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Cavs and Sixers victorious at the NBA playoffs

The powerful Cleveland Cavaliers pushed the Detroit Pistons to the brink of elimination in the National Basketball Association playoffs with a 79-68 victory in their Eastern Conference first-round series.

In fact, there were no surprises at this game, where Cleveland superstar LeBron James just missed a triple-double, scoring 25 points with 11 rebounds and nine assists Friday as Cleveland took a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

We must notice that after Detroit's Antonio McDyess questioned his team's collective effort in losing the first two games of the series, the Pistons came out strong.

But King James neutralized their effort when it mattered most in the fourth quarter. He had an impressive slam dunk midway through the final period, part of an 18-2 scoring run that started after the score was tied for the sixth time in the game.

"We know, big-time players make plays, and that's what he did," Detroit coach Michael Curry admitted.

In Philadelphia, the 76ers stunned the world by winning the Orlando Magic 96-94 and taking a surprising 2-1 lead in their series.

Thaddeus Young's layup with two seconds to play lifted the Sixers to success.

In fact, Philadelphia had stumbled into the playoffs with six defeats in their last seven regular-season games, but are now two victories away from winning a playoff series for the first time since Allen Iverson led them to the NBA finals in 2001.

However, we saw Dwight Howard scoring 36 points and 11 rebounds for the Magic. Andre Iguodala led the Sixers with 29 points while Andre Miller added 24.

As we said, Howard's two free throws with less than eight seconds to play knotted the score at 94-94.

Despite that, Young took a pass near the baseline and drove to the basket for the game-winner.

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Chicago Bulls got an overtime win over Celtics

It was certainly a great match. And the best part was that Derrick Rose matched Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record with 36 points in his playoff debut and added 11 assists. In the end, Chicago Bulls earned a 105-103 overtime victory over the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics in Game 1 of their first-round series.

"He's poised beyond his years," Bulls guard Ben Gordon expressed about the young Rose. "He already carries himself like a veteran out there."

We also saw that Tyrus Thomas scored 16 points — six of Chicago's eight points in overtime, including the winning jumper with 51 seconds left in overtime. Joakim Noah, who was also making his postseason debut, netted 11 points with 17 rebounds for the Bulls.

As for Rajon Rondo, he also scored 29 points with nine rebounds and seven assists for Boston, which was without the talented Garnett and didn't get what it needed from the rest of the Big Three. Paul Pierce's 23 points came on 8-of-21 shooting. However, he missed the potential winning free throw at the end of regulation, and saw a potential tying basket blocked with 3.7 seconds left in overtime.

Actually, Ray Allen netted four points on 1-of-12 shooting; he had a chance to send it into a second overtime but his jumper from the right side bounced off the rim. Not so good for him.

"Yes, it just looked like every player decided that they were going to be 'the guy' tonight. They were going to, you know, replace Kevin for whatever reason," Doc Rivers said to the press, expressing his surprise. "And then all of a sudden we got into a fight. And one thing I'd say about our guys, they join in. Despite that, at home, you're supposed to start it"he concluded.

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Cavs show their potential to win NBA title with great win over Pistons

Cleveland got a 102-84 triumph over a tough Detroit team. The popular LeBron James banked in a stunning three-pointer at the end of the first half and finished with 38 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as Cleveland opened with a stunning victory over Detroit.

The Cavs proved to be serious candidates to win the title this time.

Actually, King James' 41-footer demoralized the entire Detroit city. He wound up making 13 of 20 shots and didn't commit a turnover. "It's tough when he is going like that," Detroit's Antonio McDyess said.

And for him, it was like making just an ad clip. "Uh, pretty much unlimited" said James.

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Chris Webber's jersey is retired from Sacramento squad

It’s funny to know that when Chris Webber was traded to the Sacramento Kings nearly 11 years ago, the former No. 1 draft pick initially had no intention of ever playing for that scruffy franchise out in some remote part of California.

The ex-NBA rookie of the year certainly never imagined the best times of his life would occur in drafty old Arco Arena with a patchwork collection of squadmates who somehow played sublime basketball together. The mere idea of seeing his No. 4 jersey in Arco's rafters some day would have been the most improbable thought of all.

Yet that's exactly where Webber ended up Friday night at the time the Kings retired their former power forward's number in recognition of his pivotal role in this long-struggling franchise's goodest years.

"I can say that I'm just happy, humbled, excited — having every emotion you can think of, including a stomach that's tied up in knots," expressed Webber, who didn't betray any of those nerves in his gray three-button suit and bright-red tie with encountering pocket square. "This was a really unexpected honor, one that I never expected to receive."

Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Scot Pollard and Mateen Cleaves were among the former squadmates who returned to Sacramento for Webber's ceremony. Gary Payton, Webber's partner in the former stars' promising new careers as television analysts, and Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson also were in attendance.

"Those memories of mine, the best moments that I've had in my life, they were here," expressed Webber, who made four All-Popular player squads and led the Kings to within an overtime clash 7 loss of the NBA finals in 2002.

Webber got a two-minute standing ovation and raucous chants of "C-Webb! C-Webb!" at the time he stepped to center court under a spotlight at halftime. The current Kings, including former Webber squadmates Brad Miller and Bobby Jackson, sneaked onto the court to watch the ceremony during the 23-minute halftime, with Kevin Martin lounging across the scorers' table.

"Indeed, when I came here at the beginning, I really didn't know what to expect," Webber told the crowd. "It was because of you guys that this worked. ... I'm thankful that God brought me to Sacramento and let me be a King. You guys stood by me at the time the world left me for dead. I will always remember that."

After Kings owner Gavin Maloof asked Webber to represent the woeful Kings at the draft lottery in three months, Webber hugged and rubbed the banner bearing his jersey's likeness before it was raised to the rafters.

"You made me a better player," expressed Divac, whose No. 21 will be hung alongside Webber's jersey next month. "You made all of us a better player. I played basketball for 20-plus years. My six years with the Kings and with you were the best."

Guard Mitch Richmond, who was traded to Washington in that 1998 deal for Webber, is the only other player from the franchise's Sacramento era whose jersey hangs alongside the numbers of Oscar Robertson, Nate Archibald and four others in a club history that dates back to the Rochester Royals, one of the NBA's original squads.

With his versatile direct style, exceptional passing and charismatic leadership, Webber was at the center of the franchise's longest sustained run of success during his 6 1/2 seasons. Sacramento had eight straight winning seasons overall, including a club-record 61 triumphs in 2001-02 and back-to-back Pacific Division championships — still the only title banners hanging across from those retired numbers in the Arco Arena rafters.

"Now, I'm officially a part of the family forever," the basketballer expressed. "If there's anything I'm proud of, I'm glad that I helped put Sacramento on the map."

Webber's initial reluctance to join the Kings was erased by a talk with his father, who also attended Friday's ceremony along with almost every member of Webber's extended family. Webber still wasn't sure about Sacramento until his first practice, at the time point guard Jason Williams whipped a sublime behind-the-back pass to him for a dunk.

Once Webber realized the possibilities of playing for coach Rick Adelman with a roster of young talent assembled by executive Geoff Petrie, he immediately grew to appreciate the chance he'd been handed early in an NBA career that wasn't really going anywhere.

Although the Kings traded Webber in 2005 to get out from under the onerous contract he signed four years earlier, Webber is long past the "hurt and pain" of Petrie's decision — particularly given the $123 million he made from the deal.

"The day we traded Chris, I expressed that the memories remain the property of the Sacramento Kings," expressed Petrie, the executive who built and dismantled the Kings' best squads. "That's especially true today."

Although he's just 35, an age at the time many NBA stars are still going strong, his perpetually unsound right knee finished off his career last year after a halfhearted comeback attempt with the Golden State Warriors. Webber still has a residence and a popular restaurant in Sacramento, and he visits the central Valley regularly.

Although Webber seems happy with his new career as a provocative television analyst, he acknowledges he'll never be fully satisfied with his playing exploits, even with his name hanging forever in Arco's rafters.

When asked to rank the importance of his jersey retirement, Webber expressed: "I wish I could say second to a championship. It's definitely the biggest honor that I've received in my basketball career. ... I can't lie and say that the lack of titles isn't something that I think about. It's something that I always will want, and I'm disappointed we couldn't give it to the people."

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Los Angeles ready to host Cleveland King and his court

The Lakers certainly had a better Friday than the Boston Celtics, mainly because the "Gloom and Broom" headline in the Boston Globe wasn't meant for them.

In fact, the regular-season series was indeed swept by the Lakers, Thursday's 110-109 overtime victory making it official, though the winning squad wasn't far into recovery mode at the time it assembled early Friday afternoon for a light practice at a swank private health club in downtown Boston.

Spaniard Pau Gasol sat and watched from the sidelines. Derek Fisher did too. Kobe Bryant spoke to reporters with the black hood of his sweat shirt pulled up over his head, as if he still needed more time to sleep because the Lakers hadn't left TD Banknorth Garden until after midnight.

About the only sign of liveliness came from a dues-paying club member, who, goggles still in place and without breaking stride on the way back to the squash courts, patted the team coach on the shoulder and cheerfully told him, "You're my idol. I always thought you were the best!"

The passer-by happened to be wearing a green T-shirt, making him probably the only one in town wearing such a color with a rosy opinion of Jackson and the Lakers.

The Lakers, meanwhile, spoke of their victory as if it were a cathartic event, almost in reverential tones.

"It was as intense a regular-season clash as I've been in in a long time," expressed Fisher, more than halfway through his 13th NBA season. "It's been a while since I could feel like through 48 minutes and through an overtime, every possession, every loose ball, every rebound, everything was just contested. It was just a fun clash to be a part of."

The clash itself got good reviews across the country, receiving a 2.7 TV rating, making it the most-watched NBA clash on cable this season (about 4.3 million viewers) and the most-watched NBA clash on TNT since Chicago played the Lakers in February 1996.

The talented Kobe also continued to provide favorable reviews, saying he approved of the Lakers' not backing down against the physically challenging Celtics. "There were a couple possessions, a couple plays, missed calls and stuff like that, that probably would have affected us last year that didn't affect us too much this year," Bryant expressed.

The Lakers (40-9) improved to 5-0 on their six-game trip, but moving to 6-0 could be just as difficult as getting to 5-0.

The Lakers play Cleveland on Sunday, visiting perhaps the only home court more difficult than Boston's this season.

The Cavaliers (39-9) are 23-0 at Quicken Loans Arena, where their average margin of victory has been 15.7 points. They haven't lost at home since April 30, in a first-round playoff clash against Washington last season.

They have also been building up a "no respect" mantra, the latest perceived slight arriving at the time Cleveland point guard Mo Williams was not selected to take the place of injured Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson on the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

"That's how they always treat us," LeBron James told reporters in Cleveland. "They wouldn't take me [as an All-Star] if they didn't have to."

The King keeps rolling along statistically, appearing at Madison Square Garden two nights after Bryant's 61-point eruption there and compiling 52 points and 11 assists on his own, a pretty good first half for some squads these days. (James initially had a triple-double, but the NBA issued a stat correction Friday, saying he was erroneously credited for a late rebound that should have gone to Ben Wallace, knocking him down to nine rebounds against the Knicks.)

The Cavaliers haven't played since Wednesday, a hiccup in the schedule that means they'll be well-rested in addition to being at home.

"They're awful good on their home court," Jackson expressed. "All their people wear a crown and they all wear No. 23 and help him throw that [chalk dust] up in the air at the time he's at the scorer's desk. He gets away with murder, on top of it, on his home court."

Jackson was, of course, speaking about exuberant fans and other matters concerning referees and non-calls, but the Lakers might also take a look at No. 24 instead of No. 23.

As in, trying to keep the Cavaliers from getting their 24th consecutive home victory this season.

"We'll use that if there's a moment in the clash where we're tired or something like that," Bryant expressed. "Those are the type of things that you can call upon to kind of keep yourself from getting tired, and you use it as motivation and push through it a little bit."

Pau has been on a tear, averaging 28.7 points and 14.3 rebounds in three clashs since Andrew Bynum went down, but Jackson acknowledged being concerned about Gasol's sharp increase in playing time.

Gasol played 46 minutes against Boston after playing 45 against Toronto and 41 against New York. He had been averaging 35.6 minutes a clash before Bynum was injured.

"I was just talking to my staff about how to manage the bench a little bit better so that we can get him rest," Jackson expressed. " Chris [Mihm] has some experience against Ilgauskas, but we'll see how that manages to work out in the course of the clash."

Tired or not, the Spanish basketballer has helped the Lakers avoid a letdown without Bynum.

"He was playing good before 'Drew went down," Bryant expressed. "That's why he's an All-Star."

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Yao Ming to miss the rest of the NBA season

In a sad annoucement for Houston fans, the Rockets said on Tuesday afternoon that center Yao Ming will miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his left foot.

"It's a very difficult day for the organization and our fans," admitted Houston general manager Daryl Morey. "We've been playing exceptional basketball, and Yao's been a huge part of that."

In fact, the Rockets entered Tuesday's game against Washington riding a 12-game winning streak.

As we know, this injury was originally believed to be an ankle sprain aggravated by bone spurs around the ankle, team physician Dr. Tom Clanton said. Yao was examined after practice on Monday, and Clanton said that tests showed excessive fluid in one of the bones around Yao's left foot. A CT-scan revealed the stress fracture.

"I think this is not an injury that we feel he can play with," said Clanton, who recommended surgery on the foot. Clanton did say that the team urged Yao to seek other opinions, and that the 7-foot-6 center had not yet decided whether he would have surgery.

The talented Yao is averaging 22 points and 10.8 rebounds per game this season. He sat out a Rockets loss to Utah on January 27 with an upper-respiratory infection, but returned two days later. And Houston has not lost since, the last win a 110-97 win over the Bulls on Sunday.

"Yes, it's a pretty big swing from a high to a low, how we were playing," added Morey. "After that emotional reaction, talking with the coaching staff and players, you think how well we played without Yao, we think our supporting cast is superior to when we last played without Yao for a significant stretch ... so we remain ready for this challenge ahead."

It's important to know that this will be the third consecutive season marred by injury for the All-Star center. After playing 82, 82, and 80 games in his first three seasons in the league, Yao was limited to 57 matches in the 2005-06 campaign after undergoing surgery on an infection in his left big toe, and then breaking a toe in his left big foot late in the season. Yao played in only 48 games last season, during which he suffered a small fracture in his right leg.

Finally, we must say that both Morey and Clanton don't know whether Yao would be healthy to play for China in the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

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Shaq is staring at the Suns

NBA superstar and key player at Miami Heat last season, Shaquille O'Neal pledged Thursday to bring a title to the Phoenix Suns much like he did in previous stints with both Los Angeles and Miami.

Indeed, at a news conference, one day after being traded from the Heat to the Suns, 35-year-old O'Neal said he is convinced that he can get Phoenix over that final playoff hurdle.

"It's true that the first thing to winning a championship is the belief you can do it," O'Neal explained. "Now I think these guys really believe they can do it. The sun will rise in Phoenix."

The popular "Shaq", a 14-time all-star, played eight years in Los Angeles leading the Lakers to three consecutive titles. He was traded to Miami in 2004 and two years later led the Heat to a title.

"I want to fit in with these guys and do my part. I am not going to be asking for 30 to 40 touches a game," O'Neal warned. "With my on court and off court leadership, I can help them get over that hump."

"As far as I know, this is a great team of shooters. I guarantee I will make Bell better and Stoudemire better. It is going to be hard to make (Steve) Nash better because he is one of the greatest point guards to play basketball. In fact, I been a big fan of Nash ever since he beat me up two times for the MVP."

The Suns finished with a 61-21 record last year and are off to an equally impressive 34-18 start following Wednesday's double overtime loss to New Orleans.

They joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1968 and have appeared in the finals several times but are still seeking their first title.

Phoenix Suns looked poised to go all the way last year but lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs.

The Suns won match number four to level the series at 2-2 but then lost game five after stars Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were handed controversial suspensions for coming off the bench to watch a shoving match between Nash and Spurs Horry.

However, there has been some who questioned the Suns decision to give up all-star Shawn Marion and guard Marcus Banks for the veteran O'Neal.

Despite the critics, general manager Steve Kerr said that what O'Neal may lack in speed he makes up for with his experience and leadership in the locker room.

"One reason to make this move is it gives us a better chance for success," Kerr said. "When I walked into our dressing room before last night's match and saw our players reaction, I realized that this is a gamble well worth taking."

What's more, in his first public appearance as a Sun on Wednesday, O'Neal received a standing ovation from the Phoenix faithful at America West Arena during the the overtime loss to the Hornets.

"This is already a great team," O'Neal said. "They always get surprised by other teams and don't seem to be able to get to the next level. But I think with me we match up well with whoever we face."

Shaq was his usual jovial self in front of the media when asked about his injury status. "Nothing really hurts," the popular player said. "If you want to take me in a room and examine me for yourself, you can see for my age, I have a fabulous body."

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Celtics defeat Bucks in impressive reaction

In a very remarkable demonstration, Paul Pierce made a season-high 32 points, as Kevin Garnett had an easy 15 with 7 rebounds Friday night. This help Boston Celtics overcame Ray Allen’s absence to beat the visiting Milwaukee Bucks, 104-82.

“I just wanted to be a little bit more aggressive,” Pierce explained. “Especially with Ray out.”

Indeed, with Allen resting a sore ankle, Tony Allen started and scored 11 points. Rajon Rondo scored 17, a point short of his season high, and had 8 assists for Boston, which also won its first 12 home matches in 1984 en route to the 1985 N.B.A. finals.

Boston Celtics pulled away when they outscored Milwaukee by 32-15 in the third quarter. Boston will try to set the team record Wednesday against the powerful Pistons.

And for the second consecutive game — and only the second time this season — the Celtics were without their regular starting five. Ray Allen is expected to miss a game or two with a sore right ankle that he has been trying to play with for eight encounters.

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Cavaliers can't win without James

Sadly for Cleveland, Gerald Wallace scored 22 points and Raymond Felton went 8-for-8 from the foul line in the final 16 seconds for a surprising victory of Charlotte Bobcats 96-93 over the Cavaliers.

LeBron James was once again relegated to cheerleader after sitting out his fifth straight game with a sprained left index finger. The Cavs have struggled without their superstar, with Friday's loss marking the first time they've managed more than 90 points with King James out of the lineup.

It's important to say that Cleveland guard Larry Hughes, playing for the first time in a month after being sidelined with a bone bruise in his left leg, had 22 points but it wasn't enough to rescue the Cavs from their sixth consecutive defeat.

And still, Hughes stayed hopeful in spite of the reigning Eastern Conference champions' continued slump.

"We have the pieces here to turn things around," he expressed. "We're not in the basement. We feel like there's a great chance we'll be on the top of the East when it's all done."

So, even with Hughes playing well, and with Shannon Brown and Daniel Gibson each scoring 15 points, the Cavaliers couldn't overcome 27 turnovers.

"We have to clean that up and not be careless with the basketball," coach Mike Brown stated.

It's fair to say that it was the Bobcats, for a change, who made the big plays - and foul shots down the stretch. The league's second-worst free-throw shooting team went 14-for-14 in the final minute, tasting the triumph for the first time since Nov. 19.

Another results: 76ers 105 Knicks 77, Hawks 86 Grizzlies 78, Timberwolves 100 Suns 93, Mavericks 125 Jazz 117, Celtics 92 Bulls 81 and Nuggets 101 Kings 97.

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Iverson leads Nuggets beat Mavs

Denver Nuggets 122 - Dallas Mavericks 109: A day after scoring 51 points in a loss to Los Angeles Lakers, Allen Iverson may have been even better, finishing with 35 points and 12 assists in the Nuggets' victory.

"Allen had it all going from everywhere," expressed Dallas. As for Dirk Nowitzki, he tied his season high with 32 points and had 12 rebounds. "He was driving and making shots in-between." Iverson made 12 of 19 field goals and was 11 of 13 from the free-throw line in his first 30-10 game of the season. Linas Kleiza benefited from Iverson's passing, scoring a season-best 23 points.

It's important to say that Carmelo Anthony also had 23 points as Denver made 50.5% of its shots despite Anthony's nine-for-30 shooting. Iverson's playing time was as impressive as his statistics, with him playing 43 minutes one night after going the full 48 against the Lakers. The Mavericks gave up their most points this season in a quarter (39, the first), a half (64) and a game. The problems were at both ends of the court as the Mavericks also committed a season-high 19 turnovers.

Portland Trail Blazers 112 - Miami Heat 106: The Trail Blazers ended a five-game losing streak against the Heat by sending Miami to its fourth straight loss and a 4-14 record. Brandon Roy had 25 points and Travis Outlaw had 20 for the Blazers, which saw its 16-point first-half lead cut to one in the fourth quarter.

Still, is important to mention that Dwyane Wade had 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Heat, but he made only nine of 26 shots. Shaquille O'Neal had only eight points and 10 rebounds in 22 foul-plagued minutes.

Atlanta Hawks 90 - Minnesota Timberwolves 89: Joe Johnson's 18-footer at the buzzer lifted the Hawks past the league-worst Timberwolves, who lost their fifth in a row to drop to 2-15. And Minnesota had a one-point lead after Marko Jaric's layup with 2.2 seconds left. After a timeout, Johnson (21 points) took the pass at the top of the key and dribbled to his right for a jumper. Josh Smith netted 28 points and seven blocked shots for the Hawks.

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Billy King fired

In a stunning announcement, the Philadelphia 76ers have fired president and general manager Billy King, replacing him with Ed Stefanski.

In fact, Stefanski was in his ninth season with the New Jersey Nets and held the GM position since the summer of 2004. He helped engineer the 2004 trade that brought Vince Carter to New Jersey Nets.

"We needed a fresh approach to the leadership of the franchise," stated Sixers owner Ed Snider at a Tuesday press conference. "We had the opportunity to bring in someone as accomplished as Ed Stefanski. This was a guy who was too good to pass up."

Indeed, Tuesday's announcement marks a return to Philadelphia for Stefanski, who was a 1976 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and coached on the high school level in the Philadelphia area. And he also worked as a broadcaster for nearly 20 years before joining the Nets.

"I feel more than ready to be the caretaker of the Sixers" expressed Stefanski, who thanked Nets president Rod Thorn for allowing him to make the move.

"I think that the 76ers are very close to my heart. They were my team. I'm a Philly guy through and through. I have a passion for basketball, a passion for Philadelphia. I love this place."

It's important to mention that The 41-year-old King had been with the Sixers since June of 1997 and was named the GM in May of the following year. He added the title of president in May of 2003.

Billy King, who was in the final year of his contract, was instrumental in trading perennial All-Star Allen Iverson to Denver last season, beginning the Sixers' current rebuilding phase.

"It was not an easy decision. Billy King is a good friend and did a good job," Snider added. "We believe we have an effective long-term plan in place, but we also feel it is time for a change, time for a new hand at the wheel."

Philadelphia 76ers fell to 5-12 this season following a loss at home to Atlanta on Monday. The squad went 35-47 last season.

We must remember that the high point of King's tenure with the Sixers came in the 2000-01 season when they went to the NBA Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers.

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