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.
Bucks pushing toward playoffs
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 3½ 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.
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
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.
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.
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Carmelo Anthony drained an 18-foot fadeaway with 2.2 seconds left, giving the Nuggets a 101-99 victory at Indiana.
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.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
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.
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.
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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.