The D.A.Y. of T.J. Ford and those frontrunning Raptors

by March 12, 2007

By Sam Rubenstein

It is college time. The NBA goes into what I like to call its “Dark side of the moon” phase. The league keeps going, games are played, but basketball fans don’t pay as much attention, and then it’s early April before you know it, and the stretch drive to the playoffs is here. We’ll have some real bracketology for you later today. Yes, you can enter the official SLAM tourney bracket and the winner gets a to be determined prize.

Dwyane Wade, irrelevant? The Heat have now won six in a row without him. Shaq has turned back the clock, and even after blowing a huge lead, Miami came back and won the game on a Udonis Haslem jumper in the lane with 0.3 left. They’ve gone from being on the verge of missing the playoffs entirely, to a half game out of the division lead. Gilbert Arenas scored 33, getting to the line 17 times and Antawn Jamison had 26 and 15, but the Heat got the W with Gary Payton contributing a surprise 17 and 7 off the bench. Jason Kapono has joined Wade on the chilling list and Miami just keeps on winning. Pat Riley is an amazing NBA coach. Many of us thought he would find an excuse to quit when Wade went down, but old Riles has responded like a champion.

Ray Allen sent the game to OT at the fourth quarter buzzer, TJ Ford won it. Very simple. The Ray Allen-Rashard Lewis combo was on, and the Raptors still managed to win. TJ’s 25 and 13, complemented by 27 and 10 from Bosh and 19 points from Bargnani was enough to outdo the 36 from Ray and 26 from Rashad. The Raptors have one of the best home court advantages in the league, a five game lead in their division, and a real chance at the 3 seed and maybe even… the TWO seed?!?!? What a season.
Well, Yao is healthy. Dwight and Darko did what they could, combining for 31 and 21, but this game was all about Yao. 37 points on 14 of 22 shooting. He was an MVP candidate when he went down, T-Mac stepped in and took over the team identity, and now Yao is back to make it his again. The Rockets are another dangerous team in the West that could derail the Phoenix-Dallas dream.

The Kings have welcomed Ron Ron back to the team, which is nice and all, but I think the right attitude to take now is to expect the next inevitable meltdown. It didn’t matter much basketball-wise, as Ron’s ball sharing nemesis Mike Bibby went off for 34 in a loss. Iverson and Melo deferred enough for Linus Kleiza to throw together an easy 24 and 8 on 8 of 11 shooting. Are the Nuggets finally clicking?

Slept on streak in a season of amazing streaks by Dallas and Phoenix: the Pacers have lost 9 games in a row. How a playoff bound Eastern Conference team in today’s NBA does that? I don’t know. Mike Dunleavey Jr. led the Pacers with 25, and when that happens you know you’re in trouble. LeBron and Larry Hughes were too much, as Indy seems to be quitting on the season a little bit early, and find themselves dropping out of the playoff picture, which is nice cause I’m tired of Carlisle wearing down my eyeballs in the playoffs.

This game was on national TV, probably with the hope that Kobe would go off for 62 in three quarters against Dallas again. Even if he did, the Lakers would have lost. They are done. Still clinging to the 6th seed, but it’s only a matter of time before some other undeserving team takes their spot. Six losses in a row for L.A., as Phil Jackson is unable to recapture the same magic that Riley is using on the other coast. The injuries are the Lakers excuse, and they won’t be fighting through them. Meanwhile, Dallas takes no prisoners, picking up their 17th win in a row in ruthless fashion. Josh Howard led the way with 24.

The Pistons blew out the Clippers with Rip shooting 10 of 12 from the field. Z-Bo and Brandon Roy combined for 51 against the Warriors. The Bulls were able to not overlook the Celtics on their way to an easy win with Paul Pierce shooting 2 of 14 from the field.