Challenge of defending star perimeter players (cont.)
Manu Ginobili as a starter. The silver lining in Tony Parker's 16-game absence with a broken hand was the re-emergence of Ginobili, who was posting some of the most subdued numbers of his career before stepping back into the first unit March 8. With Parker sidelined, the 32-year-old guard averaged 25.5 points and led the Spurs to an 11-5 record during a stretch that included victories against Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Boston, Orlando and the Lakers.
Mikhail Prokhorov. From his Russian playboy portrait on 60 Minutes to mulling a potential offer for Mike Krzyzewski that reportedly would have been worth $12-$15 million, the incoming New Jersey owner has offered more than a few clues that the Nets aren't likely to play in the Knicks' shadow much longer.
Matt Barnes' poise. After a verbal tug-of-war with Magic coach Stan Van Gundy over some quick hooks in games recently, Barnes tussled with Grizzlies rookie Hasheem Thabeet last Sunday -- an altercation that ended with Barnes getting ejected and throwing his jersey into the crowd. And this came after confronting fans in San Antonio two nights before the Memphis incident. "I like what [Matt] brings in terms of his intensity," Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel. "I think some of the emotion is very good, but obviously it can't blow over to where we don't have you in the game." Van Gundy may need to make good on that threat when playoff teams target Barnes like they have with Rasheed Wallace in years past.
Eddie Jordan's long-term prospects in Philadelphia. As if guiding the Sixers to a 26-52 mark and allowing opponents to shoot 47 percent wasn't enough to likely lose his job, now Jordan has taken to benching his players without warning, as he did Tuesday in a 21-point loss to the Pistons. After quietly limiting Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert to 12 minutes each, Jordan criticized their lack of energy and focus. Brand felt the rotation change was "premeditated." Dalembert said "nothing makes sense to me" and referred a question about whether Jordan had lost the team to the coach.
Andray Blatche's maturity. Two weeks after coach Flip Saunders publicly scolded his young center for refusing to enter a game, Blatche demonstrated that he had learned ... nothing. A rebound away from a triple-double in a recent win over the Nets, Blatche upbraided teammates, gestured angrily and threw up errant, rebound-worthy shots in the closing seconds in an effort for personal glory.
The Cavaliers have secured home-court advantage throughout the playoffs for the second straight season. What could trip up LeBron James and Co. en route to the Finals? We asked a scout for his thoughts.
"They're going to have some problems when they bring Shaquille O'Neal back. They've played for a month at a faster pace in games that were more fun for them where driving lanes were available. They've had active guys in the post with J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao. And they've had Antawn Jamison to space the floor. Now all of a sudden you're bringing in a plodder. That changes the style of play all over again.
"Getting used to a rhythm of how they can keep everybody happy is crucial, and Mike Brown can only do so much because he is not so much a coach as he is a manager. LeBron is the coach of that team. Brown makes the initial changes and calls, but when it comes down to crunch time, LeBron calls the plays. When the game is tight, he takes the ball, he brings it up, he runs what he wants to run. Those guys don't even look at Brown.
"Defensively, Shaq's return could force them into some tough decisions since neither he nor Zydrunas Ilgauskas gets out on pick-and-rolls. So the first thing any opponent is going to do is put those guys in pick-and-rolls away from the basket. While Varejao and Hickson can try to pick up that guy who sets the screen and is rolling to the basket, what happens if a team puts a pick-and-pop guy there? If Orlando sits Dwight Howard for a time and the screener is Rashard Lewis, are you going to put Z and Shaq on the bench? Then you're going to have Jamison out there and he's not a good defender."
They said it
"Look, if we dial in, we know we can kill anybody."
"I thought we was playing Michael [bleepin'] Jordan tonight."
"I highly endorse it. I think it's a wonderful thing to do."
"They would love it. It would show he is stupid money, and not a competitive threat."
"Somehow when you call up and tell somebody, 'Look, I've got a registered sex offender, alcoholic, who is grossly overpaid, how would you like to take him off my roster?' You don't get a lot of bites."
"I'm not trying to bash Jerry or anything like that because he's a good guy and I respect him. I don't respect [his comments] because of the commitment we've all given to the USA."
"We appreciate the fact they're willing to give their time. We have to be flexible. Some players may have to miss for whatever the reason may be -- contracts, injuries, family issues ... free agency this year is big."
"My mom struggled supporting us at that time."
Rockford Register Star: Dennis Rodman, family man. Seriously. No, we mean it.
Washington Post: Wondering what's in store for Gilbert Arenas during his stay at a Maryland halfway house? A short mattress and lots of chores.
Sacramento Bee: Former Kings guard Bobby Jackson hits the road as a scout to start a front-office career he hopes makes him a GM someday.
San Jose Mercury News: What kind of owner might Larry Ellison be if he purchases the Warriors? One who is as aggressive as he is wealthy.
Denver Post: A sobering look at George Karl's cancer fight.
1. Chris Bosh, who could miss the rest of the season after sustaining a facial fracture, might have played his final game with the Raptors. If he indeed does leave as a free agent this summer, the Raptors will have no one to blame but themselves. The idea of building an Eastern Conference version of the high-scoring Suns may have seemed appealing when former Phoenix GM Bryan Colangelo undertook the task four years ago, but the bottom line is winning, and the Raptors have not done that enough to compel Bosh to stay. As ugly as it may be to watch, defense still rules spring basketball. And the Raptors have done little but pay the concept compliments while rolling the ball out to defensive sieves such as Hedo Turkoglu, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani, with little clear intent to force them to change their ways. As a result, the Raptors are last in defensive efficiency and in danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight season.
2. Nice job by the Timberwolves to drum up ticket sales in a bad economy for a team that has won only four games since Feb. 1. Throughout March, the Wolves dropped some season-ticket prices for next season by as much as 50 percent and offered a handful at $10 per game. According to public-relations director Mike Cristaldi, the campaign generated 1,200 new season-ticket sales (ranking among the top five in the league) and prompted 80 percent of current season-ticket holders to renew, compared to 13 percent last season.
3. A few weeks ago, we criticized Nets CEO Brett Yormark for arguing with a fan who wore a paper bag over his head during a game in New Jersey. To Yormark's credit, he made amends by inviting the fan to a brown-bag lunch at the Nets' offices, and their discussion about New Jersey's future was streamed live over the team's Web site. Yes, it was a PR stunt, but it was the right kind, demonstrating remorse in some measure while at least acknowledging that fans' opinions count.