All this talk about who's getting into the playoffs got me thinking.
SPECIAL MIDWEEK EDITION:
Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo
Suns guard Steve Nash sneaks past Ron Artest and Phoenix overturns a 17-point deficit in Sacramento to even the season series at 2-2. Nash, saddled with foul trouble, had 13 points and 13 assists.
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A look at the most active movers, upward and downward, in ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings:
Highest Rise: No. 15 Orlando Magic
By now you've probably heard me suggest that the Magic, having assembled a 13-4 run that began with a March 10 spanking of Cleveland, deserve the eighth and final playoff spot in the East even if they don't actually make up the ground necessary to pass Chicago and Philadelphia in the season's final week. To me, Orlando just wants it more than the Bulls or Sixers. But since we're not expecting the league to act on that suggestion, this will probably have to serve as a consolation prize: Orlando's five-spot jump from No. 20 puts the Magic in the top half of the Power Rankings for the first time all season. Their previous high was No. 16.
Steepest Fall: No. 21 Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers' five-spot tumble from No. 16 was actually matched by the Indiana Pacers' dip from No. 15 to No. 20. But the Sixers claim this unwanted cyberspace with last week's no-show at Cleveland, followed by home losses to Chicago and Boston that made Saturday's visit to the United Center for a rematch with the Bulls an absolute must-win. To its credit, Philly did win that game and responded to Monday's punishment in the Power Rankings by beating Washington at home. Beleaguered coach Maurice Cheeks can only hope that we've helped spark a season-saving turnaround, because four of Philly's final five games are roadies.
Five questions with Hornets forward P.J. Brown:
Q: After that 9-1 stretch leading into the All-Star break, I'm sure even you started imagining a playoff berth. Was it playoff pressure that got to this young team in March?
A: The last couple weeks we've started to play better basketball, but March was brutal. Up until that point, you didn't see any signs [of succumbing to pressure]. We just kind of lost everything we built.
Q: But isn't it a great season regardless? No one expected the Hornets to be flirting with .500, especially after Hurricane Katrina forced the relocation to Oklahoma City.
A: I wouldn't say great. It's only great if we make the playoffs. But it's definitely been a good season. We only won 18 games [last season] and we've doubled that already. I think we'd all like the icing on the cake, but if we don't make it, we don't have anything to be ashamed about.
Q: As the elder statesman on a team of kids, what did you see as reasonable expectations for this group?
A: Honestly, I thought 30-35 wins, and I thought that was going to be a big jump. But after seeing Chris [Paul] and the play of David West in training camp, I thought we could make a push. Chris proved it to me in those first couple days of training camp. I've been around a while and I've seen lots of different guys, but I've never seen anybody like him. The skills and maturity he has at such a young age, you don't see that very often, especially from point guards.
Q: Byron Scott is more critical of players publicly than most coaches. Do you ever serve as a go-between and do you want to see the Hornets sign him to a contract extension?
A: I try to be the mediator, because I've been around and I've heard it all. It gets tough at times, because these young guys can get dazed and confused. But [Scott] has done a great job, what he's done as far as a one-year turnaround. It'd be great to see him stay. ... From Day 1 when we came to training camp in Oklahoma City, he said, "We're not going to make any excuses." I think we adjusted to the situation very well and it started with him.
Q: What about you? You'll be 37 in October and you have one more season left on your contract. You're also a Louisiana native whose family was affected more by Katrina than any other Hornet. Have you given much thought to how much longer you want to play?
A: It's a good question. It's something I'm thinking about. When the season ends, I'll do some deep soul-searching and see what the future holds for me. It's been a long year, a tough year, an emotional year. I could feel differently when [next] season gets close. But I need a chance to think clearly about everything and figure out what I want to do.
Readers respond to the latest edition of the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings:
Aaron (Miami): What a double shock. Miami drops to No. 7 in the rankings because they are resting their players and coasting to the finish line. Then you say that the Heat should rest Shaq, revealing your secret hope that the Nets might move ahead of the Heat for the second seed. So which is it? Rest players and lose your respect or play them and lose your respect? Oh, wait. You never had respect for them in the first place. Hater.
Mark (Modesto, Calif.): I don't expect the Kings to crack your top five, but I did not expect to see them below New Jersey, Cleveland, Denver, Memphis and the Clippers. I know, I know: New Jersey and Cleveland are on a roll. But if the Kings were in the East, they'd probably be undefeated in the Artest era. Move them up! You are going to wish you did after Sacramento beats Phoenix in the first round.
Dominic (Birdsboro, Pa.): Who would have ever thought, given the woeful situation that the Sixers are mired in, that Mo Cheeks can still be thankful that he's no longer in Portland?
K-Mac (Salt Lake City): You are giving second-tier Eastern Conference teams too much respect. There's no way they can compete with teams at the same level in the West. There's no way the Bucks, Bulls and Wizards should be ranked higher than Utah.
Jackson (Cleveland): Could you please check your facts before answering other people's questions? The Cavs were not 14-16 without Hughes.
Editor's note: Two things, folks: First, a reminder that next week brings our final installments of the Power Rankings and Rank Comments, so I'm hoping for a deep offering of quality responses as we bid farewell to the Rankings until next October. Secondly, a reminder to Jackson and a few others who wrote in with similar complaints about this Cavs note: Please take the time to read what I wrote before taking the time to write in and complain. I wrote in the Weekend Dime that the Cavs were 14-16 without Hughes before going on their current 15-4 run. Which I invite you to double-check.