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YOU CAN DO MAGIC
Posted by By Jeff Dengate on April 14, 2006 8:30 a.m. ET

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER FOR ORLANDO

It's a daunting task, with perhaps an even more daunting reward, but don't tell the Magic. Orlando's busy putting together an improbable run at the postseason, and who's to say they can't win their way out to edge the Bulls and Sixers? (The Pacers and Bucks are out or reach, each already holding the tiebreaker over Orlando.)

Last night, the team waltzed into the AT&T Center, where only six teams had managed to pry a victory away from the Spurs, and came out with a 92-80 win to keep the dream alive.
-- [Orlando Sentinel]

The Spurs wasted a solid outing by Tim Duncan and the opportunity to move closer to locking up the West's top record and homecourt advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.
-- [San Antonio Express-News]

Back to Orlando, just what's spurred this extended winning streak the Magic is currently riding? Well, everybody from the front office to the players on the floor are crediting the team's in-season moves.
-- [Florida Today]

One such move is the addition of journeyman Carlos Arroyo, who knows what the playoffs feel like, having gone to a Finals Game 7 with Detroit last season.
-- [Orlando Sentinel]

His Pistons -- and now Magic -- teammate Darko Milicic came in the same February trade. Stuck deep on the Pistons bench behind a solid frontcourt, Darko welcomed the move to Florida and the chance to play, even if it wasn't on a team contending for another ring. He already has one of those, and now he has a W over his old club to smile about.
-- [Orlando Sentinel]

Credit Otis Smith -- up for consideration for the team's GM post -- for those moves and the one that shipped Steve Francis to the Big Apple.
-- [Orlando Sentinel]

But now it's on the players and coach Brian Hill to get the job done. Well, a little luck wouldn't hurt either. Both the Sixers and Bulls need to hit the skids over their final four contests for the Magic to lock up the eight spot.
-- [Orlando Sentinel]

The Bulls have to drop all four remaining games and the Sixers need to lose at least three of their four, otherwise the door is closed this season. With a single victory, Chicago will hold the tiebreaker on Orlando -- should the teams split the season series -- because the Bulls would have 27 conference wins vs. the Magic's possible 26.

The good news for the Magic is it can have some say in each team's finish. Orlando hosts both teams before closing the season at Indiana next Wednesday.

Of course, the Bulls are nearly as hot as the Magic, having won two straight and eight of their last 10.
-- [Chicago Tribune, Reg. req'd]

Meanwhile, you can't count out the Sixers just yet. Philly plays three of their four on the road, but have three against teams whose playoff fates have been decided and may be looking to catch a little breather before the intense playoffs get underway.
-- [Philadelphia Daily News]

TIP INS

Like Orlando, the Hornets remain longshots to reach the postseason. The Oklahoman looks at the team's top 10 moments of the season. They might need to revise the list, should Chris Paul win Rookie of the Year honors as many predict.
-- [The Oklahoman and New York Times, Reg. req'd]

The Clippers, however, are back in the playoffs and one fan couldn't be happier.
-- [L.A. Times]

Maybe you saw the Gorilla's workout regimen in SI a few weeks back? Maybe towing a Hummer or doing log squats helped give him strength to heave one lucky shot from midcourt.
-- [SI.com and Arizona Republic]

EVERYBODY HELP YOURSELVES
Posted by By John Schuhmann on April 13, 2006 10:30 a.m. ET

TEAMS COME THROUGH WHEN IT MEANS MOST

There was a lot of scoreboard watching Around the Association last night, and those doing the watching were probably all disappointed in what they saw.

Every team that desperately needed a win last night came away victorious.

We were on hand in the swamp to watch the Sixers and Nets. We weren't alone. We counted 12 media members there ... just from the Philadelphia area. It must have been an important game or something (and of course, it doesn't hurt that the Meadowlands is a fairly easy drive up the New Jersey Turnpike).

Allen Iverson's first two shots of the game were pretty ugly, but that was about all that would go wrong for the Sixers on this night. After trading baskets for about seven minutes, the Sixers pulled away and never looked back. They needed this game and you could see it in their eyes. The Nets? Not so much.

The hoard of reporters surrounded Iverson after the game and asked him about the difference in energy level between the two teams, and whether it's important to jump out early on a team that doesn't need the game nearly as much as they do.

"Hey, if that's what works, that's what we want to do," Iverson said. "If that was their mindset, then obviously it worked. That's what we need to do. We go to Miami now and they've pretty much locked up their spot, so hopefully we can jump on them and they feel the same way too."

Special thanks to the Sixers P.R. staff who brought Allen out into the hallway, rather than have the hoard fight for position in the "cozy" visitors locker room at the Meadolands. Check out some of the hoard's game stories and notes here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
-- [Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, Camden Courier-Post, Press of Atlantic City, Bucks County Courier Times]

Never has so much clicking gone into so few words of copy.

Oh, there were columnists in the house as well ...

One wonders where this Sixers team was in the first 77 games of the season. Another went searching for answers.
-- [Philadelphia Inquirer, ESPN]

Let us not forget the New Jersey/New York writers, all one, two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight of them.
-- [Newark Star-Ledger, The Record, New York Times (reg. req'd), Bridgewater Courier-News, New York Post, New York Daily News, New York Newsday]

OK, OK. We're getting off track here. Maybe we're just a little bitter about getting bumped from our usual spot in the CAA press row ... Ticker and AP!
-- [NBA.com, Yahoo!]

Sorry, had to get those last two out of our system. Back to the important stuff. The Bulls kept pace with the Sixers by winning ugly down in Atlanta.
-- [Chicago Sun-Times]

So, they're still deadlocked for the last spot in the East with four games left to go. The Sixers visit the Heat Friday night, while the Bulls host the Wizards. They split their season series 2-2, and the Bulls have assured themselves of a better conference record, so they hold the tiebreaker.
-- [NBA.com]

There's much more than that up for grabs in the East though, as Chicago and Philly are only two games out of fifth place after the Wizards dropped their fourth straight, this one to the Bucks, who helped themselves by drawing within a game of Washington while staying a game ahead of Chicago and Philly.
-- [Washington Post (reg. req'd), Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

Let's not forget the Pacers, who are in the middle there somewhere too (tied with the Bucks) and held off the Celtics last night to stay there.
-- [Indianapolis Star]

Oh yeah, the Magic are still alive as well, thanks to their sixth straight win last night.
-- [Orlando Sentinel]

This is fun, right?

Out West, both the Hornets and Jazz stayed (barely) alive by beating the Sonics and Nuggets respectively.
-- [The Oklahoman, Salt Lake Tribune]

The Clippers and Grizzlies kept the fight for fifth tight as well.
-- [Los Angeles Times, Memphis Commercial Appeal]

Geez, if all these teams won last night, who lost?

Well, it wasn't to any of the teams above (but rather a potential second round playoff opponent), but the Cavs may have suffered the biggest loss of the night, when LeBron James went down with a sprained ankle in Auburn Hills.
-- [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

Actually, the Cavs did suffer the biggest loss of the night. The Pistons drubbed them by 23. Somewhat of a laugher, you might say.
-- [Detroit Free Press]

Before he left the game though, LeBron scored just enough points to ensure a little bit of history.
-- [NBA.com]

HALF-EMPTY MENTALITY
Posted by By Rob Peterson on April 12, 2006 1 p.m. ET

WHAT ABOUT THE GUYS WHO WILL BE THERE?

ESPN.com's Daily Dime often is an excellent platform for great NBA info.

(So is NBA.com's own Around the Association, but then again, you knew that already.)

But in the most recent Dime, Marc Stein gets to thinking about 10 stars who won't be in the playoffs.

Sad, yes, but what about the megastars who will be in the postseason? Here at Click and Roll HQ we would like to raise a half-full glass of bubbly (Sprite, of course) to the gents we will be seeing in the postseason.

So, here's to Chauncey, Big Ben, Rip, the Prince and, yes, you Sheed.

Here's to MVP candidate Dwyane Wade and his sidekick, Shaq.

We give a business-like nod of recognition to Timmy D and the rest of the defending champion Spurs.

Same to you Dirk.

To Steve Nash and the Matrix, a tip of the cap for doin' damage without Amare.

Also, we need to give a shout out to the Nets' big three: R-Jeff, VC and Mr. Triple-Double himself, Jason Kidd.

And Pau, you already have a playoffs beard. Don't shave or lose your intensity now.

We open our arms to LeBron James for his first playoff appearance and 'Melo, who is playing the best ball of his young career, for his second.

Meanwhile, Sam-I-Am, Cat and Elton Brand have brought some pride to Clipperland.

And, then there are those knocking on the door: Gilby, Kobe, Redd and Ron Artest.

Lament not, NBA fans about who's missing. Celebrate the guys who'll be there. We will.

FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT ...

Take a look at the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. The picture is not pretty, and of the 1000 words a picture's worth, we'd have to say about 75 percent of the words said about the bottom of the Eastern Conference are of the four-letter variety.

Right now, the top four teams have been set: Detroit, Miami, New Jersey and Cleveland will have homecourt advantage in the first round. But teams five through, well, 10: Washington, Indiana, Milwaukee, Chicago, Philly, and Orlando (The Magic are still in it? Yes, yes they are.) have serious issues.

The Magic's most serious issue however may be that they started their postseason push a little late. With five wins in a row, the Magic are the hottest team in the East. And to think, they may actually have a full-time GM soon.
-- [Orlando Sentinel]

The same can't be said for the five teams ahead of the Magic in the East. For instance, the Wizards and Bucks play tonight, and both are "on thin ice."
-- [Washington Post]

One Brew Town columnist even thinks the ice under Bucks' coach Terry Stotts' feet is cracking.
-- [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

This may be a case of a columnist stirring up a pot of nothing as the Bucks have never let go a coach after one season. Then again, in the franchise's first 19 seasons, it had two coaches: Larry Costello and Don Nelson. In the next 19 seasons, the seven Bucks coaches have had slightly more security than a royal during the French Revolution.

In Indy, where the Pacers hold the No. 6 seed, thanks to a tiebreaker with Milwaukee, let's just say team president Larry Bird won't be hitting the links in July.

"Won't be much golf this offseason," Bird said.
-- [Indy Star]

Meanwhile 160 miles to the northwest, the Bulls have snuck their way back into the No. 8 seed with a gritty, short-handed win over the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday.
-- [Chicago Sun-Times]

But the Bulls aren't smiling. One columnist goes all Crash Davis on them: "So relax! Let's have some fun out here! This game's fun, OK? Fun!"
-- [IMDb.com, Arlington Daily Herald]

In Philly, whose struggles we documented below, need the other A.I. to help out with the playoff push.
-- [Philadelphia Daily News]

TIP-INS

Meanwhile, the Cavs, who have made the playoffs, will need to tweak their lineup to accomodate Larry Hughes' return.
-- [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

One Detroit writer said, it doesn't matter what the Cavs do, they're not ready for the playoff grind.
-- [Detroit Free Press]

(Note to the Cavs: Click the link, hit print.)

Then, there are those teams which have more modest goals this season.
-- [Charlotte Observer]

AND FINALLY...

Yaouch! Surgery for the big fella.
-- [Houston Chronicle]

NEVER WOULD'VE IMAGINED
Posted by By Brad Friedman on April 11, 2006 12:27 p.m. ET

SIXERS DISAPPOINTED ABOUT STRUGGLE FOR BERTH

The Sixers may have moved half a game ahead of Chicago and regained the eighth seed in the East playoffs with a 105-97 victory over Washington Monday night, but Philly's play this season isn't sitting right with the coach and team president. A 36-41 record at this point in the season wasn't what the Sixer brass had originally expected.
-- [NBA.com]

"It's been the most frustrating year in my involvement in basketball," said team president Billy King: "There's some guys I know for sure won't be back."
-- [Cherry Hill Courier-Post]

Over the weekend, a video of Maurice Cheeks looking extremely distraught following Friday night's postgame interview circulated on local television stations. The Sixers had just lost to the Celtics, and as Cheeks would later tell the Philadelphia Inquirer, "the [playoff] race is what it is, and it was disappointing for that alone. You realize how big these games are."
-- [Philadelphia Inquirer]

While Philly has gone 4-6 in their last 10, the Bulls have won six of 10. However, Chicago may temporarily be a man down with Luol Deng's status is up in the air after recently suffering a mild concussion.
-- [Daily Herald]

HOW THE WEST IS (NOT) BEING WON

One Chicago columnist points out that the final stretch of the season has not only been stressful for the Bulls, but also for the clubs that know they will be in the postseason.
-- [Chicago Sun-Times]

The Suns may have already clinched the Pacific Division and are currently in postion to grab the No. 2 seed in the West, but Phoenix is just 5-5 in their last 10 games. Ouch. -- [NBA.com]

The Mavs, meanwhile, have been relentless. Thanks to Dirk Nowitzki's jumper from the top of the key with seven-tenths of a second remaining, Dallas (59-19) moved within one-half game of idle San Antonio (59-18) for first place in the Southwest Division and the No. 1 seed in the West bracket last night with a victory over the Clippers.
-- [NBA.com]

It's big because the second-place team in the Southwest will be the fourth seed in the playoffs. Last night's victim of Nowitzki's heroics, Los Angeles (44-33), fell behind idle Memphis (44-33) in the race for the fifth seed. The Grizzlies own the tie-breaker.
-- [NBA.com]

Sacramento and the Lakers are engaged in a battle of their own. With identical 41-37 records, Sacramento's tie breaker advantage provides it the No. 7 seed. They shouldn't sit too comfortably, however, with Kobe Bryant determined to guarantee his club a postseason appearance after missing the cut last season.
-- [LA Times, Reg req'd]

THIS AND THAT

One Detroit columnist says the Pacers (37-40), currently holding the No. 6 spot in the East, have quit on coach Rick Carlisle, and Jermaine O'Neal is not a leader.
-- [Detroit News]

The Bucks (37-40) are right behind them, and aren't sure whether to commit to Charlie Bell or T.J. Ford at the point guard position.
-- [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

Meanwhile, for Utah, the playoffs are still within reach, but the window is closing.
-- [Deseret News]

PLAYOFF PUSH
Posted by By Jeff Dengate on April 10, 2006 8:30 a.m. ET

WHO'S IN? WHO PLAYS WHO?

With only a little over one week to play in the regular season -- How have we already zipped through another 82 games? -- it's time to look at the tightening playoff races and possible first-round showdowns.

You've probably already uttered, "If the Playoffs began today ..." to yourself and your co-workers, but they don't. Which is good for those teams trying to tie up a few loose ends before the schedule runs out on them.

One such team is the Wizards, who are looking to put a little space between themselves and the Bucks, Pacers and Bulls. The team has games at both Milwaukee and Chicago this week, but don't blame them if they're looking ahead to Sunday's contest with the Cavs, their likely first round opponent.

As a five-seed, Washington got the best of the Bulls a season ago, but will have its hands full with LeBron James and Co. even if Caron Butler's thumb is fully healed. Butler has missed two contests, with the Wizards dropping both.
-- [Washington Post]

Of course, some, when sizing up the playoffs, can easily visualize a Wizards' victory over the Cavs -- making their first playoff appearance since 1998.
-- [Washington Post]

In the above article, Mike Wilbon mentions that there are only four teams out there looking like they have a legit shot at winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy this season: The Spurs, Pistons, Nets and Mavericks. Miami and Phoenix remain longshots, he says.

A few weeks ago, we would have challenged that notion and placed the Suns and Heat in any championship talk.
-- [New York Daily News]

That's before the Suns limped through a 5-7 stretch since the middle of March. But even when you lose, you sometimes win.
-- [Arizona Republic]

You have to believe, however, the Suns can pull together and make a return trip to the Conference Finals -- if not the Finals.
-- [Arizona Republic]

The Heat's lackluster season -- after all the noise it made during the offseason -- is particularly troubling to South Beachers. Shaq's not getting any younger and that has to worry Pat Riley, who likely believed he'd be hoisting his first, if not second, Championship trophy since signing Shaq in the summer of 2004.
-- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

This season probably won't turn gold for the Heat given the team's injuries and struggles against top-tier teams. Making it out of the East remains a longshot given the team's 4-8 record against the Pistons, Nets and Cavaliers this season. Should they somehow play on into June, however, don't count on the Heat winning it all -- the team is winless in eight tries against the West's top four seeds.
-- [Newsday]

Those top four teams in the West have locked up their playoff berths -- along with the Clippers and Grizzlies, but the Kings and Lakers are still trying to secure a more favorable seed and hold off the Hornets and Jazz.

I say more favorable because, really, who wants to face the No.1 Spurs or Mavs when you could try to knock off the struggling No. 2 Suns (see above)? Well, if you're wearing purple and gold, maybe you don't want to see another purple-clad team. Not for asthetic reasons, of course, but because the Lakers haven't beaten the Suns since the team re-acquired Steve Nash.
-- [L.A. Times]

One reason to pull for a Suns-Lakers first-round matchup: Kobe. The Lakers' scoring machine has averaged 42.3 ppg against Phoenix this year, including 51 Friday night. Against the Spurs, however, Bryant is averaging a mere 30.0 ppg.
-- [L.A. Daily News]

The Kings, meanwhile, don't have a preference who they'll face, as Corliss Williamson wrote in the Sacramento Bee. They're just focused on aplaying beyond next Tuesday.
-- [Sacramento Bee]

And while they probably wouldn't take a seven-game series with the Spurs, you have to like their chances of stealing a game or two after their victory last week in San Antonio, where the Spurs, once invincible, are still pretty solid. The team has dropped only six games there all season.
-- [Sacramento Bee]

Detroit boasts an NBA-low three home losses this season and the Pacers didn't threaten to push that number to four on Sunday. After getting blown out in Auburn Hills, Jermaine O'Neal said, "We're just embarrassing ourselves each and every night. We don't even deserve to be in the playoffs."
-- [Indianapolis Star]

Well, Mr. O'Neal, the standings disagree with you at the moment, but with six games remaining vs. lottery-bound opponents and a single-game advantage on the Sixers for a playoff spot, you may well be right by this time next week.

Howard and the Magic are still in the playoff hunt.
(Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Shaquille O'Neal on his second career triple-double:

"[The Raptors] kept doubling; I kept making passes. And my teammates were making me look good."
-- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

2005-06 ARCHIVE
April 6 -- Work to be Done
Mar. 31 -- Will Suns Rise?
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