1. Thirty Games To Follow
March Madness is already over at a somber Stein Line HQ. Cal State Fullerton's unjust demise in the quarterfinals of the Big West Tournament brought a way-too-early end to my admittedly narrow interest in the college game this season ... unless rim-wrecker extraordinaire Gerard Anderson (click here to see what I mean) gets the invite he richly deserves to the dunk contest at the Final Four.
The good news?
I can promptly counter that disappointment with a list of 30 games, involving all 30 teams, to usher me (and you) through the final 30-odd days until the pros' tournament starts.
Your viewers' guide to the rest of the NBA's regular season:
Friday: Los Angeles Clippers at Charlotte
Let's get all the awkwardness caused by Larry Brown's reputed interest in going back to the Clippers -- two NBA coaching sources insisted this week that Brown's leaving the Bobcats remains a possibility even with Michael Jordan soon to be ratified as Charlotte's majority owner -- out in the open.
Sunday: Boston at Cleveland (ABC)
The Celts are 2-8 this season against the Cavaliers (1-1), Magic (1-3) and Hawks (0-4). They'll get one more crack at Cleveland at home on April 4 no matter what happens here.
March 15: Detroit at Boston (ESPN)
I'm guessing this was pinpointed for the ESPN schedule back in August based on the premise that a late-season reunion involving the Pistons and Rasheed Wallace would have a bit more pop.
March 17: New Jersey at Philadelphia
With all the pressure mounting on Eddie Jordan -- and the Nets still needing three wins to ensure that Philly's 9-73 record in 1972-73 remains the worst single season in league history -- this becomes a must-win for the Sixers' under-fire coach. Doesn't it?
March 19: Utah at Phoenix
Utah uncorked big comebacks in each of the teams' first two meetings to stun the Suns. Phoenix gets two chances to retaliate, with a trip to Salt Lake City scheduled for the final night of the regular season (April 14).
March 19: Milwaukee at Sacramento
Even if Steph Curry and quite possibly Darren Collison have nudged past Brandon Jennings in the Rookie of the Year race, don't you still want to see Jennings' rematch with Tyreke Evans after Evans' buzzer-beating drive won the rooks' first encounter in December?
March 20: Boston at Dallas
The Mavericks should be riding a 15-game win streak by this point ... assuming they've beaten New York and banged-up Chicago at home between now and then.
March 21: Houston at New York
It'd be a better story if the game was actually in Houston, but Tracy McGrady's lining up against the Rockets would be newsworthy anywhere.
March 22: San Antonio at Oklahoma City
Something good seems to happen whenever these teams hook up, whether it's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combining for 60 points ... or DeJuan Blair rumbling for 28 points and 21 rebounds in the same game ... or Durant getting his shot unforgettably swatted by Manu Ginobili about six weeks later.
March 24: Orlando at Atlanta
The Magic won the first three meetings by 17, 32 and 18 points. This is the Hawks' last chance to restore some belief before potentially seeing Orlando in a second-round series.
March 25: Miami at Chicago (TNT)
It seems safe to suggest that Dwyane Wade's final visit to the Windy City before free agency, thanks to the extra cap space cleared by the Bulls with their trade-deadline maneuverings, will generate more than the usual hoopla.
March 26: Washington at Charlotte
There are bigger games on this night: Cleveland at San Antonio, Marquette alumnus D-Wade taking the Heat to Milwaukee, Mike D'Antoni making his once-a-season return to Phoenix with the Knicks. Yet the story of the day, with the Wizards away in North Carolina, will be Gilbert Arenas' sentencing hearing in his gun case back in D.C.
March 28: Toronto at Miami
If Chris Bosh and D-Wade are in the same place, we're obligated to make a fuss. Right?
March 28: Denver at Orlando
The first installment of a R-O-U-G-H back-to-back on the road for the Nuggets.
March 29: Denver at Dallas (NBA TV)
Part 2 is the season's third and final regular-season meeting between the Nuggets and Mavericks and will break a 1-1 tie in the season series. The Mavs, though, didn't have Caron Butler or Brendan Haywood in the first two meetings.
April 1: Orlando at Dallas (TNT)
Check it out. After the Nuggets and Magic get things started Sunday, Orlando and Dallas will complete an intriguing (and unforeseen) round-robin featuring the three teams widely considered the most capable of preventing LeBron James and Kobe Bryant from meeting up in the NBA Finals.
April 2: Atlanta at Cleveland (ESPN)
The teams will reconvene in Atlanta on April 14 for the regular-season finale, but the likelihood that Cleveland's playoff seeding will have long since been locked up -- thus likely leading to an evening of rest for LeBron James -- makes the first of the teams' two April dates far more attractive.
April 2: Chicago at Washington
Don't be surprised if this seemingly nondescript matchup pitting the Bulls against what's left of the shell-shocked Wizards lures President Obama out of the White House and down to the Verizon Center.
April 4: San Antonio at Los Angeles Lakers (ABC)
Who else thinks Lakers-Spurs would be a fascinating first-round series? This would be the second preview in the space of 12 days -- with the old rivals squaring off in San Antonio on March 24 -- if that matchup were to materialize.
April 8: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver (TNT)
As chippy as things have gotten between the incumbent top two out West, any Lakers-Nuggets reunion is must-see.
April 9: Utah at New Orleans
Chris Paul should be back from knee surgery by this point to satiate anyone suffering from CP3 vs. D-Will withdrawals. They've had only one duel so far this season.
April 9: Los Angeles Lakers at Minnesota
The Lakers were allotted only one trip to Sota this season, setting up this trip as Phil Jackson's lone up-close glimpse of the Target Center project Kurt Rambis left L.A. for.
April 10: Boston at Milwaukee
The Celts and Bucks play each other twice in the final five days of the season ... which we don't want to miss after Jennings and Kevin Garnett left the Bradley Center floor woofing at each other Tuesday night.
April 11: Orlando at Cleveland (ABC)
The co-favorites in the East stare each other down less than a week before the playoffs start.
April 11: Portland at Los Angeles Lakers (ABC)
Another potential first-round preview thanks to the Blazers' injury-ravaged season. (Early national TV starts at Staples Center in April always feel like playoff games anyway.)
April 12: Charlotte at New Jersey
The guests in New Jersey's final game at the Izod Center before the temporary move to nearby Newark are the same Bobcats who've already lost twice to the seven-win Nets. Did someone say thrice?
April 12: Houston at Sacramento
Kevin Martin makes his return to Arco Arena for the first time since his deadline-day trade to the Rockets.
April 14: Indiana at Washington (ESPN)
The Pacers somehow wind up closing out an interminably long 82 games against a team that wants the season to be over even more than they do.
April 14: Memphis at Oklahoma City
A fitting regular-season finale throws together the top two surprise teams out West.
April 14: Golden State at Portland
As of Friday morning, Don Nelson needed six wins to tie Lenny Wilkens (1,332) as the NBA's all-time winningest coach and seven wins to surpass him. Who thinks Nellie will have at least tied Wilkens entering the Warriors' finale?
2. One on One ... To Five
Five questions with Wolves rookie guard Jonny Flynn:
Q: Obviously your team is starting over, but how do you evaluate this first season individually?
A: I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to bring the best out of my teammates. As a point guard I like to judge myself by winning and when I judge myself like that the year isn't going too well.
Q: That seems a little harsh, doesn't it, considering you're running the triangle offense for the first time?
A: It's tough. It's like learning a foreign language. You sit in class and you think you've got it and then there's one verb you left out or something and you pronounce it the wrong way. It's definitely difficult. It's new to all of us, but definitely tough for me because I have to make sure everybody's on the same page.
Q: What kind of grasp do you have on the triangle at this point?
A: I would say I'm at a C right now. ... It's really tough doing something your whole life and then switching. It's been a humbling experience. But I think I'm making strides. There's so many different wrinkles [in the offense]. I don't think we've really even scratched the surface.
Q: I would think the fact that you had to learn a new offense on the fly would make you prouder of what you've achieved in your first season.
A: I think so. I don't think any other rookie is in a position like this. You look at a lot of the top rookies and they have a tremendous amount of freedom. They can go out and really almost do whatever they want. But Kurt [Rambis] is really teaching me the game of basketball. He's teaching me how to play in a system. And if you look at all the great point guards in this league, they know how to run a system and they can play pick-and-roll basketball. I already know how to play pick-and-roll basketball. Now I'm learning how to run a system.
Q: Who would get your Rookie of the Year vote and how disappointed are you that you're not getting much consideration?
A: Tyreke Evans. Has to be [Rookie of the Year]. He's averaging 20 points a game in the NBA as a rookie. ... I don't think I'm doing as much as all the rookies that are mentioned [for Rookie of the Year]. I'm just looking forward to getting better with time.
3. Western Conference
One addendum to the Jonny Flynn chat in Box 2: Flynn admits that he hasn't been closely tracking Ricky Rubio's work with Spanish giants Barcelona this season.
The last time they spoke? Draft night.
Flynn, though, insists that he has never approached his bosses to ask for more insight into why the Wolves drafted point guards with the No. 5 and No. 6 picks in the 2009 draft.
"I was just happy to be picked that high in the draft," Flynn said.
Some numbers of note in the West this week:
61.5: Kobe Bryant is shooting 61.5 percent from the field (8-for-13) in the final 24 seconds of one-possession games this season. In the preceding seven seasons, Bryant shot just 28.4 percent from the field (19-for-67) in those situations.
26: C.J. Miles' 26 points in 19 minutes in a 24-point rout Tuesday night at Chicago marked the first time Utah had a player with at least 25 points in less than 20 minutes of playing time since Darrell Griffith on Jan. 23, 1987. Utah's 132 points in the victory were the most in regulation for the road team in Chicago since the Lakers beat the Bulls 133-118 on Jan. 20, 1986.
4: Marcus Thornton is already up to second in Hornets history with four games off the bench with at least 25 points -- all of them since Feb. 23. The franchise record, though, isn't quite within reach for the rookie guard; Dell Curry scored 25 points or more as a Hornets reserve 28 times.
1: Shawn Marion's 29-point, 14-rebound performance in Dallas' victory at Minnesota on Monday was the first 20-point game this season for Marion, who has been asked to focus more on individual D by his new team since joining the Mavericks in the offseason.
266: The 266 combined points in New Orleans' 135-131 victory over Golden State accounted for the highest point total in a regulation game this season, and the Warriors became the first team in 2009-10 to score at least 130 points and lose. In the 1990-91 season, there were 13 regulation-length games in which the losing team scored 130 points or more. In the 19 seasons since, there have been only 11 such games.
Important clarification: Bulls alumni Jay Williams and Marcus Fizer were the highest draft picks to play in the D-League before Memphis' Hasheem Thabeet. Portland's Martell Webster, meanwhile, was the highest draft pick assigned to a D-League club by his NBA team before Thabeet.
Drafted No. 2 overall by Chicago in 2002, Williams made a brief comeback attempt with the Austin Toros in 2006-07 after a motorcycle accident ended his NBA career.
Drafted No. 4 overall by Chicago in 2000 and last seen in the NBA during the 2005-06 season with New Orleans, Fizer also had a stint with the Austin Toros in '05-06.
Webster, drafted No. 6 overall by the Blazers in 2005, was sent to the now-defunct Fort Worth Flyers for eight games as a rookie.
Thabeet was recalled this week by the Grizzlies after averaging 13.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 31.3 minutes in six games with the Dakota Wizards.
4. Alternative Listening
Do the Clippers have any chance of convincing LeBron James to give L.A.'s other team legit consideration this summer? What if the Clips let LeBron choose his own coach and general manager? Marc Stein joins NBA on ESPN Radio studio host Marc Kestecher to discuss.
To hear the interview, click here.
5. Eastern Conference
The Bulls were determined to land no less than a first-round pick when they parted with Tyrus Thomas before last month's trade deadline. Yet you have to wonder if Chicago is already wishing it could have a do-over on the Thomas deal it struck with Charlotte.
Chicago, remember, could have sent Thomas to the Knicks for Al Harrington and a second-round pick. That deal would have given them a decent future trade asset -- since second-rounders have some value, too -- as well as the productive Harrington, who would undoubtedly be helping the Bulls cope better with the injury absences of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.
But the Bulls, after advanced talks with the Knicks on a Harrington deal, instead elected to send Thomas to Charlotte for Flip Murray, Acie Law and a lottery-protected 2012 first-rounder. Which I suspect they'll come to regret unless the pick they're getting from Charlotte helps them sweeten a subsequent trade.
Although losing Noah and Deng has mostly crushed the Bulls defensively, they've also been a bottom-five team in offensive efficiency all season and could certainly use Harrington's scoring ability in the race to snag a playoff spot before this summer's free-agent bonanza.
And that was Chicago's goal. The Bulls have maintained all along that -- while creating maximum salary-cap space for the summer was their primary 2009-10 focus -- their aim is making a second successive trip to the playoffs. If that's indeed the target, Harrington would have been an ideal midseason pickup, given that he's playing on an expiring contract himself at just over $10 million. He could have helped address Chicago's scoring issues without infringing on its offseason intentions.
Some numbers of note in the East this week:
2: Of the 21 teams to play Cleveland and Boston in back-to-back games since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined the Celtics for the 2007-08 season, only this season's Bucks and last season's Lakers have won both games. L.A. completed the sweep on the road last season; Milwaukee beat the LeBron James-less Cavaliers and the Celts at home.
50: For the first time in franchise history, Cleveland was the season's first team to reach 50 wins. The first team to win 50 games in each of the past two seasons (Celtics in 2008, Lakers in 2009) won the championship.
1: With 25 points in Tuesday's win over Philadelphia, Indiana's Dahntay Jones was the game's high scorer in a victory for the first time in his 387-game NBA career.
27: Before his 27 points Wednesday night in a win over the Clippers, Miami's Dwyane Wade had averaged only 18.6 points in his previous nine games on the second night of a back-to-back.
40: Before turning 40 last week, Cavs coach Mike Brown registered 259 career victories. That's the most for any coach before the age of 40 since Billy Cunningham's 344. Cunningham, though, coached only two more seasons after his 40th birthday and finished with a lifetime mark of 454-196 and a gaudy winning percentage of .698 in eight seasons, all with Philly.
The six-week delay between Michael Redd's most recent knee injury in January and the operation Redd underwent March 2, according to one source close to the situation, was merely to solicit a few extra medical opinions after the former Team USA sharpshooter suffered a major injury for the second successive season.
After the additional research, Redd and the Bucks scheduled the surgery with Chicago Bulls team doctor Brian Cole, who performed Redd's surgery in March 2009 as well.
Redd appeared in only 33 games last season and underwent surgery on his left knee on March 3, 2009. He played in only 18 games this season, averaing 11.9 points and missing 16 games thanks to a patella tendon strain in that knee before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn medial collateral ligament when he drove into the lane against the Lakers on Jan. 10 in L.A.
The Bucks have successfully filled the Redd void with their trade with Chicago for John Salmons and the earlier signing of Jerry Stackhouse, but Redd will be back next season, on Milwaukee's payroll if not back on the floor. The lefty -- who naturally remains one of our faves with that inimitably quick release -- will obviously exercise his player option for $18.3 million next season.
6. Marc's Quote
"I've heard it. I've never agreed with it. That's on you guys."
Mavericks guard Jason Kidd, reflecting Wednesday night -- after a come-from-behind victory over the Devin Harris-led New Jersey Nets -- on the criticism he and the Mavs received throughout last season because Harris, now 27, was the centerpiece of a trade package Dallas surrendered to acquire Kidd at the 2008 trade deadline.
It's now a near-nightly occurrence for reporters to stop by Kidd's locker and personally withdraw those sentiments, with the 36-year-old in the midst of a renaissance that has fueled the Mavericks' 13-game win streak.
In 13 games since the All-Star break, excluding the March 3 home win over Minnesota he was allowed to skip for rest reasons, Kidd is averaging 13.6 points, 9.9 assists, 7.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals in 38 minutes per game.
Kidd, who turns 37 on March 23, is also shooting a career-best 42.1 percent on 3-pointers, continuing to capitalize on the sort of open looks from long range that he had never experienced in his career until he hooked up with Dirk Nowitzki.
"You guys said I couldn't shoot, you said that I'm too old," Kidd continued after Wednesday's win. "It's nothing new in that aspect of always hearing a doubt. I just keep trying to do what I've done for however many years I've been doing it. I can just be me. I can't change me. I can only work on becoming a better person, a better player and a better shooter. Right now, it's all paying off."
7. No Kobe Stoppers
Kobe's crunch-time shooting is better than ever. Just ask the Raptors. Or see Box 3.
8. The 1,000 Club
You've probably already heard that the Celtics, after signing Michael Finley, are just the third team in NBA history to field at least four players who have played in at least 1,000 regular-season games: Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen and Finley.
You might even remember reading something about it in Monday's edition of ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings.
You can surely do the math, too. Barring major health improvement for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce over the next five weeks, Boston is clearly counting on the game to slow way down in the playoffs -- even more than usual -- to have any shot at advancing beyond the first round.
The creaky Celts will otherwise be prone to the sort of torture we're seeing regularly inflicted by youth and athleticism, most recently Wednesday night when the 2008 champs were thumped at home by Memphis by 20.
Two historical footnotes regarding the Celts' sage-filled roster:
1. The only other two teams to have Boston's, uh, experience are the 2000-01 Toronto Raptors (Kevin Willis, Charles Oakley, Mark Jackson and Tyrone Corbin) and the 1997-98 Houston Rockets (Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Kevin Willis and Eddie Johnson).
2. Shaquille O'Neal's thumb injury has cost him the top spot on the list of most games played by active players. Dallas' Jason Kidd passed the Cavs' center when he helped the Mavericks to a 96-87 victory over his old friends from New Jersey on Wednesday night.
Active players with 1,000 games played
|Jason Kidd (Mavericks)||1,171|
|Shaquille O'Neal (Cavaliers)||1,170|
|Kevin Garnett (Celtics)||1,107|
|Juwan Howard (Blazers)||1,101|
|Michael Finley (Celtics)||1,084|
|Rasheed Wallace (Celtics)||1,069|
|Derek Fisher (Lakers)||1,011|
|Kobe Bryant (Lakers)||1,008|
|Ray Allen (Celtics)||1,004|
9. Snow First, Then An Avalanche
When a game is delayed by more than a month because of snow, forces one of the teams to play games on three consecutive nights and delivers a player who throws down eight dunks, it's a tale worthy of a box unto itself in the dunk-loving Weekend Dime.
You'll recall that a blizzard in the nation's capital last month forced the postponement of Atlanta's Feb. 6 visit to Washington. The game was moved to Thursday night, even though the Wizards have to play Friday night in Detroit before playing host to Orlando on Saturday night.
Atlanta wound up surviving Andray Blatche's third 30-and-10 game since the Wizards dealt Antawn Jamison to Cleveland to claim a 105-99 victory. But Javale McGee -- who ranked as the Wizards' closest thing to untouchable leading up to the trade deadline when they blew up their roster -- made sure that the loss wouldn't wind up as yet another forgettable chapter in Wasington's nightmare season by shaking loose for eight dunks, matching Orlando's Dwight Howard for the most in a single game in 2009-10.
Most Dunks, One Game: This Season
|JaVale McGee (Washington)||8||Thursday vs. Atlanta|
|Dwight Howard (Orlando)||8||Feb. 26 at New Orleans|
|Dwight Howard (Orlando)||7||Feb. 17 vs. Detroit|
|Dwight Howard (Orlando)||7||Oct. 30 at New Jersey|