Updated: March 16, 2006, 6:39 PM ET

Bucks pushing toward playoffs

The Milwaukee Bucks took another step Wednesday toward tightening their grip on a playoff spot, taking quick control of a game with their fellow contenders, the Chicago Bulls, winning 104-88.

The game didn't have much drama. As it stands now, the Bucks (32-32, No. 7 seed) would face the No. 2 seed Miami Heat in the first round. Milwaukee trails the season series, 2-1, and the two teams meet for the final time April 4 in Miami. The Bucks play at Toronto Friday, then have a home-and-home with slumping Portland starting Saturday.

Chicago (29-36) now trails the Bucks by 3 games and the Philadelphia 76ers by three games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls have 17 games left to play. When a perimeter-oriented team like the Bulls isn't making their shots, like they couldn't against the Bucks, then they don't look like much of a serious contender. When they are hitting, though, they look great.

As the standings are now, the Sixers (31-32, No. 8 seed) would face the Pistons. The Pistons won the first two games, and the final regular season meeting is set for March 29 in Philadelphia. Boston (27-37) remains on the fringe of contention, but I don't see Paul Pierce's great play being enough to carry them to the eighth spot.

Whether the Bucks are 7 or 8, I don't give them much of a chance against the Pistons or the Heat.

To pull the upset, the Bucks would need Michael Redd to get 40 plus to win a game. And T.J. Ford's going to have to control the tempo -- a double double every night to the tune of 18 points, 12 assists.

Milwaukee has some good elements. They have a great scoring threat with Redd, and Ford's penetration causes havoc. Tonight, I thought Milwaukee did an excellent job. Redd's right around 26 points a game. Bobby Simmons was very solid tonight. Jamaal Magliore plays big, and can do some things around the basket as a big body.

Andrew Bogut's long, blocks shots, he's learning, and can give them solid minutes. Joe Smith and Mo Williams give them a nice rotation along with Charlie Bell. They can score and defend.

They have some pieces, but when you start talking about the Pistons and Heat, I don't think they have two or three guys who would have to give uncharacteristic effort needed for an upset.

When you think about Magliore against the Wallaces and McDyess, that's tough. I don't anticipate Simmons averaging 25-plus in a series going up against the Pistons or Heat.

If the Bucks won a game or two in a series, I think they would have achieved something. But I don't see that happening.

ESPN analyst B.J. Armstrong played on three NBA champion Chicago Bulls teams

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Face Guard Goes Too Far
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Darren Hauck/AP Photo
Bucks forward Bobby Simmons gets a handful from Bulls center Luke Schenscher. Simmons had 26 points and 9 rebounds in a win over Chicago that boosted Milwaukee's lead for a playoffs spot.


The New Yao
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What's becoming clear is that Yao Ming is special, and not just because he's 7-5 and good for more than blocking shots.

Whatever has gotten into Yao recently, I like it. In 11 games since the All-Star break, he has averaged 28 points, 13 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.

Take away a 6-point, 0-rebound, 19-minute clunker against Phoenix on Feb. 16, and Yao has averaged 25 points, more than 11 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 20 games since returning from an injury to his left big toe.

If Yao hadn't been hampered by the toe injury over the first half of the season, we probably would have been seeing this type of production all year. Last summer was the first in ages that he was not completely obligated to the Chinese national team and actually had a real offseason.

Amazing what a little rest can do.

When considering that Yao has McGrady, who can get him the ball as well as command double teams; a coach in Jeff Van Gundy who believes strongly in playing inside-out; and a birth certificate that's just 25 years old, we could witness Yao do some tremendous things over the next decade.

Read the full Chris Broussard blog Insider



NBA Intelligence Report
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Anthony Joins Odd IndyCar Team
Carmelo Anthony has never raced in a vehicle more sophisticated than a go-kart. The 6-foot-8 Nuggets forward could not fit into an IndyCar. But marketing cross-pollination, as well as what all involved insisted was passion, spurred perhaps the oddest promotional marriage of the year Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Anthony, KISS bassist Gene Simmons and auto racing. -- Denver Post

Cassell Is Eager To Coach
Coach Cassell? In preparation for his post-playing career, point guard Sam Cassell said he hoped to coach the team's entry in summer-league play. The 13-year veteran wants to lead the Clippers when he retires, and he's eager to practice. ... Assistant coaches usually handle summer-league duties, and Cassell said he wouldn't displace a member of Coach Mike Dunleavy's staff. He would, however, appreciate an opportunity to coach at least one game. -- Los Angeles Times

Skiles Comes To Hinrich's Defense
The official results won't be known until after the regular season, but Bulls head coach Scott Skiles is wasting no time campaigning for guard Kirk Hinrich as an All-Defensive Team member. "Kirk still doesn't get the credit he deserves at the defensive end," Skiles said prior to Wednesday night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks. "Kirk is an all-league defender. Why he doesn't get the credit, I don't know." -- Daily Southtown

James Refining Game To Become A Top Free Agent
The hard work that James, who had 24 points and 11 assists on Wednesday, has put in should pay off handsomely this summer when he becomes one of the more sought-after free agents. "A lot of other people are starting to take notice of how good he really is," said Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter, who came off the bench with James on Detroit's 2004 NBA championship team. "He's been able to show there's a lot more to his game than what they had already seen." The play of James, sometimes referred to as 'Mikey Go-Go' by Rasheed Wallace, comes as no surprise to his former teammates. "He's been doing well since he left here," Wallace said. "You can't say nothing bad about him." -- Booth Newspapers

Read the entire Intelligence Report Insider




Motion: 'Melo Touch
Carmelo Anthony drained an 18-foot fadeaway with 2.2 seconds left, giving the Nuggets a 101-99 victory at Indiana.

NuggetsWin



Seat Of Glower

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Larry Brown and Stephon Marbury certainly aren't seeing eye to eye during the first half. Marbury rode the pine during both OTs, where the Knicks beat the Hawks.


Extreme Behavior
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Wednesday's Best
Nate Robinson, Knicks guard: The Slam Dunk champ scored all of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and two overtime periods in a 121-117 win over the Hawks. And he stressed that he tried to get all his teammates involved. Larry Brown must like hearing that.

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Wednesday's Worst
Portland's closing run: The Blazers scored five points in the fourth quarter of a 78-65 loss to the Nets. The five points was the second lowest in a fourth quarter since the 24-second shot clock was instituted for the 1954-55 season. Golden State scored two points in the fourth quarter of an 84-81 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 8, 2004. Accepting the award for the team is Darius Miles, whose two free throws with 45 seconds left padded the quarter scoring.

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Quote of the Day
"I was thrilled. The young kids have been working hard and it shows. They played together well and they defended well, made some big plays and that's a reward in itself."
-- Knicks coach Larry Brown, after his team's reserves sparked an overtime win over Atlanta.

-- Andrew Ayres

See how all 198 who played stacked up
The current NBA Playoff matchups



Playing The Feud
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The Larry Brown vs. Stephon Marbury feud escalated Wednesday morning at the Knicks' shootaround, the hate-hate relationship sinking to new depths of discord.

First, Marbury stood before reporters, called Brown insecure and vowed he'd keep striking back at Brown whenever he feels he's been publicly criticized.

Next, Brown castigated Marbury for having a selfish agenda and deflecting blame.

"I think it's personal now," Marbury said. "I don't think it's about basketball anymore. Now it's to the point where he's putting his 30-year career against my 10-year career. You know, coach is a great coach is what everyone says. We're supposed to be better than what we are. Did it happen now? No."

Brown was a portrait of disgust one day after asking people to compare his track record vs. his point guard's. Criticizing Marbury's "agenda," Brown also insinuated that Marbury hadn't accepted his share of the criticism for the Knicks having the NBA's worst record despite its highest payroll.

"So, you're the best guard in the league and the team is 17-45, yeah, it's the coach's fault," Brown said.

Read the full Chris Sheridan blog Insider



Elias Says
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Phoenix defeated the Clippers on Wednesday after building a 100-71 lead through three quarters. On Tuesday night, the Suns beat Seattle in a game in which they led 102-90 at the end of the third period. Over the last 14 seasons (since 1992-93) only one other team reached the century mark by the end of the third period in two straight games played on consecutive days. The Lakers turned that trick, Feb. 11-12, 2003.

• Elias Sports Bureau | More Elias Insider



Shaq's D Under Scrutiny
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Evan (Miami): Hey Ric, how do you think Riley should handle the Shaq-Zo combo? Should they run a zone, possibly 3-2 or should they just play man defense with Zo in the PF slot? I would suggest the 3-2 so Shaq won't have to come out to the perimeter and Zo can stay inside and block/change shots. Maybe a line-up of Payton, Wade, D.Anderson, Zo, Shaq in the 4th during close games?

Ric Bucher: I knew Shaq's defense had deteriorated -- which is why you saw Zo in at the end of the game the other night -- but I didn't know it was this bad. Riles using a zone? That would be truly remarkable. Here's the sad reality: Miami is a mediocre defensive team. Just not enough guys who care or are able to win at that end of the floor. A zone isn't going to change that.

Read the full Ric Bucher chat

 

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