The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Monday Night's ActionMonday night saw Yao Ming returning to action and the entire Detroit Pistons team taking a roll of stamps and mailing it in (as Keith Olbermann would say).
The Score: Cleveland 91, Houston 85
The Key Stat: Houston shot just 32-89 (.360) from the field; Yao Ming shot 5-15 and scored 16 points in his first game since December 23.
The Bottom Line: The Rockets are a strange team. They went 20-12 without Yao as Tracy McGrady carried the team on his back and then they have a lackluster performance when their All-Star center returns to action. A big part of the problem versus Cleveland was that Houston tried to force feed the ball to Yao, who was understandably tentative and rusty after being out of action for so long. The Rockets trailed by as many as 14 points but cut the deficit to two points as McGrady scored 21 second half points (he finished with 25 points, seven rebounds and four assists). Assuming that both of their stars are healthy the rest of the way, Houston should be a formidable postseason force.
The Score: Golden State 111, Detroit 93
The Key Stat: The 27-35 Warriors led by as many as 26 points in this crushing defeat of the team with the Eastern Conference's best record.
The Bottom Line: Rasheed Wallace did not play due to a left foot injury but his absence alone cannot explain how Detroit fell to a team that had lost six straight games and whose coach, Don Nelson, essentially threw in the towel on this season a few days ago when he said, "I thought I could get this team in the playoffs and it doesn't look like I'm going to be able to do it." Detroit led 53-46 with 3:18 remaining in the first half but then completely collapsed, trailing 61-55 at halftime. Why exactly should Chicago, Cleveland or even Miami be afraid of facing Detroit in the playoffs?
The Score: Miami 88, Atlanta 81
The Key Stat: The Heat improved to 4-2 since Dwyane Wade's shoulder injury and pushed their overall record above .500 for the first time since November, when they started the season 3-2.
The Bottom Line: Atlanta is not a good team and this was hardly an artistic victory but Miami found a way to get it done while still keeping Shaquille O'Neal's minutes under 30. He contribued 14 points and a game-high nine rebounds, while Eddie Jones led the Heat with 21 points.
The Score: Orlando 99, Milwaukee 81
The Key Stat: Coming off a 52 point game on Sunday versus Chicago, Michael Redd shot just 3-16 from the field, finishing with 15 points.
The Bottom Line: Orlando started the season 14-5 and has been in free fall ever since (15-28). Do you think that the Magic might want a "do-over" for the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft, when they picked J.J. Redick with the 11th selection overall? Redick is averaging 6.0 ppg while shooting .407 from the field. They could have chosen Thabo Sefolosha, Rodney Carney, Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Williams or Paul Millsap, each of whom looks like he will be a more productive pro. Meanwhile, Redick generally only appears on the court in blowouts (he did have a nice game recently against the Spurs--16 points in 31 minutes--but that was the only time this season that he has played more than 30 minutes in a game); he had seven points on 3-7 shooting in 15 minutes against Milwaukee. The Magic are fighting to get the last playoff spot in the East and could use one more guy who can actually contribute something.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:27 AM