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.
Blog a Bull: I'm not worried, now. I suppose I'm nervous about the playoffs, but I've been that way all season to some varying degree. There's always the lingering doubt of a regular-season-mirage effect, especially with the defense. And it has started to look that way at times recently. But I'm not worried to the point where I especially need to see anything between now and the 2nd round to get more or less comfortable.
ESPN Chicago: Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah returned to practice Monday after being shelved for a week with an injured ankle. "It feels a lot better," Noah said. "Just going to get treatment. I was able to practice today and I'm excited for [Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns].
Miami Herald: There are probably worse insults that could be lobbed at Erick Dampier and Zydrunas Ilgauskas than insinuating a habitually lazy free agent who has played only 10 games in three years must be added to the roster with five games left, but anything worse than that might not be fit to print. One day after Yahoo! Sports reported that Curry might be joining the Heat to provide emergency depth for the playoffs, Dampier and Ilgauskas combined for 21 points and 18 rebounds against the Nets. It was arguably Dampier’s best game of the season and Ilgauskas’ greatest contribution in weeks.
Miami Herald: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has repeatedly praised Bibby for not only his ability as a point guard, but also his versatility as a spot-up shooter. The Heat has relied on both of those attributes in recent games with Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller both out with injuries. “He organizes you offensively,” Spoelstra said. “He has a great poise and tempo to his game and he’s unique as a point guard. He’s a natural-born quarterback but he can play with the ball and he can play just as effectively without the ball, which is important for our team.”
Orlando Pinstriped Post: Howard has made strides in several areas, but among the most notable and prevalent is in his jump-shooting. Prior to this season, he had shot 30.6 percent on two-point jumpers. This season, that figure has moved to 39.1 percent. Specifically, Howard has improved his facility in taking jumpers from the wings after receiving the ball with his back to the basket. In prior years, if a defender managed to leverage him a few steps out from where he'd like to catch, Howard didn't have many options; he could turn, face, and fire an iffy jumper or try to drive a longer to the basket, opening himself up to strips from help defenders. Now? He can turn, face, and fire a markedly more reliable jumper, in addition to driving the lane.
Sentinel: The Orlando Magic's bench, or the lack thereof, is becoming a significant problem. Not only have injuries to J.J. Redick and Chris Duhon and the flu-like symptoms of Gilbert Arenas forced the starters to play inflated minutes, but the bench players who remain healthy just aren't producing much offensively.
Philly.com: Because of [Lou] Williams' injury, The Sixers were expected to sign veteran guard Antonio Daniels to a 10-Day contract at some point last night. Sixers coach Doug Collins says there is a possibility that Daniels is available tonight. Daniels, 36, was playing this season with the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League. He is a veteran of 12 NBA seasons, having played 868 games, averaging 7.6 points and 3.4 assists. The 6-4 point guard will be eligible to play in the playoffs, should the Sixers need him. That could depend on how quickly Williams can get himself back on the court.
Liberty Ballers: For those who say four games mean nothing and won't do anything to help [Evan] Turner going into the playoffs, I sincerely disagree. His game is built on confidence. One game, even one play could change his entire strategy on the court. And if he plays well against Boston tomorrow or New York on Wednesday, that could be the trigger that gets his game where it could be. But will Collins give him the minutes? Apparently so.
Project Spurs: The San Antonio Spurs (58-19) will travel to Atlanta to take on the Atlanta Hawks (44-33) tonight looking to get a winning streak going while maintaining their hold on the NBA's best record and the number one playoff seed. Tonight's game wil be a matchup of offense versus defense. The Spurs rank sixth in the NBA averaging 103.4 points per game while the Hawks rank seventh in the league allowing opposing teams score 95 points per game.
MySA: Sunday’s slump-busting 114-97 win over Phoenix brought laughter back to the Spurs’ locker room. Players joked and cut up, basking in the end of a six-game losing streak that had begun to wear on all of them. Leave it to Tim Duncan, the team’s captain and emotional touchstone, to bring the room back down. “This,” he said, “was a good start.” Translation: Hold the champagne shower. There is work to be done.
Silver Screen And Roll: The Lakers have updated the health status of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, both of whom left yesterday's game against the Denver Nuggets with knee injuries. An MRI has revealed a bone bruise in Pau's right knee. He did not practice with the team today, though he did lift weights, and he's listed as day to day. At this point, I hasten to remind everyone that in the Lakers' world, "day to day" means "we politely decline to predict when he'll return."
ESPN Dallas: It’s hard to have a heck of a lot of confidence in a team that is .500 over the last 16 games, including 0-7 against its Western Conference playoff teams. The Mavs’ 2-11 mark against their West playoff peers in the 2011 calendar year might be even more concerning. It cannot be argued that the Mavs, who made first-round exits in three of the last four seasons, are playing better than their three potential first-round foes right now. The Mavs have lost to Portland Trail Blazers (twice), Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets in the last month. The Trail Blazers and Grizzlies appear to be peaking at the right time. That’s not true for the Hornets, who haven’t been bad despite recently lost power forward David West to a season-ending knee injury, but that makes New Orleans the least likely of the three teams to match up with the Mavs.
ESPN Dallas: Based on the offensive numbers, the Mavs should feel fortunate that they won half their games on this road trip. The Mavs are 40-4 when they score 100 points this season and 13-20 when they do not. They cracked triple digits just once during this six-game journey. The Mavs averaged 93.5 points on .427 shooting during the trip. To put those numbers in perspective, the Bucks rank at the bottom of the league in both categories this season, averaging 91.6 points on .429 shooting.
Daily Thunder: Last season, playing as the youngest team in basketball and surprise playoff contender, the Thunder was pushing not just into the playoffs, but potentially up the ladder for better than the eight-seed. Which was important because Oklahoma City wanted to avoid the Lakers at all cost.But in April, the previously stellar Thunder defense sagged, the team pressed a bit and went 5-4 to close out April heading into the playoffs. This also off a solid March in which OKC went 11-5 [...] It was pretty much the same story for the Thunder the last two games, almost even down to the score. Oklahoma City dropped games in Portland and Los Angeles mainly because of poor offensive execution down the stretch
NewsOK: Kevin Durant has never won inside the Pepsi Center. It's one of only four venues in which the Thunder's star still hasn't defeated the home team. But if Durant wants to see his team hang onto fourth place in the Western Conference, he might want to make it a point to mark off the Mile High City from his list Tuesday night.