We enter Tuesday's action with no more than ten games left to play for all teams. Before we make our ten points about the stretch drive for the playoffs, a prefatory comment is in order.
Shot clock running down
That whole Amare Stoudemire episode was bizarre. He came back! But after three games, he's in pain, and he's out for the season. Probably. And then the Suns briefly imploded. But they seem OK now.
Poor Suns fan. With Amare's initial success, Suns fan climbed high, nearing the summit of Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz. But then he fell backward when raising arms in premature triumph, tumbled down to the parking lot, smashing into the port-a-pottie for good measure.
But there's no quit when you have an exciting team like Phoenix to follow. The Suns have kept their eye on that summit along with the other contenders. Here's the playoff matchups, if the season ended today. And here's the ten points to consider.
1. Why shouldn't the Grizz just mail it in the last few games? Surely they don't want to overtake the Clippers for the No. 5 seed, and have to face the Mavs?
Both teams have every logical reason to install a postage meter by the scorer's table in order to avoid Dallas. Except that going postal would be wrong on many levels. The Grizz are two back in the loss column, but have an easier schedule the rest of the way. Having motivation to avoid becoming a higher seed is yet another reason the playoff format needs tinkering.
2. Is facing the Nuggets a bad idea at this point, given Dallas' recent struggles?
Yes, now that Josh Howard's hurt hammy seems better, Mavs get a boost. The Josh Howard Appreciation Society knows what Ten's saying. Howard dropped 20 on Denver on Sunday.
3. Looks like the Kings will ride the Ron Artest acquisition into the West's No. 8 seed. Or will they?
There's some wobbly days ahead -- games this week at Mavs, Spurs and Clippers -- but Sacto won't fold-o. Nor will they catch the Lakers for No. 7, nor will the Hornets rally from two back. In the first round, the Kings will take at least one game from the Spurs. Not too shabby.
4. The "race" for No. 8 in the East seems a funny exercise in sub-mediocrity. Still, what's going to happen if the Bulls sweep the Sixers in their Wednesday-Saturday back-to-back?
That would push Chicago a half-game ahead for the No. 8 spot. And that would be all she wrote. Chicago will ride back to the playoffs, not in a 50-win Lexus, but in a 39-win Chevy Citation. And yes, Celtics and Magic rooters can polish their ping-pong balls now.
5. Wait! Indy is only one game ahead of the Sixers for the seventh seed. What are the chances the Pacers, losers of four straight, end up out of the playoffs?
Slim. Only because Indy has two games left with the Hindenburg Knicks.
6. Is the exciting Cavs-Wizards 4-5 matchup set in stone?
Yes. Some kind of soft rock, not the Camelback trail kind -- but stone nonetheless. The Bucks are one-half game behind Washington in the loss column, but with the Wiz catching the Knicks, Celtics and Hawks to start the week, Washington should open up some room. As for Cavs? Start spreading the news -- LeBron wins his first playoff series!
7. The Suns have No. 2 seed nearly locked, but how far can Phoenix go?
Forget all the health questions. It's a moot point. Suns will set in the Conference finals, even if a Canned Ham is playing center. (Note to self -- check Canned Ham's PER on Hollinger stats. And no, Canned is not Darvin's bro).
8. Shaq had his first two 40-plus minute games in March. How many of his final nine games will he go 40-plus, an indicator of his plan to up his workload?
Barring nagging injuries and foul troubles, he should have three. His window is closing -- but he'll be primed when the playoffs arrive. And this summer, he can show Olden Polynice how to be a real cop.
9. Any chance Detroit coughs up its two-game (three, plus tiebreaker) home-court advantage lead to the Spurs?
Not too many bumps left in the Pistons' road, but a game Thursday at Miami could be a bump. And if that contest really drains 'em, Darko is waiting the next night in Orlando for a possible, but highly, highly unlikely, shocker.
10. Tony Parker is going to be on TV a lot from now until June. Good or bad for Eva's career?
She's going to make Jack Nicholson look like Carrot Top (no letters, Mrs. Top) when it comes to cutaway shots. Good for everybody.
Andrew Ayres, who rolls as Ten Cent in the Daily Dime, is an NBA editor for ESPN.com
Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Kings foward Ron Artest, whose team has won three straight, seems inked for a playoff date with San Antonio.
Too often around this time of year I start to hear the chirping on how the college game is better than the pro game and how certain players are going to dominate the pros due to their play in the NCAA. To them I say, "hogwash." People who say that have never seen an NBA game in person because, believe me, NBA players are the best players in the world and most college players wouldn't be able to even get their shot off in the league.
Part of the reason people believe it's an easy transition is because the game looks so easy on television. Last week I broadcast the Lakers-Sonics game and was amazed at the difference between what I saw live and what I saw on the replay. While watching the game live, I was stupefied by the prettiness and high degree of difficulty of passes that Luke Ridnour was able to thread to his teammates in halfcourt sets and on the run. But on the televised replay the passes looked ordinary and like something any one of us could pull off.
No matter how good you think a player is, he's probably much, much better in person. That point was driven home for me when I was younger and got to watch the Lakers practice for the first time. Now I never thought much of Kurt Rambis' basketball abilities until I saw him knock down 10 or 12 15-footers in a row. It was amazing to watch this guy who never did much offensively in a game show off how good he was during practice. That proved to me that every guy on an NBA team could probably go to any playground in the world and potentially dominate.
So when you think that some guy you saw dominate in the tourney can ball with the best, just remember that Kurt Rambis had a silky jumper when nobody was on him.
-- Tom Tolbert
Getting the call from Springfield was good. But it seems Charles Barkley has already been honored in another way -- sort of.
"Gnarls Barkley" is a musical act, a duo of hip-hop stars Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo.
But their web site of the same name isn't Charles-centric. In fact, a rudimentary search turns up no Round Mound of Rebound references. Same for their myspace.com fan page. One critic deemed their latest song "Crazy" a "lame song which sounds like a 10th-rate Terence Trent D'Arby."
Sir Charles wouldn't approve of that, surely. Arby's, though, would be OK with him. Hold the horseradish.
-- Andrew Ayres
Charles Barkley, Joe Dumars and Dominique Wilkins were among those who got the call to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
LeBron James roars his approval for his team's success. His Cavs, winners of eight straight, play Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Congratulations to the Hall of Fame selection committee for getting it right this time with Dominique Wilkins. They blew it last time around when they failed to make 'Nique a first-ballot selection.
I assume 'Nique was not a first-ballot guy because he never came close to winning a championship. In fact, his Atlanta Hawks never got past the second-round of the playoffs.
But in fairness to 'Nique, he played during a great era, and his teams were usually beaten by Bird's Celtics or Isiah's Pistons (a solid Bucks team also took them out a couple of times).
But 'Nique -- 24.8 points, 6.7 rebounds for his career -- was undeniably an all-time great and should have been on the list of the "Greatest 50 Players in NBA History'' back in 1997.
'Nique is proof that winning is not everything. That's not to say he wasn't a winner. Nor is it to say that winning is not incredibly important.
But I believe winning is a bit overrated -- if that's possible -- in today's NBA.
Dave Washington DC: Is Joe Dumars really HOF material as a player? As an executive, I think he has great potential, but as a player I think he was just better than average. I'm afraid he might open the door for other players who were very good and won some titles.
John Hollinger: Considering this is the same institution that inducted Robert Parish and James Worthy before giving Dominique Wilkins the time of day, it's hardly surprising. I don't mind Dumars making it, but I'd much rather see Dennis Johnson or Artis Gilmore go in first (great piece on this by our Ken Shouler today, by the way). Of course, if the Hall of Fame did things rationally, they wouldn't let Sandro Gamba in the door ahead of Don Nelson and Dick Motta. But I guess winning a silver medal in an Olympics that half the competitive teams boycotted is just too staggering an accomplishment to ignore.
Malcolm (Philly): Huge week for the Sixers this week (2 games with the Bulls and 1 with the Celtics). Any way you can rig your formulas and algorithms to make the Sixers win those Bulls games? Sixers did the Bulls a huge favor by beating the Knicks in the home and home this weekend.
John Hollinger: Ha ha . . . got it backwards my friend. The games determine what my numbers say, not the other way around. At any rate, I think Philly makes it with a split against Chicago as long as AI and Webber are on the floor the rest of the way.
Max (Tempe, AZ): Coach Brian Hill believes his Magic are still in the hunt for the 8th seed in the East. Are they?
John Hollinger: Max, they're in the hunt for the 8th spot the same way you're in the hunt for dating a Swedish bikini model. Sure, they won't turn it down, but it's not something they're really thinking about as a distinct possibility for the immediate future.
Andre Iguodala scored 20 points and recorded 10 assists in the 76ers' 114-95 win over the Knicks. Since Allen Iverson joined the Sixers in 1996, he has accounted for 76 of the team's 81 20/10 games (points and assists, that is). Iguodala's was the first by a Sixers player other than Iverson since 2003, when Eric Snow recorded the last of his three. The other was by Rex Walters in 1997.
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The Blazers aim to end their losing streak at 11 when they play host to the Rockets Thursday. If they can't top Yao, then their next chance comes when the Sonics travel to Rose Garden on Saturday.
And if they haven't won by then, Sunday's game at Utah will be their last chance to avoid setting the longest losing streak in franchise history.
-- ESPN Research