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.
Sentinel: "I don't think it's wide-open," Van Gundy said before his Orlando Magic faced the New York Knicks on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. "The media seems to have made their decision and they're the ones who vote. So I think it's over. "I just listen and read: I think it's over. Derrick Rose has it. I haven't really read or heard a media guy who is going another way at this point. I'd be shocked if he doesn't win it."
Orlando Pinstriped Post: Behind 33 points from Dwight Howard and tight second-half defense, the Orlando Magic dealt the New York Knicks their fourth straight defeat, 111-99, at Madison Square Garden. All five Magic starters scored in double figures, but more importantly, Orlando shut down a Knicks offense that hung 59 points on the board in the first half to just 40 after intermission. Knicks power forward Amar'e Stoudemire had a miserable game from start to finish, shooting 6-of-20 from the floor for 13 points; New York simply didn't get enough offensive help from other sources, despite Toney Douglas' surprising 17-point turn off the bench, to keep up with a balanced, potent Magic attack.
Heat Index: They were the four most important — and potentially dangerous — words Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra spoke Wednesday night. “We aren't there yet,” Spoelstra said. What Spoelstra was addressing instead was his team's final frontier of development. It's the one chink in the Heat's armor that threatens to derail their progress and weaken their prowess. It's their bench
Miami Herald: the Heat overcame three uninspired quarters with six thoroughly dominant minutes of dazzling defense and forceful offense. Then Miami did just enough to preserve a precarious late lead and escape with a 100-94 win at the Palace – the Heat’s sixth victory in its past seven games.
ESPN Chicago: "I had no doubt he was the best candidate out there for many years," [Jeff] Van Gundy said Wednesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "He wasn't ready three years ago; he was ready 10-15 years ago but for whatever reason no one wanted to give him an opportunity and give the Bulls credit. And give New Orleans and New Jersey credit as well. The same year he had three opportunities, and the moron took the one that paid the least with the least amount of years guaranteed. But he got the best player so guess what? It's all good."
ESPN Chicago: Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and C.J. Watson sat out Chicago Bulls practice on Thursday. Deng is dealing with a left thigh bruise, but it hasn't kept him out of game action. He scored 27 points in the Bulls' 114-81 victory over theAtlanta Hawks on Tuesday. Gibson is nursing an injured right big toe, and Watson has plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Neither player has missed a game because of the injuries.
What resulted was a 23-point loss to Indiana, who gains another game on the Bobcats. And because the Bobcats can't tie the Pacers and get the 8 seed, the Bobcats are down four games. In effect, Charlotte's playoff chances are dead. Statistically they're not, but let's not be foolish – that's a wrap for the Bobcats and the playoffs.
MY SA Spurs Nation: Though the Spurs have yet to release an official timetable for Tim Duncan’s return from an ankle sprain, coach Gregg Popovich said Wednesday the two-time MVP could be back on the floor by the beginning of April. Asked before the Spurs’ game against Denver if two weeks sounded like a plausible prognosis for Duncan, Popovich sounded optimistic his captain might be back sooner.“I’m hoping it won’t be that long, a good four or five games for sure,” Popovich said. “Beyond that, I really won’t know until we get back.”
Project Spurs: There are three teams battling it out for the right to face the Spurs in the first round in the playoffs, and each team presents its own challenges — the New Orleans Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Houston Rockets. Granted there are plenty of games left in the regular season and these three teams may shuffle in playoff positioning. So let's take a closer look at these potential first round foes.
ESPN LA: Even in the face of victory, LO couldn't get past placing his team in such jeopardy. "I will remember the foul call," said Odom afterward. "I always tell you guys basketball is a humbling experience. Because I can think about throughout the game, ‘Yeah, I’m playing good. I’m having a good one.’ And then, right before you know it, I’m the dope."
Forum Blue And Gold: Essentially, Bynum’s absence created a domino effect that the Lakers, and Pau specifically, had trouble dealing with. However, in these last two games with Bynum out, the Lakers not only saw that same domino effect (Pau was inefficienct offensively in both games – shooting 15-40 while scoring 38 points – while still doing a good job in rebounding – totalling 26 in the two games) but we also saw how much the team really missed Bynum.
Mavs Moneyball: Voting for the Most Improved Player award is usually wide open. There are always a lot of players who have better seasons than their previous year, and it's up to the voters to determine which one improved to the greatest degree… John Schuhmann of NBA.com thinks Tyson Chandler could be on the short list of finalists for the Most Improved Player award. MMB is going to do some digging and see what the man in question and what his coach have to say about the possibility of Chandler winning the award.
ESPN Dallas: Caron Butler joined his teammates on the court Thursday morning for the halfcourt shooting contest that's become a ritual at the end of every shootaround. Wearing a sleeve over his surgically-repaired right knee, Butler can't do much more than sort of hobble about and hoist jumpers, but even that is significant progress with the playoffs a little more than three weeks away. "I'm pushing hard," Butler said. "I'm definitely trying to get back. I'm feeling good, just pushing."
Daily Thunder: The impression Kendrick Perkins has made on Ibaka has been obvious. Much in the same way that Kevin Garnett schooled Perk in the ways of nasty, physical, intimidating play, Perkins has begun to impart that same wisdom on Ibaka. “Perk does a lot for him,” Kevin Durant said recently. “You can hear him say ‘Serge, go block that’, and Serge just automatically responds and he goes and blocks it. I think it’s just that little push there with a veteran guy down there with you. They’re playing well together. He’s gotta keep it up.”
News OK: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook probably could have taken another fourth quarter off. That sighting had almost become the norm as the Thunder won nine of its previous 11 by an average margin of 13.8 points entering Wednesday. And with the Thunder in more control than the 11-point lead the scoreboard showed with just more than eight minutes remaining against Utah, there appeared to be little reason for the All-Star duo to return. But Scott Brooks wasn't satisfied. The outcome, at least in the Thunder coach's mind, was far from a certainty. After Sunday's result vs. Toronto, you couldn't blame Brooks for being cautious.