Game of the Day: March 25

Dallas Mavericks at Portland Trailblazers — 10:30 PM eastern, telecast on TNT

There are only three games on the docket for Thursday, and the NCAA tourament resumes, too. Nevertheless, there will be one great game in the professional ranks. The Mavericks enter the night with sole possession of second place in the West after Denver’s loss to Boston Wednesday (yeah, another incorrect prediction), and Jason Kidd is coming off one of his best offensive performances in years.

The 36-year-old point guard posted 26 points, 6 boards, and 12 assists in a 106-96 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. If he can continue to play like that, the Mavericks will go very, very deep into the postseason. Dallas, too, will bring perennial scorers Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, along with defensive standouts Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, and Brandon Haywood.

The Blazers won’t roll over without a fight, though. They’ve won eight of their last 10 games, as Portland tries to maintain its four and a half–game lead over Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They feature one of the best scorers in the league, too, in Brandon Roy and are strong up front with LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby.

I think it’ll be close, and while I want to choose the Blazers because of their sense of urgency as the playoffs near, I can’t bet against Dallas these days. They’re too talented, and while I did diminish the importance of their 13-game winning streak, they are still playing fantastic basketball of late. Expect Roy’s production to be stunted by Butler and co., and chalk up 25+ for Nowitzki against Aldridge, who needs improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

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Analyzing Amar’e on the Market

On Monday, Suns forward Amar’e Stoudemire made a strong suggestion that he is going to opt out of the final year of his contract with Phoenix and become a free agent prior to the 2010 season. So why did Stoudemire make this decision, and what does it mean for the league?

From a financial perspective, Stoudemire’s decision makes a lot of sense. Currently in his eighth year in the league, Amar’e is set for a contract close to (if not equal to) the maximum for seven- to nine-year players (30 percent of the salary cap). Accordingly, opting out now allows him to make, potentially, $1 million more than he is making this year. In that same vein, he’ll embark on a contract one year earlier that will take him into the range of contracts for players with 10+ years experience, who can receive as much as 35 percent of the salary cap.

Furthermore, everyone knows the free-agent class of 2010 is stacked with talent, including (potentially) LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and maybe even Kobe. A lot of teams are setting their sights on these players at the very top of this group; Amar’e is in a close-second category to the premiere players. Because there is speculation as to whether Stoudemire deserves a maximum contract, it’s wise for him to get on the market this year. Teams who end up falling short of acquiring their primary targets (but desperately need to add an impact player) will likely give in to Amar’e and offer him a max. deal.

From a competitive standpoint, declaring now allows Amar’e to sign with a team that is more likely to contend for a championship, potentially pairing up with a player of Wade’s caliber. While the Suns certainly have a lot of talent, and the best playmaker in the game (for as long as his youthful magic holds out), they lack the defensive effort and talent to go deep into the Western Conference playoffs. For the Suns, Stoudemire’s departure will likely condemn them to the lottery next season (if they don’t manage to add another key player). The team that added him, however, would add one of the elite offensive forces from the forward position.

In the end, Amar’e is doing this to make it seem like he’s one of the big boys. Really, though, given his defensive skills, he’s a step below the top power forwards in the game, like Bosh and Tim Duncan.

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NBA Today: March 24

  • Jerry Buss wants to wait until after the season to begin talking about Phil Jackson’s return to the Lakers.
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Game of the Day: March 24

Denver Nuggets at Boston Celtics — 7 PM eastern, telecast on ESPN

Well, I recommended Pacers-Pistons for you last night, suggesting it would be the closest of the four games, and it turned out to be the most lopsided of the four. To boot, my prediction of the winner was wrong.

Tonight, I’m torn among three games: the one I selected, the Magic-Hawks, and Spurs-Lakers.  Here’s why I picked the Nuggets-Celtics. While the other two are intraconference bouts, I love the matchup between the Nuggets-Celtics. Every position has something fun to watch. At point guard, sharpshooter and playmaker Chauncey Billups goes at it against the defensively gifted Rajon Rondo, who’s arguably an even better playmaker. At the 3, you have Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony — two of the best scorers in the league at the small-forward position. At power forward, Kevin Garnett and Kenyon Martin will play tough defense on each other and put up 10 to 15 points each, and at center, Kendrick Perkins and Nene will bring the pain down low.

Furthermore, both these teams need this game. The Celtics can’t afford to lose any more at home (having lost only one fewer game at the Garden than on the road), and the Nuggets need a win to pace the Mavericks and maintain sole possession of second place in the West.

I peg the Nuggets to come away with the W in this one. Expect a standout performance from Melo, as I wouldn’t be surprised if Pierce tries to conserve most of his energy for the offensive end. Furthermore, look for Ray Allen to have a poor shooting night. Aaron Afflalo is a great on-ball defender and shoot give Allen some trouble on the jumper with his quickness and length.

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The customer is always right

Nets CEO Brett Yormark verbally confronted a Nets fan after a sarcastic comment about the team.

Apparently, New Jersey Nets CEO Brett Yormark is unaware of the timeless business adage above. The customer can really do no wrong. And who should know better about that than Yormark, who is tasked with getting people to show up to games for the potentially historically bad Nets in basketball Siberia? The answer is no one, and that is what  makes this so frustrating and ridiculous.

Reportedly, Yormark was leaving his courtside seat during the second half of the Nets’ contest against the Miami Heat last night and spotted a fan wearing a brown paper bag over his head. Reasonably, he asked the fan why he was sporting the interesting fashion item. The fan responded with a sarcastic comment regarding the quality of the Nets team. In turn, Yormark engaged in a shouting match with the fan, writing it off today as a defense of the players.

On the one hand, wanting to stand up for the Nets’ players during a season of hell seems honorable. On the other hand, Yormark — a team figurehead — is not the one that should be doing the protecting. The Nets are big boys, and they don’t need the team CEO to speak out for them.

What makes it so bad is the manifest conflict of interest that Yormark has entwined himself in. All year, Yormark has been slaving away, scheming and brainstorming different ways to bring in revenue for an underperforming team. He even has some Rent-a-Net program, which allows customers to book a Net for a private appearance.

By engaging this fan, he sends the wrong message. If he wants people to show up to his games, he needs to be personable, at least. By alienating fans, he isn’t going to help the organization sell any tickets. What does it say about the team if they can’t show any compassion for the common fan (and one in a fairly pricey seat, too)? Mark Cuban, all about the fan experience, must be shaking his head right now.

If I owned the Nets, this would be grounds for Yormark’s dismissal. Unfortunately, he’s not going to really get fired. He’s too entrenched in the development of the Brooklyn/New York Nets and the establishment of the Barclays Center to be sent off. In the future, Brett, just remember that no matter the details of the scenario, that guy was right because he’s the one shoveling out the dough and paying, however indirectly, your salary.

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NBA Today: March 23

  • Apparently, Allen Iverson needs some sort of psychological help. He’s got everybody reaching out to him about his personal issues.
  • As if it couldn’t get any worse for the Nets, team CEO Brett Yormark is now fighting with disappointed fans. He still paid for the damn ticket, didn’t he?
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Game of the Day: March 23

Indiana Pacers at Detroit Pistons — 7:30 PM eastern

Well, I don’t take much pleasure in selecting this matchup between two Eastern Conference cellar dwellers as the game of the day. But on a date with only four contests on the docket, this is the only one that’s going to be even close. In the other three, the Bobcats play the Wizards, the Nuggets play the Knicks, and the Clippers play the Mavericks.

So why even tune in? Well, for one, Danny Granger’s always fun to watch. Other than that, maybe some of you Detroit fans can cling to some memory of the 2004 season or ponder how Joe Dumars foolishly overpaid for second-tier players in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva this past offseason.

The Pacers have won all three of their bouts against the Pistons this year, including a 106-102 this past Friday. Nevertheless, with the return of Rodney Stuckey, I expect Detroit to emerge victorious. Maybe Rip and Tayshaun Prince will be motivated to avoid the embarrassment of a season sweep at the hands of the likes of Indiana.

Seriously, though, if you’ve got something else to watch tomorrow, pursue it. Give that new FX show Justified a try. The pilot wasn’t bad.

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NBA Today: March 22

  • Jared Jeffries, a defensive stalwart by even Ben Wallace’s standards (not), seems to think D’Antoni, renowned for not caring about defense, cares about the Knicks defense.
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For sale by owner

Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle Corp., wants to buy the Warriors

The Associated Press has reported that current Golden State Warriors owner Chris Cohan will soon put his team on the market. Basketball fans from the Bay are grinning. The likely buyer? At least for now, it’s Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle Corp., which currently owns the naming rights for the Warriors’ Oracle Arena.

Lately, Golden State basketball has had nothing but trouble. The most recent bright spot for the team was the highly improbable victory in the first-round of the 2007 playoffs over the first-seeded Dallas Mavericks. Boy, was Mark Cuban pissed.

So this sale can only mean great things for the Warriors’ players and fans alike, right? Absolutely right. They’ve been craving something like this up there in Norcal.

If you’ll recall one of my posts last week, I ranked the top five young squads by team in the NBA. On that list was Golden State. To reiterate, the Warriors have a ton of young talent that should be able to make a significant impact in this league. I also noted, however, the primary reason the team hasn’t gelled: Don Nelson. He has no business coaching a team with this much of a young presence.

Naturally, any Golden State fan would want Nelson to be out of there. So many are reading this ownership change as synonymous with a coaching change — and that makes sense. I’d say it’s almost assured Ellison, or whoever buys the team, ships off Nelson.

So don’t fret. The Warriors will rise again. Just get rid of Nelly.

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Game of the Day: March 22

San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder — 8 PM eastern

Wrap up your Monday with a taste of both the old and the new. The Spurs, complete with the aging trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and (still rather young) Tony Parker, face off against the Thunder, with the youngster trio of Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook.

Still, both of these teams can ball. The Spurs rely on defense, a slow pace, and fundamentals, while the Thunder play more up-tempo basketball, banking on their athleticism and the soon-to-be best pure scorer in the game.

This will be the fourth and last matchup of the season between these teams. While Oklahoma City won the first, San Antonio came away with victories in the second and third (including a riveting OT win behind a beastly showing from rookie DeJuan Blair on January 13). Give the edge to the Thunder here. San Antonio hasn’t played that well on the road, and the lengthy NBA schedule favors the spry down the stretch. Expect a big game from Durant, too. But don’t you expect a big game from him every night he’s out on the hardwood?

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