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COURT MARSHALL: Another big week for Pistons

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Mike Monroe

 
   
 
COURT

Game of the week: at
Sunday at The Palace of Hills

A possible preview of this year's NBA Finals. has moved into the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a combination of smothering defense and improved perimeter firepower. The have been the hottest team in the entire league in the second half of the season and pride themselves on defense as well. This one figures to be low-scoring, but that doesn't make it any less compelling. For one thing, it features a great individual battle, with league rebounding and blocks leader trying to keep MVP candidate from having a monster game on the boards, and vice versa. Strictly speaking, Wallace will match up at center against and , but you know he's going to be battling Duncan for every missed shot. There is a lot to like about the matchup of the point guards, as well. deserves a lot of credit for 's surge this season and has been playing the best basketball of his career since the All-Star break. The contrast in their styles — speed vs. strength — should be every bit as interesting as the battle between Wallace and Duncan.

One on one:
vs.
Sunday at First Union Center, Philadelphia.

The think Christie merits consideration as Defensive Player of the Year, and he was a second-team All-Defensive selection each of the past two seasons. The Sixers believe Iverson should be included among the legitimate MVP candidates. Of course, he was MVP in 2001. Watching Christie, who has a huge height advantage, attempting to shut down The Answer definitely will be worth the price of admission. Given 's recent comments about Iverson's exclusion from the next Team USA in favor of Christie's teammate, , you know both these guys will have heir competitive juices flowing.

Rookie to watch: ,

If Stoudemire is to have any chance of catching for Rookie of the Year, he is going to have to put up some spectacular numbers in these final two weeks of the regular season. The fact these rookies play for the two teams engaged in an air-tight race for the final playoff berth in the West makes watching them even more worthwhile. Forget the "rookie wall." Stoudemire must be as dominant inside down the stretch as he was early in the season if Phoenix is going to make the playoffs.
Mike Monroe can be reached at his e-mail address: mmonroe@foxsports.com.
Reserve on the rise
, : As if the needed another super-quick point guard to go along with , Claxton has been spectacular since coming off the injured list after dislocating his shoulder in the second game of the regular season. Claxton recently totaled 12 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in 30 minutes against the after Parker got hurt at the end of the first quarter. He would have had the triple-double, but took a rebound out of his hands in middle of fourth quarter. Near the end of the game, Claxton faked as if he was going to intentionally miss at his own basket, a la , causing the bench players to crack up.

Coach in a corner
Larry Smith, :Smith has the unenviable task to filling in for Rudy Tomjanovich as Rudy T. battles cancer. This would be tough enough, in and of itself, even if the weren't in a dogfight for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. As it is, every move Smith makes is apt to be second-guessed and if the fail to beat out the for eighth place, it is going to hurt Smith's chances of ever getting a head coaching job. It's not fair. It's just reality, NBA style.

All net and air ball
  • All Net: To , .

    Stockton turned 41 last week amid signs he is just as good as ever, or at least as good as he's been for five years. Stockton was the decisive factor down the stretch against the , scoring five straight points to put the in front, then hitting with assists on back-to-back hoops that put away the . Then, on his birthday last Wednesday he had five assists in the game's first five minutes, ran the offense that connected on 12 of its first 14 shots, and finished with eight points and 10 assists.

  • Air Ball: To , .

    Just two games into his return after missing most of the season Mutombo, who has the sharpest elbows in the league, caught in the throat on Monday night. Way to welcome Yao to New , Deke.

  • Stat of the week
    The have secured their 20th straight .500-or-better season, snapping Boston's NBA record of 19 straight. Utah extended its NBA-record streak of winning seasons to 18. Here are the longest winning-season streaks in other sports:
  • MLB: New York Yankees, 39 years
  • NHL: Montreal Canadiens, 32 years
  • NFL: Dallas Cowboys, 20 years
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  • Tagged: Cavaliers, Pistons, Rockets, Lakers, Bucks, Nets, Magic, Suns, Kings, Spurs, Jazz, Ben Wallace, Shaquille O'Neal, Chauncey Billups, Dikembe Mutombo, Mike Bibby, Tim Duncan, Malik Rose, Tony Parker, Auburn, Marshall, Tulsa, Utah, Amar'e Stoudemire, Yao Ming

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