Its time to start focusing on the playoffs and our potential roadblocks to Banner 18. Every day we'll bring you what's making news in enemy territory. This way we know what they're up to when it comes time to take 'em out.
By the Horns: On the defensive end, they held the Nets — who, again, have been on fire lately — to a season-low 73 points. And they did it in New Jersey. The Bulllies made them shoot only 34.9 percent from the field and forced them to brick 16 of their 19 three-point attempts. Williams, an All-Star, shot 1-for-12 and went 0-for-3 from three-point range. And check out this shot chart: The Nets attempted 14 layups and converted only five of them.
ESPN Chicago: Derrick Rose and his teammates have gotten to a point now where they're not even surprised when Omer Asik has another big night. The 24-year-old Turkish center has improved so rapidly that efforts like his 11-point, 16-rebound performance in Thursday night's 84-73 win over the New Jersey Nets have become more common, even for a rookie who struggled mightily at times earlier in the season to find his role.
Sentinel: The Orlando Magic waited several weeks for Hedo Turkoglu to regain an attacking mentality on offense. He found it on the Magic's recently completed five-game road trip. Turkoglu averaged 16.2 points on 51.8 percent shooting — a significant improvement for a player who had been reluctant to look for his own shot.
Orlando Magic Daily: Van Gundy is craftier than you might think. He is genuinely honest and does not hold back any words. It is refreshing in a world where coaches are as much public relations voices as anything else, filling press conferences with "coachisms" and cliches. Winning sure helps Van Gundy get away with all this. But even in hard times, Van Gundy has found a way to distract the media and keep the attention off the team on himself. Maybe these are distractions to the team, but they do not appear to be.
Peninsula is Mightier: It's been a bumpy ride for the Miami Heat over the past few weeks, but while their record indicates some instability the general mood of the team has actually been very calm. Ask any members of the Heat and they'll tell you that the only difference has been the actual wins and losses. The work ethic is always equally hard and while they never get too low after a loss, they don't get high after a win either.
Miami Herald: Consecutive wins against the Lakers, Grizzlies and Spurs calmed fears of an epic collapse, but the fact remains that the Heat has lost six of its past nine games and, on Thursday, was three games behind the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings with just 14 games left in the regular season. Catching the Celtics and Bulls, who both hold playoff tiebreakers against the Heat, will be difficult and Wade said Wednesday night that focusing on a 14-game winning streak to end the season would put too much pressure on his team. The Heat (46-22) traveled to Atlanta on Thursday for an away game against the Hawks on Friday night before returning home for a game against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday
Chron.com: The Rockets have spent the season trying to overcome their shaky defense with only mixed results. But there have been signs of progress, if not all they will need to control the Boston Celtics tonight at Toyota Center.
The Rockets have won the last 15 times they held an opponent below 100 points, with those foes averaging 89.8 points and 41.4 percent shooting. That includes wins this week over the Suns and Bobcats amid signs the Rockets have begun to put together a defense that won't embarrass their offense.
ESPN LA: As well as Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum has played since the All-Star break — averaging 11.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks as the Lakers have won 10 of their last 11 games — he's still playing at less than 100 percent. "I'm not fully healthy," Bynum said after practice Thursday.
Forum Blue and Gold: I’ve consistently argued that the Lakers biggest strength isn’t just that they have Kobe Bryant, it’s that they have Kobe and a group of excellent big men. Big men that allow the team to play a variety of styles to match up with any other team’s bigs and still outplay them. The Lakers can go with a jumbo line up of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, a quick and long line up of Gasol and Lamar Odom, or a combo of those two with Bynum and Odom.
Project Spurs: Tonight the San Antonio Spurs will face the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas in what could be a possible playoff preview and Spurs head coach is using these final games of the regular season to see which lineups and rotations work best for the playoffs. However, Antonio McDyess does say a few of the players are not in sync with one another offensively. This may be of concern seeing how at this point of the season isn't the time to have offensive chemistry issues.
Project Spurs: Coach Gregg Popovich has managed the minutes of his starters very well this season. Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess are averaging career lows in minutes per-game at 28.7 and 18.1 respectively. Also, Richard Jefferson (30.7 mpg) is having a career low in minutes per game since his rookie campaign. Among the starters, only Tony Parker (32.2 mpg) and Manu Ginobili (30.9) have averaged more minutes than the previous season but not by much. The Spurs are known to always look at the bigger picture and for them, resting their starters more and staying healthy will be key for a great playoff run. This begs the question, is it time to give more minutes to their bench as they get ready for the playoffs?
ESPN Dallas: Make your dinner plans early tonight. This final meeting between the Spurs and Mavs will finally pit the two teams at full strength, or at least very close to it. The Mavs might still be without the services of Peja Stojakovic(stiff neck). But, who they will have on the floor for the first time against San Antonio is the player that rattled the Spurs in Game 6 of last year's first round and nearly turned the momentum of the series – Rodrigue Beaubois.
Mavs Moneyball: Despite the tough stretch, Dallas will continue to see how they stack up against potential playoff foes through the end of the regular season. As we noted, the Mavericks are finished with the Eastern Conference and over the final 14 games, eight of those games are against possible first-round opponents including the Blazers, theDenver Nuggets, New Orleans Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies and long shots in the form of the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns (twice) and Houston Rockets. Those three teams at the end are long shots, so we will focus our attention on the teams that were mentioned and see what the Mavericks could have in store if they were to face any of those teams in the first round of the playoffs.
Welcome to Loud City: The Thunder are fresh off of their amazing win against the Miami Heat, and are on a five game win streak heading into this game. This game will be extremely ugly, now that the Thunder are much more defensively sound with Perkins and Mohammed. But since the Thunder have no trouble getting inside against other defensive teams, there will be a point where the Bobcats simply have no answer on offense. The only way I could see them winning this game is if Stephen Jackson gets really hot from the perimeter, and if they find some way through Perkins and Ibaka. Otherwise, this team is screwed.
NewsOK: The Oklahoma City Thunder opens a six-game home stand Friday against Charlotte. Before the time it leaves home again, Oklahoma City will have the chance to clinch a playoff berth, match last year's victory total and achieve the longest winning streak in franchise history.