Insider - ESPN.com's Intelligence Report: Apr. 13

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Updated: April 13, 2006, 11:43 AM ET


[FONT=Arial,Hevetica,sans-serif]EASTERN CONFERENCE[/FONT]
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Atlanta Hawks | All Hawks sitelines

Another Milestone For Johnson
Joe Johnson needs just five 3-pointers to reach 500 for his career. He has four more games to chase the milestone, one of many he has reached this season. And he needs to play 144 minutes in the final five games to eclipse Bob Pettit's single-season franchise record for minutes played (3,296 during the 1963-64 season). -- Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Boston Celtics | All Celtics sitelines

Pierce's Average Is Extraordinary
Youth development isn't the only goal the Celtics can shoot for over their last five games, including last night's final matchup of the season against the Pacers. Paul Pierce continues an impressive climb up the Celtics' all-time stat charts. The Celtics captain has a strong chance of posting the fifth-highest scoring average in franchise history, if he can maintain the 26.8 scoring mark he carried out of last night's game thanks to a 30-point, 11-17 performance. -- Boston Herald



Charlotte Bobcats | All Bobcats sitelines

Move Would Reward Felton
The Charlotte Bobcats are looking into picking up rookie Raymond Felton's third-year option, a move that would cost them about $3.3 million in the 2007-08 season. Coach-general manager Bernie Bickerstaff told the Observer the team couldn't exercise that option before the end of this season. The team made a similar move for Emeka Okafor last spring, following a rookie-of-the-year season. -- Charlotte Observer



Chicago Bulls | All Bulls sitelines

Harrington Big On Davis, Bulls
Back when Atlanta forward Al Harrington was a rookie with the Indiana Pacers, he rode out the NBA lockout of 1998-99 living at the home of Antonio and Kendra Davis. Is a reunion possible next season in Chicago? Harrington will be an unrestricted free agent and one of the Bulls' top targets this summer. The Bulls also may consider inviting Davis, a popular member of last year's playoff team, to extend his career another season. "I think that could happen," Harrington said Wednesday. "I think he enjoyed his Chicago days. He told me recently he wouldn't mind playing in Chicago again or Indiana. I think he liked those two." -- Arlington Heights Daily Herald


Cleveland Cavaliers | All Cavs sitelines

Ilgauskas Ready To Get Into Flow For Playoffs
The veteran center hurt his ankle in the first quarter last Tuesday against Philadelphia, the same game Larry Hughes returned from his broken finger. After missing the past three games, and with about 10 days to get ready for the playoffs, Zydrunas Ilgauskas figured he'd rested as long as he could. "I'm feeling OK," he said. "I'm as good as I'm going to be. It's time to get ready for the playoffs. I'm going to use these games to get my timing back. The ankle's going to continue to get better as long as I don't sprain it again." -- Cleveland Plain Dealer


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Detroit Pistons | All Pistons sitelines

James Is A Star, But Billups Proves He's A Winner
Another night, another show in town. And another big, bold notch for the Pistons, the NBA's ultimate showstoppers. Eventually, LeBron James indeed will rule this league. He'll win an MVP or six before he's done, and he might even turn Cleveland into a championship contender. But not now, kiddo. -- Detroit News

Hamilton Cool With Light Load
With the playoffs right around the corner, you'd think that Hamilton, the Pistons' leading scorer, might be out of rhythm, perhaps in need of more playing time before the regular season ends next Wednesday. Not quite. "I'm in a good rhythm, I'm in a great rhythm," Hamilton said. "I feel good. It really doesn't matter to me because the playoffs are a whole different thing. I'm cool. I feel good because I'm not playing a whole lot of minutes. My team over the last couple of games hasn't needed me to score as many points. So I'm pretty much good because I know that playoff run is tough." -- Detroit Free Press



Indiana Pacers | All Pacers sitelines

Meeting Of Minds Ignites Pacers
Then Wednesday, before a 117-112 victory over the Boston Celtics, Jermaine O'Neal met with team president Larry Bird and CEO Donnie Walsh, "to clear the air about some things related to the team. This was something we'd planned to do a week ago and just didn't have the time. But it was good for all of us to have our say.'' Whatever was said, and however it was said, it appeared Monday and Wednesday night that it lit a very small fire under some players' body parts. It was obvious in their game, their body language, their willingness to chase down loose balls and challenge shots. -- Indianapolis Star



Miami Heat | All Heat sitelines

Walker Shows Glimpse Of Old Self
After Heat forward Antoine Walker hit a three-pointer for the last of his season-high 32 points Tuesday against Toronto, he blew kisses skyward, to no one in particular. It was his way of showing gratitude for a brief return to the old Antoine Walker, the one who made his living around the basket and occasionally shot three-pointers. -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

'And-One' A Point Of Impact
Combine a made basket with the suddenly sweet sound of a referee's whistle blowing, and you have what's referred to as the old-fashioned, three-point play. These days, it's called an ''and-one'' because of the opportunity to add a free throw to the made bucket, and the play provides some of the more memorable moments in an NBA game. The Heat has two of the more proficient and-one artists in the league in Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal, and both know all about level of difficulty, the excitement created and the sense of dominance that comes with the three-point play. -- Miami Herald



Milwaukee Bucks | All Bucks sitelines

Bucks Keep Pace In Post-Season Race
Talk about tight. It couldn't get any closer in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff chase, with just two games separating five teams in the down-to-the-wire race. The Milwaukee Bucks did their part to scramble the standings on Wednesday night, using two clutch shots by Michael Redd and a late steal by T.J. Ford to knock off the Washington Wizards, 100-97. -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


New Jersey Nets | All Nets sitelines

Starters Given Plenty Of R&R
Lawrence Frank has repeated the word "premature" over and over when asked about whether to rest his starters down the stretch. With four games remaining and with the chances of catching the Heat for second place remaining slim after last night's 116-96 loss to the 76ers, the Nets coach acknowledged before the game that he would consider giving his stars a break if the right situation presented itself. -- Newark Star-Ledger

Krstic's Hard Work Paying Off
The knock on Nenad Krstic never has been his scoring. His defense and rebounding were another matter. But it's no coincidence that just as the 22-year-old Serbian picked up his game in both areas, so have the Nets -- last night's loss notwithstanding. Through his first 59 games, he'd averaged a solid 13.1 points; but his 5.8 rebounds and .7 blocks were unbecoming of a talented 7-footer. But he has averaged 15 points, 8.3 boards and one block since March 12. -- New York Post

On The Verge Of Returning
Jeff McInnis said last night he hoped to return for the game but was told to wait longer. McInnis, who fell out of the rotation back in November, has been rehabbing a surgically repaired left knee since January. The team will likely look into buying him out of the final year of his deal this offseason. "I'm feeling a lot better but I think they just want to chill out and keep what they got going," McInnis said. -- New York Daily News



New York Knicks | All Knicks sitelines

Brown Seeks Right Moves
Larry Brown said he was confident that the right moves would be made in the off-season by the team's owner, James L. Dolan, and Isiah Thomas, the director of basketball operations. "I've got an owner who is committed to do what's right and a general manager committed to do what he thinks is right, so we'll figure it out," Brown said. "We've already made a lot of progress in that regard." -- New York Times

Audition Time Over, Larry Says
Steve Francis can whine all he wants about needing more playing time. Knicks coach, Larry Brown, already has his mind made up which players he would like to have back next year. "I know what we have. You guys know what we have," Brown said to reporters yesterday. "There's no audition. That audition stuff has been over a long time." -- Newsday



Orlando Magic | All Magic sitelines

Orlando Gets Creative With Battie Signing
It certainly took some creativity, but when the Orlando Magic signed center Tony Battie to a four-year, $24.8 million contract extension three weeks ago, they were able to massage the numbers enough to hold onto their valuable salary cap room following next season. The Magic expect to be major players in the free-agent market in the summer of 2007. They will have approximately $12.5 million to spend on a free agent, or the equivalent of one maximum contract for a superstar player. -- Florida Today

Hill Endorses Smith For GM Post
The Magic will name a general manager next month, and Coach Brian Hill endorses Otis Smith for the job. Smith and Dave Twardzik have shared the job this season as assistant general managers. Twardzik, a former general manager at Golden State, has indicated he is not interested. ... "I'd be surprised if it's somebody from outside the organization right now," Hill said. "I think we have as great a working relationship regardless of the titles. I couldn't ask for a better situation as a coach." -- Orlando Sentinel



Philadelphia 76ers | All 76ers sitelines

Agony Of Victory: Where Was This Team?
A mid-April game at New Jersey, playoff berths on the line. Allen Iverson scores and dishes assists, while Chris Webber plays like he did five years ago. Samuel Dalembert and Steven Hunter defend the middle, Kyle Korver and Willie Green hit jumpers and Andre Iguodala contributes at both ends. There it was, Billy King's blueprint, big as life. Except, of course, for the three months that preceded the 116-96 win over the Atlantic Division-leading Nets last night. And that made this the strangest kind of game, a convincing victory that somehow makes the winning team look worse. It comes down to this one burning question: If the Sixers are capable of playing like this, why haven't they until now? -- Philadelphia Inquirer


Toronto Raptors | All Raptors sitelines

Red Rocket Downed
Matt Bonner suffered what likely will be a season-ending injury Tuesday night and it's not whiplash from jerking his head around to look at Raptors coach Sam Mitchell. Bonner, who has a habit of glancing at the bench consistently after whistles, sprained his left ankle when he landed awkwardly on the foot of Wayne Simien Tuesday night. ... "When you've got a 40-inch vertical on your jump shot, you've got to be careful where you land," the good-natured Red Rocket, whose ankle is significantly swollen, said with a smile. -- Toronto Sun



Washington Wizards | All Wizards sitelines

Thomas Back In Starting Lineup
Etan Thomas returned to the starting lineup after missing 2 1/2 games with a lower back strain. It was the eighth start of the season for Thomas, who replaced Brendan Haywood at center for the March 27 game at Golden State. Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan liked the energy and physical play he was getting from Thomas, who was particularly missed during Saturday's home loss to Shaquille O'Neal and the Miami Heat. -- Washington Post



[FONT=Arial,Hevetica,sans-serif]WESTERN CONFERENCE[/FONT]

Dallas Mavericks | All Mavericks sitelines

Dampier Prefers Life On 'The Winning Side'
Erick Dampier has been here before. ... He's talking about a Warriors team that has missed the playoffs for the last 12 seasons. "It's always good to be on the winning side," said Dampier, who will compete in the playoffs for a second consecutive season after failing to do so in his first eight. "It's hard for them not playing for anything except their pride." -- Dallas Morning News

Scoreboard-Watching 'Normal'
Don't think the Mavericks aren't conscious of what's going on with San Antonio. "It's just normal," coach Avery Johnson said. "It's part of the whole process. But it's not like we're biting our teeth or begging for somebody to win and lose." The Spurs are scoreboard-watching, too. With only three games remaining for the Mavs and four for San Antonio, the Southwest Division and the Western Conference's No. 1 playoff seed remain up for grabs. -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram



Denver Nuggets | All Nuggets sitelines

L.A. Could Lead To Distractions
In weighing the pros and cons of facing the Memphis Grizzlies or the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs, one quiet issue is the diversion factor. Native Angelino Andre Miller can count on getting swamped for ticket requests when he returns to L.A., as can many of his teammates. Beyond that, Southern California has a far more active, seven-day-a-week night life than does Memphis. -- Denver Post

Honor For Anthony?
Media members have received ballots and Karl wouldn't mind seeing forward Carmelo Anthony named at least to the All-NBA third team. "I think he's been one of the top 15 players in the game," Karl said. "He should get extra points, carrying a team that was injured." Anthony faces stiff competition. "The only thing I can do is go out there and play and let (voters) decide," said Anthony. -- Rocky Mountain News



Golden State Warriors | All Warriors sitelines

Howard's A Good Role Model For Pietrus
Every good team needs a Josh Howard. Every good team usually has one. The Dallas Mavericks' swingman brings it on both ends of the court. He makes the little plays the Mavericks need and comes up with the timely big ones. He can take over a game or influence it from the shadows. Wouldn't it be nice if Warriors swingman Mickael Pietrus develops into a like player? -- Contra Costa Times



Houston Rockets | All Rockets sitelines

Rockets Introduce Data-Driven Exec
It was Daryl Morey's first day on the job with the Rockets, a time to put the key into the lock, slide behind the steering wheel and get the seat adjusted to the right position for the long ride that starts as assistant general manager and a year from now will make him the successor to Carroll Dawson in the GM's post. But it was also a day for the Rockets to lift the hood, kick the tires and try to determine exactly what's in the trunk of the 32-year-old statistical maven who just pulled into their garage. -- Houston Chronicle



Los Angeles Clippers | All Clippers sitelines

Teammates Miss Maggette
The postseason is more physical than the regular season, the Clippers said, and Corey Maggette is among the team's toughest players. Maggette's teammates would rather have him available for their final few tune-ups. "Nobody really knows what the deal is with Corey," center Chris Kaman said. "They really haven't said anything yet, but we're definitely going to need him. We need him back as soon as possible." -- Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles Lakers | All Lakers sitelines

Jackson Prepares For The Worst
Phil Jackson interrupted the pre-playoff buzz with a bit of bad news: The Portland Trail Blazers are coming to town. A few minutes after the Lakers shelved Golden State, the Laker coach reminded the media, effervescing fans, and, not-so-subtly, his players that the Lakers had been handled twice already this season by the league's worst team. -- Los Angeles Times

Odom's Game On The Rise
The difference between putting up good numbers and great numbers can be as simple as getting one more layup per game to fall. The difference between being selected as an All-Star or not can be connecting on one more 3-pointer than usual. That's how Lamar Odom has rationalized things during his two seasons with the Lakers, often when the criticism of his play has grown loudest. His job is to fill up the box score, and Odom has been sensational more nights than not recently. -- Los Angeles Daily News

What A Long, Strange Trip
In his NBA basketball journey, Jim Jackson has found homes all across the United States. It is an odyssey Jackson has been on for 14 years, pulling into 12 different ports, never staying in one place for long. Jackson, 35, is tied for playing with the most NBA teams; he would have the record, but he never reported to New Orleans after being traded there in 2004. -- Riverside Press-Enterprise

Bryant The Best, But He's Not The MVP
He is the most talented player in the game. He makes more clutch shots than anybody on the planet, and he stamped his indelible signature on this season with that big, fat 81 he dropped on Toronto. But there is one startling reason Kobe Bryant can't be the MVP of the NBA: He is too good for his own team. There is such a huge dropoff between him and everyone else on the Lakers, there have been too many nights like the recent loss to Denver when he took 39 shots and finished with one assist. Too many nights when his competitiveness seems to hurt the team almost as much as it helps it. -- Orange County Register
Odom, Brown Key To Playoff Success
One of Kevin Garnett's recent complaints about his dead-end existence in Minnesota was that the Timberwolves have been unable to identify their core -- the players who, with Garnett, are the team's foundation. For the Lakers, a look at the salary list shows that, besides Kobe Bryant, there are only two players with guaranteed contracts for two seasons beyond this one -- and they are the highest-paid on the team this season after Bryant. The Lakers' core is Bryant, Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown, and if the team is to make a mark in the upcoming playoffs, Odom and Brown must continue to be consistent standouts. -- Orange County Register




Minnesota Timberwolves | All Wolves sitelines

Streaky Banks In Wolves' Future?
With three games left in the season, at least one need is becoming clear for the Timberwolves: They need a point guard. A consistently effective one, anyway. Marcus Banks might be the answer down the road. But he still has ups and downs that make it questionable whether he will be the guy to start next season. ... Whether the Wolves want to invest more money in their point guard position remains to be seen. They already have $75 million invested in Marko Jaric and Troy Hudson. -- St. Paul Pioneer Press

Hassell Wants To See Garnett Stay And Win
Accurate or not, guard Trenton Hassell didn't like thinking about the games the Timberwolves have been playing lately as any sort of trial run for the day when Kevin Garnett no longer is around. ... "I hope not. I hope not," Hassell said of the prospect of Garnett ever leaving. "I hope that he ends his career here, because when you think of Minnesota, you think of Kevin Garnett. I just think he needs a little bit of help." -- Minneapolis Star Tribune


New Orleans Hornets | All Hornets sitelines

Hornets Need Shooter Like Allen
With less than a week remaining in the season, they're still contending for a playoff spot. They're doing it with a hodgepodge of players. Role players. Projects. Even a couple castoffs. There's only one star in the bunch. What a difference a shooter like Ray Allen would make. The Hornets have admitted, after all, to having holes in their lineup. "We're a couple of pieces away still," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "I've got a real good idea of what those pieces are." So does anyone else who's been paying attention. At the top of the list is a big-time shooting guard. -- The Oklahoman



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Phoenix Suns | All Suns sitelines

Matrix Valuable Player
We ask you: Who does more for his team on both ends of the floor than Shawn Marion? We have to say, we have never been more impressed with the guy than we were after the Suns beat Sacramento Tuesday night. That turned into the kind of physical confrontation that Marion is supposed to shy away from, but he didn't. He even popped right up off the floor after only a brief bit of milking some camera time when Francisco Garcia hammered him. Marion's getting shortchanged in this MVP race, and we can prove it. -- Arizona Republic

A New Sunrise
No matter which version, the Suns' offense is in a league of its own. No. 2 Seattle is six points behind their 108.5 a game. No. 2 Golden State is 2.2 three-pointers behind the 10 a game the Suns make. After losing to them twice, by a total of 27 points, Miami Coach Pat Riley announced, "I don't have a game [plan] for them, not this team. ... I tried to make one, believe me." The Suns have done it the same way, just without some key people ... or, actually, most of them. -- Los Angeles Times

T. Thomas Will Stay In Starting Lineup
Suns coach Mike D'Antoni had not tried starting Tim Thomas for a month, but it just may be the look he needs for the playoffs. With Thomas replacing James Jones in the frontcourt, Phoenix started out roughly Tuesday at Sacramento, but the same unit reset the tone with defense to start the second half. Jones adjusted well with 11 points in the 123-110 win. D'Antoni said he would use the same lineup tonight for Dallas. Phoenix is 3-1 when Thomas, Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Shawn Marion and Boris Diaw start. -- Arizona Republic



Portland Trail Blazers | All Blazers sitelines

Miles' Act Has Run Its Course
The whisper is that it was Allen who killed a trade-deadline deal of Miles and Theo Ratliff to the Knicks for the expiring contract of Anfernee Hardaway. And right about now, with Miles getting a head start toward the team bus as his younger, less experienced, but more professional, teammates showered from a hard night's work, Allen probably still doesn't see it. Which is why Miles needs to personally make a telephone call to Allen and ask out. He should speak clearly. He should use few words. A simple, "I don't want to be in Portland anymore, boss," will suffice. Because even as we've all been getting Miles' messages loud and clear for months, Allen has somehow missed them. -- The Oregonian



San Antonio Spurs | All Spurs sitelines

Finley's Reserve Role Fits Him Well
Michael Finley provided further evidence he's grown more comfortable with his reserve role when he scored 17 points to help beat Seattle on Tuesday. Over the past 23 games, he's averaged 11.6 points while shooting 46.6 percent, including 44.9 percent behind the 3-point line. That's a noticeable improvement from the first 50 games Finley played for the Spurs when he averaged 9.3 points while making 38.1 percent of his shots (34.9 percent of his 3-point attempts). "I know what the team is looking for from me," Finley said. "I'm just going out there and doing those things." -- San Antonio Express-News



Seattle SuperSonics | All Sonics sitelines

Oklahoma Sonics? Unlikely, Mayor Says
Although the Seattle SuperSonics said in their Board of Governors statement last week that they have had "numerous inquiries" from potential buyers, Oklahoma City is not among the cities that have called, Mayor Mick Cornett said. "Our situation is very unique," said Cornett, who attended Wednesday's Sonics-New Orleans Hornets game at Ford Center. "My situation with the league, all my involvement has been with the commissioner. I just think it would be unethical for me to start talking to some level of negotiation with other clubs without him knowing about it." -- Seattle Post-Intelligencer

What About Danny?
Coach Bob Hill has refused to say whether he thinks Danny Fortson would be a good fit with next year's club, but there is a distinct possibility he will become trade bait this summer. With a $6.6 million salary in the final season of his contract, Fortson could be an attractive trade chip for a team looking to clear salary off the books for the 2007 free agent class. "There's an argument that he brings the added low-post defensive toughness to this group," Hill said. "There's a place for him. I like him a lot. Whether he wants to do it or not, I haven't discussed with him." -- Seattle Post-Intelligencer



Utah Jazz | All Jazz sitelines

All This Is Coming Too Late
This was a lot like a playoff game, except for the little details of 2,000 empty seats and the opponent's acting only mildly interested. It's still good practice. Being involved in games that count, even if just barely so, will help the Jazz's development. This season will almost certainly end next week, just when things are getting reasonably good. The trees framing the statues on the Delta Center plaza are blossoming, and the Jazz are finally growing up and figuring things out. -- Salt Lake Tribune

NBA Clears Kirilenko Of Technical Foul
Andrei Kirilenko has a spotless record again. As far as the NBA is concerned, the Jazz forward has never committed a technical foul. Kirilenko received word Wednesday that the league's disciplinarian, senior vice president Stu Jackson, agreed with his contention that he did nothing to warrant earning his first technical foul in the Jazz's 95-86 loss to San Antonio on April 4. ... "I'm glad there was little investigation, because definitely this was not a situation for a technical," Kirilenko said. "I just think sometimes things get too sensitive for referees." -- Salt Lake Tribune



[FONT=Arial,Hevetica,sans-serif]Draft Talk[/FONT]

Shakur Ready To 'Showcase' Skills
UA junior guard Mustafa Shakur officially declared for the NBA draft Wednesday without jeopardizing his college eligibility. ... In order to maintain his eligibility, Shakur cannot sign with an agent and must pay most travel expenses while maintaining academic progress at the UA. "I think this is a good opportunity to further showcase my skills," Shakur said in a UA statement. "I'm keeping my options open, but I'm looking forward to showing people exactly the type of player I am." -- Arizona Daily Star

Steele Says He's Staying At Bama
Rising junior point guard Ron Steele said people continue trying to talk him into entering the draft even though he has resisted the temptation. "Like I said before, I'm staying unless there is a guarantee or an offer I couldn't refuse," Steele said. "I sat down and talked to coach (Gottfried) about it, and he said, 'If you were a top-10 pick, everybody would know. There wouldn't be a doubt.'" Though some analysts project Steele as a late first-rounder and NBA scouts admire his savvy and skills, Steele wants to be a lottery lock before making a move. Plus, the college game and campus life suit him. -- The Press-Register

Promises Of Millions May Be Too Big Of A Lure
Three Florida sophomores projected to be first-round draft picks in June have chosen college life and a chance to repeat as national champions. But there is time for each to make another decision. If Joakim Noah, Al Horford or Corey Brewer change their minds and declare for the draft before the April 29 deadline, it might shock Gators fans. It wouldn't surprise people close to the NBA. "I'll believe it when I see it," said one longtime NBA official, who requested anonymity. "Nothing surprises me anymore. There's a difference between what guys say five minutes after their season has ended and what they do later. They're still pretty much in the aura of the championship." -- Palm Beach Post

• Chad Ford's latest list of who's in and out of the draft. Plus, check out all of ESPN.com's draft coverage, including an updated Mock Draft and a list of the top 100 prospects.
 

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