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.
FIRST ROUND OPPONENT
ESPN NY: The New York Knicks were already locked into the No. 6 seed and a first-round playoff matchup with the Boston Celtics prior to Tuesday's game with the Chicago Bulls. After their 103-90 loss to the East-leading Bulls — a game in which the Knicks led 55-52 at halftime, but lost control of after a 26-2 Bulls run to start the second half — the Knicks admitted that they were already looking ahead to the playoffs.
ESPN NY: Standing in a hallway outside the visitor's locker room Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, about 25 minutes after his Bulls defeated the Knicks 103-90, Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau was singing the Knicks' praises — not necessarily for how they played on Tuesday, but for how they've played of late, and how they could play going forward in the postseason.
"They're gonna be a dangerous team," Thibodeau said of the Knicks. "And if you look at the way they're playing right now, they're playing at a very high level, and that's without [Amare] Stoudemire."
Heat.com: The popular school of thought seems to be that [LeBron] receives a pass, takes a few steps back at the top of the key, gathers momentum and attempts to freight-train his way past his defender, just as he would have three years ago. But even that scenario is too detailed for how the thinking goes, the narrative far more focused on what he doesn’t than what he does do. “His game isn’t evolving. He doesn’t post-up.” It’s time to catch up and dispel that notion. James has been working with his back to the basket all season, and it’s been right there in front of us all along.
Miami Herald: “You think about everything we’ve gone through this year,” James said. “It took us 81 games to get to this point. It was just about staying the course, staying the course.” The Heat’s plans for Wednesday night’s game against Toronto — the final game of the regular season — changed drastically in an instant when James shouted aloud the final score of the Wizards victory over the Celtics: 95-94. The Heat (57-24) now has the option to rest its starters for a game that cannot affect its playoff seeding.
Blog a Bull: Bulls have now beaten every team in the league, which doesn't really mean anything but is pretty neat. What does mean something is Ronnie Brewer leaving in the 1st half after spraining his thumb when diving for a loose ball. Joakim Noah also re-tweaked his ankle in the second half. Until then Noah looked better and more active throughout the game, though the box score didn't necessarily effect it with only 3 rebounds in his 28 minutes (plus, it was the Knicks front line without Amare Stoudemire). The sprain tonight looked bad, but Noah was on the bench and not the locker room, didn't receive any treatment, and Thibs even had him about to check in the game with a minute left. The rest of the starters were out there for the finish, too. For some reason.
ESPN Chicago: "Bumps and bruises," Thibodeau said disgustedly. "I didn't see any of them. This is NBA, come on." Thibodeau knows what a lot of fans out there want him to do. They want him to sit Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Noah, among others, so that they don't get injured heading into the playoffs. They don't want to take any risk because so much is dependent on the Bulls being healthy for what could be a long ride in the playoffs. Thibodeau doesn't care, though. He doesn't see it as a risk to send those players out on the floor after already clinching the No. 1 seed in the East. He doesn't see it as a risk to play Deng 44 minutes, as he did on Tuesday night. He doesn't see it as a risk because the Bulls are still chasing the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the league. Most of all, he doesn't see it as a risk because he knows the pulse of his team better than anyone. After driving them hard all season, he's not about to change his ways now.
Sentinel: With their team already dangerously thin and the playoffs starting this weekend, the Magic shouldn’t have to think twice about this decision: Sit Dwight Howard for the season-finale against Indy tonight. This is a no-brainer. Let him watch teammates from the safety of the bench in a suit.
Sentinel: What constitutes a good playoff run for the Orlando Magic? One and done, assuming they beat the Atlanta Hawks in the first round? A strong showing against the Chicago Bulls _ unless there is an apocalyptic upset by Indiana in the first round? Beating the Bulls? Nothing short of an NBA title run? Perception vs. reality may be a tough deal for Magic fans to accept.
OC Register: Andrew Bynum's troublesome right knee will be an issue again entering the Lakers' postseason after he hyperextended it early in the second quarter Tuesday night against San Antonio. He is scheduled for an MRI today at 11 a.m. and will not play in the regular-season finale at Sacramento tonight. The knee is the same one Bynum had surgery on in the offseason to have cartilage reattached.
Forum Blue and Gold: A day that started with news about Steve Blake’s chicken pox diagnosis and Matt Barnes’ still troubled knee turned into a night of absolute worry about LA’s starting Center’s health. In the 2nd quarter Bynum was running back on defense, stepped on DeJuan Blair’s foot, slipped and hyperextended his knee. He instantly grabbed his knee and sat with his head buried in his massive arms and all of us Laker faithful held our collective breath. Bynum ultimately got up and left the floor under his own power but did not return to the game.
MySA: With the No. 1 seed in the Western Division safely at hand, Gregg Popovich decided to rest most of his usual starting lineup in preparation for the playoffs. Popovich trotted out his eighth different lineup combination of the season with George Hill, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter and Richard Jefferson starting. This group and a strong effort from the bench played the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night surprisingly close before falling 102-93. The Spurs had the game tied at 83 with 5:56 remaining before a late Laker charge pulled them away.
MySA: With Phil Jackson’s impending retirement, Tuesday’s game between him and Gregg Popovich might have been the last one between two certain Hall of Fame coaches. Their teams could meet again in the playoffs, but nothing is for certain. Pop might never again see his old rival diagraming plays from that oversized rolling chair along the Lakers’ sidelines. If Tuesday’s game was the end, it was a great rivalry. Here’s a look at some of the numbers from the Popovich-Jackson matchups over the years.
ESPN Dallas: For two seasons now, the Dallas Mavericks have been answering the same question: Why does this team get off to such poor starts? The most common answer is that it’s a veteran team and therefore is sometimes slow to get things cranked up. Whatever the reason, first quarters are a real killer. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle continually harps on how the opening quarter sets the tone and affects the end of a game more than most think.
ESPN Dallas: There is one Maverick who is without question peaking at the right point of the season. Shawn Marion has put up his best numbers in a Mavericks uniform during the final fifth of the season. The Matrix, a far better defender than Peja Stojakovic, is averaging 16.3 points on 58 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds in his last 16 games.
Daily Thunder: I think everybody would agree that the Thunder have been a different team since Kendrick Perkins joined the team. Many would cite the group’s newfound toughness and refusal to back down (not to mention their increased penchant to pick up Ts) as the major way the team has changed. I thought it would be interesting to take a more statistical look at how Perkins has changed the team. Much of this stuff has been discussed in the comments section here and there, but I thought it would be good to put a bunch of stuff it in one place.
News OK: Denver reserve point guard Raymond Felton told the Denver Post on Monday that he wants to face the Thunder in the first round. That would be the 4-5 matchup in the Western Conference's first round if the current standings hold. The Nuggets are locked into the fifth seed, but the Thunder can move up depending on how Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers finish the season. “Hopefully we get Oklahoma City because I feel like we owe them,” Felton is quoted as saying. “Everybody (else) is pretty much ‘whatever, whoever, we'll be ready to go.' But I want them, though. They were doing a little bit of trash talking so I want them.”