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WILL THEY RISE?
Posted by By Brad Friedman on March 31, 2006 10:10 a.m. ET

SUNS' TOUGHNESS TO BE PUT TO THE TEST

What happens when you put a club that holds opponents to under 90 points a game against a club that tops the NBA in scoring at nearly 108 point a game?

We'll find that out Sunday when the Phoenix Suns make their way to Motown to take on the Pistons (1 p.m. ET, ABC). While both clubs lead their respective divisions and are considered among the favorites to make a playoff run, not all is well in the Valley of the Sun. Phoenix is just 6-6 following their 11-game winning streak from Feb. 8 to March 6.

The biggest wakeup call of the season came Monday against Atlantic leader New Jersey in the form of a 110-72 blowout which proved even the Suns' offense can be stopped. Steve Nash and Amaré Stoudemire were each held scoreless for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
-- [Newark Star-Ledger]

Stoudemire, 23, looked like an old man out there in the third game of his return from a knee injury that previously held him out of the entire season. On Wednesday, he opted not to continue the Suns current road trip that has them playing five games in seven nights. Instead, he returned to Phoenix to have a magnetic resonance imaging exam Friday to look into any possible issues related to stiffness and slight swelling in the right knee.
-- [Arizona Republic]

With out without Amare, one has to wonder if Phoenix has the firepower to win in the postseason against top-tier, battle-tested teams like San Antonio or Dallas? Or are they just a team that could be dominated like they were in a five-game West Finals in 2005. Will they still have trouble winning at the end of close games this year? Sunday's matchup with Detroit should shed light on that.
-- [NBA.com]

DWYANE VS. LEBRON -- THE REGULAR SEASON FINALE

This one's a no-brainer in terms of what-to-watch this weekend. As one writer puts it, "Before the Final Four, a national television audience will be able to take in the Next Two."
-- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

On Saturday, the Heat visit the Cavaliers (2 p.m. ET, ESPN), not long after Miami's Dwyane Wade and Cleveland's LeBron James landed on the same cover of Sporting News this month as being the top individual NBA rivalry in the league.
-- [MSNBC]

Wade's club has triumphed in two-out-of-three meetings this season, and it's Dwyane's ability to simply win that has some saying the Heat star has closed the gap in judging their individual talent. What do you think, would you take LeBron or Dwyane No. 1 if the 2003 draft was done all over again? E-mail us and let us know.
-- [San Jose Mercury News, NBA.com]

JASON COLLINS OR SHAQ?

Right now, the battle for the Nos. 6 and 7 seeds in the East is incredibly tight between Milwaukee and Indiana. The Pacers' loss last night to the Suns was the Bucks gain, as they moved a game ahead of them in the Central Division Standings. The real difference? If the playoffs were to start today, the Bucks would face New Jersey (No. 3) instead of Miami (No. 2) in the first round.
-- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

Which team would the Bucks or Pacers rather play? We can't imagine either team hoping to see the Heat or the red-hot Nets. Regardless, Indiana going to Milwaukee on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET) is a big, big game for these two clubs.

HOWARD MAVS' UNSUNG MVP

Finally, Denver and Dallas go at it Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional), and this is also a game worth watching. The Nuggets score more fast break points than any team in the league, and Dallas is always a fun club to watch with their up-tempo style of play.

Ironically, the subplot of this game is defense. While Dirk could be the MVP of the league this year, it's clear that he can't do it alone based on the Mavs' 8-6 skid since defensive stopper Josh Howard has been out of the lineup. He returns to the lineup tonight against the Magic. We'll see if he can get Dallas' defense back into the shape that has allowed the Mavs to stay neck-and-neck with the Spurs all season.
-- [Dallas Morning News, Req req'd]

LEBRON'S FIRST TIME
Posted by By John Schuhmann on March 30, 2006 10:00 a.m. ET

YOU GOTTA BE IN IT TO WIN IT

In his rookie year, he missed it by one game. Last season, he missed it by even less, as New Jersey held the tiebreaker for the eighth spot in the East. Well, the heartache in Cleveland is over. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are in the playoffs.
-- [NBA.com, Cleveland Plain Dealer]

In the clincher, James gave a playoff-like performance, scoring 46 points on 16-of-23 from the field.
-- [Akron Beacon Journal]

LeBron's play over the last few weeks could just be a taste of what's to come.
-- [Akron Beacon Journal]

It has been eight years since the last postseason in Cleveland. In some ways, that was a long, long time ago. Heck, Shawn Kemp was on that team!
-- [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

For Cavs fans, it was worth the wait ... maybe.
-- [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

HOTTEST TEAM IN THE LEAGUE

What's the only team in the NBA with two winning streaks of 10 or more games this season? The Pistons, right? Nope. The Mavs? Nope. The Spurs? Nope. The Suns? The Heat? The Cavs? Nope. Nope. Nope.

The New Jersey Nets beat Memphis last night for their 10th straight victory, their second such streak of the season, and only the fifth in their 30-year NBA history.
-- [New York Post]

What's interesting is that the Nets did it with offense in the first streak, and are doing it with lockdown D this time around.
-- [NJ.com]

The opponents are a bit more impressive this time (six current playoff teams as opposed to four), with the last three having a combined winning percentage of .681.
-- [NJNets.com, NBA.com]

Other than Jason Kidd (who held Chauncey Billups and Steve Nash to a combined nine points in back-to-back nights), the Nets don't have great individual defenders, but the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, thanks to smart rotations and keeping opponents out of the paint.
-- [FOX Sports]

TNT THURSDAY

Tonight's double-header on TNT starts off with the Suns and Pacers (8 ET) and a halftime ceremony to honor TNT analyst Reggie Miller.
-- [Indianapolis Star]

Phoenix will be without Amare Stoudemire, who has returned home to have his knees checked out.
-- [Arizona Republic]

In the second game, the Spurs visit the Lakers (10:30 ET).

Tony Parker has a sore leg, but that didn't stop him from stopping Rasho on the soccer field yesterday.
-- [San Antonio Express-News]

A win could help the Lakers avoid a first-round playoff matchup with the Spurs, and a 35-point game could help Kobe Bryant crack the Top 10 single-season scoring averages of all-time.
-- [NBA.com]

The Suns are 0-6 in games decided by three points or less.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Zydrunas Ilgauksas on the last time the Cavaliers were in the playoffs:

"That's back when I had a full head of hair, I was single and I lived in an apartment downtown."
-- [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

2005-06 ARCHIVE
Mar. 24 -- Artest Fit For A King
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