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1. The Houston Rockets. The rocket-roller-coaster has seen the team go from middling darkhorse (before the Yao injury) to snake-bitten downer (the injury itself) to devastating demolition force traversing the western half of the continent laying waste to all who are foolish enough to take the court with them (right now). The Yao-less Rockets won again on Saturday, their 18th consecutive W. They beat a formidable New Orleans Hornets team and climbed within 1.5 games of first place in the West. They’ve now won ten in a row by ten or more. Again, Tracy McGrady led the way, this time with 41 points. He is seizing the moment and becoming everything for this team that Vince Carter has not become for the Nets since Kidd has left. Coincidentally, the Rockets face NJ tonight, followed by Atlanta and Charlotte this week. Those are three winnable games leading up to a Sunday showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night at 7pm.
2. Nate Robinson. The little guy scored 45 on Saturday night against the Blazers at the Garden. Yes, it was in a loss. Another crushing home loss in which the team did actually compete but couldn’t close the deal. Still, it’s a bright spot in a sullied season. Nate the Great had 45 in 52 minutes on 16 for 28 shooting to go along with 6 boards and 6 assists. Say what you want about the little guy (and people do), but he can play.
3. The Phoenix Suns & The Big Stoplight. Just as the doubting and the second-guessing was reaching its crescendo, just as Steve Kerr couldn’t go anywhere in the Phoenix area without hearing pensioners and retirees whispering about his basketball acumen, just as the wheels were set to come off Los Suns bandwagon they came through with a huge, marquee win over Los Spurs on national television. And, not only did they beat Los Spurs in a close game yesterday but Los Suns did it with Shaq featured prominently. His defense on Duncan was most decidedly a factor in the outcome as were his defensive rebounds. His hustle and desire were just as impressive as the limitations in his game where noticeable. Either way, the fact that you can say that los Suns may not have been able to win this game without Shaq makes everything copasetic in the valley of the sun. For now.
4. The NBA on ABC. Though the famed John Tesh theme music from the NBC glory days will never be duplicated it must be noted that the NBA is must-watch Sunday afternoon television again, except now it's on ABC. The games have been great and the announcing team of Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Breen have been mostly superb (provided that you get a kick out of Van Gundy’s wacky sense of humor).
5. Matt Walsh. The former assistant to the traveling secretary, or something like that, for the New England Patriots is apparently putting the finishing touches on a deal with the NFL to protect him from his former employer, meaning he will share what he knows about the nefarious cheating of the Pats. You’d have to think that if he is actually dealing with Goodel and co. that he must have something legitimate to say. Otherwise, I would imagine the NFL would ignore him or perhaps just destroy him like they did those incriminating tapes. The big question is what happens if Walsh does have a tape of the Rams walk-through before the Pat’s first Super Bowl win?
Benched. UCLA. Two close conference games + Two bad calls that go in their favor = Two wins + The inside track on a #1 seed for the Dance. It’s simple mathematics. In case you missed it, the Bruins stole another game over the weekend, this time from Cal, when Josh Shipp dropped a rainbow ball in the hoop from behind the backboard with 1.5 seconds left to give the Bruins a win. According to the rules any ball that passes over any part of the backboard, from front to back or back to front, is deemed out of bounds. Well, unless a member of the 2008 UCLA Bruins or 2000 Miami Heat shoots it. In that case, the basket counts. Anthony Carter, then of the Miami Heat, made this same shot in Game 3 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Knicks at the Garden. The Knicks were up by a point (a Ewing free throw) with 2.2 left in overtime when Carter launched his shot from the baseline and from behind the hoop. The ball looped over the top of the backboard and bounced high off the rim before it fell through the net. At first there was a call of offensive goaltending on Mourning but that was reversed and the game was awarded to the Heat. I was so mad about that shot. So mad. I felt like we were getting jobbed like in 1997 all over again. The only way it could possibly have happened is if the referee’s didn’t know the rule. Anyone who knew the rule would have made the obvious call. I would think that the same thing happened to Cal.