SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- A dreary, rainy day spent dealing with canceled flights in Syracuse's quaint Hancock International Airport doesn't inspire the most festive of moods. Seems like the perfect time and venue to pen a death certificate, so we figure why not write three?
|Stephon Marbury's Knicks might as well forget any remaining playoff hopes. (Getty Images)|
All three took their last gasps over the weekend, with the Clips dropping a must-win game against Minnesota, the Lakers continuing their pathetic demise thanks to 27 turnovers in a home loss against Philly, and the Knicks losing in Portland. You can't hope to make the playoffs and lose to the Blazers, whether you're in the Rose Garden, Madison Square Garden or the Olive Garden. It's just not acceptable.
Die-hard basketball fans in those cities will still have races to follow if they're so inclined. Can the Clippers overcome the Lakers to finish with a better record than their glitzier Staples Center roommates for the first time since 1993 and only the second time in the 26 years the two have co-existed in Cali? Entering the week, the two have an equal number of victories but won't see each other the rest of the way. Sounds like they're going to be doing some riveting scoreboard watching in Hollywood.
To the winners go the bragging rights at this year's end-of-the-year gala, held as always in the sub-.500 suite at the Mediocrity Motel. The Clippers' Elgin Baylor and his people can give the Lakers the grand tour since they've become so familiar with the Lottery Lounge and the other amenities being a losing team entitles you to. Just be sure Kobe Bryant doesn't check in himself, and leave poor interim coach Frank Hamblen home. The faster he gets away from this team, the better off he'll be.
"It's their livelihood," Hamblen said last week. "They're starting to erode my immune system, though, I'll tell you that."
Back east, the New Jersey Nets continue to harbor playoff aspirations, thanks in part to an extremely manageable end-of-season schedule and the fact that No. 8 seed Indiana has been without top players Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest for most of the season. To make up the 3½ games they trail the Pacers by, the Nets have to count on winning at least two-thirds of their remaining 12 while hoping the Pacers, Sixers or fading Cavs fall off.
Each personal setback, or victories by any in the competition for the East's final spots, will draw the Nets one step closer to extinction. If that happens early enough, history tells us star guard Vince Carter might go into cruise control, which will no doubt drive Jason Kidd into folding it up out of frustration as well.
Where do the Knicks come into play in all this? Well, considering they'll see the Nets twice in the next two weeks, it gives them some incentive to play spoiler and "suck less" than their neighbor across the river. The first of the meetings comes April 1 at MSG, one day before a critical home date against the Magic, who have lost their grip on a playoff spot as Steve Francis loses his grip on reality.
Big game for those two. Big week, too. We're almost certain to be dooming the loser to a future of ping-pong balls this time next week.
Credit must be given to Philadelphia and Minnesota for their recent play as winning streaks have heightened their own aspirations.
|Monday||Dallas at Detroit|
|Monday||Denver at Phoenix|
|Tuesday||Seattle at Memphis|
|Wednesday||Dallas at Boston|
|Wednesday||Sacramento at Detroit|
|Wednesday||Seattle at San Antonio|
|Wednesday||Philadelphia at Phoenix|
|Thursday||Miami at Indiana|
|Thursday||Cleveland at Chicago|
|Friday||Dallas at Philadelphia|
|Friday||San Antonio at Denver|
|Friday||Minnesota at Phoenix|
|Saturday||L.A. Lakers at San Antonio|
|Sunday||Dallas at Cleveland|
|Sunday||Minnesota at Sacramento|
|Sunday||Philadelphia at Boston|
|Sunday||Phoenix at Houston|
We told you we saw something special in the Sixers if Chris Webber stepped things up a bit, and he's definitely been more active in the post and on the boards, grabbing 14 in Sunday's big victory over the Lakers. To win a game in which Allen Iverson starts off 2-for-20 tells you all you need to know about how dangerous Philadelphia can be when clicking on all cylinders. Webber's return to Sacramento tips off a full week, with games against the Suns and Mavericks also scheduled. If they come out of those games with a win or two, confidence will be high for a more manageable slate down the stretch as the team attempts to move up the East ladder.
The Timberwolves have thrived thanks in large part to the emergence of a healthier Sam Cassell, who has shown there is still some life left in those 35-year old legs. He averaged nearly 20 points off the bench in big wins over the Nets and Clippers, taking away more and more minutes from current starter Troy Hudson.
Despite the surge of life, Minnesota remains mired in an uphill climb as the team closest to it, Denver, just happens to be the hottest team in basketball. The Wolves must win two of three games on this week's Western swing, which starts Thursday against the Lakers and continues in Phoenix and Sacramento over the weekend.
We'd also be remiss if we didn't extend a head nod in Indiana's direction for a gutsy performance in Detroit. They played in spite of what ended up being four bomb threats and racked up a valuable victory. As for the fans ruining the name of all Pistons faithful, we can't come up with a word to adequately describe you. Vermin seems too kind.
Despite the absence of Tim Duncan, the Spurs have remained neck-and-neck with the Suns in the race for the Western Conference's home-court advantage. Holding court against visiting Seattle on Wednesday night would be great for their chances; that's a game they'd be expected to win with T.D. in the lineup but has to be considered a tossup without him.
Duncan's right ankle remains heavily swollen, but Gregg Popovich hasn't counted him out for the season's final week.
"If he's ready to play, we'll play him," Popovich told the Associated Press. "If he isn't, we won't. He won't allow me to let him sit there if he's healthy and ready to go. If he doesn't play any more regular-season games, it'll be because his ankle's not ready and he's not able."
The exchange between Washington's Kwame Brown and Brendan Haywood, who nearly came to blows late Friday night in a tough loss to the Clippers, is nothing to make a big deal about. Things like that happen between teammates, particularly when games take on a heightened meaning.
What the Wizards do have to concern themselves with is the loss of Haywood, who suffered a thumb injury that will cost him the remainder of the regular season. That forces Brown into a primary role, considering there is no timetable set for Antawn Jamison's return from his knee tendinitis. It's time for the 2001 No. 1 pick to validate his worth to an organization that has been short-changed considering their expectations for him.
Hold those votes.
Seems like our favorite sub, Chicago's Ben Gordon, has moved to the forefront of a rookie of the year race that remains too close to call. Orlando's Dwight Howard and Charlotte's Emeka Okafor have persevered on losing teams and will be finalists and potential recipients as well, but we have one more name to add to the mix -- Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala.
A.I. Part II has been exceptional as the Sixers make their late-season push, following up a double-double earlier last week with an 18-point, nine-rebound effort that helped bury the Lakers. He plays smart, doesn't put himself in positions he can't handle and plays superb defense. Depending on what he and his teammates do in the season's final weeks, don't be surprised if he puts himself in position for serious recognition.