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Friday, April 11, 2008

The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Final Thursday of the Regular Season

The final Thursday of the 2007-08 regular season featured a role reversal for two teams who are very familiar with each other. The Golden State Warriors eliminated the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of last year's playoffs but the Warriors' loss to Denver last night helped the Mavericks clinch a berth in this year's playoffs while putting the Warriors' postseason hopes in serious jeopardy. Meanwhile, the Lakers took care of business versus the Clippers in an "away" game at Staples Center, setting the stage for a dramatic home game versus the West-leading New Orleans Hornets at Staples on Friday night. The Lakers finish the season with a three game homestand and are still very much in contention for the number one seed in the West.

The Score: Denver 114, Golden State 105

The Key Stat: Allen Iverson had 33 points, nine assists and just two turnovers while playing all 48 minutes to help Denver take command in the race for the last playoff spot in the West. He shot 12-21 from the field. Carmelo Anthony (25 points on 12-20 shooting, nine rebounds) and J.R. Smith (24 points in 26 minutes) also had strong games, while Baron Davis (9-25 from the field) and Stephen Jackson (5-17 from the field) shot blanks, though Davis did finish with a triple double (20 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds).

The Bottom Line: Iverson and Anthony were fantastic but Jackson deserves some MVP consideration--not for the NBA or for the Warriors but for the Nuggets, because his performance as the Warriors have lost four of their last six games has played a big role in helping Denver move into eighth place: Jackson has averaged 11 ppg in those games while shooting 22-76 (.289) from the field, including 7-34 (.206) from three point range. The Warriors jumped out to a 37-22 lead in the first quarter but then Denver switched to a zone defense and the Warriors could not have looked more confused if a UFO had landed in the middle of the court and aliens took the place of the Nuggets. The Warriors shot early, often and not very accurately from three point range (6-27, .222), with Davis "leading" that charge by connecting on just one of his nine long distance shots. Here is an easy transition hoop for Anthony after a slick pass from Anthony Carter:

TNT ran an interesting graphic during the game that listed Denver's eight "bad" losses during the season; eight games is nearly 10% of the schedule, so if you buy the theory that once is an accident, twice is a trend and three times is a problem then eight times is a really serious problem. In two of the past three years the Nuggets have won game one of the playoffs on the road versus San Antonio only to lose the series in five games each time; they will be happy to not play the Spurs in the first round if possible but I still don't expect them to win more than two playoff games no matter which of the top four teams they face.

The Score: Dallas 97, Utah 94

The Key Stat: With Josh Howard limited by injury to just three points in 20 minutes, Dirk Nowitzki produced a game-high 32 points on 12-23 shooting, including the game-winning three point shot with :00.9 left:

The Mavs went 2-2 when Nowitzki was out due to a severe ankle sprain but they are 4-1 since he returned to action.

The Bottom Line: This win not only clinched a playoff berth for Dallas but it moved Nowitzki's Mavericks into some pretty elite company. They have won at least 50 games in a season for eight straight years. The only teams in NBA history who have matched or exceeded that are Magic Johnson's Lakers (12 years), Bill Russell's Celtics (10 years), Tim Duncan's Spurs (nine years, a streak that is still active) and Larry Bird's Celtics (nine years). Of course, the glaring hole in Nowitzki's resume is that he has not won a championship; Magic won five titles, Russell won 11 (including one that preceded the 50-win streak and one that came after the streak ended), Duncan has won four titles and Bird won three titles. Nevertheless, the consistency that the Mavs have displayed during the Nowitkzi era is very impressive and very underrated. The fact that Nowitzki is performing so well despite his recent injury should only add to people's respect for his game but until he wins a championship his critics will always bring up Dallas' disappointing performances in the 2006 NBA Finals and the first round of the 2007 NBA playoffs.

The Score: L.A. Lakers 106, L.A. Clippers 78

The Key Stat: Six Lakers scored in double figures, but none of them had more than Luke Walton's 18 points. Kobe Bryant had a quiet night (16 points on 6-17 shooting, three rebounds, three assists) and did not play in the fourth quarter during what Marv Albert loves to call "extensive gar-bage time." Bryant did have two blocked shots, one of which was definitely highlight worthy:

The Bottom Line: The Clippers only trailed 51-42 at halftime but, as Charles Barkley predicted, the Lakers "beat them like a drum" in the second half. We did not learn too much about the Lakers but they should be well rested when they play the Hornets tonight. It was nice to see Elton Brand get some good run (23 points on 10-20 shooting, seven rebounds); he had 15 first quarter points but his minutes are still restricted as he recovers from his Achilles tendon injury. He has averaged 18.6 ppg and 6.8 rpg in five games so far. Rookie Al Thornton (22 points, 10 rebounds, two blocked shots, two steals) simply oozes athletic ability. Passing is not really a big part of his repertoire yet (one assist in 44 minutes) but he looks like he can become a big-time scorer once his game becomes a little more refined. Smush Parker had perhaps the most amazing stat line of anyone in this game: a -27 plus/minus rating in 28 minutes of action. It is hard to be worth nearly a negative point per minute but he has proven to be up to that task for multiple teams so far during his career. His individual numbers actually were not that bad (12 points on 4-8 shooting) but you have to watch him play to fully appreciate the passes that are made too early or too late and all of the wonderful intangibles that he provides; Lakers fans certainly know exactly what I am talking about, Heat fans quickly learned and Clippers fans will know pretty soon.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:41 AM



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