Little General's orders

A younger, more inexperienced team might have eased through a game like Monday's Game 4 against the Memphis Grizzlies, unaware of how important it is to close out an opponent quickly.

But Avery Johnson got through to his Dallas Mavericks, who put forth another suffocating effort to complete a four-game sweep.

In a 102-76 victory, Johnson's squad held Memphis to 42-percent shooting, including 0-for-7 misfiring from the three-point line. Dallas' dominating display of defense also limited the Grizzlies to just two double-figure scorers (Pau Gasol with 25 points and Mike Miller with 10).

The blowout marked an NBA-record 12th consecutive playoff loss for the Grizzlies, who suffered a disappointing ending to an otherwise terrific season. For the Mavericks, the sweep means lots of rest as they await the winner of the Sacramento-San Antonio series.


Chauncey Billups – The Detroit Pistons' point guard may not win the league's Most Valuable Player award this year, but he undoubtedly is their MVP. With the Pistons in a tight contest against the confident Milwaukee Bucks and their frenzied home crowd, Billups took over for Flip Saunders' team. He scored 34 points and used his strength and speed to earn 16 trips to the free-throw line, where he didn't miss a shot. He also directed a Detroit offense that committed just six turnovers. The Pistons now can close out the series with a win at home on Wednesday.


Where does Denver go from here? – For the third straight season, the Denver Nuggets made the playoffs but lost in the first round. Unlike the past two years, however, the Nuggets don't appear to have much momentum going forward. Kenyon Martin will be shopped, but he has a bum knee and five years left on a huge contract. Kiki Vandeweghe is a free agent and may not be brought back as general manager. Also, don't count out the possibility of coach George Karl not returning. Even if Denver keeps everyone together, what is it going to do about adding some shooters? The Nuggets' lack of a perimeter game killed them against the Los Angeles Clippers. But with salary cap issues, Denver will have to be creative to alter its roster. Plenty of questions remain without much positive momentum.


Game 5: Indiana Pacers at New Jersey NetsVince Carter played one of his best games of the season in Game 4, helping the Nets tie the series at 2-2. He made nine of 15 shots, attempted just two three-pointers and made 12 trips to the free-throw line. That's the kind of stat line Carter needs to have in Game 5 instead of his 33-shot effort in Game 1. The Nets have very capable scorers next to Carter in Richard Jefferson and Nenad Krstic, and if Carter plays an attacking, distributing style, New Jersey is a tough team to beat. The Pacers, meanwhile, have hung tough with strong defense and the occasional dominance by Jermaine O'Neal. If he stays out of foul trouble, O'Neal can give the Nets fits, as he did in Game 3. Indiana could also use a healthy Peja Stojakovic, who has been bothered by a sore knee the entire series.

Game 5: Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat – Can the Heat get it together in time to regain control of this series? Or will the Bulls continue to give Miami problems with their constant penetration and perimeter shooting? A lot depends on the ability of Shaquille O'Neal to stay out of foul trouble. The Big Fella played a combined 48 minutes in Games 3 and 4 as the penetration of the Chicago guards forced him into compromising defensive positions. The cheap fouls O'Neal picked up changed the offensive strategy for the Heat, as they were forced to play a more up-tempo style that played into the Bulls' hands. Shaq has to stay on the floor, post up and make Chicago commit a double team, as he did in the first two games of the series. That led to open shots for his teammates, got Miami to the free-throw line and slowed down the tempo.

Game 5: Sacramento Kings at San Antonio Spurs – What in the world is San Antonio going to do with Bonzi Wells? In the past two games, the Kings swingman has averaged 22 points and 15.5 rebounds while dominating a Spurs team that doesn't have anyone that can guard him. When Wells is out of the game, Sacramento simply puts Ron Artest on the block to punish the Spurs' defense. With shooters Mike Bibby and Brad Miller on the perimeter, the Kings are making it tough for San Antonio to figure out where to help from. If any coach will have his team ready to play, however, it's Gregg Popovich. The Spurs will be alert, sharp and intense, and they'll have their home crowd behind them as well. Both teams know that this probably is the game that will decide the series, so it promises to be intense.

Game 5: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns – Momentum seems to change with each game in the playoffs, and for the Suns, Game 5 is an opportunity to gather a little steam after three straight losses. After having Game 4 won – twice – it will be difficult for Mike D'Antoni to convince his team to let the stunning loss go. But if Phoenix can come out and take it to L.A. and get the victory, the pressure goes squarely back onto the Lakers' shoulders – it'll be a series again. The Suns need another good performance from Shawn Marion, who snapped out of a series-long funk with a big second half in Game 4. Led by Marion, Phoenix did a much better job on the boards on Sunday, and that was why the Suns were in control for most of the second half. For the Lakers, they have a formula that has worked – pound the ball inside, spread the ball out and slow the tempo – and they'll stick with it.