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David Aldridge

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Brandon Roy's return to the lineup in Game 4 wasn't as simple as just stepping out on the court.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Roy's miraculous return to lineup a story of teamwork


Posted Apr 26 2010 8:27AM

CHICAGO -- The idea was to lead a great week of NBA playoff basketball with the story of how Mike Brown and LeBron James handle their partnership -- and it is a partnership -- in a manner that should be very comforting for Cavaliers fans. That was the idea. But then two things happened Saturday that squelched those plans. (Promise: Brown and 'Bron next week.)

One, the Thunder spanked the Lakers. I mean, spanked them. Not in the way we've become expected to see the Lakers occasionally in the postseason, when they've not been engaged mentally, like they were for much of last year's second-round series with Houston. Oklahoma City put the wood to L.A. on Saturday, winning going away, and it looks like the Lakers just don't have an answer for Russell Westbrook, the most important player in the series.

Maybe the Lakers wake up and put the Thunder away. But it's not a stretch to say the Thunder are two wins away from the greatest playoff upset in NBA history. Yes, bigger than Golden State over Washington in the 1975 Finals (the Bullets weren't defending champions) or Golden State (again) over Dallas in the 2007 playoffs. And Westbrook is the biggest reason why.

Two, Brandon Roy suited up for the Blazers in Game 4 against Phoenix, seemingly ignoring all rules of human physiology and history, and giving Portland -- incredible, irrepressable, indefatigable Portland -- a chance to advance out of the first round for the first time since 2000. This was an organization working together, trying to figure out the fastest, safest way to get its star player back on the court.

Let's start with Roy. On April 16 -- that's less than two weeks ago -- he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to clean out torn meniscus cartilage in his right knee, after he'd injured the knee against the Lakers on the final weekend of the regular season. No one expected Roy to play in the playoffs unless the Blazers went deep into the postseason, and no one expected that. So most figured Roy was out for the rest of the season. (Roy did, too.) Every patient is different, of course, but the normal recovery time after an arthroscopy is four to six weeks.

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Brandon Roy playing in Game 4 was an example of franchise harmony and a solid rehab program.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Roy was back in eight days.

"I've heard of it in football," said the Blazers' longtime head athletic trainer, Jay Jensen, Saturday night. "I think Roger Craig played after an arthroscopy."

But basketball players? Well, it's different. They sort of need their knees working right. As Mike Singletary might say, can't run without 'em. Can't plant without 'em. Can't change directions without 'em. Can't shoot without 'em. Can't jump without 'em. Can't play without 'em.

But Roy believes his knee is just fine, even without all that previously-believed-to-be-necessary healing time.

He didn't look like a guy that was out like a mackerel the week before. He played 26 minutes and scored five of his 10 points in the final five minutes against the Suns on Saturday to help the Blazers even their series at two games apiece.

"Long story," Roy said Saturday night. True. But it's a good one.

When Roy hurt himself in the first quarter of that April 16 game against the Lakers -- Ron Artest stepped on his foot, pinning it to the floor, while Roy's momentum carried him to the right, until Roy felt something give way in his knee -- Roy immediately thought it was his meniscus. He had suffered a similar cartilage tear while in college at the University of Washington, in the lateral area of the knee. (Although Roy has good cartilage in the front of his knee, concerns about his knee were the reason some teams at the top of the Draft in 2007 were leery about taking him.)

"I went to the locker room and I was like, this feels like my meniscus," Roy said. "Unless we made the second round, I don't think I'm going to make it."

An MRI that night confirmed the meniscus tear, and surgery was set for the following Friday. But here is where Roy got a break. Team physician Don Roberts decided to take a different approach to the arthroscopy. Normally, three small holes are drilled into the knee and the surgeon then cleans out the torn cartilage. But Roberts opted to only drill two holes in Roy's knee, and that was important, because the third hole is usually drilled into the patient's quadriceps muscle. Not having to wait on that hole healing was a major plus for Roy.

"Going into the surgery, we had talked about trying to minimize the healing time, so if we got to the second round, Brandon could be available, or maybe for six or seven (of this round), Brandon could have a chance to be available," said Jensen, who was authorized by the Blazers to discuss Roy's condition. (Roberts has a long-standing policy of not talking to the media about his patients). "The hole is used for irrigation so you're able to see clearer. He did away with that hole. That helped with the healing time."

Soon after Roy awoke, he began telling Jensen that his knee didn't feel nearly as bad as he'd thought.

"I was flexing my knee and I said 'it feels pretty good right now,' " Roy said. He could flex the knee well past what the normal range of motion would be just minutes after an operation.

"He was coming out of surgery, so he was saying some goofy things, too," Jensen said. "I figured when he came home he'd probably change his tune ... He was already saying 'Jay, I can bend this thing.' He was on crutches but he pretty much got rid of those by the time he got home. He was going up the stairs on Friday (evening), which was unsuual. He hasn't taken a pain pill during this whole thing. He still hasn't."

Also working in Roy's favor was the nature of the arthroscopy. It was a meniscus shave, not an operation to repair a torn muscle or reset a broken bone. (It also helped that Roy is a quick healer; he played at Washington 11 days after the arthroscopy in college.)

Roberts "said a meniscus tear is not anything that we repair; it's something we clean up and take out," Roy said. "We just have to make sure that we keep the swelling down. Second day, the swelling was gone already ... I was on the court in three days. I went in the gym and said my knee feels pretty good. (Roberts) came in the gym because he didn't believe me. He thought I was just saying it. He came and watched me three days straight. Maybe this is a miracle."

Said Jensen: "He never had any swelling. Never. He started doing his rehab stuff, and by the middle of the week he was jogging on the treadmill. He was running at about 30 percent of his body weight at high speed. We put him through the paces. He never had any swelling, or any pain. Nothing. The only thing was his conditioning. We played 2 on 2 and he struggled. He was gassed. But Brandon said, 'That's not my game, anyway. I don't play 2 on 2 full speed. I pick my spots.'" (Jensen knew this was true; he regularly beat Roy in bike races the two had during the summer.)

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Blazers trainer Jay Jansen (right), shown here with Nicolas Batum, was key in Roy's fast recovery.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Given this new information, and after Roy practiced Friday, the Blazers upped their prognosis. Maybe Roy would be back by late in the Suns' series, and coach Nate McMillan said he might be able to play in Game 5 Monday. But there was the matter of convincing management that it wasn't a gamble to put the team's superstar back out on the court so soon, even though the player and coach and medical staff were all saying, 'Go.' McMillan reached out to Kevin Pritchard, the Blazers' general manager.

"We initially said no way," Pritchard said Sunday.

"But I could tell both of those guys (Roy and McMillan) were spending an amazing amount of energy on this decision," Pritchard said. "I told them, go to sleep. I didn't want them to spend all of their emotional energy on this one decision. I talked to Nate. I could hear it in his voice that he had talked to Brandon and Brandon felt good about it. But I told them to go to sleep and let's all think about it.

"That night I spent a lot of energy thinking about it. What are the hurdles we have to go through? First, the doctors. They said it was the cleanest surgery he'd ever have. Second, was Brandon emotionally ready to play? There was no stopping that kid Saturday. Third is trust. When Brandon has been hurt, he's been honest about it."

Jensen and the medical staff argued that because there wouldn't be a lot of on-court practice time during the playoffs, Roy could use the games as his conditioning tool, to work himself back into game shape. But the decision had to go all the way to the top, to owner Paul Allen. By Saturday morning, the plan was still for Roy to play, maybe, on Monday.

But Roy had other ideas.

"I came in (Saturday) morning. I had worked out pretty good (Friday) night and Coach was telling me he wanted to wait until Game 5," Roy said. "I said all right, that's cool. But I'd been feeling so good, there was no way I could wait until Game 5 ... I said to my fiancee (Tiana Bardwell), 'Coach isn't going to let me play.' She said you have to keep pushing him."

Roy texted Jensen.

"He said, 'Jay, I want to play so bad. You've got to let me play,' " Jensen said. "'There's no reason that you shouldn't let me play. You believe me when I tell you I can't play. I told you with the hamstring (when Roy missed 15 games and the All-Star Game) earlier this year. I'm telling you the truth. You have to believe me now.'"

Jensen, Roberts and the team's other doctors signed off to Allen: Roy was fine. He couldn't hurt his knee any more by playing.

"I wanted Paul to hear for himself that Brandon was ready to play," Jensen said.

While Allen was making up his mind, Roy was in the Blazers' locker room.

"There was nothing further I could do about this," Roy said. "I had to go to the (pregame) meeting and wait. They had to decide if I could play ... I was in my shorts and my t-shirt. I went back to make sure that my uniform was there (in his locker). I was nervous, like I was waiting for my SAT scores."

Pritchard, McMillan and Allen went over the pros and cons one more time. This wasn't just more than $80 million of Allen's money in the balance; it was the team's franchise player, the face of the organization. It was not an easy decision. But Pritchard insists the Blazers didn't think about any short-term gains by playing Roy if he wasn't ready.

"Mr. Allen is probably the best fact-finder in the organization," Pritchard said. "He brought questions that Nate and I couldn't think of, and I think Nate and I thought up questions that maybe all of us didn't think of. We're not afraid to challenge each other. The best thing an organization can have is the ability to agree, to disagree, but to come up together with a decision. And this is a picture-perfect example of that."

Twenty minutes later, with the pregame meeting under way, Pritchard snuck into the locker room through a side door. Allen had signed off. Green light.

"He gave me two thumbs up," Roy said. "He said, 'Go get this win.' Nobody else saw it. We were going through our meeting and Coach was making his speech. I just started putting my uniform on."

With two sutures still in his knee, Roy entered the game with 4:06 left in the first quarter. He knew he couldn't go for 30, but he thought he could be a pressure release, move the ball, make the Suns pay some attention to him.

"We got bombed two days straight," Roy said. "I didn't know how well I could play, but I thought I could give the guys some confidence. They were playing like the world was on their shoulders, especially LaMarcus (Aldridge)."

He made his presence felt in the fourth quarter. The Blazers had a precarious 82-79 lead with five minutes left when Marcus Camby drove the lane and passed to a wide-open Nicolas Batum in the right corner. But Batum turned and whipped a pass to Roy, behind the 3-point line.

"I was like, 'Nic, what are you doing,?' " Roy said. "'You shoot it. I haven't shot it all night.' But he swung it to me and I said, 'Shoot it with confidence.' "

He did, drilling a three to give Portland a six-point lead. Two minutes later, Roy was isolated left of the key against Jason Richardson. Roy took a jab step, stepped back and drilled a 16-footer with 2:10 left to put the Blazers up 91-83. They didn't trail the rest of the way. He wound up 5-of-10 from the floor.

"I felt like I got into a rhythm," Roy said. "J Rich, he started denying me. But I started to feel good."

An hour after the game, Roberts removed the two sutures. There was no swelling postgame. The knee, by all accounts, came through just fine. Roy is now on a 20-25 minute limit, but even Jensen allowed that it will be difficult to take him out of a game if he's going good.

Roy heard that both Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, on the TNT set, questioned whether he should be out there at all, that someone in the Blazers' organization should have saved Roy from himself, that any player worth his salt is going to suit up in the playoffs. Jensen wasn't thrilled with their opinions. "They were acting like we were knuckleheads or something," Jensen said. "There's a process that we go through to see if a guy can play. We went through that process.". Roy understood, but he wanted everyone to know that this was not a rash decision. He asked me to thank Kenny and Chuck for looking out for him.

"The only thing I'll say I had to fight everybody, from my parents to my friends, to the doctors," Roy said. "But I felt so good. I can cut. I don't think I can get 30 tonight, but I can play. I can contribute. I kept stressing that. I 'm not in any pain ... It's weird, man. I can't explain it. I'm just not trying to question it too much."

What a testament to this kid, whom so many thought didn't have the foot speed to play in the NBA.

His heart is plenty big, though.

Dribbles

Then there's Westbrook. The Lakers have had trouble guarding quicksilver point guards in recent years, but they've never looked as flummoxed as they do trying to keep the 21-year-old Westbrook in front of them.

That Westbrook is even in Oklahoma City is yet another testament to the job that the Thunder's front office, led by GM Sam Presti and assistant GMs Rich Cho and Troy Weaver, have done in the last three years building a team around Kevin Durant.

Westbrook had started just one season as a point guard at UCLA when he entered the Draft following his sophomore season. Even though he'd been the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, there were a lot of personnel types around the league who didn't think Westbrook would ever be a true point guard in the NBA, preferring USC's O.J. Mayo. And the Thunder needed a point guard, bad. Durant and Jeff Green were major building blocks, but Oklahoma City won only 20 games in 2007-08, its final season in Seattle, and used the likes of Luke Ridnour, Earl Watson and Mike Wilks as playmakers.

Sources indicate that the Thunder, picking fourth in the '08 Draft, had two players on its board -- Westbrook and Brook Lopez -- in the final days before the Draft. Oklahoma City had brought Nenad Krstic back from Europe in December, 2008, but it still felt it needed an upgrade in the middle, and Lopez was the top center prospect coming out of college. Picking him would have been a perfectly sensible move. But the Westbrook contingent won out -- "he had the right DNA to match our guys," texted a team official Sunday -- in part because the Thunder felt it needed someone other than Durant that could get his own offense.

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Russell Westbrook has established himself as the Thunder's No. 2 star.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In less than two full seasons, Westbrook has become a beast, and against the Lakers, he's been dazzling, averaging almost 22 points and shooting 55 percent from the floor in the first four games. Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown can't stay in front of him; Jordan Farmar can't keep his hands on him. He's been equally effective in transition or in the halfcourt, and Phil Jackson may not have any choice but to put Kobe Bryant on Westbrook most of the time the rest of the series.

The Thunder's plan has been to keep its financial powder dry until it had to re-sign its emerging stars. There would likely be room for just two max players under owner Clay Bennett's budget, but not three. And there's no question now that Westbrook and Durant will be those two max players, ultimately leaving Green as odd man out ...

• Wouldn't put too much stock into the Players Association looking to further chum the labor waters by exploring collusion charges against the league in the wake of the Commish's disclosure last week that the new salary cap projections for 2010-11 are much better than the previous ones. A union source says that the raise from $50-53 million last summer to the current projection of $56.1 million, just two percent off of this year's $57 million cap, isn't enough by itself to convince the union to begin building a collusion case against the NBA. The union will monitor this summer's free agent activity, the source said, but with rancor between owners and players already high, the NBPA will instead concentrate on its proposal to the owners, which should be ready sometime before the Finals in June.

The union summarily rejected the league's proposal during All-Star Weekend. The owner's proposal would have replaced the current soft cap, with all of its various exceptions, with a hard cap that had no exceptions, including the Larry Bird exception. It would have reduced the players' take of Basketball Related Income (BRI) from its current 57 percent to 50 percent, retroactively reduced the value of some existing contracts and reduced the length of contracts from six years for re-signing a team's free agents (and five years for signing another team's free agents) to four years (and three).

Where we're at, basically, is where Congress usually winds up when debating how to fund an existing program. One side usually wants to eliminate the program entirely; the other usually will accept cuts in the rate of growth of the program. The owners want to stop the rise in player salaries (which is already under way; player salaries as a whole are down this season from last), while the union understands, at the end of a double-dip recession, that it has to accept some reduction in the rate of salary growth.

The devil is normally in the details. This time, the details are secondary. The two sides are talking about very different worlds.

Top O' the World, Ma!

(Playoff edition)

1) Orlando (3-0): Jameer Nelson (25.7 ppg, 52 percent shooting, 14 assists, 3 turnovers in three games) making all the difference.

2) Cleveland (3-1): LeBron "was ready to play at 11 a.m.," Mo Williams said Sunday night. Looked like it.

3) San Antonio (3-1): How are the Spurs winning this series? Perhaps they're just tougher.

4) Boston (3-1): Call me a cynic, but I suspect some of the fellas might have spent some time Friday and Saturday night on South Beach.

5) Utah (3-1): D-Will might be having the best postseason of anybody so far.

6) Atlanta (2-1): Road woes continue in Milwaukee, and that's not a good sign, even if the Hawks beat the Bucks.

7) Oklahoma City (2-2): As someone Twittered to me this week, Serge IBlocka!

8) L.A. Lakers (2-2): The series with OKC is tied. It doesn't feel like it's tied, does it?

9) Phoenix (2-2): Offense is suddenly at a premium.

10) Denver (1-3): Didn't see this coming. Chauncey Billups has not been a compelling factor thus far.

11) Portland (2-2): LaMarcus Aldridge, to the rescue.

12) Dallas (1-3): Mavericks blow two huge leads in San Antonio -- and maybe blow their best chance in years at the Finals.

13) Milwaukee (1-2): Showed up in Game 3 against the Hawks, with Kurt Thomas pulling down 13 boards.

14) Miami (1-3): Guess D-Wade doesn't want to go fishin' just yet.

15) Chicago (1-3): Surprised Hakim Warrick hasn't gotten more run in this series.

16) Charlotte (0-3): Other than Jax and Gerald Wallace, they just can't score.

Team of the Week

(First-round playoff edition)

Orlando (3-0): The Magic sport a monstrous 9.3 point differential after three first-round games with Charlotte, and are giving up a paltry 84 points a game. They have done all of this with Dwight Howard being in foul trouble all three games and with the Bobcats being relatively ineffective. Interesting stat unearthed by the Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz: The Magic have never swept a seven-game playoff series during Howard's era. That might change by midnight Monday.

Team of the Weak

Miami (1-3): The Heat won Sunday, but only because Dwyane Wade went superhuman. The Heat have had only two good games out of four from Udonis Haslem, a handful of good minutes from Michael Beasley and no good minutes from Jermaine O'Neal. This has not been a good showcase for the team that was playing so well at the end of the regular season, and makes Pat Riley's sales job on Dwyane Wade that much harder.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Do coaches really believe what they're saying in the playoffs isn't believed by fans?

Good for the Commish for slapping Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy upside the wallet, and glad he finally sees things my way. For too long, coaches have used their playoff media sessions to spike the punch for the next game. They've whined and carped and complained about calls, saying their star player is getting hammered, and why the refs don't do something about it is beyond them. (Of course, when they change teams, their former star player is now Hack Hackenberry.)

Their intent may be understandable -- referees read the papers and watch TV and can be influenced by them just as much as anyone else, and if that plants a seed in a ref's mind, that's good for that coach's team. But the unintended consequence -- giving aid and comfort to those that believe the NBA is a rigged shell game like Three Card Monte -- has been too great over the years. People that already are willing to believe the league is fixed get oxygen for those noxious arguments when they see and hear coaches going on and on about the officiating on the NBA's biggest stage.

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Putting a postgame muzzle on coaches' comments on officiating was the best move to make.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

By the way, I'm not saying coaches can't continue to speak their minds. This is America, after all. I don't have a problem with an emotional response afer a game, and the league shouldn't treat first offenders the same as recidivists. Nor do I think there's not anything wrong with the officiating. We spent a significant amount of time on this during the playoffs last season, and I made several recommendations for change. But this is different. The league knew full well what its coaches -- its high-profile coaches -- were doing, and sat passively by and did next to nothing about it over the years. Its silence only egged the coaches on.

I saw where Jeff Van Gundy, Stan's brother, said on TV that everyone should be held to the same standard, so if Stern fines coaches for ripping officials, he should fine players for the same, and for ripping each other. Well, the league already popped Orlando's Matt Barnes for 35 large ("Quick question 4 u guys," Barnes tweeted this week. "Why r so many player/coaches being fined 4 criticizing officials. Do we have a legit complaint, or r we outa line?") and Dallas' Erick Dampier can expect to be lighter in the wallet soon for his post-Game 3 crititique.

Players, though, are different. Most times you talk with players after a game, you're getting honest, emotional response, whether it's about how his team played, or how the game was officiated. The league should take into account when determining whether or not to fine players when they criticize the officials. That's not a deliberate attempt to influence officials in future games by whining and carping about calls in postgame or pregame media sessions.

The coaches know exactly what they're doing. And, again, by doing it, they call the integrity of the game into question and make it easier for conspiracy theorists to feather their beds.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

Actually, in my parallel universe, I'm that Most Interesting Man in the World guy. From Jon Staude:

Where the hell is Dirk in your MVP list? Is there a parallel universe in which LeBron, D12, Kobe and KD (are) playing better (or in case of KD winning) against a better team than Dirk? C'mon, this one is a joke, huh?

Not a joke. Just sleep-deprived at 4 in the morning when I sent the column in, without a line for either Dirk or Kobe. One of those weeks, Jon. Would never do the Diggler that way.

His real ambition is to help Tom Cruise snag that elusive Oscar. From Len Mosley:

I have a query for you. If the Cavs won the championship this year, would Shaq be the first athlete in team sports history to win three championships, with three different teams, with three different (destined-to-be-legendary Hall of Famers) superstars (Kobe, D-Wade and LeBron)? Has that been done in any other team sport? Is that one of the main things driving Shaq to keep playing? How does that figure into his current mindset (along with getting five rings before Kobe :-))?

My crack staff -- okay, me Googling -- came up with the following: actually, several athletes in different sports have won three or more titles with three different teams. Lonnie Smith won three World Series rings with three different teams (1980, Phillies; 1982, Cardinals; 1985, Royals), and had Hall of Famers on each of those teams (Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt in Philly, Bruce Sutter in St. Louis, George Brett in Kansas City).

Before he bombed as an executive with the Detroit Lions, Matt Millen was an excellent color commentator. And before that, he was a pretty good linebacker, and he won four Super Bowls with three different teams: two with the Raiders (1980 and 1983) and ones with the 49ers (1989) and the Redskins (1991). He played with future Hall of Famers Marcus Allen in Oakland/Los Angeles, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young in San Francisco and Darrell Green, Art Monk and Russ Grimm in Washington.

And Shaq would not even be the first NBA player to win titles with three different teams. John Salley (Pistons, Bulls, Lakers) did it first (with HOFers Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars in Detroit, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago and HOFers-to-be Shaq and Kobe in L.A.). More famously, Robert Horry, of course, has won rings with the Rockets (Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler), Lakers (Shaq, Kobe) and the Spurs (Tim Duncan).

And there's no doubt Shaq wants to get five before either Kobe or Duncan.

Our prayers are still with you. From Maciej Olejniczak:

Many, many thanks for mentioning the plane crash in The Morning Tip. You didn't have to do it but you did. It's very kind of you and I hope all the readers from Poland will remember that as I certainly will.

Thank you for your kind words, Maciej. Hopefully there will come healing for you and your people in the weeks and months to come.

MVP Watch

(PLAYOFF EDITION, WK. 1)

1) LeBron James (35 ppg, 9 rpg, 8 apg, .588 FG, .788 FT): Everyone now says "unanimous MVP" when they're talking about LeBron. He's not going to be unanimous, but if he doesn't have one of the top two or three percentages of first-place votes, it'll be a shock.

T2) Kevin Durant (26.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2 apg, 384 FG, .854 FT): Not shooting a great percentage, but making himself felt on the court at all times, and impacting the game even when he's not scoring.

T2) Russell Westbrook (21.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.3 apg, .552 FG, .913 FT): Outstanding job the last three games running the show, getting the ball to the right guys in the right spots and also getting his in the flow of the offense.

4) Dirk Nowtizki (28 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3 apg, .535 FG, .971 FT): Not getting a lot of help when he's had to give up the rock after a hard double from the Spurs.

5) Dwight Howard (11 ppg, 8 rpg, 6 bpg, .524 FG, .393 FT): Won his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award (no surprise) but hasn't been able to stay on the court against Charlotte (quite a surprise). Still leaving his mark with half a dozen swats per game.

6) Kobe Bryant (24 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4 apg, .384 FG, .724 FT): He doesn't take a shot in Game 4 until the second quarter? And sits out the whole fourth quarter? What in the wide world of sports is going on here?

By the Numbers

4,477 -- Career playoff points for Kobe Bryant, who broke Jerry West's team record for career postseason scoring (4,457) on Thursday night against Oklahoma City.

52.4 -- Percentage of respondents to a Detroit Free Press online poll that said the Pistons are "in desperate need of an overhaul." Receiving 25.7 percent of the votes was "one pick and one free agent away," ahead of "without direction. Fire them all" (18.4 percent) and "one high draft pick away from the playoffs" (3.5 percent).

29 -- Career playoff high in points by the Spurs' George Hill in Game 4 against Dallas.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) Orlando has done nothing in three playoff games to change my view that it may be the toughest out of any team in the postseason.

2) Have to give the Celtics their props. They looked like a Dead Team Walking entering the playoffs, but they've answered the bell, and systematically taken the league's hottest team down the stretch apart the first three games of the series. That's good coaching by Doc Rivers, good advance scouting and superior focus and concentration by the players.

3) Sickness in the Windy City.

4) An NBA superstar of some importance tells me that Amar'e Stoudemire is a max salary player. Which makes me re-think my current opinion that he's not. Didn't say it changed my mind. Just re-thinking it.

5) Well-earned NBA Executive of the Year honors, John Hammond. It's a rare year when a GM does just about everything right, but Hammond did -- from trading Richard Jefferson, to not trading Luke Ridnour, to drafting Brandon Jennings, to acquiring John Salmons and a 2010 first-round pick from the Bulls.

6) Some may have a problem with Michael Jordan being inches from the court, and from his team's huddles, like Mark Cuban used to do. I don't. You can't have it both ways, folks. You wanted Jordan to be involved and not an absentee owner, and you wanted to know if the Bobcats were really important to him. He's not. And they are.

7) I'm not a football expert. But at first glance, it seems like Pete Carroll might know what he's doing in Seattle. That's a pretty good draft out of the box, and if LenDale White is going to play for anybody, one would suspect it would be his old USC coach.

Not Feelin' ...

1) This assumption that Dwyane Wade is just going back to Miami because Riles and Micky Arison say so may be ... well, I'm a little more skeptical than most. Other than Udonis Haslem (who also is a free agent), nobody has shown up for the Heat against Boston. So why would I trade for any of the guys that Riley is going to try and foist on me this summer, including Michael Beasley? And if Riles can't convince two max guys to play in Miami, why is it set in stone that Wade would stay?

2) Watching the Bulls, it's hard not to think about how different a team they'd be if they'd extended Ben Gordon three years ago. I don't think we'll ever get the real story about what happened there.

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Ben Gordon sure could help the Bulls right about now.
Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

3) The Lakers' bench is ... where, exactly? It was nowhere to be found in Oklahoma City.

4) Nobody likes the playoff schedule, coach Van Gundy. But people want to see the teams with the puppets, which means the puppet teams are going to play a lot on Sunday, which means the first round has to be spaced out.

5) You're better than that, Eduardo Najera. That takedown of Manu Ginobili was something a beer leaguer would do, not a guy with a well-established rep as a tough, physical guy.

6) I have been warned off of "Basketball Wives." Is it as bad as everyone is saying? It's still TiVoed.

Tweet of the Week

I'm sorry but if I'm still a Net next year,our first option should be Amare Stoudemire.Let's be real here.He's the most REALISTIC option.
-- New Jersey guard Chris Douglas-Roberts (@cdouglasroberts), Thursday, 11:56 p.m., making his free agent pitch, tampering rules be damned. STAT is getting all kinds of love from all over this week!

They Said It

"What do I think of the charge call? I think I was able ... I think I was in the right. It's a lot of fines going on in the league right now. I like my money. My family likes my money, too. So I think I'm going to hold onto it."
-- LeBron James, answering a question Friday about what he thought of a bang-bang charging call against him in the second half of Game 3 against the Bulls, but not answering it in too great a detail.

"If parker plays like this ... The Spurs can go as far as they want ... Duncan is my idol"
-- Rockets forward Luis Scola, Tweeting his admiration for San Antonio's Game 3 performance Friday against the Mavericks.

"Everybody knows there ain't nothing to do in Milwaukee, man. Everybody knows that, (even) the people that live there."
-- Atlanta's Josh Smith, responding to reporters' loaded, post-Noah-hates-Cleveland questions on Thursday about whether he'd vacation in Milwaukee. For the record, there's plenty to do in Milwaukee, which I would say even if the Missus hadn't grown up nearby and all of her family didn't still live there.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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