The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Sunday's ActionThe Pistons outlasted the Heat and the Suns scorched the Mavericks in ABC's Sunday doubleheader in two games that may have been previews of the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.
The Score: Detroit 94, Miami 88
The Key Stat: Detroit fell behind by as many as 12 points but outscored Miami 53 to 42 in the second half--including 29-19 in the fourth quarter--as Rip Hamilton spearheaded an excellent defensive effort by the Pistons.
The Bottom Line: The Pistons extended their lead over second place Cleveland to 3.5 games, while the Heat slipped a half game behind Washington in the race for the Southeast Division title. Dwyane Wade did not play but word out of Miami is that he may be returning to action soon. The Heat have actually moved up significantly in the standings since Wade went down and Shaquille O'Neal came back. O'Neal shot 9-13 from the field, finishing with 23 points and eight rebounds. He is still extremely tough to guard on the low post and he even had a flashback when he gave Chris Webber a drop step move and powered home a dunk. The main thing that O'Neal seems to have lost is the ability to be a mobile, dominant rebounder; he pretty much just gets the rebounds that are in his area. The Pistons have had the best record in the East for a good portion of the season, yet the Heat nearly beat them in Auburn Hills despite not having Wade; if O'Neal stays healthy and Wade is able to make any kind of contribution in the playoffs then the Heat have to be considered a strong contender for the Eastern Conference championship.
The Score: Phoenix 126, Dallas 104
The Key Stat: The Suns shot .867 from the field in the fourth quarter (13-15) and .648 for the entire game, an NBA season-high and a U.S. Airways Center record.
The Bottom Line: This much anticipated matchup was close for three quarters until the Suns, perhaps in honor of the NCAA Tournament, put on a fourth quarter shooting display reminiscent of Villanova's record setting .786 effort in the 1985 Championship Game. Dallas will still get the number one seed in the West, barring a total collapse that seems unlikely since this was the Mavericks' first loss in 10 games. The Suns really needed this win to stay in front of San Antonio in the race for the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Suns and Mavericks split their season series at 2-2. Steve Nash played well (23 points, 11 assists, three rebounds, 7-11 field goal shooting) and Dirk Nowitzki had a sub par game (21 points, six rebounds, six assists, 6-18 field goal shooting) but I don't understand how this one game could change anyone's mind about the MVP voting. Nowitzki's team still has the league's best record and a mathematical chance to win 70 games. The Mavericks had won nine in a row before this game and just prior to that they won 17 in a row. Nowitzki is the best player on the best team, so if that is one's criteria for MVP then he is a pretty clear choice; if one's criteria is to simply select the best player period then of course Kobe Bryant's name has to enter the discussion.
The Score: Indiana 100, San Antonio 99
The Key Stat: Five Pacers scored between 16 and 21 points.
The Bottom Line: Raise your hand if you saw this one coming. The Spurs, winners of six straight and 19 of their last 21, lost to a Pacers team that had just dropped four in a row and 17 of their last 19. Jamaal Tinsley's layup with about a second left in the game propelled Indiana to a highly improbable victory that keeps the Pacers' playoff chances very much alive and damages the Spurs' quest to catch Phoenix for the number two seed in the West. This result shows why it is silly to suggest that a win against a team with a poor record is not significant; all NBA teams are stocked with talented players and on a given night a team that may end up in the lottery can beat a team that may end up winning the championship.
The Score: L.A. Lakers 126, Sacramento 103
The Key Stat: Kobe Bryant had a season-high 13 assists as the Lakers shot .617 from the field.
The Bottom Line: Maurice Evans led six Lakers in double figures with 21 points (Bryant had 19). The idea that Bryant is selfish and won't pass the ball makes little sense considering that he was the primary playmaker on three championship teams, a statement that can be made about no other active NBA guard. The problem with this Lakers team is that when Bryant passes the ball the result is often a missed shot. Clearly, when his passes lead to scores he is perfectly willing to keep passing and it is of course more ideal to have a multi-faceted attack as opposed to having Bryant shoulder most of the weight. Of course, it is unlikely that Andrew Bynum (7-7), Evans (7-8) and Luke Walton (8-11) will even come close to duplicating their shooting performances in the Lakers next game. The Lakers are in sixth place in the West now, with no realistic chance of catching Houston at five but a 2.5 game lead over Denver with nine games left in the season.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:03 AM