7:00 PM EST on TNT: Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Hornets. Tonight is the night that Chris Paul can officially end this team. He can end their season. He can end their run as a Dirk-Howard-Stackhouse-Terry team. He can end the idea that Jason Kidd (who shouldn't even be playing in this game after that foul he put on Pargo on Sunday) was a good idea.
7:10 PM EST on SNY: Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Mets. Huh? Johan Santana is pitching tonight and he is appointment television. The sooner you realize this the better.
7:00 PM EST on NBATV: Philadelphia 76ers at Detroit Pistons. Now that Orlando/Toronto is done with I guess NBATV needs some programming. Well, this series feels far less exciting than it did at about halftime of Game 4. By taking control of that game down the stretch it felt like the Pistons took back control of the entire contest. Perhaps not. But it sure feels like it.
9:30 PM EST on TNT: Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs. The Suns go into tonight's game hoping to do the impossible. No NBA team has ever come back from 0-3 to win a 7-game series before. But, it's got to happen eventually and this team seems as well equipped as anyone will ever be. They should have won Game 1 but blew it. They had a big early lead in Game 2 but couldn't sustain it. Although they just Dirk'd-the-Bed (I just invented that phrase for sucking. Let's use it from now on) in Game 3 they were back to being dominant in Game 4. So, if anyone's going to pull of the Lazarus trick in the NBA it could very well be this Suns team. Hopefully they'll at least win tonight so we can entertain this notion (and be entertained by it) for a few more days.
9:30 PM EST on TNT: Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets. So, the latest installment in teary-eyed depressingly-honest Tracy McGrady-playoff-losing-press-conferences could be held tonight. Or, the Rockets could be energized by their home fans, who learned how to cheer again during that winning streak, and let their team defense and their team's superstar carry them to a win.
1. Joe Johnson. How 'bout them Hawks?!?!?!? Even thought the West was the Bestern Conference this season the (L)East has brought the most playoff drama thus far. And that all starts down in ATL where Johnson and the young Hawks are playing out of their heads against the suddenly tight and shallow Celtics team. Watching last night's game I thought that the fun had ended (much as it did in Philadelphia when Detroit finally took over Game 4) when Boston built that ten point lead toward the end of the third quarter. I thought it was done. But I was wrong. At least, according to Joe Johnson, the former first round draft pick of the Boston Celtics. Johsnon took it to his old club last night, scoring 35 points in the game and dominating in the fourth quarter (scoring 20). He put down one of those great transcendent playoff performances that make the NBA so great. This was the Joe Johnson game. And, a game like this makes you look at this Hawks team a bit closer. Forgetting what uniform they're wearing or what clueless collared-shirt-under-replica-jersey fans they've got, you realize that every single regular was a top draft pick, since this team was so bad for so long. Marvin Williams was a #2. Al Horford was a #3 pick. Joe Johnson was a #10 pick. Josh Childress was a #6 pick. Josh Smith was a #17 pick. These guys can play. And they're supposed to be good. And, that isn't even counting proven-playoff commodity and Cherry Hill, NJ native Mike Bibby, who was also a #2 pick, or European big man Zaza Pachulia whose toughness in standing up to KG cannot be overlooked when talking about this club.
2. Larry Brown. He's back. The prodigal son returns to the North Carolina to take over the Charlotte Bobcats. This is at once a no-brain hire and a brainless hire by Michael Jordan.
3. Byron Scott. We all heard last night that he will be named the Coach of the Year. I find it fitting that he wins this award in the season that Jason Kidd has reverted to his pre-Nets carcinogenic self. And even better that Scott's new point guard gets to humiliate the old (and old) point guard who had him fired in the Swamp.
4. Dwight Howard. If a young Moses-Malone-Clone scores 20 points and grabs 20 rebounds in the woods does it make a sound? Yes, but not a very loud one. Howard dominated again last night as the Orlando Magic ousted the Toronto Raptors from the Playoffs but few people saw as this Series has inexplicably (or not depending on who you ask) been relegated to NBATV and Morse Code broadcasts. Thankfully, Howard advances to TNT/ESPN in the next round. Considering Chris Paul's relatively quiet (but still a double-double) Game 4, the argument can be made the Howard has actually had the biggest playoff breakthrough so far.
5. Making Free Throws. The Hawks made 29 out of 33 free throws last night to beat the Celtics. If you make your free throws you can beat anyone. It's science. Now, hopefully someone will tell the Suns and the Big Lane Violation this tonight.
Off-the-Benched. Pat Riley. The Slick One is stepping away from the bench in Miami to focus on his front-office duties. Applications are now being accepted for the opening to coach the team until they are good enough for Riles to come back to the bench.