Eastern Playoff Bracket Is Set, Hornets Have Lost Their Sting, Dwight Howard Returns And Takes Lives

And then there were two…days of the regular season left after Monday night. We had known for a few days that the Pacers were set up to be sacrificial lambs for the Bulls in the first round of the NBA playoffs, and that Orlando and Atlanta would begin where they left off last spring. But the real meat – who the Knicks would play and who would have the home-court advantage should Boston and Miami advance – wasn’t decided until Miami survived the Hawks’ second-stringers and the Celtics couldn’t survive Washington’s third-stringers … No one in the entire league is playing as well as Miami is right now. Through the first three quarters of their eight-point win in Atlanta, they pounded the Hawks unconscious. LeBron James (34 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) and Dwyane Wade (21 points) were terrors in the first half. Atlanta’s reserves actually brought the Hawks all the way back from down 20, and had the game tied late, but James Jones hit two consecutive threes, one that turned out to be a four-point play, and it was over from there … For a while, it looked like the Heat would lose their grip on the second seed, a fact that became funny every time we channel-surfed over to the Boston/Washington game. We can only imagine Doc Rivers throughout the night. The Celtics rested their Big Four, obviously convinced Miami would steamroll Atlanta, and yet had the odd scenario of watching the Heat nearly lose while Boston themselves got beat in Washington, 95-94 in overtime. John Wall had a nice line (24 points, 9 rebounds), but it was a pretty ugly game. However, you have to check Von Wafer‘s blown dunk in OT and his reaction afterward that forced Jermaine O’Neal to double dribble. Wafer had a series of unfortunate events that proved to be abysmal, priceless and costly in the C’s close loss … Maybe Dwight Howard is angrier than we thought he was. Before Orlando’s 10-point win in Philadelphia, Howard (19 points, 13 rebounds) promised that he wouldn’t change his game despite the rising technical totals. Then he went out and brought a reign of terror down on the Philly rims. We’re just glad we’re not Jrue Holiday considering how he was on the wrong end of an alley-oop tomahawk slam. It looked like Orlando would roll throughout in the first quarter. Yet, the Sixers’ bench was galvanized when Howard sat out midway through the second and eventually tied the game. It didn’t help when Chris Duhon lost his shoe during the run, leading to a stalled possession, a timeout and an eventual turnover. It turned out all that effort was for naught as Orlando’s huge 21-4 third-quarter run turned the tides in their favor ’til the final buzzer … Who thought the Sixers would secure a playoff spot after their rough start? Doug Collins did a bang-up job bringing the squad’s young talent together for some good ‘ol fashioned team ball this season. Tom Thibodeau will more likely than not will get Coach of the Year. However, we wouldn’t be mad if Collins got his fair share of votes … The Eastern Conference playoffs are now set. Besides CHI/IND and ORL/ATL, the Heat will host the Sixers and Boston and New York will renew what they started this season. Any chance for an upset? … Read More: The Birdman returns, the Mavs jump a seed, Kemba is bouncing and guess which Top-5 pick is staying in school?

Out West, Dallas jumped up to the number-two seed with a seven-point overtime win in Houston. Jason Terry (21 points) was fouled on a jumper in the final second, made just one of two to send it to the extra frame and from there, it was all Mavs … In his return from a sprained ankle, the Birdman, Chris Andersen, contributed 14 points and 12 rebounds with four blocks and a forceful open-lane dunk in Denver’s 134-111 blowout victory over the Warriors … Sacramento made an otherwise ordinary game with Oklahoma City quite compelling for three quarters. The fiery DeMarcus Cousins (30 points, 9 rebounds) stepped up in Tyreke Evans‘ absence, got to the line often and served as one of the key reasons why the Kings held the lead at one point. Nonetheless, Kevin Durant‘s (32 points) buzzer-beating three at the end of the third set off a gradual momentum shift for OKC … Down the stretch, Cousins picked up a technical and the Kings flubbed plenty of golden opportunities to close OKC’s lead. Their opportunities were closed shut by Russell Westbrook‘s (30 points, 9 assists) absolutely ice-cold J with under a minute to go. Oklahoma City walked out with a 120-112 win … And in New Orleans, Hornets coach Monty Williams called their performance “indescribable” during a 12-point loss to the Jazz. That’s two consecutive terrible games from the Hornets. Devin Harris and C.J. Miles both had 18 points … So after last night, the Mavs and Thunder put the pressure on the Lakers to win or risk dropping all the way to fourth while the Hornets better get acquainted with the eighth seed. They hold the tiebreaker over Memphis, but with one game left against Dallas, we don’t see them climbing any higher … Yesterday afternoon, the WNBA had their 2011 Draft, and the Minnesota Lynx took UConn’s Maya Moore with the top pick. Was there ever really any doubt? How much money would you have put on Moore being the top pick? $100? $1000? Your entire life savings? … Word leaked yesterday afternoon that Kemba Walker will forgo his senior season and enter the NBA Draft this summer. That was no surprise. What was shocking though was hearing that Baylor forward Perry Jones is staying. How often do potential top-five picks stay in school? … Other headlines from around the league: D.J. Augustin‘s (19 points, 11 assists) game-winner in the final seconds gave Charlotte a two-point win over New Jersey; Rodney Stuckey went absolutely nuts (29 points, 14 assists) (as did Charlie Villanueva), but it wasn’t enough in the Pistons’ nine-point loss to J.J. Hickson (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Cleveland; John Salmons (24 points) led the Bucks to a seven-point win over Toronto; and the Suns beat Minnesota 135-127 in overtime because of a big night from Channing Frye (33 points) … We’re out like calming down Big Z.