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Posted: Monday March 16, 2009 4:01PM; Updated: Monday March 16, 2009 6:24PM
Paul Forrester Paul Forrester >
INSIDE THE NBA

Brown has Bobcats in playoff hunt (cont.)

What's hot

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Andrea Bargnani has been effective as a starting center for the Raptors.
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Atlanta's home cooking. With Mike Woodson and Josh Smith again at odds, the Hawks found a way to deflect the bad news -- winning five straight at home with a heavy dose of Joe Johnson, who has averaged 27.6 points on 50 percent shooting during the streak.

The Tyson Chandler effect. The Hornets are 9-2 since the big man returned from a sprained ankle (and had his trade to Oklahoma City rescinded), a stretch in which Chandler has averaged 9.3 points and 10.6 rebounds and shot 56.6 percent.

Andrea Bargnani's starting turn. The No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft has distanced himself from the "bust" label a few were whispering before Christmas. A full-time starter since January, the 7-foot Italian center has averaged 17.3 points and 6.2 rebounds and shot 42.9 percent from three-point range in 48 starts.

What's not

Franchise security. A few days after the Pacers' ownership said it could no longer afford the operating costs on Conseco Fieldhouse, The Boston Globe reported that the Kings could move to Anaheim if they can't secure a new arena in Sacramento. With public funding for new arenas as dry as the economy is down, not all of these rumored franchise shifts will remain rumors.

Phoenix's playoff hopes. Back-to-back victories against Oklahoma City and Golden State helped, but the Suns still began the week four games behind Dallas for the No. 8 seed in the West.

St. Patrick's Day jerseys. After donning green jerseys Sunday as part of the NBA's plan to market St. Patrick's Day-themed gear for all 30 teams, the Raptors joined the Lakers in expressing their discomfort with the concept, which strikes some players as too evocative of the Celtics. "Wackness," Chris Bosh said of the jersey.

Scout's take

Many believe the MVP race is a three-man affair among LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Quietly, though, New Orleans' Chris Paul is putting together an even better season than in 2007-08, when he finished second in the MVP balloting. An NBA scout assesses what makes Paul so effective.

"He's mentally engaged in the game more than any player on the floor at all times. He takes it upon himself to make sure his teammates know their assignments and know what's coming, but he also pays attention to what the other team is doing and what the other coach does. He's one of those guys who communicates opposing play calls to his team. That never seems to wane.

"Though he's become an acceptable-to-decent perimeter shooter over the past two years, he knows how to test defenses, he knows when guys are taking a possession off and he can exploit the team in the open floor. He's always a threat to speed it up when a team may be jogging back defensively.

"If you could accomplish one thing defensively on him, it would be to get the ball out of his hands. But he's so quick and so good with the basketball, it's tough to do that, which leaves a lot of teams consistently trying to trap him in pick-and-rolls. Even then, eventually he's going to figure out what he needs to do to stretch the big man, how he's going to split it or move the ball and get it back. The second alternative, all things being equal, is that you'd much rather him take a perimeter shot than get into the paint."

They said it

• "In recent weeks we've seen Shaq sort of dis everybody in the NBA. I call him the 50 Cent of the NBA. If you say anything bad about him, he'll have a mixed-tape response the next day."
-- Grant Hill, on the Dan Patrick Radio Show, discusses O'Neal's ability go give better than he receives.

• "I don't want to go out there and lose every night. I didn't come here for this. I didn't expect this."
-- Shawn Marion describes to the Toronto Sun his feelings about playing for the Raptors, who acquired him from the Heat last month.

• "It wasn't much of a battle. I kicked his [behind]."
-- Kobe summarizes his matchup with the trash-talking Ron Artest after scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter and 37 points overall in the Lakers' victory at Houston last week.

• "Don't talk to him, don't even look him in the eye. Stay away from him."
-- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich relates the lesson he took from Kobe's cold-blooded response to Artest's trash-talking.

Required reading

The Oregonian: Greg Oden bares his soul in what has been a most trying rookie season.

The Sporting Blog: If the Clippers' Mike Taylor isn't in the dunk contest during next year's All-Star weekend, there needs to be an investigation.

NBA.com: Could a man with a good shot at winning his 10th ring as a coach be underappreciated?

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Ever wonder how players pack for road trips? Generously, it seems, unlike the beat reporters who cover them.

Columbus Dispatch: The secret to LeBron's growth in the NBA.

3 points

1. Don Nelson's threat to Jamal Crawford -- that if the ninth-year guard didn't opt out of his contract this summer he would be traded -- is just another reason why the Warriors should show Nellie the door. Crawford is owed $19 million the next two years, and with economic fear spreading through the league, it's highly unlikely Crawford could secure a similar deal from another team. So that leaves Crawford to play for a coach who has told him he essentially doesn't have a future with the team. Of course, if Crawford did leave, he could escape a coach who started giving up on the season soon after the All-Star break by randomly deactivating healthy veterans, and someone who hasn't coached defense since he was in Milwaukee three decades ago. Nellie may be more clever than most if us, but with each move he makes it appears he's more interested in proving that than in winning games.

2. With the NCAA tournament about to start, we are sure to see the usual debates of what's better: the field of 65 or the NBA playoffs? Can't we retire this tired argument once and for all? Can't we agree that the sudden-death format of the NCAAs makes for drama no professional league can top, but that the quality of play isn't close to the NBA's? Must we always debate what's better? Just because one playoff is entertaining doesn't mean the other one isn't.

3. Speaking of the tournament ... Sorry, I know Oklahoma's Blake Griffin averages 21.9 points and 14.3 rebounds and shoots 63.5 percent, but when the presumed No. 1 pick is a power forward drawing comparisons with Carlos Boozer, it's tough to get excited about the upcoming draft. Yes, everyone will analyze the top picks for their franchise-building abilities, but we don't sense any sizzle. Drafts are defined by the dominant players they produce; anyone confident Griffin can become a superstar?

 
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