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Starting 5: West out of line-up; possibly Big Easy
By Steven Loung, Contributing Editor
Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - With 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a New Orleans overtime victory over the Utah Jazz, Hornets forward David West made a spectacular game-tying dunk over Paul Millsap - a play that'll be remembered for anything but the actual move itself.
After finishing the jam, West landed awkwardly on his left foot and immediately fell to the floor, crying out in pain and needing to be carried off the floor.
That image of the two-time All-Star being carted off in a wheelchair into the locker room will be the last we see of him this season, as he's been diagnosed with a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and will require six months of rehabilitation for it to properly heal.
It may also be the last time we see him in a Hornets uniform as well.
Looking beyond the immediate impact of New Orleans losing its leading scorer and second leading rebounder in the midst of a tight playoff race, there's the possibility of West leaving the team that drafted him to test the free agent waters.
Turning down a contract offer earlier this season, the former Xavier Musketeer has already shown that he's looking for more than what the Hornets are probably willing to offer. He currently has $7.5 million that's still owed to him through the 2011-2012 season and will have until June 30 to opt out of his current deal.
This latest injury coupled with the uncertainty of how a new CBA might affect the way contracts are handled make opting out a risky proposition. However, West will be a highly sought-after commodity in the open market and the appeal of a big payday may be what ultimately tips the scales.
GAY FINISHED BUT NOT THE GRIZZLIES
On Tuesday, the Memphis Grizzlies got hit with news that forward Rudy Gay will need to be shut down for the season as the left shoulder that he injured during a Feb. 15 game will require surgery.
This revelation was rather shocking since he was originally expected to make a return by April.
With word that its best player won't be back in the lineup during the final push for the postseason, it would be easy to assume that Memphis' grasp of the eighth seed in the Western Conference will loosen up very easily - an assumption that would be dead wrong.
Going 10-7 in his absence, the Grizzlies have learned how to win without Gay in the lineup, racking up W's against some of the toughest teams in the league including the Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics and, most impressively, the San Antonio Spurs - twice.
Considering the teams they beat while shorthanded, it's hard to think the Grizz will relinquish their hold on the final playoff spot - particularly since they have a nice 2 1/2-game cushion protecting them.
Looking at its remaining games, Memphis will have an easy road to close out the regular season and will even have a chance at the seventh seed since its only one game back of the Hornets.
Being without the services of Gay will inevitably start to hurt when the playoffs begin, as he's the Grizzlies' best clutch performer. For now though, his team doesn't really need him.
As the Boston Celtics continue the acclimation process of Jeff Green into their system, Kendrick Perkins, the other key player in that trade between the Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder, is fitting in just fine with his new team.
Due to an injury that's sidelined the center, determining what team got the better deal has been tough. However, since making his debut on Mar. 14 against the Washington Wizards, it appears that the Thunder are the early winners.
OKC has won six of the seven games Perkins has played in and he's had an immediate impact on the defensive end. During this debut stretch, the Thunder have only given up an average of 91.1 ppg, a number that's an astonishing 10.7 points less than what they surrendered in the 65 games they played without him.
The remarkable effect that Perkins has had on the Thunder's defense suddenly makes them a team that could make some serious noise in the playoffs. Before, you would think they would have a chance at winning a first round series and then get ousted, but now, it wouldn't be too shocking to see them competing in the Western Conference finals.
This is because OKC now more closely resembles last season's team and the exceptional defense it played. The main difference is that this team has Russell Westbrook who's emerged as an All-Star, a more seasoned Kevin Durant, and a defense that's even better because of Perkins.
It looks like that contract extension that the Thunder offered their new acquisition before he had even played a game for them wasn't quite as short- sighted as many believed.
JACKSON NOT A FAN OF THE ANAHEIM KINGS
Rumors of the Maloof brothers moving the Sacramento Kings to Anaheim have heated up lately as the city itself has formally acknowledged its desire to host the Kings, revealing a financial plan to persuade the Maloofs to relocate the team.
Given the close proximity of Anaheim to where his team and the Los Angeles Clippers play, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson doesn't like the sound of this at all.
"What other metropolitan area has three teams in it? It's ridiculous to put another franchise in this market," Jackson told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "It just doesn't make sense to do that."
As much as he doesn't like the idea of it, this isn't the first time Jackson's heard of a team relocating to Anaheim. He always thought it was going to be the Clippers though.
"They've been talking about Anaheim ever since I've been in town , so I guess I'm not surprised about it," Jackson said. "We were always surprised the Clippers never went there because it seemed like an appropriate place for them to go at that time.
"Then when Staples [Center] opened up, this has been a joint venture here that's worked out relatively well. I've never heard of anything like it. I mean, you think about the Dodgers and the Angels playing on the same field, it would be pretty impossible. But, here we are. We're doing it and we made it work.
"But to have another team, 40-45 miles away, that puts a lot of pressure on everybody in the area."
If the Maloofs do decide to move their team to Anaheim and the league approves it, things certainly will get crowded in an already basketball-heavy marketplace. Like Jackson said, the decision to enter such a landscape doesn't seem to make sense because of the direct competition that the Kings will face to find fans in an area that already has sworn allegiances to one of the two LA teams.
A decision on where the Kings will be playing must be made by Apr. 18 as that's the deadline to file for relocation.
NEW BEAST IN THE EAST
The Chicago Bulls have been enjoying the view at the top of the Eastern Conference for close to two weeks now and, by the looks of things, they won't be relinquishing that spot for a very long time.
Chicago's run to the top has been gradual but not unexpected. After all, it does have the prime MVP candidate, plays outstanding defense, has one of the most fearsome big man duos in the league, boasts a very serviceable bench and has a head coach in Tom Thibodeau who just might win Coach of the Year.
In less than a full season's work at the helm, Thibodeau's name is being thrown out there among the elite coaches in the NBA like Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson because of the way that he's managed to get his team to fully buy-in to what he wants them to do on both ends of the floor.
With Thibodeau's arrival to the Windy City, a winning culture traveled with him from his days with the Boston Celtics.
Being a part of that 2007-2008 Celtics team that won a championship and observing how Boston has managed to dominate the East recently must've rubbed off on him because his Bulls team looks ready to do the exact same thing.
Boston hasn't been playing very well since it made the trade to get Jeff Green while Chicago looks stronger almost every game it plays. If the Bulls manage to stay atop the Celtics for the remainder of the season - and capture first overall in the Eastern Conference - a shift in the balance of power will be signified.
It's true that they still need to prove themselves in the playoffs, but a regular season title isn't a bad start for what appears to be the beginning of a decade out East dominated by the Bulls.
03/28 16:03:08 ET
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