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: The Bulls have been plagued by slow starts throughout the season. This has been politely (some would say conveniently) covered up by the fact that they tend to start revving up in the second quarter and then turn on the defensive afterburners in the third and fourth quarters. Many times, that has been enough. Sometimes it hasn’t. It wasn’t last night. Not when the Sixers jumped out to a 27-13 lead after 12 minutes. Not when they pushed that lead to 48-25 with 4:47 left in the first half. Not when the Bulls missed 13 free throws and Derrick Rose committed 10 turnovers.
ESPN Chicago: Rose sat in stone silence in front of his locker with two bulky ice packs over his knees, a paraffin wax wrap on one of his hands and a pit in the bottom of his stomach that wasn't going away anytime soon. No matter what he used to make his beaten-up body feel better, it wasn't going to dull the pain that comes when you turn the ball over 10 times and lose a game you think you should have won. "We came out sluggish," a frustrated Rose said. "This one was definitely on me. Didn't come out with the intensity and we played like crap tonight."
Orlando Pinstriped Post: I believe Knicks fans would be the first to tell you their team would likely have lost were Orlando at full strength, and perhaps if the officiating had been tighter in the final minutes. Howard, in the midst of a 29-point, 18-rebound game, fouled out rather dubiously trying to fend off Stoudemire after grabbing an offensive rebound with Orlando down by 2 and 1:16 to play. Jason Richardson poked the ball away from Anthony on the ensuing Knicks possession, igniting a Magic fast break… or it would have, were it not for Richardson getting whistled for tripping Anthony after Anthony shoved him to the court. Toss in the fact that the Knicks' final points in regulation came after an obvious Anthony travel and you'll understand why Magic fans are upset with the officiating.
Orlando Magic Daily: What the Magic (47-27) can take away from this Eastern Conference battle is this: without J.J Redick (strained lower abdomen), Jameer Nelson (sprained left knee) and Quentin Richardson (back spasms), the rest of the roster found a way to be competitive. Orlando also lost Chris Duhon in the second quarter when he injured his right thumb. Dwight Howard had his 29 points and 18 rebounds, and connected on 11-of-15 from the free throw line. His big contributions is what you come to expect from him. What you do not expect from him is the inability to score a field goal in the first half, where he only took two shots and all of his points came from the charity stripe. Add to this the fact that he picked up his 17th technical foul in overtime.
Heat Index: Ditching his usual smile, Daniel Gibson put on a tough guy act when talking about LeBron James' most recent return to his hometown. “That ain’t going to happen,” the usually affable and always polite Cleveland Cavaliers guard said. “We can definitely rule that whole thing out.” Gibson took unwanted flack when James made his memorable return to Cleveland in December after cameras caught him talking to and smiling at his ex-teammate from the bench as the Heat were blowing out the shell-shocked Cavs. This time, Gibson vows, no such pleasantries will be permitted.
Project Spurs: With four players out for the San Antonio Spurs last night, the odds were stacked against them from the start. Tony Parker and Antonio McDyess joined Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan as spectators, while several second unit players were asked to step into starting roles. While they made it much more competitive than most expected, it wasn't enough to stop them from losing their fourth consecutive game, 92-100.
MySA Spurs Nation: But even after his team’s late collapse paved the way for Portland’s 100-92 victory, it appeared that Gregg Popovich didn’t look like he carried away much disappointment from the loss. With his most depleted roster of the season, Popovich appeared to be having the most fun in a long time as he tried keep his depleted team afloat in a game against a more talented foe.
The No Look Pass: TNLP: Lakers have won 15 of 16. But as a team, you look for other things to improve upon. What needs to get better for the Lakers?
Matt Barnes: You know, our defense is certainly improving. (Assistant coach) Chuck Person has done a great job of installing so many principles for our team. We kinda learned on the fly and we've done a great job of that. We should continue to trust each other on both ends of the floor. When we don't beat ourselves, we're a very hard team to beat.
TNLP: Which team do you feel is the biggest threat to the Lakers?
MB: We don't fear anybody. This team has won two championships so we're still the king of the castle. We're the king of the league right now. We don't fear anybody. We're excited about the opportunity to get to the playoffs and getting tested… and hopefully, get our third championship in a row.
Mavs Moneyball: Three times this week, the Mavs entered the fourth frame with the game hanging in the balance. All three times, the Mavs came through. Against Minnesota, the name of the game was fourth-quarter offense, as the Mavs shot 65% in the frame and outscored the T-Pups 28-24, despite their shooting 50%. Against the Jazz and Suns, improved defensive performance–indeed, probably the best we've seen from the Mavs in weeks–was the name of the game. The Mavs held the Jazz to just 17 point and 35% shooting in the fourth, and also forced several turnovers which led to easy points. The result? The Mavs scored 36 in the frame. It was more of the same against the Suns, as the Mavs' defense held the Suns to a meager 29% shooting over the last 12 minutes. This allowed the Mavs to win the fourth quarter 26-16, turning a two-point deficit into an eight-point win.
News OK: After having five straight home games with days off in between, the Thunder's schedule now becomes significantly more cramped. OKC will play five games this week, with two against Portland.
News OK: On Kevin Durant relying on the three-point shot this season: He's already taken seven more 3-pointers this year than he did last season. And there's still 10 games left to play. AND if he plays each of the remaining 10, he'll still be four shy of last year, when he played all 82 games. The numbers have been shocking. He seems to have diversified his game much more in his fourth season. But his 3-point attempts are staggering.