By Andy Roth, Contributing Editor - Archive - Email
The Pulse of the NBA
New York, NY (Sports Network) - Dallas is done. Carmelo was too hot for the Heat and the Lakers' other trade-deadline acquisition makes his presence felt again.

Those are just some of the stories we look at from this weekend's NBA playoff action.


The Dallas Mavericks' reign as NBA champions ended Saturday, as the Oklahoma City Thunder completed a four-game sweep of their Western Conference opening- round series with a 103-97 road win.

The Mavs were missing some key pieces from last season's championship team while trying to defend their title, as owner Mark Cuban let three integral players (Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson) depart from that squad to create lots of cap space this summer to pursue potential free agents.

Despite the early first-round elimination, Cuban doesn't regret the decision.

"If you want to nail me for something, I'll be the first to admit that it was a huge (expletive) that I didn't fight for the new (collective bargaining agreement) harder," Cuban said. "I said it before. I'll say it again. It put us and other teams in a bad spot, and it was an overnight handshake deal that I should have fought harder. I'm the first to say that. That was my mistake, because once that thing passed, our hands were tied in a lot of respects. But within that, we did the best we could. And we're not out of it yet."

Even with Chandler winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award with the New York Knicks, the Mavericks owner maintains that if he signed the free agent center after the NBA lockout, he wouldn't have had enough financial flexibility to put together a competitive team this season.

Following the Mavs' elimination, free-agent-to-be Jason Terry said Cuban knew they couldn't make another serious title run without some of the core group returning.

"Yeah, he knows it, the city knows, we all know it as players," Terry said. "But with the team we have, the nucleus we have, the core group of guys, we feel like we can beat anybody; that's just us as competitors. But, again, you have to have the personnel. You have to have the personnel to get it done.

"Every year I've been on the Mavericks team and we've had a realistic chance, it's because of the personnel. Look at your personnel and what they surround you with - your core nucleus and you can see if you have a realistic shot. For us, it was a long shot. Nobody's going to downplay that at all. If you look at our roster to a man, it was a long shot this year. But we still made the playoffs, but we just didn't have enough."

Dirk Nowitzki, last season's Finals MVP, wishes the Mavericks could have gone to war with the same group this year.

"Knowing as players, we were for sure disappointed in December in free agency when we didn't get the same team back," Nowitzki said. "That's for sure." The eleven-time All-Star has to play the waiting game, just like his owner, to see if Cuban made the right decision.

"We would have loved to keep the troops together as players," Nowitzki said. "We would have loved to get the guys back and give it a true shot to defend, but Mark and (Mavs president of basketball operations) Donnie (Nelson), they made a business decision to really go for cap space for the first time really since I can remember being a Maverick. We never had cap space, so they made the decision to go for that, and we'll just have to wait and see what comes out of that."

One free agent the Mavericks will likely have their eyes on is New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams, who is a Dallas native. But recent reports indicate there's a good chance he'll end up following the Nets to their new home in Brooklyn, and even Jason Kidd, who also will be a free agent, can see the allure, and thinks other free agents will too.

"I think going to Brooklyn brings a lot of attention," Kidd said. "The last professional team there was the Dodgers, so I think they're going to be very excited. And then with the Russian owner (Mikhail Prokhorov), I mean, he's not short on money, so I think they're going to go out and make a splash."

Kidd has expressed an interest in backing up Williams, whether it's in Dallas or Brooklyn.

"What's wrong with that? That's not a bad guy to help out," Kidd said. "If it comes to that would not be a bad situation. I know I wouldn't have to play 30 minutes."


Two bad fourth quarters have put the Memphis Grizzlies in a 2-1 hole. Saturday's performance in Game 3 wasn't nearly as bad as blowing a 21-point lead in the series opener, but more offensive struggles in the final quarter cost Memphis the game, even though Los Angeles tried to give it away with some horrendous foul shooting down the stretch.

Marc Gasol's jumper with 7:11 left in the game was the Grizzlies' first field goal of the quarter and they didn't have another one until Rudy Gay hit on consecutive 3-pointers with 12.9 and 8.9 seconds remaining, respectively. Prior to Gay's shots from downtown, the Grizzlies had scored only nine points in the quarter.

"We shut down and only scored 15 points in the fourth quarter," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "We took too many quick shots and gave up second-chance points. "

Poor foul shooting, which has been the Clippers' Achilles heel all season, was almost their downfall again as they missed five of six free throws in the final 12 seconds. But thanks to Gay missing a three at the buzzer, it didn't cost them this time.

Los Angeles was 13 of the 30 from the line for the game, eliciting this response from Chris Paul: "We missed 17 free throws?" said the All-Star point guard. "We did? It shows how much fight we have. It's unacceptable."

It may be unacceptable, but with the Clippers having some of the worst foul shooters in the league in Blake Griffin (52 percent), DeAndre Jordan (52 percent), Reggie Evans (51 percent) and Kenyon Martin (37 percent), it's a problem that's not going to magically disappear.


Break up the Knicks!

New York ended its NBA-record 13-game playoff losing streak on Sunday by barely holding on for a 89-87 win over the Miami Heat.

It took a 41-point outburst from Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks to get their first postseason win since 2001. They overcame yet another injury as Baron Davis went down with a dislocated right kneecap in the third quarter.

The game also marked the return of Amar'e Stoudmire, who missed Game 3 with a lacerated left hand. He made his presence felt with a 20-point, 10 rebound effort in helping the Knicks break their long postseason victory drought.

"I think it's the first of many," Stoudemire said. "Tonight was a great win for us, for our fans to finally get over that hump of those consecutive games that we lost, I guess the Knicks, lost over those years in the playoffs."

It's amazing how one win can make someone so delusional. Barring injuries to both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the simple fact is the Knicks are not getting past the first round, and from where I stand I highly doubt there's going to be a great deal of postseason success in the future with one- dimensional players like Anthony and Stoudemire.

As for the Heat, they failed to cash in on an opportunity for some extended rest by not being able to close out the series.

"We'd love to take the week (off), but it's not in the cards for us to do that in this round," said Wade, who missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer with two seconds left. "You know, we'll adjust. We play Wednesday in Miami at 7 o'clock. We'll be ready to play and give our fans another exciting game."

By another exciting game, I wonder if Wade means the usual game when he, James, and fellow All-Star Chris Bosh have to carry the offensive load.

Miami's "Big Three" have accounted for 67 percent of the team's offense in the series. The Heat are averaging 94.5 points over the first four games, with James, Wade and Bosh accounting for 63 points per game. The Heat's bench, which was 27th in the league in scoring during the regular season at 24.4 points per game, has been even worse in the postseason, averaging just 16.7 points while shooting a miserable 34 percent from the field.

And the bench has been nearly invisible in the last two games, putting up just five and nine points in Games 3 and 4, respectively, and connecting on only four of its 21 shots (19 percent).

So despite having two superstars in James and Wade, and a seven-time All-Star in Chris Bosh, the Heat are not a great team and no lock to even reach the NBA Finals despite the road getting a lot easier with Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose going down with a torn ACL.


The return of center Al Horford on Sunday wasn't nearly enough for the Atlanta Hawks to overcome some blistering first-half shooting by the Boston Celtics and another great performance by Rajon Rondo as the Celtics went up 3-1 in the series. Boston connected on 28 of 43 shots from the field in the first half (65 percent), en route to a 64-41 lead at intermission.

"Their team set the tone from the jump ball and we weren't able to recover," said Horford, who played for the first time in almost four months and scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in 20 minutes. "It's disappointing for us to lose this way, but the good thing is we're going back home. It's 3-1 and I'm sure a lot of people are writing us off already. But we feel pretty good about going back home."

The Celtics, meanwhile, have to feel great about the play of Rondo. Two nights after putting up a triple-double in the Celtics' overtime win in Game 3, he was arguably even better Sunday as he put up 20 points and 16 assists and had just one turnover.

Boston's All-Star point guard became the first player with at least 20 points and 16 assists with no more than one turnover in a playoff game since Tim Hardaway for the Golden State Warriors in 1991.

I marvel at the way Rondo controls the tempo and pace of the game. With Rose now sidelined, no team still alive in the Eastern Conference can match up with Boston at the point.

If the Celts can get some reasonable contributions from the banged up Paul Pierce (sprained knee), Ray Allen (sore ankle) and Avery Bradley (dislocated shoulder) through their playoff run, they will certainly have a very good chance to come out of the East.


The Los Angeles Lakers took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series with Sunday's 92-88 win in Denver.

Steve Blake, who scored 10 points off the bench, including a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left that basically sealed the victory, got a lot of attention after the game, but I think the most important reserve was Jordan Hill.

The third-year power forward was a key contributor in the Lakers' opening-game win with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and he came up big again in Game 4 with 12 points and 11 rebounds, including seven offensive boards in just 23 minutes. Hill is averaging 9.3 rebounds in just 20.5 minutes per game in the series. What a huge difference it is for the Lakers to bring him off the bench to spell Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, as opposed to Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy, who filled that role prior to the deal that brought him to Los Angeles in the Derek Fisher trade.

Who would've thought that Hill would play an integral role in Kobe Bryant's quest for a sixth championship ring?

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