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Posted by By Brad Friedman on March 24, 2006 9:49 a.m. ET


Say what you want about Ron Artest. He isn't always on his best behavior. His teammates said he turned his back on them in Indiana by requesting a trade. He's a little "eccentric." But when he's on he's a heck of a basketball player who has energized Sacramento since coming to the West Coast.
-- [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]

On Saturday, the Kings take on the Jazz, a team we talked about last week who is fighting to get in the playoffs. In their way? Sacramento, owner of the eighth and final playoff seed.
-- []

That's a far cry from what the Kings were prior to dealing for Artest in exchange for Peja Stojakovic on Jan. 25 . In fact, all the Kings were was an 18-24 (.429) squad living in lottery land. With Artest is the lineup, Sacramento has gone 16-10 overall (.615) and 11-0 at home.
-- [New York Times]

"They added a player in the mix that's everything Sacramento wasn't when we played them in the playoffs," the Lakers' Kobe Bryant told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel after a recent loss to the Kings. "The guy plays defense first, and now Sacramento has become much more aggressive on defense."
-- [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]

Sacramento is allowing opponents just 94.0 points per game with Artest compared to the 100.2 points per game they gave up prior to the trade. Its .461 field goal percentage allowed has improved to .435.

The Kings' newfound toughness has shown itself in other forms as well, including a 7-2 record with Artest in the lineup following a loss. They'll need that toughness for their back-to-back games this weekend. After visiting Utah, the Kings host Golden State Sunday. They play two back-to-backs in a span of five days beginning with the Jazz game, and of their last 14 games of the season, eight are back-to-backs and eight are against opponents with .500 or better records.
-- []

If they can hold off the Jazz, two games behind them for the eighth seed, and the Hornets, just one game behind, it will be quite a testament to Artest's value on the court.
-- []

"I just want to get into the playoffs," Kings coach Rick Adelman told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "I don't care what the seed is. What's the best seed? The best is being in one of the eight spots and not being in the ninth spot."
-- [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]


Twenty-four teams will be in action this Sunday. That means all you League Passers better be prepared for a remote control workout. Don't sprain any fingers and be out of action for the playoffs, though.
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Among the top games: Philadelphia at Indiana at 1 p.m. ET which is actually on ABC. The Sixers have been on the losing side too often of late and are in danger of playing themselves out of the postseason.
-- []

Chicago is breathing down their neck for the eighth seed -- it is 3.5 games behind -- but the Red, White and Black have lost four in a row themselves. The Bulls take on Boston at 4 p.m. ET on League Pass. The Atlantic division leader New Jersey faces Central Division champ Detroit at 7:30 p.m. ET on League Pass. And of course, Sacramento visits Golden State at 9 p.m. ET on League Pass.
-- []

Posted by By John Schuhmann on March 23, 2006 10:00 a.m. ET


The last time Amare Stoudemire was playing for the Suns, he was averaging 37 points and 10 rebounds against the Spurs in the Conference Finals. It was an eye-opening performance that made people think that this could be the best player in the game within a year or two. Then came training camp and the news that Stoudemire would miss several months as he recovered from knee surgery.

Well, it's several months later now, and Stoudemire says that he's ready to return to the Suns.

The plan, unless he feels any lingering soreness from Wednesday's practice, is to play him 15-20 minutes against the Blazers.
[Arizona Republic]

The Suns have done pretty well without Stoudemire, leading the Pacific Division by six games. They now have 16 games to work Stoudemire back into the lineup in preperation for the playoffs.

Stoudemire's is not the only return this week. Last night, two All-Stars came back to teams in the playoff race ...

Jermaine O'Neal returned to the Pacers lineup after almost two months, helping them to a win over the Bulls. The game was a bit of a test for the Pacers, and coach Rick Carlisle is pleased with how they fared.
[Indianapolis Star]

The Pacers are now tied with the Wizards for the fifth spot in the East (Washington currently holds the tie-breaker with a better conference record - they split their season series), and with O'Neal back, they wll be a dangerous matchup for whomever they face in the first round.

In Philadelphia, Allen Iverson returned to the Sixer linuep after a four-game absence with a sprained ankle, leading the Sixers with 29 points and 12 assists in a win over the Hawks.
[Philadelphia Inquirer]

A.I.'s return couldn't have come too soon, as the Sixers dropped four straight without him and are holding on to the last playoff spot in the East.

With Iverson or without him, the Sixers aren't where some would like them to be.
[Philadelphia Inquirer]

Iverson's Sixers visit O'Neal's Pacers this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ABC.


The Heat took a shot to their ego last night in Detroit, as well as a shot to their rotation. Alonzo Mourning could be lost for the season with a torn calf muscle.
[Miami Herald]

The season is over for a pair of the league's top rookies. Channing Frye has a partially torn knee ligament, thanks to a collision with Toronto's Andre Barrett on Tuesday, and Salim Stoudamire has a sprained right elbow, which he hurt on Sunday.
[New York Daily News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (reg. req'd)]

Posted by By Jeff Dengate on March 20, 2006 9:00 a.m. ET


So, how are your brackets doing?
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Much of the country is talking hoops this morning, but if you think we're talking the college game at the water cooler this morning, well, you're only half right. Okay, sure, we enjoyed watching all of Thursday and Friday's upsets as much as the next fan, and not just those confined to the amatuer ranks.

As a number of those upsets were unfolding on the Oakland University hardwood temporarily stationed inside the Palace of Auburn Hills, the building's usual residents, the Detroit Pistons, were unable to escape the heroics of the little guy. They were busy getting upended in Manhattan Friday night.
-- [New York Times, Reg. req'd]

But, the first round gave way to the second and, as expected, most of the David's of the college scene ran out of gas against the lower seeds who had a renewed focus on advancing to the Sweet 16.

Us, we've got some pretty heavy competition for our field of 16 teams, too, as the playoff races heat up. Those aforementioned Pistons are assured a spot, but that coveted homecourt advantage throughout their title chase has been in question this month as Detroit's gone 5-4 for March.
-- [New York Sun and Detroit News, Reg. req'd]

That recent stumble leaves the Pistons only a 1/2 game up on the Spurs for the league's best record, with Dallas a 1/2 game back from their Southwest and in-state rivals after their setback in New Jersey.
-- [ and New York Post]

But the Spurs, Mavs, Pistons and, thanks to last night's win over New York, the Miami Heat comprise a quarter of the teams that'll be invited to continue playing beyond April 19.
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[Note: Bookmark the link above and keep up to date on how many wins (or opponent's losses) a team needs to lock up its division or a playoff berth.]

So, who'll be joining the Pistons and Heat in the East? Well, if A.I. doesn't heal soon, it won't be the Sixers, who've dropped four straight without his services.
-- [Philadelphia Daily News]

Then again it's not like the Bulls are knocking down any doors to get into the top eight. For all of the Sixers struggles, Chicago's dropped three straight themselves, including games against the playoff-bound Bucks and Wizards.
-- [Chicago Sun-Times]

In the West, the jockeying for positions is a bit more fierce and the top eight squads are running away from the field. All of the seeded teams except the No. 7 Lakers have won at least seven of their last 10 games. But even L.A.'s 5-5 mark is enough to maintain an edge on the struggling Hornets.
-- [The Oklahoman]

As for the Jazz, it, too, still has a shot at the Playoffs, something it hasn't experienced since Karl Malone was in uniform three years ago. Perhaps pining for those days of yore, the team is retiring Malone's jersey Thursday and erecting a statue next to longtime teammate John Stockton's.
-- [Salt Lake Tribune]

But re-visiting the past might not be enough to spur this team on in its quest for a playoff berth. After all, not even the Mailman could deliver the Jazz a trophy, that glimmering item 192 players will have their eyes on when the Playoffs begin on April 22. Until then, many others like the Jazz are trying to figure out how they can get in on the action.


It's never too early to start thinking Draft ... especially if your team's out of the Playoff picture.
-- [Chicago Tribune, Reg. req'd]

Malone's not the only ex-player to be honored this week.
-- [Orlando Sentinel]

Artest has earned the Kings' fans' faith.
(Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty)
Chris Webber on the Sixers' struggles and the possible return of Allen Iverson:

"Just because we get Allen back, who we need more than we know, more than anybody can say ... just because you get him back, just because you're playing Atlanta, and just because all those things, it doesn't matter if we don't go execute."
-- [Philadelphia Daily News]

2005-06 ARCHIVE
Mar. 17 -- Almost Doesn't Count
Mar. 10 -- A Magical Game
Mar. 3 -- Revenge of the Herds
Feb. 13 -- The Heat is On
Feb. 10 -- Left Out in the Cold
Feb. 3 -- We're Going Streaking!
Jan. 27 -- Trade Winds Blow
Jan. 23 -- Points a Plenty
Jan. 20 -- Give the King a Break
Jan. 13 -- Who's the Man?
Dec. 1 -- Welcome Back, Larry
Nov. 17 -- League Pass Surfing
Nov. 10 -- Setting OWGs Straight
Nov. 4 -- Season Underway
Oct. 27 -- The Central Is Stacked
Oct. 19 -- All Dressed Up
Oct. 14 -- LeBron Out Of Hospital
2004-05 -- Archive
2003-04 -- Archive