Really Chicago?  Really?

Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

The NBA Playoff race in the Western Conference remains as congested and as up-in-the-air as ever. While the top four teams have somewhat distanced themselves from the rest of the pack, the hunt for the 5th through 8th seeds are still very much up for grabs for the other eight teams who are battling to make the post season.

The teams currently ahead of the Phoenix Suns (10) in the standings that are realistically within reach are the Memphis Grizzlies (5), Dallas Mavericks (6), Denver Nuggets (7), Utah Jazz (8), and Houston Rockets (9). Other than the Nuggets, all of these teams played last night and either slightly helped or hurt their causes with the result.

Read on after the jump for a look at the most up to date standings and a quick summary of the games that mattered most.

Here are the current NBA Western conference Standings for April 3rd, 2012

Wc_standings_04-03-2012_medium

Games of interest on Monday April 2nd:

Houston Rockets (8) BEAT Chicago Bulls 99-93

Rockets Grab 99-93 Win In Windy City - The Dream Shake

Chicago came out with a point to prove after being undressed in OKC 92-78 yesterday afternoon. The Rockets looked like a team that had just suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss at home less than 24 hours before tip-off, but to their credit, stood ready to right the ship.

Memphis Grizzlies (5) BEAT OKC Thunder (1) 94-88

Recap: Oklahoma City vs. Memphis - SB Nation

O.J. Mayo led six Grizzlies in double- figures with 22 points and Memphis held off a late surge to best the Oklahoma City Thunder, 94-88, on Monday.

Dallas Mavericks (6) LOST to Los Angeles Clippers (4) 94-75

Clippers 94, Mavericks 75: No Points - Mavs Moneyball

The Mavericks tried to build on the comeback against the Magic tonight and got bulldozed by the Clippers 94-75, who not only won the game but also picked up the tiebreaker (they take the season series 2-1). It pretty much means that the Mavericks can kiss a Top4 finish in the West goodbye.

Utah Jazz (9) BEAT Portland Trail Blazers (11) 102-97

Jazz Vs. Trail Blazers Post Game Thread: Jazz Win! One down, Eight more wins to go! - SLC Dunk

The Jazz don't usually win games in Portland, but they did tonight. This is exactly the type of win the Jazz need to set the tone for the rest of this month. It was a must win game, and they took care of business...

So after all of that, the Phoenix Suns still remain in 10th place where it seems like they have been stuck forever. The good news is the Suns have a few pretty important games starting this Friday against other potential playoff teams that could ensure they move up in the standings if they win.

Tonight, the Suns will face the Sacramento Kings on the road, and while this isn't a game that will necessarily help Phoenix displace one of their five biggest targets, it is very important to the Suns and their continued quest to stay in the playoff race that they get this win. The only other real game of interest for the Suns tonight will be the Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies, where the Suns will be hoping for the Warriors to come out victorious.

Stay tuned...

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It's fairly easy to recognize Hill's greatness.

Phoenix Suns forward Grant Hill has been named a winner of the 2012 Mannie Jackson - Basketball's Human Spirit Award as the professional basketball representative. Also named were Connecticut Men's Basketball Coach Jim Calhoun and the Founder and Director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics In Sport, Dr. Richard Lapchick, according to a press release from The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

According to the release, winners were selected by:

The criteria for award winners includes embracing the core values of the game through hard work, dedication, and resilience; striving to continuously improve the community they serve, and making an ongoing commitment to others. Beyond the game, award winners must reflect the values of Mannie Jackson’s life-long mission to overcome obstacles and challenge the status quo, while taking responsibility for personal actions and seeking the highest standard of excellence.

That certainly describes Hill, who is a 3-time winner of the NBA's Sportsmanship Award in addition to the numerous awards he's received for his performance on the court, 7 All-Star appearances and 5 All-NBA team awards among them. Here are the specific traits of Hill cited for the award:

Grant Hill, Phoenix Suns – Known for his positive attitude, strong work ethic and high moral code, Hill has routinely left his mark in a number of cities where he played professionally. He lends his support not only to a variety of national issues but to local issues as well. Hill was recently awarded a key to the city of Reston, Virginia, where he was raised with the proceeds from that reception going to the Medical Care for Children Partnership, which provides medical services for needy children in the county. Hill also appeared on behalf of Foot Locker and Fila, at a Detroit middle school to kick-off a program designed to replace backboards in 250 area schools. In addition, GMC Trucks sponsored his visit to the Michigan Special Olympics Women’s basketball team where he spoke, joked, and shot baskets with the players.

Said Jackson, the man for whom the award is named, and former player and owner of the Harlem Globetrotters: "We are proud to honor three of the most deserving selections since the award was established. Having known all three personally, I admire their sustained work and contributions to both the game of basketball and their communities."

Hill will be recognized on Sept. 6 in a ceremony leading up to the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. Among this year's HOF inductees are Reggie Miller, Don Nelson and Jamaal Wilkes.

Past winners of the Mannie Jackson Award are Chauncey Billups, Samuel Dalembert, Alonzo Mourning, David Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo.

Congratulations, Grant! Making us proud again.


Photo

Well here it is ... the 68 teams who were originally selected for the NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Tournament have finally been narrowed down to the final two. Tonight, the overall No. 1 seed Kentucky Wildcats will take on the Midwest Region's No. 2 seed Kansas Jayhawks live from New Orleans at 6 p.m. PST to decide who will cut down the nets, take home the Wooden trophy and win the championship.

The Kentucky Wildcats are the favorites to win tonight, as they have been all season long due to their overwhelmingly talented team of players, anchored by none other than PF/C Anthony Davis -- the best big man prospect in a decade and sure-fire No. 1 pick in this summer's NBA Draft. But Kentucky is not a one-man show, as the Wildcats also feature other top prospects such as forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones, along with guards Marquis Teague (brother of the Atlanta Hawks PG Jeff Teague) and Doron Lamb ... all of whom are also potential first round picks in the coming draft.

On the other end of the court, the Kansas Jayhawks are a team built on toughness and a never-quit attitude which is personified by their star player Thomas Robinson -- the most athletic, powerful, exciting power forward in college basketball, and a lock for a top 5 pick in the coming NBA draft. Robinson is joined by PG Tyshawn Taylor and C Jeff Withey as the core of the fast and furious Jayhawk team who are looking to shock the world by upsetting the uber-talented Wildcats.

Here's a look at the Kentucky Wildcats:


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Anthony Davis 39 31.9 5.4 8.4 63.9 0.1 0.5 15.0 3.6 5.1 71.1 2.9 7.3 10.2 1.2 1.0 1.3 4.6 1.9 14.4
Doron Lamb 39 31.1 4.3 9.2 47.1 1.9 4.0 46.5 3.0 3.7 82.5 0.4 2.4 2.7 1.5 1.1 0.5 0.1 1.8 13.5
Terrence Jones 37 29.3 4.7 9.4 49.9 0.4 1.3 33.3 2.6 4.2 62.8 2.6 4.6 7.2 1.4 1.6 1.3 1.8 2.4 12.4
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 39 31.0 4.0 8.2 48.9 0.3 1.3 26.0 3.6 4.8 74.5 2.6 4.9 7.5 1.9 2.2 1.0 0.9 2.4 11.9
Darius Miller 39 26.1 3.6 7.6 47.5 1.4 3.8 37.4 1.4 1.8 79.7 0.9 1.8 2.7 2.1 1.4 0.8 0.3 2.2 10.1
Marquis Teague 39 32.5 3.6 8.7 41.4 0.6 2.0 31.2 2.1 3.0 71.6 0.4 2.1 2.5 4.8 2.7 0.9 0.3 2.3 9.9
Kyle Wiltjer 39 11.6 1.8 4.1 43.7 0.9 2.0 43.0 0.6 0.7 81.5 0.6 1.1 1.8 0.4 0.7 0.1 0.4 1.1 5.0
Eloy Vargas 32 6.3 0.4 1.2 35.9 0.0 0.1 50.0 0.1 0.4 30.8 0.7 1.1 1.8 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.3 0.8 1.0
Sam Malone 6 2.2 0.5 1.0 50.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0
Brian Long 12 1.4 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.3 50.0 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2
Jarrod Polson 11 2.8 0.0 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.4 25.0 0.0 0.4 0.4 0.1 0.5 0.2 0.0 0.4 0.1
Twany Beckham 16 2.8 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.4 0.5 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0


As you can see by the minutes played, the Wildcats are not a particularly deep team, but with their youthful group of four freshmen (Davis, Lamb, Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague) and one sophomore (Jones) starters, they are conditioned to handle playing heavy minutes even at the most frantic pace. Senior guard Darius Miller is the only major contributor off the bench.

What is missing from these stats is Kentucky's defense. Due in large part to Kentucky's front line of Davis and Jones, along with the very versatile Kidd-Gilchrist, the Wildcats are the best defensive team in college basketball. Anthony Davis averages nearly five blocks per game, and with arms like light poles and great instincts he is a bonafide paint presence who constantly challenges and erases the opponent's interior game. Terrence Jones also compliments Davis in and near the paint, while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist roams the perimeter challenging the other teams' best shooters with guard-like quickness to go along with his 6-foot-8 frame.

Here are the Kansas Jayhawks:


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Thomas Robinson 38 31.7 6.7 13.2 51.0 0.2 0.4 50.0 4.1 6.1 67.7 2.8 8.9 11.7 1.9 2.7 1.1 0.9 2.8 17.7
Tyshawn Taylor 38 33.3 5.7 12.0 47.7 1.5 4.0 37.7 3.6 5.2 68.9 0.2 2.1 2.3 4.8 3.5 1.3 0.2 2.0 16.5
Elijah Johnson 38 32.1 3.8 8.7 43.2 1.7 5.2 33.5 0.8 1.2 69.6 0.4 2.9 3.3 3.6 1.8 1.4 0.1 2.4 10.1
Jeff Withey 38 24.6 2.9 5.3 54.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 3.2 4.1 79.4 2.1 4.2 6.3 0.7 1.3 0.6 3.6 2.5 9.1
Travis Releford 38 30.9 3.1 6.1 50.6 0.7 2.1 32.1 1.8 2.7 65.7 1.6 2.7 4.3 1.8 1.0 1.2 0.2 2.1 8.6
Conner Teahan 38 21.1 1.8 4.9 36.6 1.3 4.0 33.8 0.7 0.8 83.9 0.7 1.4 2.1 1.1 0.9 0.7 0.0 1.7 5.6
Kevin Young 37 11.4 1.3 2.6 48.0 0.1 0.2 33.3 0.9 1.3 67.3 1.4 1.6 3.0 0.6 0.8 0.5 0.4 1.6 3.5
Jordan Juenemann 15 3.1 0.5 1.2 44.4 0.1 0.4 16.7 0.1 0.4 33.3 0.1 0.5 0.5 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.3 1.3
Justin Wesley 37 8.8 0.5 0.8 56.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.7 42.3 0.7 0.9 1.6 0.0 0.3 0.2 0.4 1.9 1.2
Merv Lindsay 12 2.2 0.4 0.8 55.6 0.1 0.3 33.3 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.3 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.9
Naadir Tharpe 32 5.5 0.3 1.2 28.9 0.2 0.7 27.3 0.0 0.1 50.0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.7 0.7 0.2 0.0 0.4 0.9
Christian Garrett 7 2.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Niko Roberts 7 2.0 0.0 0.6 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.0 0.6 0.0
Anthony West 1 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0


Like the Wildcats, the Jayhawks are not a particularly deep team, and their core group of players only includes two bench players, Connor Teahan and Kevin Young. Inside the paint, Thomas Robinson is the go-to scorer for the Jayhawks along with with center Jeff Withey. Outside, Tyshawn Taylor is a fast, athletic point guard who can not only score around the perimeter but also drive the lane, along with Elijah Johnson who has really come on strong in the tournament with his explosive play and clutch three-point shooting.

Besides Kentucky, the Jayhawks may have the next best all-around front line in college with Robinson and Withey. Robinson is a physical specimen with a rare combination of size and athleticism to go along with his explosive and aggressive style of play, and he has showed much improved footwork in the post and shooting ability as well. Jeff Withey is a legit 7-footer with quick jumping ability and a polished post game.

Aside from their scoring, Robinson was the Big 12's leading rebounder averaging 11.7 per game ... and although Davis is considered the best shot blocker in the game, and for good reason after breaking Shaquille O'Neal's freshman block record at LSU, Jeff Withey actually blocked the highest percentage of opponents shots this season at 15.4 percent compared to Davis's 13.8 percent. On the perimeter, Tyshawn Taylor is also a very active defender who can make a difference with his ball-pressure and play-making ability as well.

Tonight's game is sure to be an exciting match-up between two great college teams who have various advantages over one another. Both of these teams are legitimate contenders, and they have both fought hard throughout the tournament to earn the right to be in this position.

Although many people believe the smart money is on Kentucky with their ultra-talented starting five (latest Las Vegas odds have Kentucky favored by 6 points), the Kansas Jayhawks may just have the right mix of talent, experience and a balanced attack to pull off an upset.

We already know who the ex-Kansas Jayhawk and current Phoenix Suns' PF Markieff Morris will be rooting for tonight ... What about you?

P.S. Last month I made a series of videos detailing some of my favorite college players who I believe may help the Suns in the coming draft, and you can see highlights of Tyshawn Taylor in the point guard video here, and highlights of Thomas Robinson and Terrence Jones in the big men video here.

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Poll
Who will win tonight's game?

  32 votes | Results


PHOENIX — Last year Suns rookie Markieff Morris endured the pain of being upset by a heavy underdog (VCU) in the Elite Eight. This year he’s watched his Kansas Jayhawks play their way into...

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We know how you feel, Stan!

The NBA Playoffs are on. Just like a good pennant race in baseball, the Phoenix Suns are locked in a playoff-type battle each night as they chase the Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets and try to hold off the trailing Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

On Sunday, the Jazz and Rockets rested while the Nuggets picked up a win over the Orlando Magic. Dwight Howard missed this game due to a back injury suffered when the Mavericks' Brendan Haywood (allegedly) punched him a few times. A butterfly across the world flaps its wings ...

The Rockets helped out the Suns, losing a close one at home against the Pacers -- the same Pacers team that the Suns recently beat on the road. Ha!

That leaves the Suns tied with the Jazz with 26 losses and two games behind Denver with KEY head-to-head games coming against those teams Wednesday and Friday. BIG GAMES.

Here's a look at the standings and key games.

Wc_standings_040212_medium

Nuggets at Magic recap: Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried come up big in win - Denver Stiffs
It's hard to complain about a big win on the road. It doesn't happen that often, and the Nuggets have an over .500 road record at 14-12. Nice eh? Yet, this game was so odd (from the beginning with Dwight Howard not playing) that you come away feeling a big confused and conflicted.

Media Row Report: Blazers 119, Timberwolves 106 - Blazer's Edge
The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves, 119-106, at the Rose Garden on Sunday night, improving their record to 25-28 on the season. If there's one thing we can do in Portland it's identity a basketball team that has had its soul removed by injuries. The Minnesota Timberwolves are such a team.

Rockets Fall In Barnburner As Pacers Squeeze Out 104-102 Victory - The Dream Shake
The Rockets found themselves in another barnburner at home with the Indiana Pacers, and after a damn good effort throughout the first four quarters, they suddenly kept missing open shots in overtime and got obliterated on the boards. And that's going to kill you, obviously.

Tuesday's key games for the Western Conference Playoff Race:

The Houston Rockets (28-25) face the Chicago Bulls on the road. That's a tough one for them. The game will be on NBA TV. Utah is on the road in Portland on Tuesday as well. We'll see if Rip City can do Phoenix a favor. The Clippers are at the Mavericks, but barring a COMPLETE collapse, both of those teams are in.

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