Updated: March 18, 2007, 10:59 PM ET

SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION Month of madness still to come

What if I told you, with only a month to go in the regular season, that I can still come up with 25 games on the NBA schedule that require immediate circling in your calendar?

Is that something you might be interested in?

(Sorry. I can't stop saying stuff like that with the return of "Entourage" so close.)

But I wasn't kidding. You won't find them listed in any fancy bracket, but there are 25 doozies (at least) and they're sorted neatly here for you.

Starting with a game we've only been waiting three years for:

Saturday: Utah at Cleveland
St. Patrick's Day finally will bring us Carlos Boozer's first game in Cleveland since his unforgettably messy departure in the summer of 2004, after injuries intervened each of the last two seasons. The weird part: Cleveland's only game in Utah this season was on Valentine's Day. Seems to me that the league's scheduling computer got that backwards.

Saturday: Chicago at Memphis
Pau Gasol in the same building with the Bulls at last.

Sunday: Dallas at Detroit
The Pistons have a chance to join -- gasp -- Golden State as the only teams to beat the Mavs twice this season.

March 21: Dallas at Cleveland
LeBron James gets a chance to atone for his endgame misses in last month's thriller in Texas.

March 23: Detroit at San Antonio
Have to concede that this one might not be as taut as you'd expect given this is the second night of a back-to-back ... with the Pistons playing in Houston first.

March 23: Washington at Golden State
Gilbert Arenas makes his annual return to the Bay Area, undoubtedly eager to inflict some vengeance on the Warriors ... even though he always seems to forget that they badly wanted to keep him but couldn't because of salary-cap restrictions that no longer exist.

March 27: Cleveland at Indiana
Yikes. As if the Pacers' 11-game losing skid wasn't sufficiently brutal, this obligation completes a five-game stretch in which Indy faces a road back-to-back at Houston and San Antonio and consecutive home games against the Heat, Bulls and Cavs.

April 1: April Fools' Day double-header
The serious portion of the afternoon comes via ABC: Miami at Detroit, followed by the last regular-season, must-see installment of Mavs-Suns in Phoenix.

April 4: Chicago at Detroit
It's Ben Wallace's second visit to Motown in Bulls colors and the second game between these rivals in the space of seven days after Chicago plays host to Detroit on March 29.

April 4: Seattle at New Orleans/Oklahoma City
The Sonics' first of two road games against the Hornets, on Feb. 23, was played in New Orleans. So this one is Oklahoma City's first up-close look of the season at the team that could be playing there in 2008-09.

April 5: Miami at Cleveland
It won't be as fun without Dwyane Wade, but it's a biggie nonetheless.

April 5: Suns at Spurs
Game of the night, with apologies to the Heat and Cavs.

April 8: Houston at Sacramento
One last chance for Ron Artest and Bonzi Wells to commiserate on their seasons gone awry.

April 8: Cleveland at Detroit
At stake? Home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs, perhaps. (Even better: It's a lunchtime game on ABC, leaving plenty of time to get focused for "Entourage.")

April 11: Washington at Miami
Does anyone out there think that the Wiz still will be holding the Southeast Division lead at this point?

April 12: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers
It's the second of two showdowns between the slumping Staples Center tenants in the space of nine days, with suddenly neither assured of a playoff berth. The Clips also have two games against the Hornets, one home and one road, inside the season's final nine days.

April 13: New York Knicks at New Jersey Nets
It's Friday the 13th and it's the first of two Gotham Bowls in a four-day window. The area rivals/playoff hopefuls meet again at MSG on April 16.

April 13: Denver at New Orleans/Oklahoma City
It's the Hornets' last home game in the OKC ... unless they reach they playoffs.

April 14: Phoenix at Utah
The Jazz, don't forget, will be going for a 4-0 regular-season sweep.

April 15: San Antonio at Dallas
A late-season hookup just in case these two titans somehow don't hook up in the playoffs.

April 17: Dallas at Golden State
The Warriors have won both of this season's meetings and four in a row dating to last season. It's also a potential first-round preview and Nellie vs. Cuban, Round 3.

April 17: Toronto at Detroit
The Raps will have clinched their Atlantic Division crown by the time they tackle a home-and-home with the Pistons, starting April 13 in Toronto and wrapping up with this rematch four nights later at the Palace.

April 18: Denver at San Antonio
Nice, easy finale to a finishing kick that calls for the Nuggets to play 13 of their final 18 games on the road.

April 18: Miami at Orlando
Anyone else have a feeling that only one of Florida's teams will be proceeding to the playoffs after this finale?

April 18: Memphis at Minnesota
Kevin Garnett's last game in Wolves clothing?

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

• Dimes Past: March 10-11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16


Sunny Days
Stoudemire
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Speaking of schedules, Amare is ahead of everybody's. That's why the West is where it's at for microfracture patients. (See below.)


Western Conference
The wild, wild West?

Not lately. Not with only five teams more than a game over .500.

But ...

Maybe you could get away with calling it the conference you definitely want to reside in if you're trying to recover from microfracture knee surgery. to reside in if you're trying to recover from microfracture knee surgery.

Suns coach Mike D'Antoni started an interesting discussion during a pre-tipoff chat before Wednesday night's Phoenix-over-Dallas epic. He threw out the idea that we might have to revise some of those long-held notions about microfracture ranking as the NBA's death sentence if you judge by the comebacks of Utah sixth man Matt Harpring, Portland's better-than-ever Zach Randolph and a certain Amare Stoudemire with D'Antoni's Suns.

"I think they're getting better at the procedure," D'Antoni quipped.

I'm not as convinced as he is, but there's little argument that we're seeing multiple success stories unfold in the West. For a change.

Stoudemire's freakish athleticism undoubtedly has helped him recover in stunningly quick fashion, which didn't seem possible as recently as training camp when you remember how far away he looked back in October from resembling the rim-attacker we see now. Yet don't forget that the Suns' medical staff made it clear from the start that Stoudemire's age (24) and the comparatively small size of the lesion in his knee would give him some significant advantages.

Randolph, meanwhile, always had the advantage of playing a ground-bound game, which is a polite way of saying that he didn't have a lot of athleticism to lose when he had the surgery in the summer of 2005. In a way, though, Randolph's case still makes Stoudemire's recovery look impressive, since this is Randolph's second full season since the surgery and only Amare's first.

Harpring's case is also unique. He's had two microfracture surgeries on the same knee (right) and endured long stretches over the past couple seasons in which he was forced to adhere to playing-time restrictions. He continues to serve the Jazz well as a glue guy, especially given Andrei Kirilenko's struggles this season, but you also have to acknowledge that Harpring and, say, New Jersey's Jason Kidd didn't suffer from lost explosion in their games as much as some of high-profile strugglers after microfracture surgery like Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway.

Medical experts stress that the impact of this procedure, unlike some surgeries, has always varied widely from patient to patient based on the size and location of the operated area. An ACL tear is an ACL tear, but a microfracture surgery can range from significant to career-altering. The age of the player likewise plays a significant part.

It's safe to say we won't be talking about this any less next season with Denver's Kenyon Martin scheduled to become the first NBA player to attempt a comeback from microfracture surgery on both knees.


Memphis is going to finish with the worst record in the league. I think we can all agree there, given how win-conscious Boston has gotten.

What we don't know, with 16 games to go for the Grizz and 19 for the Mavs, is whether Memphis can do enough tanking before season's end to become just the eighth team in history to finish 50 games out of first place in their division.

It's going to be tough.

The Grizz awoke Friday trailing Dallas by 37½ games in the Southwest Division. If the teams maintain their current paces, Memphis would finish 48 games back at 20-62, with Dallas at a projected 68-14.

The seven teams in history that have hit 50:

SEASON DIVISION TEAM CHAMP GB
1972-73 Atlantic Sixers (9-73) Celtics (68-14) 59
1986-87 Pacific Clippers (12-70) Lakers (65-17) 53
1999-2000 Pacific Clippers (15-67) Lakers (67-15) 52
1997-98 Midwest Nuggets (11-71) Jazz (62-20) 51
1995-96 Central Raptors (21-61) Bulls (72-10) 51
1971-72 Pacific Blazers (18-64) Lakers (69-13) 51
1996-97 Midwest Grizzlies (14-68) Jazz (64-18) 50


The Suns have indeed sliced Dallas' lead atop the conference standings to 2½ games entering the weekend.

But don't expect them to suddenly make chasing the West's No. 1 seed a priority.

"I'm not going to start playing Steve [Nash] 40 minutes a game to try to get up there," D'Antoni said.

The priority in Phoenix remains going into the playoffs with the Suns' top seven or eight players in reasonably good health. They need that more than home-court advantage in the conference finals.



Talkin' Hoops
Does Don Nelson really know the secret to beating Dallas? Can the Warriors, who actually have a four-game win streak against the Mavs dating to last season, find a way to get themselves to the postseason to set up a 1-vs.-8 showdown and truly test their formula for making Dirk Nowitzki work at both ends? Marc Stein joins Galloway & Co. on ESPN Radio in Dallas (103.3 FM) to discuss the Mavs' unexpected struggles with a team that hasn't seen the playoffs since 1994.

Listen to the podcast Audio




Tuning In
Boozer
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images
Get ready for some loud boos, Booz. Your first game in Cleveland, which angry Cavs fans have been waiting for since you defected to the Jazz in 2004, is here at last.


Eastern Conference
Piatkowski

If you're looking for someone who likes how Chicago kept Luol Deng off limits in its trade discussions with Memphis for Pau Gasol, we've found a guy.

"I can understand us going after a big low-post scorer," Deng says. "But sometimes, to try and get the final piece you want, you might have to give up a piece that got you there in the first place.

"On paper, you take any All-Star and put him on another team and it's going to sound good. The Denver Nuggets are [a .500 team] now, but if you say 'Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony,' that sounds unbeatable.

"We need a low-post scorer and you can keep naming guys. You can name Gasol and all those superstars and think they're going to make the team better. But if you're giving up something that got you there in the first place, that might not be the answer."


Just wondering aloud: If the Atlantic Division winds up putting three teams in the playoffs, does that mean we have to stop making Titanic Division jokes?

If the Nets and Knicks get there with sub-.500 records, I say no.

But I suppose it's only right to put it out there for a community discussion.


Piatkowski

The Bulls' P.J. Brown said recently that he'd probably need a no-trade clause in his contract to play one more season.

But no-trade clauses are extremely rare in the NBA, largely because salary-cap rules make them difficult to get in the NBA.

Brown, 37, would only qualify for a no-trade clause next season with Miami or New Orleans.

With the Heat and Hornets, Brown could receive a no-trade clause even in a one-year contract because he has eight years of NBA service time and four years with each of those teams. Horace Grant secured a no-trade clause from Orlando in similar circumstances in the summer of 2001, after spending five seasons with the Magic in the 1990s.






Rank Comments
It's one of the readers' favorites and we do it every week: Trot out five (or so) responses to the latest edition of my NBA Power Rankings to make sure you have your say.

Straight from the rankings mailbag:

Harrison (Nation's Capital): Like I said a week or so ago about the Wizards: "This is all your fault!" Ever since you said they were a lock to win the division, we couldn't be playing worse. Even Jamison's return isn't helping us any more and we look tired, we've got injuries, we've got problems all over the floor. I place the blame squarely on your shoulders.


Committee's counter: First of all, we said VIRTUAL lock. Don't bother blaming us, either. The Wiz had ages to take advantage of the situation and build up a bigger cushion. Miami didn't even really start playing until March.

Sean (Boston): I get chills every time we win a game. I pray for a losing streak that lasts until the end of the season. I get excited every time Memphis wins. And I KNOW I'm not the only one.

Committee's counter: We have to take your word for it because, in a stunning show of apathy, you're the only Celtics fan who took us up on our invitation to write in and tell us how you feel about Boston's mini-resurgence.

Read the full Marc Stein blog Insider



Chat Excerpt

Charles (Miami): What do you think about Isiah's new contract? I think Dolan is the bigger problem for the Knicks.

Stein: You're hardly alone, Charles. I'm guessing a lot of Knicks fans feel the same way.

The timing of all this has to be a bit surprising since your Knicks haven't clinched anything yet as far as the playoffs, but the fact Dolan wants Isiah to stay? Not surprising at all. Dolan has made it pretty obvious that he wants his guy Isiah to succeed at all costs. "Evident progress" after a 23-59 season, whatever that means, never sounded like the most ambitious goal in the world.

Yet I continue to believe that Dolan's ongoing faith in Isiah is quietly tied to the lack of an obvious replacement option as much as anything. Dolan desperately wants to be the guy who revives the Knicks, but who does he turn to next if he decides Isiah can't make it happen?

Does he go for a proven coach? Does he try to find a new GM to choose the next coach? Either way, I'm struggling to come up with the names of proven winners in this league who would be willing to:

A) take on the Knicks' bloated payroll and limited assets to reshape the roster

B) deal with the NYC press corps

C) volunteer to live their life in this Draconian environment we're hearing more and more about where Dolan refuses to let any coach or player speak publicly without a club representative present.

I don't see a long line of top NBA minds signing up for this ginormous project. Isiah does have the support of his players and might very well get this team to the postseason, but it's also true that he really has nowhere else to go at this point.

James, Sin City: Too much love for the Rockets. Utah has a better group, bench, coach, record, etc. They will sweep the Yao-Mac combo and present a real problem for the Mavs.

Stein: Sweep? Good one. You forget that the Yao/T-Mac combo went seven games with the Mavs two short years ago and have a better team now than they did then, if only because Yao and T-Mac are better than they were. The Jazz are going to be a tough out for anyone and can certainly get to Round 2, but sweep? Please.

Read the entire Stein chat transcript Insider



Marc's Quote
Piatkowski

"Does this mean we're No. 1 in the Power Rankings?"

Phoenix forward and loyal reader Eric Piatkowski, giddy after the Suns' victory in Dallas on Wednesday night.



Question Marc
From the Stein Line e-mailbag:

Andy (Denver): Since you don't watch any college basketball that doesn't involve Cal State Fullerton, your guess is as good as anyone else's. Who you got in the Final Four?

Stein: I'm afraid I don't have any secret systems or upset specials to share with you.

Based on the bracket/seedings we're looking at as of Friday morning, my Final Four can only come from these six teams:

Dallas.

Phoenix.

San Antonio.

Detroit.

Cleveland.

Miami.

I'll narrow it down to four when we can clearly project who is playing who in the pivotal second-round matchups. Best I can do in mid-March, pal.






 

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