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COURT MARSHALL: Eastern tilt could settle a lot

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Mike Monroe

 
   
 
COURT MARSHALL

Game of the week: at
Sunday at Continental Airlines Arena
E. Rutherford, N.J

Pay no attention to the hype ABC-TV is going to flood us with about the -Kings being a critical game on Sunday. Sacramento¿s got a 3-0 series lead, so we¿re going to be told the are playing for some sort of potential playoff edge. Bunk.

This Atlantic Division game is about first place in the division and the seeding that goes with it.

The winner is most likely to win the division and won¿t have to worry about being seeded lower than second in the playoffs.

The loser might have to wonder about home-court advantage in the first round.

Despite their loss to the in Los Angeles on Sunday and the ¿ win over the in New Orleans to close out an otherwise disastrous road trip, the open the week just two games behind the in the division. Of even greater significance: They are just one game behind in the loss column.

Philadelphia has momentum on its side, not to mention another veteran interior player capable of making a difference in the stretch run. The let out of his contract for reasons that had nothing to do with the playoffs. The signed him for reasons that had everything to do with the playoffs and their seeding in them.

For the , who have had their sights set all season on the best record in the entire conference, this game will be all about re-establishing themselves as the top team in the Atlantic, for obvious reasons. They¿ve lost their mojo. Beating the red-hot would be a clear indication they¿ve got it back.

One on one:
vs.
Saturday at T.D. Waterhouse Centre
Orlando

Everyone knows how hot McGrady has been for the past month. Fewer know that Mashburn has been nearly as hot as T-Mac. The have been on a pretty solid roll of their own, even without guard . That¿s because Mashburn has been playing the best ball of his career.

McGrady scored 43 — his ninth 40-plus game of the season — on Sunday and didn¿t play a minute of the final period. His 37 points in the first half were a club record.

Having these two on the court at the same time makes this matchup special, indeed.

Rookie to watch: ,

When you think of a rookie named Butler you probably think of Caron, but of late has been heating it up in Miami.

He¿s been getting more time because of the injury to and he has been making the most of it.

Butler, a rail-thin (6-foot-7 and only 205) forward from LaSalle has had some big games of late, including 22 points in a loss to Denver. In his last five games he has averaged 12.8 points, and that includes a horrendous clunker in a Monday night loss to the in which he made only 2-of-15 shots and missed all eight of his 3-point attempts.

It¿s that tendency to fire away, from any range, that makes Butler dangerous, both to opponents and to the . Down the stretch of the season you know Pat Riley is going to give him opportunity to get a better feel for when to shoot.


Mike Monroe can be reached at his e-mail address: mmonroe@foxsports.com.
Reserve on the rise
, : Since the trade that brought and to the , Garrity willingly has dropped out of the starting lineup and into a reserve role in which he has been very productive for a team that has been sizzling since the deal.

One of the ¿s problems before the trade was finding firepower off the bench. Now that Garrity, one of the league¿s top 3-point shooters, is a reserve Doc Rivers can be assured he has someone who can score when takes his little breaks.

Coach in a corner
Don Nelson, :Little by little, the ¿ stronghold on the top spot in the Midwest Division keeps slipping away. But that¿s not why Nelson¿s in a corner this week. It¿s that ¿statement game¿ that faces the in Sacramento on Sunday. We already told you it¿s not going to mean a thing in the big playoff picture, but considering that the haven¿t been able to win any ¿statement" games all season, it¿s about time they did.

All net and air ball
  • All Net: To the Basketball Hall of Fame For finally including Tex Winter among its finalists for enshrinement. The guy devised and perfected the offense that has dominated the NBA for more than a decade. That, alone, merits enshrinement, but Tex is nearly 80 and he¿s still coaching. That should make him a lock.

    Now do the right thing and vote him in.

  • Air Ball: To the new owners of the

    They seem to think they invented the franchise, and recently fired four front office types, including vice president of sales Steve Riley, who was second in seniority in the organization to Red Auerbach. Riley started with the club in 1976.

  • Stat of the week
    and are waging one of the closest battles ever for the season assist title. Payton leads the league, with 8.7 a game. Kidd is close behind, at 8.5.

    Here's a look at the closest assist races in NBA history: 1. Jerry West, '71-'72 , 9.7 asst.
    Lenny Wilkens, Sonics, 9.6
    2. Slick Watts, '75-'76 Sonics, 8.1
    Nate Archibald, 7.9
    3. Johnny Moore, '81-'82 , 9.7, Johnson, , 9.5
    4. Kevin Porter, '80-'81 Bullets, 9.1 Norm Nixon, 8.8
    5. , '88-'89 , 13.6 Johnson, 12.8

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