1. Last night was a big night for the Houston Rockets and their chances to get into the playoffs, so not only did a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers hurt, wins by the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets hurt as well.
As we covered in our recap of Houston’s loss, the end of the regular season has essentially become a single elimination tournament for the Rockets because one more loss and their season is over.
2. As for the Dallas Mavericks, they’re back to their winning ways. The Mavs’ victory over the LA Clippers last night was their 5th straight as they maintained pace with the LA Lakers, who sit one game ahead of them in the Western Conference standings for the 2nd seed in the playoffs.
The key to the Dallas victory was the 22-point, six assist effort of… JJ Barea. That’s right, it was the little man that stepped up and made crucial plays in the 4th quarter to give the Mavs their biggest lead in the final frame and also put a stop to the comeback effort of the Clippers. No team can easily walk over the Clippers at this point in the season. They click so well offensively and they have so much size that there are few teams that can matchup with them in the paint. The “Blakers” were able to hang with Dallas because they killed them on the boards, limiting Dallas to very few 2nd chance opportunities.
We here at Playmaker love it when the Clippers play any Texas team because it gives us an excuse to show you a Blake Griffin highlight like this one, showing how well his team played in the paint.
Dallas has the luxury of playing a back-to-back set in the same building as the Mavs close an epic TNT double-header tonight when they play the Lakers. A win would tie LA in the standings for that 2nd seed AND give them the tiebreaker over LA so that they wouldn’t need to make up another game. With Dallas having trouble with the Clippers size, there’s no telling what the Lakers are going to do. But right now, Dallas is back to playing good basketball after slumping for a few weeks and they know what’s on the line. A loss would lock them into that 3rd seed.
Needless to say, we’ll be watching tonight closely.
3. The opener of tonight’s double-header on TNT is a matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics. As we mentioned in yesterday’s Daily Six Shooter, both teams aren’t playing well. San Antonio has lost four games in a row, the first such losing streak for the team in a long time, because Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Antonio McDyess have been handled delicately by the coaching staff with the playoffs nearing. While Boston has missed Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal, the guys missing from their roster don’t nearly have the impact of those missing games for the Spurs. In essence, you’re left wondering… What’s Boston’s excuse?
While most Celtics fans are blowing this current funk off, those in the know are far more concerned. Yes, Boston went through a stretch like this last season where they went from looking like they’d get eliminated in the first round to holding a lead in the 7th game of the NBA Finals. But that’s not the case this year. The word is that the team is hurting more than they’re letting on. With a slim bench and nowhere to turn if Paul Pierce and Ray Allen aren’t lighting it up, they’re being exposed. And after trading Kendrick Perkins, they aren’t nearly as strong on the defensive end anymore. They’re counting on Shaq to be healthy by the time to the playoffs come around so that they can lean on him to carry them in the paint on defense.
More bad news for Boston is that the “Big 3″ might be back tonight. According to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, all three participated in practice yesterday. While Pop said that only Parker and McDyess would be back for sure, there’s a chance the team would play with a full roster tonight. My guess would be that Duncan comes off the bench while Ginobili is in the starting lineup. There’s no way Duncan plays tomorrow though, with a game in Houston scheduled.
This would be quite a surprise considering how serious Duncan’s injury looked and how conservative Gregg Popovich is about his veterans and dealing with injuries. I had previously predicted that it would be another week before Duncan’s return, so this would be a welcome surprise. We’ll see how he looks against Boston tonight though before we declare the season officially saved.
4. Speaking of unexpected comebacks, Sheryl Swoopes is returning to professional basketball after signing a contract for the Tulsa Shock.
There are very few things I know about women’s professional basketball, but I know who Sheryl Swoopes is. I remember hearing about her days at Texas Tech a lot when I was a kid. And as a high schooler when the WNBA began play, I remember her winning her MVPs for a (now defunct) Houston Comets team that won the league’s first four championships.
This Shock team certainly has a lot on the surface. Disgraced Olympian Marion Jones rides the bench for them, Swoopes is making a comeback at 40 to play for them, and they’re coached by former UTEP legend and NCAA Championship coach Nolan Richardson.
5. Tomorrow is opening day in Texas as both the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros take the field for the first time. Texas opens at home against the AL East favorite Boston Red Sox. Meanwhile, Houston opens on the road against the former champion Philadelphia Phillies and a familiar face on the mound: Roy Oswalt.
Naturally, we here at Playmaker are excited to get the baseball season started in the Lone Star State after last year when the Texas Rangers pulled off the most successful baseball season in the state’s history. We even put Josh Hamilton on the cover of our latest issue. And if you think the cover looks good, just wait until you see what’s inside.
But naturally, we’re loaded with Houston fans here on our staff and can’t wait to see what the Astros have for us this season. We plan on attending several games as professionals and as fans this season. Sadly, it might be easy for us to find tickets. Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle predicts that this will be the lowest attended season in the history of the franchise.
6. Finally, give props to the Aggies. Not only is the football team winning, they’re doing it the right way. According to a former assistant coach, they could have paid to bring in a top recruit who now sits on the precipice of making millions of dollars in the NFL Draft, but the team declined.
Something tells me that this recruiting violation story is just the tip of the iceberg, but the Aggies can be thankful that they look like the good guys from the start.