any better fortification for a trip to Quicken Loans Arena than a 17-point drubbing of the defending champions? “This team has a lot of potential when it’s focused,” Evans said, and these Hawks are focused in a way they haven’t been in … what, decades? As Woodson keeps saying, they’re playing for something. And when they’re playing like this, they can beat anybody anywhere.”

***

BOBCATS TAKE ADVANTAGE AT THE LINE

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer: “Turnovers and free throws. Those aren’t the only two statistics Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown values, but when he glances at the box score, you know that’s where his eyes wander. So when the Bobcats forced 25 Philadelphia 76ers turnovers and reached the foul line 35 times, was there really any doubt who won? They defended like they cared and drove like the understood in a 103-84 victory Monday. The win made them 39-35, still in seventh place in the East and two games ahead of eighth-place Toronto, who beat the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday. They got back to what forward Gerald Wallace (24 point and 12 rebounds) was talking about on Tuesday, when he said his team strayed from their principles in Monday’s loss to the Raptors. The Bobcats were seduced by the 3-point shot in that game and stopped playing team defense. They still took 20 3s Wednesday, but Brown said that was in part a function of the Sixers playing zone defense much of the second half. When you outscore the opponent 27-5 from the foul line, you’re playing right and only a fluke could keep you from winning. “We caused a lot of turnovers, which created a lot of transition, and that caused a lot of free-throw opportunities,” Brown said, in what could be this team’s mission statement. Perhaps the most promising development Wednesday was center Tyson Chandler’s play. He scored 15 points – most as a Bobcat – off just five shots from the field. After a series of foot and ankle ailments that started before the off-season trade with New Orleans, Chandler finally looks able-bodied and assertive. “I feel a lot better,” said Chandler, adding he’s still about 85 percent, health-wise. “It’s time to get my legs under me.”

***

Last Rites

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We were hoping we’d have to wait another 11 games or so do this, but it’s become painfully clear that it’s time to put an end to the playoff dreams of a few teams, including (dabbing napkin to BluBlockers) Hang Time’s Grizzlies.

Our boys are not alone. The Bulls and Rockets are in need of last rites as well.

It’s a sad day here at the hideout, where the Prime Minister was the first to notice that the end, however painful it might be, was already here for these teams.

At least our Grizzlies are still fighting until the very end. The Rockets are, too.

We can’t say the same about the Bulls, who flashed a little playoff potential earlier in the season before injuries (and a head-scratching trade — John Salmons anyone?) led to their current slide. They’ve lost 11 of their last 13 games, with those two wins coming over the Rockets and the mighty 76ers, another team that could have set out on summer break a month or so ago.

The Bulls saved Vinny Del Negro‘s job with a run that began the day after Christmas and ended late last month. The Bulls were 18-11 in January and February. And that’s usually a good indication that a team is surging at just the right time. But starting with a Feb. 27 road loss in Indiana, the Bulls went on a 10-game slide that cost them any chance of keeping the pace for a playoff spot.

In defense of our Grizzlies, and you had to know this was coming, they are simply the victims of having to play in a power conference. They’re 18-9 against the Eastern Conference. If they just swapped conferences with the Bulls, they’d be battling the Bucks and Heat for the fifth spot in the playoff race.

Still, it’s time for us to end the playoff campaign honorably. There’s no need dragging our guys through the drama over the next couple weeks without any realistic chance that they’ll be rewarded for an admirable season.

We will rest this summer, see what the summer (the draft and free agency) brings us and then be back next year ready to fight for the right to party into the postseason.

But make no mistake, Hang Time’s Grizzlies will rise again!

***

REMEMBER THE WARRIORS?

There’s only an outside shot they’d meet in the postseason, but the Mavericks should be worried about their inability to do anything with the Trail Blazers this season.

They struggled during the regular season like this a couple years back with a Warriors team that ended up dumping them in the playoffs.

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News talks about the team that currently holds the power over the Mavericks:

“Maybe it’s true that everybody has their personal kryptonite.

For the Mavericks, it’s got to be the Portland Trail Blazers.

Heading toward the playoffs, the Mavericks should avoid the Blazers at all costs in the first round. Portland made it 3-0 against the Mavericks this season with a 101-89 victory early this morning at the Rose Garden. The Blazers remain the only team in the NBA the Mavericks have yet to beat this season.

But as for a team having another team’s number, coach Rick Carlisle wasn’t buying it.

“They’re no bargain,’’ he said. “But we’re no bargain. You want to play us?’’

At the moment, the Mavericks’ fear-factor is somewhat diminished. They now have lost four of their last six games since the 13-game winning streak that seems like eons ago.

Some disturbing numbers Thursday were their zero — yes, zero — fast-break points and the fact that they only got to the free-throw line nine times.

And allowing 50-percent shooting was a bit problematic, too.

“They played a really good game,’’ said Shawn Marion. “It was a playoff game out there. There was a little testosterone going on.’’

The Mavericks simply came up short in this one.

“Look, we had zero fast break points and that to me means you just got to get more stops and give yourself more chances to got out and run,’’ Carlisle said. “They beat us 16-0 and that’s hard to overcome.”

We’re not suggesting that we could be in store for another such series this postseason (for starters, we don’t believe the Blazers possess that same sort of schizophrenic brilliance that Warriors team did). And Carlisel clearly isn’t buying it.

But it’s worth paying attention to if you are the Mavericks.

***

DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY FOR HORFORD

We’re not sure Al Horford meant for this to come out the way it did (English is his second language), but we’d like to commend the Hawks’ All-Star center for saying it.

When Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked him why the Hawks can’t seem to hold on to late-game leads  Horford pointed the finger in the right direction.

“That really falls on the guys that are running our team,” he said. “The guards have the ball in their hands. They control the game, and that’s something they have to kind of realize.”

There’s no telling if this comment will make it back to the people it needs to, the guys Horford identified. But it would be nice if it did, for the Hawks’ sake. Maybe then they’d stop blowing those late leads.

***

THE WHAT IF GAME WITH BEASLEY

Michael Beasley‘s a lot of things, but shy about expressing his true feelings is not one of them.

He says what is on his mind whenever he is approached. And that’s a great thing for us and probably a horrible thing for the Miami Heat’s PR machine.

My main man Michael Wallace of the Miami Herald dishes up some timely scoop from Beasley:

“There are times when Michael Beasley  wonders how things might have turned out had he switched places with Derrick Rose in the 2008 draft.

The Bulls selected Rose No. 1 overall, and Beasley was drafted second by Miami.

Since then, Rose has become a cornerstone of the franchise and an All-Star. Beasley has become a starter, but the only constants with him have been inconsistencies in his performance and fluctuating playing time.

Conventional wisdom would suggest Rose has delivered as an impact player while Beasley is still developing.

“I think, ‘what if’ on a lot of things. I’m a ‘what-if’ thinker,” Beasley said before Thursday’s game against the Bulls. “I think things would have been different [for me] here. They don’t have Dwyane Wade. No disrespect to D-Wade or anything. But it’s a fact. A lot of things would happen different.”

Beasley insists he isn’t envious of Rose’s status in Chicago. But Beasley believes his development in Miami has been slower because he is on a veteran team, which requires more patience.

“I feel like I haven’t shown nothing yet,” Beasley said. “I’m kind of disgusted with the way I’ve played these two years. I averaged 14 points last year, 15 this year. Those are disgusting numbers — based on my expectations. I just don’t like them.”

Beasley said he is still a bit surprised he wasn’t the No. 1 pick, based on the workout he had in Chicago and his talks with the Bulls front office.

But he knows there is no looking back. Instead, Beasley searches for the impact he had in college, when he averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds his lone and All-American season at Kansas State.

“I haven’t played in two years, freely,” Beasley said. “I don’t know who Mike Beasley, the NBA player, is. I look back to K-State. But we haven’t seen him in two years. I’m waiting on him to call. I guess it isn’t my time yet. Hopefully, I’ll find him.”

Keep it real Michael Beasley, keep it real!

ANOTHER SMITH DELIVERS THE GOODS
Just so we are clear, the Smith name is safe in the NAB so long as guys like my cousin Craig (of the LA Smiths and Clippers) is getting the job done:
Get ’em big fella!
***
CANZANO STAYS AFTER BLAZERS

HT favorite John Canzano of the Oregonian continues to poke holes in the Blazers’ off-court operation and what he sees as their dysfunction, despite statements to the contrary.
We’re not picking sides here. You can do that for yourself.
“The statement was released a couple of hours before tip on Thursday. It consisted of three paragraphs. And the only thing anyone can reasonably gather after reading it is that Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen must have realized that he’d better issue the statement lest he be forced into an uncomfortable position of having to support his general manager.

A few hours later, Allen would be courtside at the Rose Garden Arena, wearing a suit and tie while watching the team he’s owned for 21 seasons. His general manager, Kevin Pritchard, would be on the road, scouting prospects, preparing for the NBA Draft and running off résumés.

Without those flimsy three paragraphs Allen would have to answer questions. He’d have to give Pritchard a guaranteed future or acknowledge what we all already know — that the Blazers general manager is a dead-man walking.

“Painful to see a friend in that spot,” one Blazers front-office executive said. A second offered that Pritchard should stop moping, channel the theories of “The Secret” and start projecting confidence, “You know, I believe what you put out comes back around to you.” And before Allen arrived at the arena a Blazers spokesperson was dispatched to inform reporters that the Blazers owner would have no further statement.

That’s all he has to say on the matter.

Given that he could have ended the speculation on Thursday, I’m not sure we need to hear anything more from Allen. But I asked him at the end of the first half, as he headed into the room he uses as an office, if he’d mind going stronger with the comments on Pritchard.

The Blazers owner waved me off and shook his head. I asked him if there was anything more he wanted to say to Blazers fans. He hurried off, waving his hands and shaking his head. He finally nudged one of his private security guards and pointed at me before disappearing into a room with a small group that included Vulcan executive Bert Kolde, who was puffing his chest out at me.

After the door closed, a second security guard turned to me and said, “Keep writing what you write.”

Fear The Deer!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We weren’t late to the Bucks’ bandwagon.

We jumped on shortly after the All-Star break, apologizing for not believing in Andrew Bogut‘s All-Star campaign and not recognizing a true up and coming team before they started slapping the big boys in the face.

But it’s okay now, you are cordially invited to “Fear the Deer” now and into the playoffs. The Bucks are trouble and will certainly be that for some poor team in the first round of the playoffs.

Scott Skiles has done his usual, taking a team that didn’t look like a winner and browbeating it into doing just that.

Sure, it helps to have a mercurial rookie point guard like Brandon Jennings to work with. And it always helps to have a legitimate big with skills like Bogut. That 15-2 record since John Salmons showed up is pretty impressive as well.

But the man most responsible for what’s going on in Milwaukee is the one you probably don’t know.

Bucks general manager John Hammond has played the role of discreet architect in Milwaukee this season better than anything Sandra Bullock or Mo’Nique did to earn Oscars.

It’s too bad he’s not a publicity hound like some of his colleagues around the league, because he actually deserves the attention.

The Bucks are the best team in the league since All-Star Weekend. The Bucks, not the Mavericks or Cavaliers, Lakers or Jazz.

They still have to prove themselves in the postseason, like all upstarts have to do. But you’d be nuts to assume that what they’ve done the last month or so has been a fluke.

Like we said, Fear the Deer!

Playoff implications

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — More than just wins and losses are on the line this time of year in the NBA.

When the Spurs and Thunder square off they are fighting for playoff position in the Western Conference and tiebreakers. Same goes for the Bucks and Hawks, who gave us a preview Monday night of what we might see come playoff time if they lock horns in the first round as the 4-5 matchup.

Playoff implications are the name of the game this time of year. It’s just a fact. And if the postseason games look anything like the stuff we saw Monday night, we’re all in for a treat.

Some news, notes, quotes and even an opinion or two from around the league:

HILL, SPURS TAKE THUNDER TO FINISHING SCHOOL

Buck Harvey of the Express-News: “They were the only players left in the locker room. George Hill on one end, Tim Duncan on the other. Duncan had already walked stiff-legged to a chair, having followed 41 minutes in Atlanta with another 35 Monday, and now he was relaxing while looking at the box score. He noticed something peculiar. Hill scored 27 points, his career high — yet ended with zero assists? “We already have one point guard who doesn’t pass,” said Duncan loud enough for Hill to hear. Note to Tony Parker: Duncan appeared to be kidding. Hill smiled, and this is how teammates act after a win as significant as any they’ve had this season. This is also how teammates act when they fit together as equals. Which is just what Gregg Popovich has been hoping would happen with Hill. For Popovich, the night couldn’t have been better. Afterward he called this one of “the finest wins” of this era. Duncan said he wouldn’t go that far. He and Popovich have won four championships, after all. Still, Duncan called it the best of the season. The Spurs had exhausted themselves the night before in an overtime loss in Atlanta, and there they were, on the road again, in a game that mattered in the standings, finding a way to win. The seeds of this were planted in Atlanta. Then, Popovich pulled Hill aside and told him he had become a “deferrer.” “Is that a word?” Popovich joked.”


SALMONS TO THE RESCUE AS BUCKS CLIP HAWKS

Mike Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: “So you’re John Salmons, the best Milwaukee import since Bavarian hops, and you’re going back and forth in the fourth quarter with Joe Johnson like Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins, matching the Atlanta guard shot for remarkable shot in yet another of his habitually clutch performances for the Bucks. So what’s that like? “The best person to explain that in this locker room is Brandon (Jennings),” Salmons said Monday night after dropping 32 on the Hawks, “because he got 55.” And that right there would be one of the better reasons to fear the Deer. Jennings, a strong rookie of the year candidate in part because of the double-nickels he scored on Golden State back in November, had already showered, dressed and left the locker room. He had time to do that because he had poor shooting night, just 1 of 8, and wasn’t on the floor when the Bucks wrapped up an exhilarating 98-95 comeback against the Hawks. But Jennings wasn’t the only one. Andrew Bogut struggled again, going 4 of 11. Ersan Ilyasova couldn’t find the basket, either. And still, these Bucks continue to find a way. They did it with Luke Ridnour. They did it with Carlos Delfino. They did it with Salmons making five of seven shots and scoring 16 points in a fourth-quarter zone-like trance of which he said, “It was just one of those games where every shot you take was going to go in, no matter how you took it.” They did it with Johnson, 7 of 11 for 14 points himself in the fourth, committing a silly foul near the end. They did it with guile, defense and the sort of determination that has made them the NBA’s best story since Salmons joined them at the trading deadline. They are 15-2 since that mid-February defining moment, with Salmons averaging 19.8 points as a Buck, and the thing of it is, they know they could play a whole lot better. “I’m not going to be able to trick them (today) at practice at say, ‘Hey, it was a great game,’ ” coach Scott Skiles said.”


JAZZ SHOW METTLE IN MEASURING STICK WIN OVER CELTICS

Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune: “They weren’t better than the Boston Celtics when they met eight games into their season back in November, but the Jazz just might have eclipsed one of the NBA’s championship favorites with the playoffs just 31/2 weeks away. Much like their season as a whole, the Jazz were better in the second half than the first half Monday night, erasing the Celtics’ 12-point lead and taking a 110-97 victory that left coach Jerry Sloan saying simply, “They played like a team should play.” The Jazz scored the last seven points going into halftime and the first nine points coming back from the break. They took off from there, snapping Boston’s four-game winning streak and closing within a half-game of No. 3 Dallas, which lost to New Orleans. “We came out like a bullet out of a gun,” Carlos Boozer said of the Jazz’s second-half surge, adding, “I hope everybody in this locker room had fun tonight because we played against a championship-caliber team and beat them.” Deron Williams made just 5 of 14 shots but forced the issue against Rajon Rondo and Nate Robinson, earning trip after trip to the foul line. Williams converted all 11 of his free throws and totaled 22 points and 11 assists. Rondo had six points and six assists. C.J. Miles led with 23 points — compared to 26 combined for Boston’s Ray Allen and Paul Pierce — Mehmet Okur finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds while hitting four second-half three-pointers and Carlos Boozer had 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. “We’re just proud of the way we played and the way we responded in that second half,” Williams said. “It says a lot about our character and I thought we matched their toughness. “They’re a team that tries to come out and intimidate you and be physical and I thought we were physical right back with them.” The Celtics have been a measuring stick for the Jazz ever since Utah was humbled 105-86 Nov. 11 in Boston. Williams has credited the Celtics with exemplifying the team play that was missing then for the Jazz, who have gone 27-8 since Jan. 9.”


PAUL’S RETURN SPARKS HORNETS’ ROUT OF MAVERICKS

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “The Mavericks  on Monday night were like a lot of tourists in this town. They started the evening alert and in great shape. But like those visitors to Bourbon Street, the weaving and wobbling began quickly, followed by lapses in concentration and, finally, they fell down and could not get back up. The New Orleans Hornets, stoked by the return of Chris Paul from knee surgery, overcame an early 16-point Mavericks’ lead and rolled to a 115-99 victory that seemed all-too-simple. The Mavericks were doomed to their third loss in four games because they couldn’t stop the Hornets. Offensively, the Mavericks got what they wanted, shooting well over 50 percent for most of the game. Their only problem was holding onto the ball. They had 20 turnovers that the Hornets converted into 35 points. “I’m very disturbed about this,” said Shawn Marion. “We got up by 15 points or so and called it quits. We’re a tough, talented team. But we relaxed.” As poor as the Mavericks looked from the second quarter on, it was almost inconceivable that they actually had a 32-16 lead late in the first period. From there, they were outscored 36-13 over the rest of the first half, putting a half-filled New Orleans Arena in a festive mood, which hasn’t happened often this season. Down 45-37, the Hornets went on a 23-0 run that put them up 60-45 early in the third quarter. The Mavericks never recovered. “To give up 30-plus points in the final three quarters is embarrassing,” said Dirk Nowitzki. “I still like all the pieces on this team. But we’ve got to get back to that defensive mentality. Once we lose that defensive attitude, it becomes too easy for the opponent.”


SUNS HOLD OF PESKY WARRIORS IN BATTLE OF HIGHEST SCORING TEAMS

Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic: “The NBA’s two highest-scoring teams could not get away from each other Monday night. Playing into each other’s hands, the Warriors and Suns exchanged points without a scoring lull. Neither team led by more than six points, but Golden State proved persistent, regaining the lead six times in the fourth quarter before Stoudemire’s relentless, unstoppable attack on Tolliver ultimately proved to be too much. Phoenix did not trail after the dunk, which came with 2:33 left. “We never could get any separation from them,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “We were always running on makes. “We’re lucky to win the game. Coming in on the second game of a back-to-back and playing the complete opposite type of team we played last night (Portland), we’ll take it.” Stoudemire’s 37-point game was nearly as efficient as his 44-point performance Friday against Utah. He made 12 of 15 shots and 13 of 15 free throws, scoring 18 in the fourth quarter to lead the Suns to their fifth consecutive victory. His ninth and final rebound proved crucial when Grant Hill missed two free throws with the Suns leading 127-124 with 33.7 seconds remaining. Stoudemire was fouled and converted the free throws until Hill again missed two free throws with a 129-126 lead and 24.6 seconds to play. Monta Ellis missed a 3-point shot to tie. He shot 9 for 27 after averaging 36 points in the previous three games. But Steve Nash, who is chasing the all-time career free-throw shooting record, missed a free throw for the second time in the fourth quarter to leave Phoenix ahead only 132-129 with 8.8 seconds to play. Phoenix took a foul on Ellis, who made the first and accidentally banked in the second to make it 132-131 with 4.3 seconds to go. Stoudemire then missed one of two free throws, leaving the Suns to sweat an Ellis 30-foot heave for the win that missed at the buzzer.”


BULLS FEED OFF NOAH’S ENERGY, KNOCK OFF ROCKETS

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “The question hung in the air for a few seconds, first prompting a sly grin from Joakim Noah. Asked if he expected to play major minutes down the stretch of the Bulls’ playoff push, Noah’s cat-ate-the-canary comportment made it difficult to tell if his answer will be prescient or presumptuous. “I’m very confident that will happen,” Noah said, locking eyes with his questioner. Such boldness, of course, elicited the follow-up of whether Noah believes the Bulls can make up their 2 1/2-game deficit for the final playoff position with just 13 games to play. Another grin and then: “We’re going to be all right.” This spirit is what the Bulls have missed beyond Noah’s ability to defend, rebound and run the floor. This swagger is what must be present in major doses as the Bulls seek to simulate finishes of 12-4 last season and 12-2 in 2006 to achieve the unlikely. Even in his brief 9-minute, 22-second stint Saturday against the 76ers as he returned from missing 10 games with plantar fasciitis, Noah made his presence felt with seven points and four rebounds. That playing time — and that impact — must grow. “What he brings is what we need,” guard Derrick Rose said of Noah. “When he’s out there, he affects the game offensively and defensively. The way he runs puts pressure on people and you know he’s going to be an up-tempo, energy-type guy. “You don’t have to worry about rebounding because he boxes people out and gets us running. We just feel more confident when he’s in.”


HANG TIME’S GRIZZLIES POUND (EVANS-LESS) KINGS

Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal: “Zach Randolph was in the right place at the right time. But what else is new? When Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay missed a 16-foot shot, there was Randolph with his hands ready. The basketball found him, and Randolph –- winding down arguably the greatest individual season in franchise history –- caught the rebound and earned two free throws as he was hacked on what would have been an effortless put-back. Randolph set a franchise record for total rebounds in a single season Monday night during the third quarter of the Grizzlies’ 102-85 victory over the Sacramento Kings. “It’s crazy just watching him,” Gay said. “You feel like you can throw anything up and he’s going to get it. What he’s doing is a big reason why we’re winning.” The Grizzlies’ blue-collar forward finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds in Arco Arena. Randolph passed Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s mark of 825 rebounds set in the 1999-00 season. Abdur-Rahim watched the feat as an assistant coach on Sacramento’s bench. “I pride myself on rebounding,” Randolph said. “It means a lot (to get the record). Plus, we got the win. I feel my impact with these guys. I have a great supporting group. This is a good team.” The game was tied at 80 with about six minutes left to play in the fourth period. Randolph scored at the rim to give the Griz a lead, and then O.J. Mayo put the contest out of the Kings’ reach. Mayo scored 10 straight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers, that helped the Griz build a 92-83 lead that forced Kings coach Paul Westphal to call for time with 3:28 remaining. After Sacramento misfired on a three-point attempt, Memphis stayed with the hot hand. This time, Mayo caught a pass in the lane and immediately lobbed the ball to Darrell Arthur for an alley-oop dunk that gave the Griz their first double-digit lead. Mayo finished with 20 points on 7-of-19 shooting, and all five Griz starters scored in double figures. Gay added 17 points and seven rebounds. “I was so cold,” Mayo said with a chuckle. “The first two shots I made were in the flow of our offense. Coach saw I was heating up and he called my number a couple of times.”