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By Terry Brown
Tuesday, April 6
Updated: April 6
9:14 AM ET
While Jason Kidd was out with a bruised left knee, Richard Jefferson posted a career high in assists on Sunday and a season high in rebounds the Wednesday before that while averaging 24.4 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting as the Nets clinched the Atlantic Division title.
The Nets can win their last six games of the season by 50 points each night and they would still be the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Or they can lose every one of those games by 50 and still be the second seed.
But if you listen close enough, you can hear whispers that Kidd will play tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks exactly one day after Jefferson was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
"We haven't even talked about it," Kidd said in the New York Times after head coach Lawrence Frank told reporters that he thought the point guard could play tonight. "We're just trying to get better, and everything went well today. There hasn't been any pain or swelling. We'll take it one day at a time and hopefully, none of that will occur. You know everything has kind of worked out to what we're hoping and planning on. We're putting more time out on the court each day as we go here, as we get closer to the playoffs."
There are even rumors that Kenyon Martin, who has played only 12 minutes since March 18 and no minutes since March 31, will return despite the tendinitis in his knee still acting up after undergoing deep massage with Kidd recently.
"We'll see," Martin said in the New York Post. "I don't want to force anything, but it's frustrating. I can't tell yet if it worked, but I'm willing to try anything to get myself back."
But while the Nets could certainly use Kidd and Martin back with the regular season winding down and the playoffs about to start, another question is being raised.
New Jersey Nets
2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
76 18.6 5.8 3.9 .497 .769
Does Jefferson need them back?
Or, further to the point, does Kidd need Jefferson now more than Jefferson needs Kidd?
"Richard has shown an unbelievable ability to step it up and raise his game to another level," Frank in Sunday's Newark Star Ledger. "And a pertinent point is, he's done it without Jason Kidd. Everyone thought of Richard as a high-level player already. But he has gained even more respect from his teammates because of this."
But before going any further, perhaps we should point out a few numbers.
In January, while all three players were in action and their 14-game win streak began, Jefferson shot 49 percent from the field. In February, while all three players were still active and the 14-game win streak had reached its peak, Jefferson shot 49 percent from the field. And in March, when both Kidd and Martin went down and the Nets struggled to a 7-9 record, Jefferson shot 49 percent from the field.
In wins this season, he has taken 13.7 shots per game.
In losses this season, he has taken 13.7 shots per game.
After three years in the NBA, we know who this No. 13 pick, packaged and traded on draft day, is.
And we like him.
Sure, he gets more minutes and more shots as the lone star in the lineup, but that doesn't make him better or worse in terms of quality but rather just quantity.
And even though Jefferson has become the leading scorer on the team this year, surpassing both Kidd and Martin, he has yet to catch up to either's star quality. He is still the third most recognizable player on the team. And let's not forget that amidst all of this personal praise for Jefferson, the team is still 4-5 with Jefferson going at it alone.
But that's not going to be the problem.
Just ask his agent.
Jefferson is making $1.6 million this year. He makes the same amount with Kidd in the lineup as when Kidd is out of the lineup. Next year, he will make $2.3 million. Then he becomes a restricted free agent as an all-star and team's leading scorer. Then he becomes an unrestricted free agent as an all-star and a member of the U.S. National Team and the team's leading scorer.
Here's a few more numbers.
Kidd is making $13.1 million this year. He is making $103 million over his contract. He is also an all-star and member of the U.S. National Team and team leader in assists.
Martin is making $5 million this year and will become a restricted free agent next year and possibly an unrestricted free agent the year after that. He, too, is an all-star.
Now, here's the biggest number of all on the afternoon before Kidd and Martin and Jefferson are rumored to be taking the floor together.
This season, they are 45-31, the ninth-best team in the standings so far.
Which makes us wonder if the Nets, a team in financial flux in terms of ownership and location, are really better off with these three high-salaried players and, in the same breath, if these three players, collectively or individually, are really better off with the New Jersey Nets?
Because Jefferson shot 50 percent last year, is shooting 50 percent this year and will most likely be shooting 50 percent next year.
"If it's fair, we'll sign the deal," agent Todd Eley said. "Now what's fair? I don't know what that is right now. If it's less than the max but it's fair based on years and dollars? Then we'll sign that. That's something that will happen once the season is over, once everyone can step away from the wins and losses and step back and ask what makes a reasonable deal for both sides."
* Jefferson hitting nets, raising ante
Brad Parks / Newark Star-Ledger
* Nets Consider Returning Kidd to Lineup Tonight
Steve Popper / New York Times
* Kidd, K-Mart Might Come Back Tonight
Dan Martin / New York Post
Tuesday, April 6
Updated: April 6
9:28 AM ET
Philadelphia 76ers: Heads are about to roll in the City of Brotherly Love. "There are a lot of things right now that are very frustrating,'' President Billy King said in the Philadelphia Daily News. "There have been some things that are very distracting and very disappointing, and things that will be dealt with. I don't want to single out one guy. There have been a lot of things this year; it's not just one player that's been disappointing. A lot of people's behavior hasn't been up to par ...As I've said before, it's going to be more important about the name on the front of the jersey than the name on the back. It won't happen again. Not on my watch ...I know exactly what direction we need to go.'' And at last one player agrees. "I don't think anybody would [want another season like this],'' said point guard Eric Snow. "I don't think the organization should want to, I don't think the players should want to, I don't think the city should want to ...I just know the team needs to get better. You can take injuries out of the equation, we probably would have still made the playoffs, but the object is to compete for a championship.''
Houston Rockets: The Rockets are on the verge of something monumental. "If we play right and we coach right, the results will start getting better," head coach Jeff Van Gundy said in the Houston Chronicle. "If not, we'll be part of a historic collapse, and once you face up to that fact ... No one wants to use that word, but it's on everybody's mind." At one time not too long ago, they were the hottest team in the West. Now, they could be the odd man out in the West. "In the middle of the season we started playing well and put ourselves in the position to be in the playoff race, and not to get there would be a travesty," Rockets forward Jim Jackson said. "The good thing about it is you have another chance to kind of right yourself in these next six games."
Milwaukee Bucks: The injured T.J. Ford is out of sight and, therefore, out of mind to head coach Terry Porter for the playoffs. "That's the way we have to do it," said Porter in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "You can't think that you're going to have him. I'm just trying to go with the (other) guys -- Damon and Brevin. That's all you can do until you can hear otherwise. You just have to deal with the guys you have in uniform." Ford, suffering from an injured neck, was originally expected back in two to three weeks. It's now been six with no immediate signs of his return. "Every guy is different, but he hasn't been able to do any cardio whatsoever," said Porter. "So it would be at least a week to get some cardio and get some timing back. And you just can't get that in practice; you have to get that in games too."
Seattle SuperSonics: This is a test. This is only a test. "I'm looking for him to run the team as a point guard, not as a scorer," head coach Nate McMillan said in the Post-Intelligencer of starting Flip Murray at point guard. "Just in terms of delivering the ball, defense on the ball, getting into the offense. Everything." It's not meant as a reward for Murray nor a punishment for Brent Barry. "He's going against the best," McMillan said. "He's going against some really good guards, and it's an opportunity just to look at him at that position."
Chicago Bulls: Stop me if you've heard this before. "It has been the toughest season of my career because I wanted to play so well and I had such high expectations," Tyson Chandler said in the Chicago Tribune. "My injury set me back. I never really recovered from it. My body wasn't strong enough to accept the pounding. My goal is to get my body strong enough to withstand 82 games. I know I can play the way I [did] at the start of the season. It's just a matter of preparing my body for it." But saying it and doing it are two different things as you can tell by the next thing out of Chandler's mouth. "There's only a week left in the season," he said. "We'll see how things go. I'm still not feeling 100 percent. The last thing I want to do is come back and hurt myself going into the summer."
Phoenix Suns: And then there were eight Suns after Shawn Marion went down with respiratory problems. "He was hurting Friday and Saturday," head coach Mike D'Antoni said in the Arizona Republic "Hopefully, he'll be OK. I don't know if it's allergies or bronchitis. But he was coughing up a lung a couple of times." Marion is still expected to be available for Wednesday's game against the Nuggets.
* Frustrated King addresses behavior issues
Phil Jasner / Philadelphia Daily News
* `Historic collapse' on Rockets' minds
Megan Manfull / Houston Chronicle
* Ford might not be playoff bound
Tom Enlund / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
* Murray to start alongside Allen in Sonics backcourt tonight
Danny O'Neil / Seattle Post-Intelligencer
* Chandler eager to get stronger, healthier
K.C. Johnson / Chicago Tribune
* Respiratory problem forces Marion to sit
Norm Frauenheim / Arizona Republic
This is from Monday but I am just now including it.
The Good, the Bad, the Kitchen Sink
Monday, April 5
Updated: April 5
1:52 PM ET
In a single game last week, Carmelo Anthony scored 41 points in 44 minutes and took only one free throw after averaging 6.3 per game on the season. I can only wonder how good this rookie is going to be when they stop treating him like one in about six games.
Dirk Nowitzki is unstoppable from distance, going 8-for-14 in the Mavs' last four consecutive wins. He's unstoppable in the paint, shooting 39-for-68 in that same span of time. The 7-foot shooter from Germany is unstoppable from the line, going 19-for-21 in the last week alone. The best player on the Dallas Mavericks is unstoppable when Steve Nash hands out 54 assists in those same four games while also shooting 57 percent from the field, 54 percent from distance and 92 percent from the line. Let me start this over again. Steve Nash is unstoppable . . .
Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs
Week's work: 4-0 record, 19.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 8 triples, 46% shooting
Let me try to explain how potent this guy is. As a starter, he averages 19.4 points per game on a 48-minute basis, which is very good. As a sub, he averages 23.5 points per game on a 48-minute basis, which is great. As a Spur, he is averaging 21.2 points per game on a 48-minute basis for a defensive-minded team that averages only 91.7 points per game while also playing a little part-time point guard. Which is phenomenal.
Richard Jefferson, New Jersey Nets
Week's work: 3-1 record, 22.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.5 spg, 4 triples, 57.9% shooting
Kenyon Martin has never averaged more than 17.2 points per game in his career. Jason Kidd has never averaged more than 18.7 in his career. As we speak, Richard Jefferson is at 18.6 after averaging 23.7 for the month of March.
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
Week's work: 4-0 record, 22.5 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 6.2 apg, 1.7 spg, 2.7 bpg, 44.4% shooting
This is the kind of year this guy is having. Statistically, no one had a better overall week than Kevin Garnett yet he still failed to reach his yearly averages in points, rebounds and shooting percentage while barely getting enough steals, blocks and assists by decimal points in games 75, 76, 77 and 78 of a possible 78.
David Wesley, New Orleans Hornets
Weak work: 1-3 record, 7.7 ppg, 2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.5 spg, 0 bpg, 20% shooting
Could very well have been the worst 126 minutes of his career. It just doesn't seem right that they came when the Hornets, without Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn and having lost five of six, need him the most.
Steve Francis, Houston Rockets
Weak work: 0-4 record, 13.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 8.2 apg, 2 spg, 40.4% shooting
It has been feast or famine for Steve Francis all season. Last week he starved. Playing essentially a playoff schedule, he recorded 20 turnovers in four games while shooting 63 percent against the Timberwolves, 41 percent against the Lakers, 33 percent against the Nuggets and 20 percent against the Kings, in that order as the week went on and the Rockets went from playoff locks to three games away from being the league's laughingstocks.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cleveland Cavaliers
Weak work: 0-4 record, 16.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1 apg, 0 spg, 1.2 bpg, 57.5% shooting
Don't believe everything you read. Especially this boxscore. In a must-win game against Golden State in Cleveland with Warrior center Erick Dampier injured, Z went 5-for-13 with only eight boards. In the must-win game before that, he scored four points against Brian Skinner and the Bucks. In the must-win game before that, he failed to get a single steal or block or fourth defensive rebound against the Mavs. On the week, he tallied 65 glorious points as his sole contribution to the playoff cause while the opposing centers scored 71.
Donyell Marshall, Toronto Raptors
Weak work: 0-3 record, 5.3 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.3 bpg, 20.6% shooting
I thought last week's line was bad, but somebody please explain to me how this guy can grab 16 rebounds on Tuesday and another 16 rebounds on Sunday but a big, fat ZERO rebounds on Friday in 25 minutes.
The Los Angeles Clippers were awarded 82 free throws over their last two games and still have yet to win a game in their last 11 attempts.
The Kitchen Sink
THE PASSING OF THE KINGS
Did anyone really think that the Sacramento Kings, averaging a league-leading 104.7 points per game before March, were really going to start scoring 126 once Chris Webber and his 22 points per game returned to the lineup on March 2?
Didn't think so.
But did anybody really think they'd be scoring 99.2 points per game last month, either?
2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
17 18.4 8.9 5.0 .417 .693
Going into the month, without Webber in the lineup, Vlade Divac was averaging 6.1 assists per game while Brad Miller averaged 5.1. That's 11.2 assist per game from the power forward and center on the team. They knew they couldn't score 20 a game. But they also knew that they could be worth 20 a game.
As a direct result of their ball movement, the Kings went on to shoot 47.7 percent from the field and 43.7 percent from 3-point range to start the season in November. And it continued. In January, they shot 47.4 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from long range. In February, they shot 45.9 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from long range.
But then came March, and Webber and his 18 points per game (down three or so from his career average while also shooting a career-low 41 percent from the field). Sure, he also contributed 4.9 assists per game but his presence in the paint stymied the games of Divac and Miller either through a decrease of minutes or decrease of time and space within the lane.
During the month of March, Divac averaged only 3.8 assists per game and Miller averaged only 3.3. That's a decrease of 4.1 per game. That's 8.2 points. That's the team shooting only 45.4 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from 3-point range.
That's the Kings going from 104.7 points per game to only 99.2 and a 9-8 record since the return of Webber.
He's hurt, I know. But he's also hurting the team.
THE D IN SHEED
Since leaving Portland, Rasheed Wallace has blocked 44 blocks in 20 games for an average of 2.2 per game after averaging 1.4 blocks per game prior to the departure.
TASTES LIKE KANDI
Officially, Michael Olowokandi returned to the Minnesota lineup on Feb. 20. But if you ask his teammates, he just showed up three games ago. Up until last week, he averaged only 4.7 rebounds per game on the season after grabbing 9.1 per game for the Clippers last year. That resulted in only 10 minutes of action on Monday against the Rockets in which he totaled one measly rebound for the game. But on Wednesday, he grabbed 11. On Friday, he grabbed 12. And on Sunday, he grabbed 14 while his minutes have gone up from 10 to 21 to 26 to 30 and the Timberwolves are on a five-game win streak.
DEATH, TAXES AND THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS
The Milwaukee Bucks are by no means the best free-throw shooting team in the league at 76.9 percent. In fact, that places them at No. 7. But in their last three wins, they've made 68 free throws to their opponents' 34.
Leading the way has been Joe Smith, who is now shooting a career-high 85.5 percent from the free-throw line after shooting 87.3 percent in March (55 of 63) and is so far perfect in April (5-for-5). But it's not just making the free throws. It's getting those free throws. And in his last six games in which the Bucks have gone 4-2 while the rest of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket crumbles around them, Smith has gotten to the line 31 times. Not so coincidently, he's also scoring 17.1 points per game in those last six games after averaging 11 on the season.
MUST BE MAGIC
Since Tracy McGrady, the league's leading scorer at 28 points per game, hung up his sneakers for the season on March 24, Juwan Howard has averaged 24.7 points and nine rebounds on 44 percent shooting. On the season, Howard has averaged 16.6 points and 7.2 boards per game also on 44 percent shooting.
With about six games to go for each NBA team, the Midwest Division doesn't have a single team with a losing record. Add up all seven teams' records and they're 325-212, winning 60.5 percent of their games. The rest of the league is 788-901, winning only 46.6 percent of their games.
Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton after 77 team games
2004 Season: 2568 points, 655 rebounds, 725 assists, 196 steals, 42 blocks, 115 triples
Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton after 77 team games
2004 Season: 2610 points, 541 rebounds, 713 assists, 178 steals, 22 blocks, 145 triples
TIE BREAKER SPECIAL
Minnesota Timberwolves (54-24) versus Sacramento Kings (53-23)
Thursday, April 8, 2004 at Arco Arena at 7 p.m. PST on TNT
If the Timberwolves win this game, then they'll both be tied for the Western Conference title. If Sacramento wins and then loses to the Lakers on Sunday, then these same two teams will, again, be tied with the same overall record (55-25) and same head-to-head record (2-2) and same conference record (30-19).
"You don't have to talk about us. We're just vanilla, whereas the Lakers are Chunky Monkey or something like that."
San Antonio Spur Bruce Bowen giving Los Angeles fans the cold shoulder.