AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- We know about the many qualities of their Big Three. But the postseason fate of the New Jersey Nets ultimately rests in the hands of a 22-year-old center from Kraljevo, Yugoslavia.
Not bad, Nenad
Nenad Krstic is that important. The kind of things he did here Sunday night in the Nets' 79-74 win over the Detroit Pistons delivered more than 16 points and nine rebounds might show. When he plays well, the Nets play well. This was their eighth straight win.
And when he's effective, it allows Jason Kidd to not force his game offensively. When Krstic is a scorer, the Nets become an elite team, and that allows Kidd to put his energy into being a creator and defender. Krstic has steadily elevated his numbers from a January lull where he averaged 10.9 ppg and 5.8 rpg per game. In March, he's risen to 15.7 ppg and 8.1 rpg.
Nets GM Rod Thorn reinforced the point, telling me just how much Krstic means to them. And coach Lawrence Frank said Krstic's coming out in the playoff series against Miami last year indicated the kind of capabilities he had.
The Nets (40-28, the likely No. 3 seed) are 32-17 when Krstic scores in double figures. Few teams have won in Detroit in recent years. The Pistons are now 30-3 this year here. But the Nets are a team with history of success against the Pistons. Even when Detroit won the title in 2004, the Nets had a 3-2 series lead on them.
Anytime you hold Detroit in the 70s, that says a lot. The other starter, 7-footer Jason Collins plays within himself, uses his body well and can knock down a timely jumper. And the veteran Clifford Robinson comes off the bench to make shots and can defend multiple positions.
The Nets are one of the smartest teams in the league. As Krstic goes, so goes the Nets. If he keeps developing, the Nets have the potential for a strong playoff run. Otherwise, they're out in the second round.
Detroit (55-14, likely No. 1 seed) was fortunate not to see its overall NBA home-court playoff advantage lead trimmed. The usual Western champ, San Antonio (54-16) lost to Seattle, falling into a tie with Dallas for the West's best mark.
Home-court advantage is going to be important, but the bottom line is you have to have your team healthy and strong going into playoffs. Rasheed and Ben Wallace didn't look great in this game, and the team seemed a little disinterested. You've got to respect the game and bring a little more intensity.
Chauncey Billups has improved his game in that he doesn't force it when he doesn't have it on a given night, which seemed to be the case here when he didn't score until the fourth quarter, finishing with seven points.
The Pistons did get a great lift from their bench. Antonio McDyess looked like he did before he had his knee injuries, pulling down 18 rebounds and scoring 11 points. I was surprised not to see him more down the stretch.
Detroit welcomes some of that x-factor that McDyess brings. Indy's now getting an x-rise from Jermaine O'Neal and the Suns are too, with Amare. And while Krstic's complete development remains the unknown, he's certainly the key x-factor for the Nets.
ESPN NBA analyst Greg Anthony played for six NBA teams in 11 seasons.
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
Magic forward Dwight Howard dunks the ball over Hawks forward Al Harrington, left, and Royal Ivey, right, as teammate Darko Milicic watches. Howard's double double paced Orlando, 108-101.
Richie (Orlando): Chris, will Amare Stoudemire's return push the Suns into the Finals?
Chris Sheridan: As long as he isn't coming back too early, it just might. The Suns might hit a few speed bumps in the first and second rounds, but they'll get to the West Conf finals against Dallas or SA, and they can beat either of those teams (although I'd like their chances better against the Mavs than the Spurs). One of the tricks for Phoenix the rest of the way will be finding ways to keep Boris Diaw productive, because the ball isn't going to be in his hands nearly as much as it was before now that Amare is back.
Christopher (Phoenix): Yesterday I saw the article on who the pros think should win the MVP award, is there really anyway Nash won't win it?
Chris Sheridan: He's a very strong candidate and he'd win it if the season ended now, but there's a month left. And if the Suns stumble down the stretch and Dallas finishes with the best record, it'd help Dirk Nowitzki's candidacy. Don't forget to factor in how Chauncey Billups and Dwyane Wade will pull in some strong support from Eastern voters, and who they rank second, third and fourth on their ballots will affect the vote tally. (Voters must submit five names, with the first-place pick getting 10 points, the second-place pick 7, 5 points for third, 3 for fourth and one for fifth.)
Jason (Houston,TX): Since I'm from Houston I despise the Mavericks but I think Avery Johnson should win coach of the year, he seems to make all the right adjustments and has coached through alot of injuries to key role players. Who is your leading candidate for coach of the year?
Chris Sheridan: Right now my leading candidates are Avery and Pat Riley. There are very few coaches in the league that can get their players to listen to them, and these two guys are the best at it. Avery is going to be doing this for a long time, and I think Riles will be sticking around for at least two years after this season. He wants to go out with a championship, and he can do it with Wade and Shaq.
Nostalgic Talk Of A Reunion
RJ: Pistons Might Have Company
One Hot Topic: Tony, Eva
Dee-troit basketball came up against a hot New Jersey team, and the Nets earned the first victory in regulation by a visitor to Auburn Hills this year.
Nets Rule The Palace
AP Photo/Darren Hauck
Raptors rookie Charlie Villanueva reacts after being called for a foul against Bucks' Joe Smith. Villaneuva ended the game with 48 points, but Milwaukee won 125-116.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Chris Sheridan puts Golden State coach Mike Montgomery as the coach on the hot seat:
The Warriors have missed the playoffs for 11 straight years, and it's about to become 12 for one of the biggest disappointments in the West. Montgomery has been the easiest target to aim at, but he has said the criticism he has received has bothered his wife more than it has affected him. With two years remaining on Montgomery's contract, Warriors owner Chris Cohan would have to think twice about letting him go. Does Montgomery expect to be back next season? "Once you start talking about it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,'' Montgomery told Bay Area reporters. "The question people have to ask: Is it all me? If it is, then the answer is obvious.'' If there's a No. 1 candidate to lose his job the day after the season ends, Monty is the guy.
Andrei Kirilenko had 15 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in Utah's 91-89 loss to Sacramento on Saturday in Salt Lake City. He was the first NBA player in more than three years to reach double-figures in each of those categories in the same game -- and that's the longest span of time that the league has gone without a triple-double of that type since the NBA started recording blocked shots in 1973. (The last player with double-digits in each of those categories was Jermaine O'Neal on Jan. 22, 2003.)
The only other Utah player with double-figure games in points, rebounds and blocks since the franchise moved from New Orleans in 1979 was Mark Eaton, who did it six times, with the last coming on Nov. 1, 1986.
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I am not basing my demotion of Knicks coach Larry Brown on this season alone. While he's had great success all over, he's also had too many missteps to be a "legendary'' coach. People make a lot out of him turning San Antonio from a 21-win team his first season into a 56-win team the next ('89), but the addition of David Robinson had more to do with that resurrection than Brown.
Then, in his fourth and final season in Indiana, Brown failed to get the Pacers into the playoffs. The next season, Larry Bird, who had never coached a game in his life, led those same Pacers to the conference finals.
And of course, there were the 2004 Olympics. Brown was as bad then as he has been this season. I know that team was poorly put together, but it still had two MVPs (Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan) and the four best young players in the world in LeBron James, Amare Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.
Yet Brown hardly played the youngsters, even though Anthony was his best shooter and one of the few guys with extensive experience against a zone defense. James made something good happen every time he entered the game, yet he got few minutes.
Why not press fullcourt when depth and athleticism are your major advantages? Why not double team Carlos Arroyo to take the ball out of his hands instead of letting him single-handedly lift Puerto Rico over Team USA?
Even in Detroit, folks forget that Brown's Pistons had lost 7 of 8 games before trading for Rasheed Wallace. Detroit was already a two-time 50-win team that had made the conference finals under Rick Carlisle the year before Brown got there.