Updated: April 12, 2006, 12:49 PM ET

SPECIAL MIDWEEK EDITION:
The packing 10 all-stars

All this talk about who's getting into the playoffs got me thinking.

It got me thinking about who I'll be missing most once the playoffs start.

It's too soon to consider Allen Iverson for that list, with Philadelphia and Chicago tied for eighth in the East at 36-41 with a week to go.

It's at least mathematically inappropriate to presume that the Jazz, Magic and Hornets are lottery-bound ... but I took that leap anyway.

So...

Here are 10 players I'll be thinking about when the NBA Tournament proceeds without them ... with apologies to Utah, Orlando and New Orleans/Oklahoma City as they cling to playoff life ... and to a few undeniable stars (Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Joe Johnson) who didn't make my cut for aesthetic reasons ... and to a group of Knicks that no one will miss.

In alphabetical order:

Minnesota's Kevin Garnett

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Remember all those years when the Wolves -- and eventually Garnett -- were slammed for their failure to win a playoff series? KG must long now for that first-round rut after landing in the lottery for the second consecutive spring. What's even worse, though, is that this really wasn't a surprise. I certainly didn't pick the Wolves as a top-eight team in the West when the season started and that's sadder, to me, than a playoffs without KG. It's also leading to harsher-than-ever criticism for KG, with my man Sam Smith writing earlier this week in the Chicago Tribune: "Is Garnett really a star if he missed the playoffs two straight years?"

Orlando's Dwight Howard

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This is another team (like a couple more you'll see below) where I could have picked more than one guy I'll miss. The rebound-inhaling man-child is an obvious choice, but so is Grant Hill, who's still waiting for his first taste of the second round after all these years and injuries. No less obvious: Darko Milicic and the prospect of seeing him line up against his surly mentors, Wallace and Wallace, which would have been one of the stories of the first round. But maybe next spring. Maybe by next April, Milicic and Howard -- neither of whom has turned 21 yet -- will have enough around them to secure a trip to the big stage.

Toronto's Mike James

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I'm sure you were expecting me to nominate the lefty All-Star (Chris Bosh) or the Cal State Fullerton alumnus (Pape Sow) as the Raptor I'd miss most when the playoffs began. And it's true: I will miss those two. But I have to admit that I'll miss James more. The little guard with the boulder-sized chip on his shoulder has captivated me with his willingness to shoot from anywhere and say just about anything. I guess I'll just have to wait for free agency, when the 30-year-old with the gaudy numbers (29.3 points and 7.2 assists per game in April) tries to convince GMs that he can do this for a playoff team, too.

Utah's Andrei Kirilenko

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I'm sure you think I just want AK-47 around in the first round to get in a few more jokes about Mrs. Kirilenko and the ultimate hall pass. Not true. Guilty as I am of referencing the Kirilenkos' arrangement (is this the right word?) more than once, you can't deny that Andrei's versatility will be sorely missed in your daily perusal of the playoff box scores. Who else out there is capable of producing a 5x5 in the postseason? Who would be a better candidate to set the record for most blocked shots in a four-game series? (And if anyone knows the record for most blocks in a four-game series, please pass that along.)

Houston's Tracy McGrady

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If you permit me a double entry, I'd sneak Yao Ming in here alongside McGrady as a tag team. This, remember, was supposed to be the postseason in which T-Mac would finally get out of the first round for the first time. But McGrady and the new Yao, who returned from toe surgery in late January with a level of mobility and aggression we'd never seen from him before, were only healthy enough to play in 31 games together, none after March 8. So much for the notion that nothing could be worse than Houston losing Game 7 in Dallas in last spring's first round by a whopping 40 points ... after winning the first two games of that series on the road. This season was even more painful than all that.

New Orleans/Oklahoma City's Chris Paul

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You might remember that I lobbied Western Conference coaches to overlook Paul's rookie status and put him on the West All-Star team. I still believe that was the right call, too, but I have to concede that my other Paul proclamation -- my "all-in belief" that the Hornets would use their 9-1 surge into the All-Star break as the platform for certain playoff qualification -- was a tad premature. Even the most NBA-ready rookie wasn't ready to lead this young squad to the postseason. Yet it's still OK to wonder how he would have fared against, say, Tony Parker in Round 1.

Golden State's Jason Richardson

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J-Rich has to be right there with Carmelo Anthony and Mike Bibby on the list of best active players still waiting for their first All-Star selection. He's so much more than a dunker now, scoring nearly 24 points per game and flirting with 40-percent shooting on 3-pointers. Of course, as breathtaking as Richardson can be, there's no getting around his free-throw woes: 67.2 percent this season, just under 70 percent lifetime. If he wants to be an unquestioned All-Star -- and lift the Warriors from the gloom of their 12-season playoff drought -- Richardson has to address this immediately. Hopefully he's in the gym with Gerald Wallace, shooting free throw after free throw.

Atlanta's Josh Smith

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He's a lovable lefty. He's a new-millennium highlight reel in the grand Hawks tradition of Dominique Wilkins. And he's on this list because, like Kirilenko and Wallace, he's one of those Freak O' Nature guys who offset a lack of offensive sophistication with an ability to rebound, defend and cause random mayhem. Regular readers know I'm trying as hard as I can to stop obsessing about the backcourt Atlanta would have assembled if they had drafted Paul before signing Joe Johnson. Well ... this is the Hawk who gives you something else to think about.

Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire

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The saddest story of them all on this scorecard. Even though I was prepared to go an entire season without seeing Stoudemire after he underwent microfracture knee surgery in October, and even though I repeatedly urged the Suns to choose that course and hold him out until next season no matter how well his rehab went, that doesn't mean I won't miss the idea of Amare reuniting with Tim Duncan in the conference finals. Except for Kobe Bryant, who might get his chance if the Lakers and Spurs meet in Round 1, who else is going to average 37 per game in a series against the Spurs?

Charlotte's Gerald Wallace

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Hopefully Wallace will be in a gym throughout the playoffs, working on a jumper that so badly needs work. But just imagine if he ever does get that jumper to respectable. The 6-7 swingman is already one of the league's most exciting players, averaging 15.4 points and 7.5 rebounds mostly on pure athleticism ... and doing things that only two men in history have done before him. You can look it up: Wallace will soon join Hall of Fame-bound centers Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson as the only players in NBA annals to register two blocks and two steals nightly for a whole season.

• Talk back to ... Marc Stein | The Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: April 1-2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8-9 | 10 | 11


Style Points

AP Photo/Mark Duncan
Heat coach Pat Riley makes his point to referee Leroy Richardson during his team's win over the Raptors.


Slams And Dunks
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If Kevin Garnett plays again this season, you'll know that the NBA intervened and forced Minnesota to activate him.

But don't expect that to happen.

I'm told that the league office, while cognizant of the fact that every loss gives the Wolves a better chance of securing a top-10 pick in the May draft lottery -- and knowing that Minnesota must send its first-round pick to the Clippers if it falls outside the top 10 -- is unlikely to challenge the Wolves' decision to sit Garnett for the final five games.

This, remember, is the age of the inactive list in the NBA. In the bygone days of the injured list, Minnesota would be forced to prove that Garnett and Ricky Davis aren't healthy enough to dress. Garnett has indeed played through tendinitis in both knees all season, so the Wolves feel they have the medical justification to rest him regardless, but the inactive list gives teams a mechanism to shelve players for a variety of reasons. One example, as seen back in December: Indiana parked Ron Artest on its inactive list until it could find him a new home after Artest publicly requested a trade.


Actually...

It's my understanding that the league is more likely to say something to the parties involved in next Tuesday's Clippers-at-Grizzlies showdown, given the season-long controversy surrounding the NBA's playoff seeding system and the widespread belief that both teams would prefer to finish sixth in the West than fifth.

The sixth seed, of course, meets Denver in the opening round -- quite possibly with home-court advantage -- and could avoid San Antonio or Dallas until the conference finals.


Artest isn't expecting his new bosses in Sacramento to consult him about the Kings' coaching situation, with Rick Adelman's contract expiring at season's end.

But Artest told me that, if he had a vote, Adelman would be asked to stay.

"I like this team," Artest said. "I like the coaches. Obviously that's not my decision, but hopefully we can stay together."



Chat Excerpt
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Johnny (Evanston, Ill.): Are you purposely avoiding MVP talk or what? Perhaps your face is red because LeBron is making all you ESPN guys look silly. At least Hollinger had the guts to come out and admit it today. How about a public "mea culpa" for hating on LeBron?

Stein: Let's see, Johnny.

I wrote in last week's chat that LeBron's recent surge has thrown the MVP race wide open. I wrote even more about it in the Weekend Dime. And I think I was even quoted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week, talking about how LeBron is a serious MVP contender in the wake of the Cavs' 11-1 run. Does that sound like avoiding the subject?

I'd simply like to save something for the column I'm going to be writing soon where I actually make my official MVP pick. Cool?

Have to say I find it hilarious that Cavs fans keep writing in to rail against all this LeBron "hating." Huh?

If you want to know why LeBron didn't become a legit MVP threat until now, look at Cleveland's game-by-game record. The Cavs weren't playing at an elite level until their last 20 games or so. It's that simple.

For years, ESPN was accused of bestowing greatness on this kid before it was earned. So which one is it? We love LeBron too much or we hate him?

See the full Marc Stein chat transcript Insider


Upsetting Remarks


Marc Stein is on the block with ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher, both eyeing the same potential first-round upset in the playoffs. Watch ESPN Motion

Lucky 13

Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo
Suns guard Steve Nash sneaks past Ron Artest and Phoenix overturns a 17-point deficit in Sacramento to even the season series at 2-2. Nash, saddled with foul trouble, had 13 points and 13 assists.


Extreme Behavior
shaq

Tuesday's Best
Heat center Shaquille O'Neal: Antoine Walker stepped into the void created by Dwyane Wade's absence with 32 points, but 'Toine was overshadowed anyway by Shaq's second career triple-double: 15 points, 11 boards and 10 assists in 28 minutes in a 106-97 win over Toronto.

artest

Tuesday's Worst
Sacramento's collapse: The Kings want to play Phoenix in the first round, as opposed to San Antonio, but couldn't hold a 17-point halftime lead at home against their preferred playoff foes. The Suns rallied for a 123-110 victory that evened the season series at 2-2 and dropped Ron Artest's new team back into the No. 8 slot in the West.

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Quote of the Day
"They wanted it a little bit more than us."
-- New Jersey's Vince Carter, after his 43 points were offset by Ben Gordon's 36 as the Bulls claimed a crucial 104-101 victory that pulled Chicago even with Philadelphia for the No. 8 spot in the East.

See how all 122 who played stacked up

The current NBA Playoff matchups



Stock Report
hou

A look at the most active movers, upward and downward, in ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings:

Highest Rise: No. 15 Orlando Magic

By now you've probably heard me suggest that the Magic, having assembled a 13-4 run that began with a March 10 spanking of Cleveland, deserve the eighth and final playoff spot in the East even if they don't actually make up the ground necessary to pass Chicago and Philadelphia in the season's final week. To me, Orlando just wants it more than the Bulls or Sixers. But since we're not expecting the league to act on that suggestion, this will probably have to serve as a consolation prize: Orlando's five-spot jump from No. 20 puts the Magic in the top half of the Power Rankings for the first time all season. Their previous high was No. 16.

Steepest Fall: No. 21 Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers' five-spot tumble from No. 16 was actually matched by the Indiana Pacers' dip from No. 15 to No. 20. But the Sixers claim this unwanted cyberspace with last week's no-show at Cleveland, followed by home losses to Chicago and Boston that made Saturday's visit to the United Center for a rematch with the Bulls an absolute must-win. To its credit, Philly did win that game and responded to Monday's punishment in the Power Rankings by beating Washington at home. Beleaguered coach Maurice Cheeks can only hope that we've helped spark a season-saving turnaround, because four of Philly's final five games are roadies.

Marc Stein's Complete Power Rankings



One-On-One ... To Five
>johnson

Five questions with Hornets forward P.J. Brown:

Q: After that 9-1 stretch leading into the All-Star break, I'm sure even you started imagining a playoff berth. Was it playoff pressure that got to this young team in March?

A: The last couple weeks we've started to play better basketball, but March was brutal. Up until that point, you didn't see any signs [of succumbing to pressure]. We just kind of lost everything we built.

Q: But isn't it a great season regardless? No one expected the Hornets to be flirting with .500, especially after Hurricane Katrina forced the relocation to Oklahoma City.

A: I wouldn't say great. It's only great if we make the playoffs. But it's definitely been a good season. We only won 18 games [last season] and we've doubled that already. I think we'd all like the icing on the cake, but if we don't make it, we don't have anything to be ashamed about.

Q: As the elder statesman on a team of kids, what did you see as reasonable expectations for this group?

A: Honestly, I thought 30-35 wins, and I thought that was going to be a big jump. But after seeing Chris [Paul] and the play of David West in training camp, I thought we could make a push. Chris proved it to me in those first couple days of training camp. I've been around a while and I've seen lots of different guys, but I've never seen anybody like him. The skills and maturity he has at such a young age, you don't see that very often, especially from point guards.

Q: Byron Scott is more critical of players publicly than most coaches. Do you ever serve as a go-between and do you want to see the Hornets sign him to a contract extension?

A: I try to be the mediator, because I've been around and I've heard it all. It gets tough at times, because these young guys can get dazed and confused. But [Scott] has done a great job, what he's done as far as a one-year turnaround. It'd be great to see him stay. ... From Day 1 when we came to training camp in Oklahoma City, he said, "We're not going to make any excuses." I think we adjusted to the situation very well and it started with him.

Q: What about you? You'll be 37 in October and you have one more season left on your contract. You're also a Louisiana native whose family was affected more by Katrina than any other Hornet. Have you given much thought to how much longer you want to play?

A: It's a good question. It's something I'm thinking about. When the season ends, I'll do some deep soul-searching and see what the future holds for me. It's been a long year, a tough year, an emotional year. I could feel differently when [next] season gets close. But I need a chance to think clearly about everything and figure out what I want to do.



Rank Comments
mia

Readers respond to the latest edition of the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings:

Aaron (Miami): What a double shock. Miami drops to No. 7 in the rankings because they are resting their players and coasting to the finish line. Then you say that the Heat should rest Shaq, revealing your secret hope that the Nets might move ahead of the Heat for the second seed. So which is it? Rest players and lose your respect or play them and lose your respect? Oh, wait. You never had respect for them in the first place. Hater.

Mark (Modesto, Calif.): I don't expect the Kings to crack your top five, but I did not expect to see them below New Jersey, Cleveland, Denver, Memphis and the Clippers. I know, I know: New Jersey and Cleveland are on a roll. But if the Kings were in the East, they'd probably be undefeated in the Artest era. Move them up! You are going to wish you did after Sacramento beats Phoenix in the first round.

Dominic (Birdsboro, Pa.): Who would have ever thought, given the woeful situation that the Sixers are mired in, that Mo Cheeks can still be thankful that he's no longer in Portland?

K-Mac (Salt Lake City): You are giving second-tier Eastern Conference teams too much respect. There's no way they can compete with teams at the same level in the West. There's no way the Bucks, Bulls and Wizards should be ranked higher than Utah.

Jackson (Cleveland): Could you please check your facts before answering other people's questions? The Cavs were not 14-16 without Hughes.

Editor's note: Two things, folks: First, a reminder that next week brings our final installments of the Power Rankings and Rank Comments, so I'm hoping for a deep offering of quality responses as we bid farewell to the Rankings until next October. Secondly, a reminder to Jackson and a few others who wrote in with similar complaints about this Cavs note: Please take the time to read what I wrote before taking the time to write in and complain. I wrote in the Weekend Dime that the Cavs were 14-16 without Hughes before going on their current 15-4 run. Which I invite you to double-check.



 

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