Answering a few questions after taking part in Sunday's broadcast of the battle of conference leaders -- the West's best, the Dallas Mavericks, took a 92-88 win over the East-leading Detroit Pistons
Taking measure of the rulers
This game seemed less like a possible Finals preview because Chauncey Billups, who was sidelined by a groin injury Friday in Phoenix.
That was the bummer. Detroit is a different team with him out there. I still thought it ended up being an important game for Dallas to regroup with.
Yes. They were just four days removed from the best regular-season game I can remember (the 129-127 double OT loss on Wednesday to Phoenix). Being there delivered an excitement level second to none. But you see what that game did to both teams. Dallas had a poor game Friday before beating Boston, 101-97. And Phoenix got whacked twice (105-83 loss to Detroit, and then to Denver 131-107).
Dirk did come through late against the Celtics, and in the second half against the Pistons. Progress?
He had another chance to prove he can do it, but didn't do it in Game 3 of last year's NBA Finals, and he didn't against Phoenix on Wednesday. I know he was upset about that, but he'll gladly put all the MVP talk aside if he knows he can hoist the Finals trophy.
What does he have to do differently?
He's got to seize his opportunities. He did five things wrong late in the Suns game -- got a technical, fouled Steve Nash, missed a game-tying shot, game-winning shot and a game-winning free throw.
Should Mavs fans be worried about him in the next big moment?
I think it's a good thing he had that Suns game before the playoffs. Now when he has an opportunity, he's going to learn from this. Given a clutch situation in a big spot in the playoffs, I'm betting he's getting it done.
What do the Pistons need to get it done?
They have to get home court worked out. They have a better road record than home record. The only team like that in the NBA right now is Boston. The Pistons were 37-4 at home last year. Now they stand at 19-13. For a conference leader to put up that mark, it's pretty unimpressive.
So, if they're better on the road, does trying for home court matter?
You always want to have the home court, because the odds show teams win more at home in the playoffs.
But Detroit's a lock for the top seed, right?
No, we've got a race for No. 1 in the East. Detroit's only two games ahead of Cleveland in the loss column. Don't count Cleveland out. LeBron James is taking it to another level. They're using Zydrunas Ilgauskas more, which is what I think they were looking for all year. They're playing good D. That team's cranking.
OK, but Dallas has the West clinched, right?
The way I see it, Dallas (54-11) would have to go 12-5 the rest of the way, just for a tie. The April 1 game against the Suns (50-16) could be huge, but I don't think they'll be making up the margin. Dallas does have 12 of its last 18 on the road. It took Phoenix six weeks to make up one game, so I don't see Dallas giving up the lead.
So what kind of fine-tuning will we see from Dallas in the weeks ahead?
Getting Greg Buckner and Devean George ready for the playoffs. They're a little banged up now, but they'll be out there against Phoenix in the playoffs. They were brought in to play the Suns, and can be versatile defenders going up against Amare Stoudemire and Nash in the pick-and-roll.
Jon Barry played 14 years in the NBA before retiring after last season. All questions above posed by ESPN.com editor Andrew Ayres.
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Kobe Bryant, guarded here by Marko Jaric, became the first Lakers player with consecutive 50-point games in 44 seasons, following a 65-point game with 50 against Minnesota on Sunday night in Los Angeles' 109-102 win over the Timberwolves.
Isiah Thomas found something special when he used the No. 20 pick of last June's draft on Renaldo Balkman. The crowd at Madison Square Garden gave Balkman a standing ovation Sunday after he exited with 16 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and two blocks, which couldn't have been any more of a contrast to the way Knicks fans greeted his selection last June, bringing down the house with boos.
I asked Balkman afterward what Sunday's reaction mean to him given the reception he garnered last June.
"I want them to love me the way I love them. And I think for the most part, they're in love," Balkman said.
Boston beat San Antonio on Saturday night to end the Spurs' 18-game winning streak against the Celtics. It had been the second-longest current winning streak by one NBA team against another. The Mavericks have won 20 straight games against the Hornets.
San Antonio lost to Boston (19-46, .292 entering the game) after losing to Milwaukee (23-41, .359 entering the game) Friday night. It's only the third time in NBA history that a team that good (a winning percentage of .700 or better) lost consecutive games to two teams that bad (winning percentage of .360 or worse) this late in the season (60-or-more games).
Mavs top Chauncey-less Pistons
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Pistons guard Richard Hamilton, forced from the game with a cut above his eye delivered accidentally by teammate Chris Webber 's elbow, had already experienced free throw woes. He had five fourth-quarter misses in the 92-88 loss to the Mavs.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Kobe Bryant's name is going to end up on another news release out of the league office Monday afternoon.
But it's going to be a Western Conference player of the week announcement.
In the capper to one of the more controversial weeks in Bryant's career -- which is saying something, we know -- No. 24 tossed in 50 points Sunday night in a home victory over Minnesota.
That's after ringing up 65 in Portland on Friday night. Sixty-five!
You can only one draw one conclusion.
What Phil Jackson regards as a "witch hunt" by the league against Kobe's elbows actually wound up helping the Lakers.
These guys were reeling. They were openly desperate for something miraculous to halt the first seven-game losing streak of Jackson's coaching career. How desperate? Jackson, remember, also said recently that "Jesus Christ could come back and we still wouldn't have a chance."
Yet as mad as Jackson is about the increasing scrutiny Bryant's been getting, surely he won't dispute that day after day of national discussion and dissection about Kobe's elbows, intentions and suspensions are what pushed him into a state where he was going to A) end that skid by himself if necessary and B) make sure we'd have to obsess about something else Kobe-related.
With 115 points in two weekend victories, missions accomplished.
Shon (Redmond, WA): How does your top 5 dirtiest players compare to Shaq's list?
Chris Sheridan: When I was down in Philly last Friday, I asked Philly hoops maven Jack Scheuer for his Top 5, and he said everyone his age in Philly would have to include Jim Loscutoff of the Celtics on their list. Anyone with a good Loscutoff story, please post it. My own list would have to include Bruce Bowen and Mardy Collins.
Nothing can put a defender, even a good one, into jeopardy faster than a great first step. The key for an effective first step is not pure quickness -- though quickness is important.
Rather, timing is Priority 1. That is, sensing when the defender is not ready to slide and compete for the all-important angle to the rim.
The importance of timing -- and upsetting the defender's timing -- is why the ability to shoot and fake contributes to having a great first step.