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SUN RISE? SUN SET?
Posted by Jeff Dengate on May 27, 2005 12:30 p.m. ET

WIN OR GO FISHIN'

Phoenix Suns players and fans alike know Saturday's Game 3 in San Antonio is a must-win. And we're not talking about one of those must-win cliche statements a player makes to locker-room scribes trying to change the momentum of the series, but this is a real must-win.

The harsh reality for the Suns is that no NBA team has ever come back to win a series after falling behind three games to none. It's unlikely the Suns could run their way out of that kind of hole against this Spurs team.

So, you see, Saturday's game is truly a must-win, do-or-die, win-or-go-home situation.

But winning in San Antonio is no easy task.
-- [Los Angeles Times, Reg. req'd.]

Just ask Seattle, Memphis and Denver, the only three teams to pick up a win in the Spurs gym since Derek Fisher pulled off perhaps the biggest heist this southwest city has ever witnessed.
-- [NBA.com]

Or maybe you'd prefer to watch the video of Fisher's big shot.
-- [NBA.com]

The only way the Suns can extend this series is to leave it all on the line.
-- [Chicago Tribune, Reg. req'd.]

The return of Joe Johnson may breathe new life into the tiring legs of Steve Nash.
-- [Arizona Republic]

Throughout this series, Nash has been tailed by Tony Parker like a high-noon shadow.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

It's that type of defensive pressure and playoff experience ...
-- [New York Times, Reg. req'd.]

... which trumps regular season wins and MVP trophies come this time of year.
-- [New York Daily News]

The Spurs, a team rooted in fundamentals, boast an unassuming nature that begins at the Pop, er, top.
-- [Washington Times]

The players do exactly what they're paid to do, and often a little extra.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

Like coming off the bench to score a modest six or seven points -- to go along with the game-winning bucket.
-- [Houston Chronicle]

But that shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, he's been hitting big shots his entire career.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

So, the Suns hit San Antonio this weekend, fishing for a victory in Game 3.
-- [Arizona Republic]

But a loss means Nash and Amare Stoudemire may soon find themselves in the presence of King Mackerel.
-- [NBA.com]

That, or asking Al Bianchi if he can have a few new rings crafted.
-- [Arizona Republic]

HEAT GET SPLIT
Posted by Jeff Dengate on May 26, 2005 12:30 p.m. ET

WADE CARRIES MIAMI IN GAME 2

Rejoice Heat fans. In a "Flash", your team averted catastrophe to take a split series north to the Motor City for Game 3, to be played Sunday.
-- [Washington Times]

After a miserable Game 1, Dwyane Wade studied film to see what went wrong. Maybe he caught film of the Spurs' turning it on in the fourth quarter of their last two games.
-- [Detroit Free Press]

If his performance in Game 1 wasn't enough of a wake-up call, then leave it to Shaq.
-- [Chicago Sun-Times]

Just how good was Wade last night?

Read this.
-- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

This.
-- [Detroit News]

And this, too.
-- [New York Post]

Wade gave the home crowd something to cheer about right down to the final tick on the clock.
-- [New York Times, Reg. req'd.]

But, the second year guard wasn't the only hero.
-- [Miami Herald, Reg. req'd.]

Damon Jones stepped up.
-- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

And Zo joined Shaq in the block party.
-- [Detroit News]

Speaking of the Diesel, is he running on fumes now?
-- [Detroit Free Press]

So, with the series shifting to Detroit, the Pistons have to like their chances in this series. Even with Wade putting forth one of the best games allowed by the Pistons this season, Detroit nearly stole another victory on the road.
-- [Detroit Free Press]

The Pistons silenced the American Airlines crowd during a third-quarter comeback.
-- [Miami Herald, Reg. req'd.]

They nearly pinned the Heat's backs to the wall, despite all the missed shots and costly turnovers.
-- [Detroit News]

With a minimum of three games left in the series, now might be a little too soon to think ahead to the next round.
-- [Detroit News]

TIP-INS

This must have been one darn good AAU team.
-- [Louisville Courier-Journal]

Two big guys on the Bucks' big pick: Charles Barkley and fomer Utah coach Rick Majerus, who doesn't pick who you think.
-- [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

More youth for the Hawks?
-- [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Reg. req'd.]

Maybe D wasn't the problem.
-- [Dallas Morning News, Reg. req'd.]

DOWN 0-2
Posted by Jeff Dengate on May 25, 2005 2:00 p.m. ET

MIAMI FEELING THE HEAT

I'll get straight to the good news for Miami fans, who are hoping for a Game 2 victory tonight (8 ET, TNT): There has never been a season in which the visiting teams have won Games 1 and 2 in both Conference Finals series during the same season.

San Antonio took the first two in Phoenix. Detroit took the first Monday in Miami. Can the Heat avoid falling into a disasterous hole?

Regardless, readers are writing in sharing enthusiasm for their teams, like Dan from Grand Rapids, Mich.:

"Lakers 2004. Heat 2005. Same result. Different year. Nobody can matchup with the Pistons. The defense is smothering, and there isn't a selfish player on offense, as evidenced by the starting five all reaching double figures in Game 1. Pistons in 5."

That's a bold statement, Dan, writing off the Heat so soon. Almost as bold as this.
-- [Detroit News]

One scribe agrees with you, but thinks the series will go slightly longer.
-- [Detroit Free Press]

More Pistons fans will join Dan, penciling in "Detroit" on their Finals brackets, if the Heat suffer a Game 2 fate similar to that of the Suns last night.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

Down 0-2 this late in the Playoffs is no place to be.
-- [Palm Beach Post]

So, hobbling or not, Shaq knows the ball must go to him if Miami is to even the series.
-- [Detroit News]

Ben Wallace welcomes the challenge and will likely again play O'Neal sans a double-team.
-- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Reg. req'd.]

Speaking of Big Ben, I'm thinking purple isn't his color.
-- [Detroit News]

Back to the Heat, they'll focus on their strengths in Game 2, rather than making any serious changes to their game plan.
-- [Detroit News]

Just as the Pistons expected.
-- [Detroit Free Press]

One such strength: Keeping up with the Jonses.
-- [Detroit Free Press]

Whatever strategy the Heat employs, it knows it can't head to Motown behind two games.

SUNS SETTING?

Meanwhile in Phoenix, the Suns gave it all they had to pull even with San Antonio. It's mind-boggling how a team can connect on 55.7 percent of their shots, rack up 108 points, get 29-and-15 from MVP Steve Nash to go along with 37 points from Amare Stoudemire and STILL lose.

But, welcome to playing the San Antonio Spurs, a veteran team with a championship pedigree, intent on booking a return trip to The Finals.

The Suns, despite needing a miracle -- or a mighty big ladder -- to climb out of their enormous hole, are getting a touch of positive news looking ahead to Game 3.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

More good news for Suns fans, your team was an NBA-best 31-10 on the road during the regular season. Now for the reality in that statement: That was the regular season. And the building your team is visiting has only given up three road wins during the regular season -- the best home mark by a team since 1996-97 when the Bulls went 39-2, one game better than the Utah Jazz.

Winning in San Antonio will be compounded because the core of the Spurs team knows what it takes to win in pressure packed situations on the NBA's biggest stage.
-- [Arizona Republic]

With Game 3 slated for Saturday, the Suns have a chance to study game film and rest their weary legs ...

... and busted lip.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

If Saturday's game goes is close late in the fourth quarter, this is one guy the Suns certainly don't want to see with the ball in his hands.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

Those big shots could make that seat unbearably hot.
-- [Los Angeles Times, Reg. req'd.]

BUCKS REEL LUCKY

Congratulations to the Milwaukee Bucks, winners of the 2005 NBA Draft Lottery. Your good luck charm worked. Your prize: The pick of the litter in June's NBA Draft.
-- [Bucks.com]

I was invited, along with journalists covering the three teams with the best chances, to join team representatives and NBA officials in conference room 3A, where the lottery was actually conducted.

Join me as I go behind the scenes to recall how the Bucks beat the odds.
-- [NBA.com]

Sekou Smith watched the Hawks' combination come up on the second drawing.
-- [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Reg. req'd.]

John Reid was on hand to see the home team slide out of the top three ...
-- [New Orleans Times-Picayune]

... one place ahead of Charlotte, who David Scott saw drop two spots.
-- [Charlotte Observer, Reg. req'd.]

The 2005 NBA Draft will be held June 28 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

HOLE IN 1
Posted by Jeff Dengate on May 24, 2005 1:30 p.m. ET

TOP-SEEDED HEAT STAGGER

Home is proving little advantage during these playoffs. Remember the Dallas-Houston series in the opening round? Sure you do, the series where neither team could buy a home win.

Fast forward two rounds where the Suns and Heat, the league's top two teams and the No. 1 seeds in their respective sides of the country, have opened the Conference Finals by giving away Game 1 on their own hardwood.

Note to Phoenix and Miami: That's no way to go about beating the last two NBA Championship squads, the same teams hell-bent on proving that defense does indeed win championships. The Spurs and Pistons were the top two defensive squads in the NBA this year and the only teams to hold opponents below 90 points per game over the 82-game season.

While "the Spurs" and "defense" didn't really belong in the same sentence -- minus Bruce Bowen locking down Shawn Marion -- in describing their Game 1 performance, the Pistons executed their defensive game plan, containing Dwyane Wade, as both teams stole home court advantage to put the No. 1's in a tight spot.

Monday, Detroit struck the first blow to the Heat of this postseason.
-- [Detroit News]

Until then, Miami had been on easy street.
-- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

But now find themselves behind in the count, an altogether unfamiliar position.
-- [Miami Herald, Reg. req'd.]

The key to Detroit's success? With O'Neal hobbled, the Pistons pinned a target on the back of Wade, focusing their defensive tenacity on him.
-- [Palm Beach Post]

Did it work? Some say yes.
-- [Detroit News]

Afterward, Shaq issued a familiar melody, blaming the loss on less of what Detroit did and more what his team didn't do. Think you've heard this tune before?
-- [Detroit News]

Which makes one wonder, with so many musicians in the house, did anybody notice the Heat choir singing off-key?
-- [Miami Herald, Reg. req'd.]

It appears so.
-- [Detroit Free Press]

Detroit, meanwhile, isn't listening to the racket coming from South Beach, just as they didn't listen to the talk surrounding O'Neal's questionable playing status.
-- [Detroit Free Press]

Instead, the Pistons played like defending champs to steal home-court advantage and back the Heat into a corner.
-- [Miami Herald, Reg. req'd.]

With a day of rest between games, can Shaq and Co. catch their breath to pull even in the series?
-- [Detroit News]

Tell us what you think!

SUNS BEHIND, LOOK TO GET EVEN

O'Neal's not the only big man playing through the pain when it matters most.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

Tim Duncan and his Spurs teammates took one from the Suns in the desert, but what lies ahead for Game 2?

Well, it's doubtful Marion, like Wade, will be held to a repeat sub-par performance.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

Then again, it looks as though the Spurs may focus on guys like Marion, never mind the beast in the middle.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

Another strategy involves making Nash continue to work.
-- [East Valley Tribune]

Regardless the tactic, it's unlikely this Suns team will be held to San Antonio's liking.
-- [New York Times, Reg. req'd.]

So, if you can't limit 'em, join 'em. Or something like that.
-- [Houston Chronicle]

Phoenix needs to keep one step ahead in the race if they're to avoid falling behind a near-fatal two games to none.
-- [East Valley Tribune]

Otherwise, it may be Ginobili and his Spurs who get the upper hand on his old rival of sorts.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW

While the Spurs and Pistons are busy taking aim at the No. 1 Suns and Heat, 13 non-playoff teams are taking aim at the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NBA Draft, as the 2005 NBA Draft Lottery takes place tonight at the NBA Entertainment studio in Secaucus, N.J. Coverage begins at 8:00 ET on ESPN.
--[NBA.com]

Atlanta, by virtue of finishing with a league-low 13 wins, has the most chances at landing the top overall pick and will be drafting no lower than fourth.
-- [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Reg. req'd.]

Charlotte, meanwhile, has the second best chance in the lottery because it holds two of the top 14 picks. In addition to holding the third-most chances (177-of-1000) for finishing tied with the second-worst record during their inaugural season, the Bobcats acquired Cleveland's 13th pick (six chances) in exchange for selecting Jahidi White in last year's expansion draft.
-- [Charlotte Observer, Reg. req'd.]

What's the grand prize?
-- [New York Times, Reg. req'd.]

Longshots for landing the No. 1 pick, two teams will be trying their luck for the first time in a number of years.

Minnesota is back in the lottery for the first time since 1999.
-- [Pioneer Press, Reg. req'd.]

Meanwhile, the Lakers last held a lottery selection when they tabbed Eddie Jones in 1994.
-- [L.A. Times, Reg. req'd.]

So, NBA fans, get your good luck charms ready.
-- [Toronto Sun]

And if you want to know the mystery behind the NBA Draft Lottery and how your team did, or did not, move up in the draft, check back tomorrow as I take you behind the closed doors and into the secret chamber where the drawing is conducted.

A CONTRAST IN STYLE
Posted by Jeff Dengate on May 23, 2005 12:00 p.m. ET

SUNS STUNNED

The matchup was to be one for the ages. The Suns' high-flying, break-neck-speed offense pitted against the Spurs stifling defense; may the best style win.

What transpired in Game 1, however, may leave you scratching your head. The Spurs, behind a 43-point fourth quarter outburst, outpaced the Suns to a 121-114 decision.

And while the scores were as high as the desert temperature, San Antonio showed its defensive mettle, holding the Suns to a mere six fast-break points, after Phoenix averaged 19.5 in its previous 10 postseason games.

We all knew the Spurs could stop the ball, after all, they have two NBA All-Defensive first teamers ...
-- [NBA.com]

... but how many people could have guessed they would be able to run with the best?
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

Possibly as many who thought the Suns would be the league's top team this year.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

San Antonio not only ran the Suns out of their own building, but stole home-court advantage in the process.
-- [Arizona Republic]

The hero of the day? Would you please state your name and affiliation?
-- [Palm Beach Post]

It could as easily have been this guy.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

Then again, he's not so bad either.
-- [New York Times, Reg. req'd.]

Maybe it was this defensive specialist who was passed on -- twice -- by 27 teams during the 1993 NBA Draft ...
-- [Arizona Republic]

... the same player who solved the Matrix.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

At the end of the day, the Suns got what they asked for: someone else to beat them.
-- [Chicago Tribune, Reg. req'd.]

But don't go thinking this series is over. Fans of both teams know they're in for the long haul.
-- [Arizona Republic]

The Spurs, no longer flying under the radar, will be hard pressed to shock the Suns again.
-- [Washington Post, Reg. req'd.]

Down 1-0, with Game 2 slated for Tuesday in Phoenix, expect to see more Gorilla, less chicken.
-- [San Antonio Express-News, Reg. req'd.]

FOUR WINS FROM A REPEAT

Shifting focus to the Eastern Conference, where the Miami Heat host the Detroit Pistons in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, much talk has revolved around a hulking and battered thigh.

But the Pistons aren't buying into the conversation of whether Shaquille O'Neal will be ready to play in Game 1. Their game plan involves making the Diesel run on that blown tire.
-- [Booth Newspapers]

The hopes of Miami ride on the limb being able to bear a load.
-- [Philadelphia Daily News, Reg. req'd.]

Thigh bruise or not, Heat players are ready for Detroit.
-- [New York Post]

The Pistons will present a formidable challenge, but Zo knows tougher battles.
-- [Miami Herald, Reg. req'd.]

As for the champs, they're not opposed to dispatching a second Shaq-led team in as many years.
-- [Detroit News]

In last year's Finals showdown with the Lakers, Detroit found a successful formula for dealing with today's most dominant player. Will it work again this season?
-- [Detroit News]

Larry Brown won't say, but he will tell you the Heat are the NBA's best team, situating his club as the underdog. Ah, yes, posturing. We've seen this at work before. Brown will lay forth his "play the right way" rhetoric to get his team up for the challenge, in hopes his David can again slay Goliath.
-- [Detroit Free Press]

We'll see how successful the strategy is -- and how rusty Miami may be after a long layoff -- when the series gets underway tonight.
-- [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

Maybe then Shaq will quit dodging the question about just how bad he's hurting.
-- [Detroit Free Press]

Joe Johnson returns to action for the first time since crashing on this dunk against Dallas.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Brent Barry, on the Spurs' defensive plan for Game 1 in Phoenix:

"We were trying to hold them to the temperature outside ... We didn't know it would be record highs. It probably would be a better plan in winter."
-- [Chicago Tribune, Reg. req'd.]

2004-05 ARCHIVE
May 20 -- Conf. Semifinals
May 13 -- Conf. Semifinals
May 5 -- Round 1
Apr. 29 -- Playoffs 2005 Begin
Apr. 19 -- Giving It All Away
Apr. 12 -- Playoff Bound
Apr. 5 -- Draw the Curtain
Mar. 29 -- Battling for Position
Mar. 22 -- Gone a Long Time?
Mar. 15 -- Deja View
Mar. 8 -- Top to Bottom
Mar. 1 -- Dynamic Duos
Feb. 25 -- Much Adieu About
Feb. 16-20 -- All-Star Blog
Feb. 15 -- Random House
Feb. 9 -- Reserves, Deserves
Feb. 1 -- All-Starters
Jan. 25 -- South by Southwest
Jan. 19 -- My Kind of Town
Jan. 11 -- 'S Wonderful
Jan. 4 -- Points Well Taken
Dec. 29 -- New Year's Wishes
Dec. 21 -- A Wonderful Life
Dec. 14 -- How Good is Good?
Dec. 7 -- Getting Medieval
Nov. 30 -- LeBron vs. Dwyane
Nov. 23 -- Playing Good Ball
Nov. 16 -- SuperbSonics
Nov. 9 -- Hitting the Blue Note
Nov. 3 -- Bling, Bang, Boom
2003-04 -- Archive