1. Item: Denver Nuggets rookie Carmelo Anthony had a nightmarish Game 4 Tuesday night, making just 1-of-16 shots from the field and late in the game falling awkwardly on a rebound and straining his left knee. The shooting night predictably left him despondent, as did losing a tight game that could have evened the series with the Minnesota Timberwolves at 2-2. But it didn't cause brains to go haywire to the point that it would fuel his competitive juices enough to do something stupid -- like play if his knee just didn't respond to treatment by tipoff of Game 5 Friday night in Minneapolis, which it didn't and Anthony sat out Game 5.
What it really means: Anthony and the Nuggets knew this was just the start of their growth as a team and his as an NBA star. Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik knew some people played through injuries. He also knew what injuries could do to a career as he spoke to the media on Thursday. "We are going to err on the side of caution," Bzdelik said. "He's 19 years old. I mean, I recall when I was with the Miami Heat, and we played Detroit in a playoff series. Grant Hill, that's when he probably ruined his career. Not probably, that is when he ruined his career ... we're going to make sure it's right."
2. Item: Nothing but noise has spewed from the Minnesota Timberwolves since tipoff of Game 4 and since. Sure, the Nuggets were the ones doing the talking in the media before Game 4 -- perhaps out of immaturity, or maybe just because they thought they could get under the thin skin of the 'Wolves. Well, whatever it was, it worked, and they clearly had Minnesota on the ropes.
What it really means: The one group that still isn't convinced that they are top-seed-worthy might just be the Timberwolves themselves. They were tight at the beginning and in the end of Game 4 against an inexperienced and less talented Denver team. Now, we've got Kevin Garnett entering Game 5 saying police are going to be needed for the game because it's "Going to be a riot." This is not a team bent on winning an NBA title, just hoping to get out of the first round for the first time in club history.
3. Item: Two days later, it's still hard to figure this marriage of Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics -- new coach Rivers and president Danny Ainge as a long-term relationship to bring the Celtics back to prominence. Rivers figured to be the choice of the Atlanta Hawks, where he was an immensely popular player and knew the ownership figured to spend anything to get at least somebody to raise that dormant franchise.
What it really means: Either the Celtics spent a ludicrous amount of money for Rivers, or the popular Doc just didn't have anywhere near the clout on the open market that inevitably will have at least another half-dozen jobs open very soon. He and Ainge are both major personalities, and Ainge is the boss -- that itself is a recipe for disaster. So it probably means he probably couldn't get the money he thought was possible. In four-plus seasons in Orlando -- granted they didn't have Grant Hill as expected and or much more than Tracy McGrady -- they never won more than 44 games, never got out of the first round of the playoffs and became one of only seven teams ever to blow a 3-1 series lead, last spring to Detroit. This relationship has two years written all over it.
4. Item: The jury in the Jayson Williams manslaughter trial acquits him of the most serious charge, deadlocks on the second-most serious (reckless manslaughter) and finds him guilty of four of six lesser charges.
What it really means: They obviously knew the former Nets star attempted a serious cover-up after the shotgun in Williams' hands killed driver Gus Christofi, and it could result in him just getting a long probation. Whether it was with malice or just a reckless drunk that pulled the trigger isn't the point. Williams has proved for years he has the capacity to be one of the more wonderful people in the world, giving millions of dollars and time for people in need. He has a great sense of humor and is gifted in public. But, and this is a huge Rick Mahorn butt, he has also proved to be a very different person once he starts drinking. A dangerous drunk is a dangerous drunk, no matter who he is, and when that drunk also enjoys playing with guns. ... Williams has a long reputation of both. If it is indeed true he was reckless and that's what took Christofi's life, a slap on the wrist and probation will not do. Restitution to Christofi's family can only come in the form of a prison sentence. What remains to be seen is whether he'll be retried on the reckless manslaughter charge.
5. Item: And while we're on the subject of trials, the way Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant has performed while commuting to and from Eagle, Colo. while going through hearings over his indictment for allegedly raping a 19-year-old is becoming more remarkable every day. In the Lakers' Game 5 closeout of the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, Bryant didn't arrive at the Staples Center until less than 30 minutes before tipoff after nearly three full days of courtroom hearings. He hadn't practiced with the team and essentially was immersed in what had to be emotional trauma of some degree. But after a slow start, he had 31 points and 10 assists to lead the Lakers to a blow out victory.
What it really means: Bryant really might be the best basketball player we have ever seen. While he doesn't have the charisma or presence of Michael Jordan, his on-court ability absolutely is right there with Jordan's, and he's still only 25 years old. His ability to perform at this level under these circumstances might ultimately be one of the great feats in sports history. But what is really frightening is the same thing that always rung eerily from Jordan ... there is this ferocity and single-mindedness that is unsettling. It has been said forever to be really great in sports, there has to be this "bad guy within" to carry you over the top. Of course, that's not always true, as Tim Duncan and David Robinson, among others, have proved. It's why there are so many people who still believe Bryant shouldn't have played this season because of the creepy vibe pervading his presence ... whichever court you're talking about.
6. Item: The Golden State Warriors hired Chris Mullin to be executive vice president of basketball operations, reassigning Garry St. Jean. Now Mullin has the chore of deciding whether or not to retain Eric Musselman as coach and just how much money it's worth to retain free-agent center Erick Dampier coming off the best season his career.
What it really means: Mullin proved as a player from his best seasons to his twilight years that he has an exceptional feel for the game in all aspects. What we don't know is how he will be when it comes to deciding on the type of player he wants. With the success of the Spurs using "good guys," it has become a trend for a lot of teams to head in that direction. Not that you want a bunch of bad guys, but a team of boy scouts -- unless you have two extraordinary big men like Duncan and Robinson -- just isn't going to work. The Warriors haven't been in the playoffs in 10 years, the longest stretch of any team right now. They have been closer in Musselman's first two seasons than the previous eight, but haven't quite gotten there -- perhaps more because of injuries than anything else. With another lottery pick, retaining Eric and Erick, signing a tough veteran free-agent swingman and some long overdo luck in the injury department, aren't they on the right course rather than blowing it up for the umpteenth time?
7. Item: As the second half unfolded of the decisive Game 5 of the Sacramento Kings-Dallas Mavericks series, the officiating crew of Bennett Salvatore, Greg Willard and Mike Callahan began calling traveling on players subtly switching pivot feet on post moves. Time after time after time. Now, we are all taught by fifth grade if you switch pivot feet, it's traveling. Then again, traveling in the NBA is about as nebulous as any violation officials call -- or don't, whichever the case may be.
What it really means: Why now? Some of these guys have been making that move their entire career, and in a close-out game, to suddenly change the rules -- so to speak -- was positively bizarre, if not quite poor judgment. "I said I didn't understand," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "It's not called all year long, why are we calling it now? I'm just glad they called it on them, too."
8. Item: With the Mavericks getting eliminated in the first round after committing to the third-highest payroll in the league -- after adding Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker -- it will be an interesting summer as rambunctious owner Mark Cuban has his first setback. Since he bought the team in January of 2000, it has been nothing but success all the way up the ladder from a franchise that was positive inert. The change is likely to begin with coach Don Nelson, who figured he had been retired to Hawaii after getting fired in New York in 1996.
What it really means: When asked about his status after the game, in typical Nelson condescending fashion, he acted as if he didn't understand the question. Then he finally tried to punish the reporter with a "I have a three-year contract, of course I'll be back." Well, of course he could be fired and paid off. For his entire coaching career, Nelson has used very talented, yet unconventional teams that lack size and defense. They are fun to watch but never get to the Finals because they have fatal flaws. It's hard to fathom that Cuban tolerates anything that is fatally flawed ... although Donn Nelson deserves a shot at being somebody's general manager because he has proved to be a shrewd judge of talent.
9. Item: Sure, the Detroit Pistons dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks in five games, and the Bucks often didn't look like they belonged on the same floor as the Pistons. Then again, how many of you had any conception at the beginning of the season that the Bucks would come close to making the playoffs? They hired Terry Porter, with one year of experience as an assistant coach after 17 seasons as a player, and had dumped their "Big Three" -- Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell -- with little in return.
What it really means: It translates into Porter being a very gifted basketball man, who coached with the same passion and intelligence with which he played. Not only does he bring that to the table, but he's a native son returning as a conquering hero. He turned Michael Redd into an All-Star, Joe Smith played extremely well in the playoffs to belie his rep as the biggest bust as a No. 1 overall pick over the past 20 years, and in Desmond Mason he has a player who brings a lot of the same classy qualities to the table that he did, along with plenty of talent. Yes, this was a transitional year for the Bucks and owner Herb Kohl, and it just happened to be an exceptional one at that.
10. Item: After playing the Lakers tough for 4½ games, the Houston Rockets virtually collapsed in the second half of Game 5 with a nine-point third quarter, and they were finished with their first appearance in the playoffs since 1999. Yao Ming had his moments during the series, as did Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley. Jim Jackson was his consistent self, a strong contributor at both end of the floors, and coach Jeff Van Gundy had nothing to be crushed about.
What it really means: This team really isn't as close to being a strong contender as everyone thought coming in. Francis did an admirable job of adjusting to Van Gundy's micro-management, but he still looks to the be the kind of talent better off on the wing. Mobley is even wilder and is a perfect sixth man -- give him a heat check, thank you very much. And Jackson is always tough until it comes to making the right play at the end of a game -- then it's a tough call. That leaves us with Yao, the talented 7-6 center finishing his second season. He's dominant all right and will be even more so in the years to come. But how much will that matter if they don't have the right people around him? There's still plenty of work for Van Gundy and general manager Carroll Dawson to do with a roster that isn't exactly filled with guys who are used to winning at the highest level.