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Shaun Powell

Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks are trying to stave off a late-season playoffs push from the Bucks.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Storylines that stand out as the season ticks toward close

Posted Mar 27 2012 10:54AM

We have started the fourth quarter of a regular season that was only three quarters-long to begin with. So what can we expect here in the stretch run to 66 games?

Well, that depends on the player, or coach, or general manager, or team that needs this final month more than others.

The stakes aren't so big in the obvious places: Miami, Oklahoma City, even Charlotte -- because the Bobcats aren't going anywhere no matter what happens between now and April 26, the final day of the regular season.

Still, there is drama elsewhere, with coaches and general managers trying to save their jobs, and players trying to make their reputations or restore it, and teams needing a push toward the playoffs.

Vinny Del Negro: You knew the subject of Vinny's coaching ability would be raised once the expectations rose with Chris Paul's arrival. It was only a matter of time, and seemingly the only way Del Negro can return next season is if the Clippers go deep into May. He needs a big regular-season finish, a favorable playoff matchup ... and then it would help if the Clippers are the last L.A. team standing. Anything less and Brian Shaw could get a call.

"It's aggravating," Del Negro said of the speculation, "but it's part of the job."

Derrick Rose: Does he really need this much time off, or is there simply no rush to bring him back, given how well the Bulls are rolling? If Rose is healthier than he's letting on, the Bulls are in a terrific position, allowing him to heal properly while giving his supporting cast ample opportunities to assume greater roles. This can only help the Bulls late in playoff games, when Rose is doubled and the ball finds someone else.

"We're so deep," said Luol Deng, "that it's always guys somehow, somewhere, who are going to get it going."

Stephen Silas: With Michael Jordan's blessing, Paul Silas is giving the kid the chance to get his feet wet in this, a lost season otherwise for the Bobcats. Everyone loves the way Stephen (2-3 as coach) is level-headed and obviously smart, but a few wins might strengthen his case for next season in Charlotte or elsewhere.

New York Knicks: They're still chasing one of the bottom playoff spots and unable to distance themselves from the Bucks, currently sizzling with Monta Ellis and Ersan Ilyasova. And they'll have to do it without Amar'e Stoudemire and his creaky back. The Knicks can't afford to flush Linsanity down the toilet by missing the playoffs again, which would be a disaster nearly of Isiah proportions. This has been Carmelo Anthony's most unsatisfying season as a pro, though it's nothing that a flurry of big performances by Melo won't cure. But without Stoudemire and Melo, the Knicks and their fans are vulnerable to the inevitable end-of-April express checkout.

Hornets owner: Who? When? That's what remains to be seen here in late March, well past the original timetable for the NBA to wash its hands of the franchise and turn it over to someone who's willing to spend big and keep the team in New Orleans. The longer this drags out, the more uncertainty will hover over a franchise that badly needs a course of action going into the Draft and free agency. Monty Williams, Dell Demps and the loyal fans deserve more.

Ramon Sessions: Derek Fisher was as clutch as it gets. What about his replacement? The Lakers need Sessions to provide a hint of what's coming in the playoffs, if possible, during these last few weeks. Or at the very least, do something to wipe the pout off Kobe Bryant's face. Sessions has never been in this position, and so it's probably unfair to ask too much from him at this young stage of his career. But Kobe's not getting any younger. And until he walks away, the Lakers are stuck in win-now mode.

New Jersey Nets: Actually, Deron Williams has probably made up his mind about where he'll play next season; can't imagine an April swoon or sizzle will sway him one way or another. But it wouldn't hurt the franchise if they finished strong and at least gave Williams something -- anything -- to think about.

Klay Thompson: A few weeks after Monta Ellis was sent packing in order to free up minutes for him, Thompson scored 31 points and is averaging 19 in his last nine games. And this is why the fans booed the owner? The Warriors are big on Thompson and feel he'll be the perfect sidekick for Steph Curry. Maybe the real curiosity is whether Curry, still hobbling from his surgically repaired left ankle, and Andrew Bogut can stay healthy. We won't know until next year.

"He's a prototypical shooting guard," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said about Thompson. "It's scary to think he can only get better."

Gilbert Arenas: The old Gilbert isn't coming back; all the Grizzlies want is 10-15 minutes of mop-up. So the bar has been lowered drastically, and the remaining regular season will prove whether Gilbert hurdles it or trips over it.

Kaleb Canales: He's cut from the Jeff Van Gundy-Erik Spoelstra coaching mold, a 33 year old who rose from the mailroom to the board room, so to speak. The players like him in Portland, but that's standard for interim coaches. Portland is bailing on the season and ready to push the restart button now that Nate McMillan, Greg Oden and Brandon Roy have all left the building. If Canales can show a grasp of strategy and motivate a struggling team, then he'd be as good as anyone to usher in a new era.

Ernie Grunfeld: Now that he has pulled the plug on the Sesame Street-atmosphere that spoiled the Wizards franchise, is there anything else Grunfeld can do to convince ownership to bring him back? The general manager was forced to fire the coach and dump a young and athletic 7-footer, and still the Wizards are so bad they'll compete for the top pick. If he can get Andray Blatche to retire suddenly, Grunfeld would no doubt get a 10-year deal.

Al Horford: The Hawks are still insisting Horford is a possibility for the playoffs, and if so, it would be good for everyone if he got in a few reps before then. If he does return issue-free from pectoral surgery, then the Hawks become a dangerous team; they're getting maximum production from Josh Smith, who's still wearing his All-Star snub face.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. 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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