Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Each weekday morning, BDL serves up a handful of NBA-related stories to digest with your bag of donuts.

Benjamin Hochman, Denver Post: It was over precisely the moment when Amar'e Stoudemire(notes), who plays "D" with as much interest as LeBron James(notes) has in the Timberwolves, took a gritty fourth-quarter charge. Stoudemire was a running joke in Games 1 and 2 of this Western Conference finals (and on Twitter, where Lakers fans became a litany of Lenos). But here in Phoenix on Sunday, Stoudemire found fire. The Suns won 118-109, and saved the season (and the series, for now). Things looked so bleak that the NBA sent out a contingency schedule for the Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals, just in case. But the Suns' Game 3 victory was due to the efforts of their fascinating big man, who can change the landscape of a series just by locating his heart beneath his puffy chest. "In this offense, we always say - the ball will find energy," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "I knew Amar'e would respond. He's a competitor." Stoudemire scored a game-high 42 points — 42! — with 11 rebounds and, really, was just fun to watch for a change. The guy, who had made his most noise with silly statements to the media, made quite a ruckus with his statement game, continually bulldozing his way to the basket against the posts-of-lore in the purple and gold. He played unafraid. "Mental toughness is always a key," Stoudemire said. "Every game is a different story, so you've got to approach it as such. Some games you're going to have a great defensive night, some games you're not. Some games you'll have a great shooting night, some games you're not."

Jeff Miller, Orange County Register: In the interest of not getting too high or too low, playing it real NBA veteran-like, we're going to approach this one from the popular it-is-what-it-is perspective. In Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, the Lakers were what they weren't. More significantly, Lamar Odom(notes) wasn't what he was. And he can't keep being what he wasn't or this series soon could be what it wasn't supposed to be — a series. Got all that? Let's hope Odom does because if Andrew Bynum(notes) can't give the Lakers more than he gave them Sunday, the level of Odom's production becomes that much more important. And we all know how maddening it can be relying on Odom to supply a predictable degree of anything. After two bullish games at Staples Center — the result, not coincidentally, being consecutive impressive Lakers victories — Odom produced bull in this 118-109 Lakers loss. "Just one of those games," he said, his nonchalance in the usual All-Star form that he never has been able to duplicate consistently on the court. "It happens, you know? It's just a game."

Dave McMenamin, Andrew Bynum played his worst game of the playoffs since suffering a slight tear of the meniscus in his right knee in Game 6 of the Los Angeles Lakers first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the performance left Lakers coach Phil Jackson wondering if he was going to use his young center moving forward. Bynum had two points, two rebounds and four fouls in just seven and a half minutes in the Lakers 118-109 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Sunday. "I'll talk to him to see what his suggestion is about it and how he feels about it," Jackson said. "I think he was ineffective. There were some things that got by him. He had one nice move in the post. Defensively I thought he was a little bit late." Bynum concurred with Jackson's assessment of his play on Sunday. "I was ineffective, that's obvious," Bynum said after Suns forward Amare Stoudemire attacked Bynum and the rest of the Lakers frontline to the tune of 42 points, 11 rebounds and 18 foul-shot attempts, racking up fouls on the L.A. big men. But the 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum did not agree with Jackson's potential plan to have him sit out. "That's not going to do anything," said Bynum who had three full days of rest between Game 2 and 3, using the time for off-court therapy rather than on-court practice.

Steve Buckley, Boston Herald: Rajon Rondo's(notes) mad dash up the parquet Saturday night to wrestle a loose ball from the Orlando Magic's Jason Williams(notes) has already become the stuff of local legend, a scrapbook moment that Celtics [team stats] fans will remember for years. Yet as painful as it looked when he was diving for the ball, Rondo was happy to report yesterday that he woke up with no bruises, raspberries or other telltale signs that he'd had a close encounter with the Garden parquet. "Just this right here," he said yesterday, holding up his right hand and revealing that he had jammed his middle finger. "It's a little sore. That's about it." In fact, Rondo found it more painful to deal with the media yesterday than to throw himself on the hard Garden basketball surface. As he was answering questions at the Celtics training facility, a loose ball conked him upside the head. After pantomiming to chase after whoever threw the ball his way, he returned to answering questions. "I just wanted to win," Rondo said matter-of-factly, when asked about beating Williams to the ball. "It was as simple as that. If that's what it takes for the team to win, I'm going to outwork the opposing team." Though the play has no doubt been viewed by many basketball fans throughout the world, Rondo, wrapped up in his postseason shell, said he's unaware of what's being said. As of yesterday, he hadn't even talked with friends and family members about it. "I have my cell phone turned off during the playoffs," he said.

Julian Benbow, Boston Globe: There was a stretch at the end of the regular season when it seemed like anybody who came into the Garden could hang 100 points on the Celtics. Oklahoma City came in at the end of March and ran up 109 points, with Kevin Durant(notes) blowing up for 37. Houston came through the next game and dropped 119 on Boston, raining 3-pointers. The next game, Boston survived a rush from Cleveland but couldn't stop the Cavaliers from scorching them for 113 points. Over the last two weeks of the regular season, eight teams ran up 100-plus points on the Celtics, each instance a blow to a team that views its defense as its backbone and the century mark as a personal breaking point. Being optimistic, coach Doc Rivers figured the defense would be better in the postseason. Being realistic, he knew if the Celtics wanted to win, they had no choice. "It had to be [better]," Rivers said yesterday. "During the regular season, teams were hitting 110. We clearly are a different team." Indeed, the Celtics have had the Magic boxed in for the majority of the Eastern Conference finals, taking a three-games-to-none-lead with a 94-71 win Saturday night. The Celtics, who can close out the series tonight at the Garden, have given up 100 points just three times in these playoffs — their only three losses. In their 11 playoff wins, the Celtics have held opponents to 84.9 points a game. The defense that struggled to keep teams from hanging 100 at the end of the regular season is now playing as well as it has all season. "We're playing well," said Rivers. "We're playing as a group. There's a lot of individual defenders on our team. [Rajon] Rondo can be terrific. So can Kevin [Garnett] and Perk [Kendrick Perkins(notes)]. But the reason we're playing well is because as a group, we're doing it together. We're doing it in system."

Jonathan Abrams, New York Times: There have been three games in the Eastern Conference finals, and all three ended with the same conclusion. Orlando's Dwight Howard(notes) sat on the postgame podium with his arms in front of him and his voice hoarse as Orlando's spokesman on all things gone wrong. Celtics fans mocked Dwight Howard, who has had an up-and-down series. He had 30 points in Game 2 but only 7 in Game 3. "All of us have already talked about what we need to do to win Game 2," Howard said after the Magic lost to the Boston Celtics, 92-88, in Game 1 of the series. "We saw a lot of positives in what we need to do to beat this team," Howard said after a 95-92 loss in Game 2. "I think we all know what we have to do," he said after the Magic's deflating third loss to the Celtics, 94-71, on Saturday. The answer raises the question: what exactly can the Magic do in Game 4 here Monday? Howard has not had the answer so far. His performances have swung like an EKG, from 13 points to 30 points to 7 points. Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy assigned himself a heavy dose of blame after the Game 3 loss. But the accountability is spread throughout his roster. No N.B.A. team has recovered from a 3-0 playoff series deficit. The Magic, which swept the Charlotte Bobcats and the Atlanta Hawks in the first two rounds of the playoffs, knows that."

Ronald Tillery, Memphis Commercial Appeal: With one eye on the draft and another on an impending free-agent period that might have a prominent place for Rudy Gay(notes), Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley remains — if anything — consistent. The Griz are preparing for the June 24 draft with the need for more shooting, versatility, point guard help and their talented, soon-to-be restricted free-agent forward in mind. Heisley continues to insist that he is prepared to retain Gay at all costs. "Rudy is going to be out there. But here's the No. 1 thing: The option on what we pay him is mine," Heisley said. "So when I say we're going to have Rudy next year, that's a pretty good indication that we're going to have him."

Phil Jasner, Philadelphia Daily News: Grant Hill(notes) was a heralded NBA rookie when he joined the Detroit Pistons in 1994. The kid from Duke had some solid teammates in Joe Dumars, Allan Houston(notes) and Terry Mills. He averaged a nice 19.9 points per game. The Pistons won 28 (count 'em) games. Enter Doug Collins and the turnaround culture. A year later, the Pistons won 46. A year after that, they won 54. After 7 years away from coaching, relaxing in the relative solitude of the TV booth, Collins is back to try to turn around the 76ers. He is the seventh since Larry Brown to try. "The Sixers are getting a coach who puts every ounce of his energy into making the team better," said Hill, who has fought through an agonizing series of foot and ankle surgeries to resurrect his career with the Phoenix Suns , currently fighting for their lives against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. "With Doug, they'll be prepared, they'll be in great shape. He's an unbelievable motivator. He'll get them to play. It wouldn't surprise me if they're a playoff team next year. My experience is, when you haven't made the playoffs there are issues, problems. Doug works to change the culture. I was with Dumars, Houston, Lindsey Hunter(notes), Theo Ratliff(notes), Michael Curry, Aaron McKie(notes) in Detroit. We grew up together. We all learned a lot; we all had long careers. Some of us are in coaching, some are still playing, some are working in the front office. The point is, Doug teaches you to be a professional. I had had some success at Duke, then won 28 games as a rookie. I found out that you can learn how to lose. Doug breaks you of that, demanding a lot from the players and from himself. He has an ability to communicate and to teach."

Mitch Lawrence, New York Daily News: Mikhail Prokhorov's five-year plan for the Nets to win a championship makes for good copy, but it has all the makings of fiction. It was difficult to take the plan seriously before the lottery, and then the plan took a major blow when New Jersey was awarded the third pick. But the Nets still want Avery Johnson to coach the team. And even after their latest setback, Johnson apparently is still interested in the post. Here's what the Nets like about Johnson, the former Mavs coach who was in the running for the Knicks job two years ago before Donnie Walsh decided to go with Mike D'Antoni: He won a title as a player with the Spurs. He coached the Mavs to a 194-70 record in four seasons and guided the franchise to its first Finals berth, in 2006 against Miami. The Mavs' collapse against the Heat and their first-round loss as the No. 1 seed in 2007, to lightly regarded Golden State, has not altered New Jersey's view of Johnson. "Besides being a very good coach, the Nets really like the fact that Johnson has a lively, effervescent personality and he's good with the media," said one league official with knowledge of the Nets' plans. "Whether you like him as a coach or not, they think he'll help promote the team. He's good on TV. He's got a lot of pizzazz. And that's very important to Prokhorov."

Nick Friedell, Phoenix Suns assistant coach Dan Majerle said he hasn't discussed the Chicago Bulls head coaching vacancy with Bulls general manager Gar Forman or executive vice president John Paxson, but he is willing to listen if they call. "Of course," he said to before Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday night. "Yeah, I'm willing to listen to anybody." Majerle recently interviewed for the Philadelphia 76ers job that ultimately went to former Bulls head coach Doug Collins. Majerle is intrigued by the possibility of coaching a team that could feature LeBron James if the Bulls land the Cavaliers superstar during free agency later this summer. "To me, any job would be a great job to be able to be a head coach at," he said. "The Chicago franchise is a storied franchise, a great city, one of my favorite cities. Derrick Rose(notes) is great, [Joakim] Noah's got a lot of energy — they've got a lot of young, nice pieces. Anytime James is talked about, any coach would love to coach a player like that." Majerle agreed with the notion that the Bulls job is one of the best on the market. "It's pretty good," he said. "Chicago's a great market. Obviously, they've got a nice talented team. I thought [former Bulls head coach] Vinny [Del Negro] did a great job. [He's] a good friend of mine, but obviously they're looking for something different. But I think that would be a great organization for anybody to go into with a guy like Rose at the point guard and some of the other guys they've got, it's a great foundation."

Eddie Sefko, Dallas Morning News: Apparently, Mark Cuban is 10 times as guilty as Steve Kerr. The Mavericks' owner Saturday was hit with a $100,000 fine by the NBA for comments made about free agent-to-be LeBron James that were perceived by the league as tampering. Cuban said he would have no comment about the fine. He made his remarks about James — who officially hits the open market July 1, meaning he's still Cleveland's property at this point — in an interview shown Thursday on a CNN website.

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