Answering a few questions about the Indiana Pacers (31-38), New Jersey Nets (32-38), New York Knicks (30-40) and Orlando Magic (33-38), the floundering foursome in a sub-mediocre scrum for the final two East playoff berths . . .
Breaking down the Futile Four
Should we stick the fork in the Knicks after Monday's home loss to the Magic?
I don't think they'll get in. Now they're 2 1/2 games behind Orlando, which is actually nothing, and they're certainly not out of it, but I don't like their chances. And they've got a pretty tough schedule, with games coming up against Cleveland and Dallas.
Lee's been great for this team this year. Hustle player, and his numbers (10.6 rpg) are terrific.
The Knicks are now 1-6 since Thomas' contract was extended. Seems like they popped the bubbly with a figurative third-quarter lead?
Maybe the signing could have come when they clinched a playoff berth. I don't know if it relaxed players, I don't know if it took an edge off, but it certainly was bad timing. This team is 1-6 with some poor losses. I know they increased their wins this year, but it's not as if they did anything remarkable.
The Knicks have the scent of toast to me. Orlando, in or out?
In. Their schedule isn't too difficult. Though they're in the No. 7 spot now with the win, I think they will take the 8 spot. I like how their schedule lines up. The Magic have mediocre games on the road, and some winnable home games. This win was a big one, getting a road win over a team right behind you.
Big 3s late from Jameer Nelson, big blocks (one uncalled goaltend) by Dwight Howard. Of note, rookie guard J.J. Redick played 26 minutes, scoring 12 points and taking part in the game's deciding plays.
Getting some crunch-time minutes is big. I thought defensively he got hurt a few times -- getting the call to cover Stephon Marbury is tough. Everybody knows he can shoot, but the defensive end is where the question marks are. As long as teams keep doubling Howard -- and I don't know why the Knicks were doubling him -- he's going to be a good weapon with that shot. Redick has to be a guy who is an anticipating type defender to make up for a lack of lateral quickness. Look at a guy like Chris Mullin. He certainly found a way to get it done.
Is Indy the other team in the playoffs?
We're going to find out this week. They've got the Spurs and Pistons at home, and games against the Nets and Magic. Safe to say, if they drop these four, they're done.
But if you had to pick, you'd go with the Nets, right?
Rather than rain any more on the Nets, got any sunny views about them?
Bostjan Nachbar. When I see him, I see Sasha Pavlovic from the Cavs. Both are very athletic with good size. With Pavlovic, he just needed the rotation time to gain the confidence. You see that with Nachbar. Playing with Kidd is great -- he gets set up well.
As for the Nets' schedule?
It's not light. But it's one that they can hold on to the playoff spot with. The two games with the Pacers will be crucial. Also games of note against the Bulls, Cavs and Wizards.
OK, we know the 7-8 teams will finish with pretty wretched marks. Any surprises from the Nets or Magic in the playoffs?
No. I don't seem them making any noise.
See ESPN analyst Jon Barry in Phoenix during Sunday's ABC NBA Countdown (12:30 ET) and in spots during Heat/Pistons (1 ET) and Mavs/Suns (3:30). All questions above posed by ESPN.com editor Andrew Ayres.
Rocky Widner//Getty Images
Tony Parker and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich discuss strategy during their 126-89 win over the Warriors. Golden State fell to ninth place in the West standings.
If the Lakers, who had lost seven straight games before Kobe's binge, had been winning with him scoring 28 a game, we never would have been treated to this five-game masterpiece. Kobe shot 53 pct. within and the Lakers won all five games.
The sad thing is that if Kobe had "gotten it" years earlier, he might have left the game with more titles than MJ.
Which prospects have improved their NBA Draft stock the most in the NCAA Tournament? Chad Ford and David Thorpe break it all down.
Sheed's 60-Foot 3 Forces OT
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Rasheed Wallace launches a 60-footer that sent the game into overtime, where the Pistons dispatched the Nuggets, 113-109.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
RReebs (LA): How come only the Celtics are garnering media coverage in the "Tank-Off 2007" race? Memphis, ATL, MIL, SEA all have made questionnable moves.
John Hollinger: Like what? Altanta traded to get Anthony Johnson, for crying out loud. Seattle kept Ray Allen playing when they could just as easily have shut him down. Memphis could just as easily have cut Atkins and Stoudamire but didn't. Only thing that could be considered even remotely shady was Milwaukee's deal with Bogut and Vilanueva.
Mark (NY): Who is going to win the Sixth Man Award?
John Hollinger: A month ago I would have said David Lee, hands down. But then he got hurt, and the Spurs brought Manu off the bench. In terms of productivity, Manu has been so much better than any other reserve -- even Lee and Barbosa -- that it's not even funny, and now I think he should win it.
Duncan (SA): Yo John, Will I finally get some Defensive Player of Year love?
John Hollinger: That'd be good. Amazingly, Duncan has never won, though he'll probably make his 10th straight All-Defense team.
The king of killing you softly is Dirk Nowitzki. He can be hard to appreciate because one of his greatest attributes is the absence of negative plays. Nowitkzi turns the ball over on only 8.1 percent of the possessions he uses, the lowest rate among the league's go-to guys (which I've defined as a Usage Rate of 25.0 or higher; Michael Redd, at 8.3 percent, is second).
Throw in averages of 50.1 percent from the floor, 90.1 percent from the line and you get a true shooting percentage of 60.6 -- again, this is the best among go-to guys (Bryant is a distant second at 58.9 percent; Nash devotees will note he leads the league in this category at 65.5 but doesn't have a high enough Usage Rate to qualify). Combined with his 41.8-percent shooting from 3-point range, and he's banging on the door of the prestigious 50-40-90 club.
Moreover, the combo of rare turnovers and few misses means he gets his points while still leaving plenty of possessions on the table for other Mavs to score. That consequently explains why Dallas can have such an efficient offense even with a largely shoot-first, one-on-one crew.
Where Nowitzki suffers in the MVP chase is that he's already been stereotyped. When he came into the league he was a sieve on defense and shot mostly jumpers on offense. Despite the considerable evolution of his game since then, some voters still want to pigeonhole him.
The Dallas Mavericks aim for their seventh straight win Tuesday in Oklahoma City. The Mavs are 5-0 on their current six-game road trip and have won 11 of their last 12 road games.
-- ESPN Research