Updated: April 6, 2006, 10:47 AM ET

LeBron passes on final exam

[Editor's Note: B.J. Armstrong answers a few questions after Wednesday's Cleveland-New York game.]

The Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Heat, Lakers and Mavs in a nine-game win streak. And then Wednesday, they fell on the road to a Knicks team that had lost nine straight, 96-94. How big a relief is this for New York?

A very good win for them. They gave the effort, and it's good to see that sense of professionalism. Jamal Crawford (37 points) carried them. I know how difficult it is, when a team struggles and all sorts of things are swirling within the team and media. My first year in Golden State (1995-96), we didn't make the playoffs, and I had been used to being in the playoffs with Chicago. All of a sudden you're on the outside looking in. So you learn to look within, and know the importance of playing with a purpose, with professionalism.

In losing to the Knicks, LeBron James dished to Larry Hughes for an open 3, which would have won it, instead of taking a final tying shot himself. Was that the right move?

LeBron has to shoot it. They were down 18 in the fourth quarter, and they had tied it because LeBron stepped up and scored 21 of his 36 points in the fourth. If he's good enough to get you to the dance, he should be good enough to win it.

When he made that pass to Larry, he's got to know this is only Hughes' second game back. You don't expect Larry to have the legs and stamina to make a shot at that point in the game.

LeBron has that type of talent where if he's going to reach a level of greatness, then he's going to have to face the fears of losing that game. Because in the long term, he needs to accept the responsiblity of losing the game, just as he accepts the responsibility for getting them back.

There's only about five players who can play at that level at that stage of the game. With greatness comes responsibility.

Is LeBron the MVP? Why or why not?

You can make a case for him. I would say he's not the MVP. There have been players who have had more significant years, in particular Kobe Bryant. LeBron's having a great year. In his third season, he's still developing and still learning what this league is all about. He's been sensational for this stage of his career. You have to honor that. He's not complete as far as being the total package. He still has some things that need to be worked out.

How important is it for him to develop his post-up moves?

As LeBron continues to grow, he's going to have to find a way to play the game more efficiently than he's playing -- and learn how to play below the free throw line. Scoring the ball isn't the problem for him, but scoring it more efficiently is what's needed. Receiving the ball below the foul line with a live dribble -- that's the most efficient way to score. And he's got to learn to play with his back to the basket. In the playoffs, he's going to see more and more complicated double teams.

Flip Murray was a big boost to Cavs when they got him from Seattle in February. What's the best way to keep him contributing at a high level as Larry Hughes likely takes away some minutes?

What I see in Flip, who will be a free agent at season's end, is what I saw in Chauncey Billups when Chauncey was in Minnesota. Somebody is going to get him at the right time and the right price, just like Joe Dumars got Chauncey at the right time and price.

Flip has been unbelieveable. He's not only filled in well, but he's carved out a niche. I think he's adept enough with the ball to play point. And I know that he knows he's pretty good. He's got some toughness about him. I would suspect he will play a bigger role in the playoffs. He'll be a big reason they advance, if they do.

Evaluate Larry Hughes as a defender, please.

Larry Hughes is a risk taker. He's always in passing lanes, getting deflections. I'd almost call him a gambler on the defensive end. There's a difference between Larry and Ron Artest -- Ron shuts you down, Larry gets his steals. I wouldn't say he's a great one-on-one defender, but he makes some tremendous defensive plays.

What do the Cavs need from Zydrunas Ilgauskas for playoff success?

We know he can score. I'd like to see him step up defensively, contesting shots, shutting down the lane. I think he can make his biggest contribution on the defensive end, giving them blocked shots and intimidation.

Seems like Cavs-Wiz is going to be a first-round matchup. Thoughts?

This looks like it's going to be one of the better series. There's going to be a lot of emotion with Hughes playing his former team.

It's a tough matchup for Cleveland, with the three scorers they have in Washington. Also, the consistency of the Wizards' scorers, not to mention their experience, will certainly pose some problems. So I expect it would be atough series, going 6 or 7, and if Cleveland's not careful, Washington could easily come in and win one or two in Cleveland.

ESPN NBA analyst B.J. Armstrong was a member of three Chicago Bulls championship teams.

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We Have A Winner

AP Photo/Gregory Smith
Hawks guard Josh Childress, left, celebrates his game-winner with Joe Johnson. The Hawks topped Wolves 101-99.

Ain't Patrick's Day For Knicks

It all might have been different, however, if the Knicks had allowed Patrick Ewing to finish his career in a New York uniform. His $14 million salary would have come off the cap in the summer of 2001, and the Knicks could have dropped below the salary cap and rebuilt the standard way.

Instead, a litany of bad deals has flowed from the assets New York acquired in the Ewing trade, and that doesn't even include other deals that brought in cap killers Malik Rose (under contract for $23 million through 2008-09), Maurice Taylor (owed $9.7 million in 2006-07), Jalen Rose (owed $16.9 million next season), the $57 million extension given to Allan Houston that is now being paid by insurance or the sign-and-trade deal for Eddy Curry that will cost the Knicks their first-round pick this year and possibly next year (when the Chicago Bulls will have the right to swap picks with New York).

But beginning with the Ewing trade, the acquisition of bad contracts has snowballed. Here's a look back:

Sept. 20, 2000: Ewing is shipped to the Sonics in a four-team, 12-player trade for Luc Longley, Glen Rice, Lazaro Borrell, Travis Knight, Vladimir Stepania, two No. 1 picks and two No. 2 picks. At the time of the trade, Longley is owed nearly $21 million over three years and Rice is due roughly $8 million over each of the next two years. Ewing had asked for a trade after learning New York was shopping him, and former Garden president Dave Checketts acquiesced to his request.

See the full Chris Sheridan story Insider

NBA Intelligence Report

Shaq Rips Into Refs For Second Time
The feud between Heat center Shaquille O'Neal and NBA referees continues. O'Neal expressed his displeasure Wednesday with the officiating in Tuesday night's 115-89 victory against Milwaukee, specifically regarding a play in which Bucks' center Jamaal Magloire grabbed O'Neal from behind. Magloire was whistled for a foul, but O'Neal insisted the ruling should have been a flagrant foul. ... O'Neal said that people have the impression he can take constant punishment because of his bulk. In this case, O'Neal said size doesn't matter. "A pinch is a pinch," O'Neal said. "If you pinch my right nipple, I'm going to say, 'ouch.' If I pinch your right nipple, you're going to say 'ouch.' A foul is a foul and a flagrant is a flagrant." -- Palm Beach Post

Players Puzzled By Attendance Drop
The Grizzlies' All-Star has noticed. "What's going on here?" Pau Gasol asks, hoping somebody has an answer. The Grizzlies' attendance is down -- in this, just the second season at FedExForum, and in this, just the third season that the team will go to the playoffs. ... "The team has been doing well the last few years," says the 7-foot Spaniard, who has been with the Grizzlies all five of their seasons in Memphis. "I don't know if it's because the tickets are expensive or not." -- Memphis Commercial-Appeal

Race Officially Over For Warriors
Warriors coach Mike Montgomery addressed the team in the locker room earlier on the road trip. He lauded the players' effort, praised their competitiveness, acknowledged their togetherness. But even Montgomery, who earned his stripes in the public service announcement that is college basketball, can't get past the results. Even a teacher at heart, with a soft spot for the less-talented hard workers, understands this league is about the end results. "It was probably a little collegial," Montgomery admitted. "I suppose you're not supposed to do that." -- Contra Costa Times

Read the entire Intelligence Report on Insider Insider

Passing Lane For Bulls

Andres Nocioni and Ben Gordon each scored 21 points to lead the Bulls past the 76ers 99-92 and into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls (35-40) own a half-game lead on the slumping Sixers (34-40) and the rematch is Saturday night in Chicago.

Bulls Move Up

Champs Challenged By Sacto

AP Photo/Eric Gay
Kings guard Mike Bibby drives past San Antonio Spurs defenders Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Sacramento won 97-87 as Bibby scored 29 points.

Extreme Behavior

Wednesday's Best
Wizards G Gilbert Arenas: Dropped in 38 points to scuttle the Celtics, 108-91. Also had eight boards, eight assists and four steals. Yes, he's ready to face the Cavaliers now. Bring on the playoffs.


Wednesday's Worst
Suns G Steve Nash: Probably a little harsh to give the reigning MVP this one. However, by his high standards, nine points, five assists and five turnovers in a 14-point home loss to the Clippers gets Nash the honor.


Quote of the Day
"We are going to use [this game] to know them better. The last time that we played was a long time ago. So it's going to be good to know them if we really play them."
-- Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, after his team lost 97-87 to the Kings, a likely first-round playoff opponent.

See how all 183 who played stacked up

The current NBA Playoff matchups

Paul Hits A Triple

Chris Paul's triple-double (17 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high 16 assists) helped the Hornets beat the Golden State Warriors 114-109 Wednesday night. "I was going to say he's going to be a great player," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "But I think he's pretty close to that already. He's going to be a superstar in this league. There's no doubt about that."

Paul's second career triple-double came only two games after his first, but he was more concerned about the final result than his statistics. Paul, who has won all five rookie of the month awards in the Western Conference, leads all rookies in scoring, assists, steals and minutes. He got his first triple-double Sunday with 24 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds in a 120-113 in double overtime victory at Toronto. He wrapped up that triple-double in regulation.

"I know how much work and effort we put into the season," Paul said. "To let it slip away right here in the end would just be devastating."

-- The Associated Press

Elias Says

Tim Duncan had only 11 points and six rebounds in 31 minutes in San Antonio's home loss to Sacramento. It was the sixth game this season in which Duncan played at least 30 minutes, scored fewer than 15 points and grabbed single-digit rebounds. Over the previous five seasons, Duncan had only one such game (Feb. 20, 2003).

• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider

Miami's Got "Punch"

Ryan (Philly): Can anybody in the East keep the Pistons from reaching the finals this year?

Chris Broussard: I think Miami, if things are clicking, you have to give them a puncher's chance. I would pick Detroit to beat them, but you have to give them a chance. They have two superstars. They have role players. Somewhere in James Posey's body is a defensive stopper, we haven't seen that this year, but he can do that. But I'm also beginning to be a believer in the Nets. They're not going to be an easy out. I give them a chance at beating Miami. They'll be tough to corral for Detroit. The Pistons are a good defensive team, but I think they'll have a tough time stopping both Jefferson and Carter.

Alex (Alberta Canada): Are we ever going to see the Amare Stoudemire of old? Now he's getting surgery on the other knee. Is he the next Penny Hardaway?

Chris Broussard: Man, I hope not. I love Amare. I've spent some time with him. He's a great person. I'm not just saying that. He wants to be a superstar in basketball. I hope everything works out for him. But there's no question that this could be career altering. Penny, Webber, Mashburn, Houston have never been the same after knee injuries. Now, his new surgery won't be a micro fracture. Some guys have come back from that. The doctors say his age and injury make it likely that he'll come back. I don't know how serious the new injury is, but I think there's reason to be optimistic.

Jon (Cleveland, OH): The Cavaliers most likely will win at least 50 games this year, and LeBron has scored at least 35 points in each of the past 7 games. Why does he get no mention whenever the MVP award is discussed?

Chris Broussard: I'm glad you brought that up. I was thinking about that today. I think LeBron has to get serious consideration. He was my preseason pick. I have been saying Nash this season, and I still favor him slightly. But LeBron is coming on hard. He's making a hard case over Dirk, Kobe. He's a strong No. 2 candidate. You look at that roster without Larry Hughes and there's not much. That roster is nothing to shout about. Steve Nash, without Amare, that roster isn't terrific either, but they have more. You could argue LeBron is doing it with less than Nash is doing it. The Cavs are not as strong as the Suns. But if you look at LeBron's numbers, they are terrific. We've seen few people in history do what he's doing. Right now, I'm leaning to Nash, but I wouldn't be in an uproar if he did get it.

Full Chris Broussard chat Insider



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