Hawks on Verge of Epic Meltdown

Perhaps it was Bango’s resilience in returning from a knee injury to throw down an incredible dunk that has inspired the Milwaukee Bucks.  Maybe they received a shot in the arm after their star center Andrew Bogut went down with a gruesome elbow injury that has prevented him from seeing any playoff action to this point.  Whatever the case, after taking the first two games of their opening round series with Milwaukee, the Atlanta Hawks now trail the series 3-2 and find themselves on the brink of elimination.

The nail may have been driven into the coffin Wednesday night, when Atlanta blew a nine-point lead with 3:55 left to play in the game.  Yes, I understand that it’s a seven-game series and you play the games for a reason, but if you believe that there is such a thing as momentum in an NBA playoff series, the Hawks could be finished.  Atlanta is now forced to head to Milwaukee — where the noise in the Bradley Center is certain to be deafening — and either win and go home (to play Game 7), or lose and go home (to play golf).

The way this series has played out is kind of ironic, don’t you think?  Two years ago, the Hawks were the underdogs, pushing the powerhouse team to seven games when no one gave them a chance.  The No. 1 seeded Celtics — who later went on to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals — took care of business at home and lead the series 2-0 before heading to Atlanta.  The Hawks then clawed their way back and found themselves with a chance to knock off the future champs, but lost Game 7 in Boston.  Sometimes it’s not easy being the favorite, and you’ve got to think Atlanta now has a pretty good understanding of that concept.  We’ll see if they can handle the pressure the way the Celtics did two years ago.

The Hawks unleash one of the epic collapses in Atlanta annals [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Shaq Joins the Bow Tie Revolution

Last week it was Heat star Dwyane Wade getting called out by the fashion police for his Batmobile outfit. This time, it’s another NBA player in the playoffs who committed the sin. Shaq decided to join Dhani Jones’ corner by representing with a bow tie at the post Cavs/Bulls Game 5 press conference. This may be the only thing Shaq has in common with Bruce Bowen. Here’s a picture of Shaq’s bow tie:

Someone tell Shaq his bow tie is crooked and that a little more chrome and he’ll be one of those silver robots. Yikes!

Photo Credit: Youngsafe on Twitter

Brandon Roy with a Heroic Performance

Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy is this week’s Lava Tickets Hot Performer of the Week for his inspiring play over the weekend. When it was announced that Roy would need surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his knee, reports said he would miss 4-6 weeks. Later when Roy had surgery on Friday, April 16th, reports said he would be out two weeks and miss the first-round of the playoffs, putting the Blazers at a major disadvantage against the Suns. Even Phoenix took that news to heart and figured they could coast in the series until they got smacked in Game 1 and realized they needed to bring it. That loss served as a wake up call for the Suns who blasted Portland in Games 2 and 3, taking a 2-1 series lead.

Given the way the Suns blew out the Blazers those two playoff games, one figured the rest of the series would be easy. Not so much. Brandon Roy couldn’t bare the idea of sitting on the sidelines for another game as his teammates lost a crucial playoff game so he begged and begged and begged Coach Nate McMillan to let him play in Game 4. McMillan got approval from GM Kevin Pritchard and owner Paul Allen to let Roy play, and Brandon entered the game to a roaring applause from the Portland crowd in the first quarter on Saturday night. Though Roy struggled to get to the basket the way he can when he’s healthy, he contributed 10 points including two huge jumpers in the fourth quarter and he drastically altered the Suns’ defensive gameplan. And guess what? The Trail Blazers beat the Suns 96-87 to even the series 2-2.

Brandon Roy has returned to the series for good, and in his words, “I didn’t come back to have one good game, I came back to try to help this team win this series.” Though the emotional lift he provided in Game 4 might not be there in Game 5, Roy’s mere presence will be a huge help for the Blazers. I don’t think they’ll win the series but it’s not for a lack of heart and effort on the part of #7. Returning eight days after knee surgery to help his team win a playoff game is incredible and legendary. I hope their success will continue.

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Blazers-Suns: Roy returns to help Portland ‘win this series’ [Portland Oregonian]
Portland 96, Phoenix 87: Brandon Roy returns and the Blazers even the series [Portland Oregonian]
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Shaq Got Some Fresh New Tattoos

Shaq missed the last six weeks of the regular season after having surgery on his injured thumb. While Shaq was out we heard how he was working hard to get into shape and that he lost 20 pounds. That seems accurate because Shaq has looked pretty good since rejoining the Cavaliers for their playoff series against the Bulls. I also noticed that something else had changed with Shaq’s appearance: he seemed to have plenty more work done on his arms and chest. I don’t know how many of Shaq’s tattoos were there at the beginning of the season, but based on some of these pictures it looks like Shaq got plenty more ink, taking a page from teammates LeBron James and Mo Williams:

As you can tell, it looks like he got a second Superman tattoo, the latest on his right arm to go along with the original “Man of Steel” S on the left arm. You can also see Shaq’s fraternity tattoo on the backside of his left arm. It’s for his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. Here’s how Shaq’s arms used to look, courtesy of Vanishing Tattoo:

As you can see, Shaq sure has added on over the years, most recently during his stay in Cleveland.

No Shortage of Confidence for Thunder

It’s no secret that the Thunder have enough talent to match up with the Lakers — especially when Kobe Bryant manages to score only 12 points on 5-of-10 from the floor.  My gut feeling is that the Lakers will still win the series, but if the Thunder do somehow pull off the upset, it will be simply because they have shown that they aren’t afraid of the defending world champions.  Well, that and the fact that Kevin Durant could be the MVP of the league — just ask Dwight Howard.

Oklahoma City dominated the Lakers on Saturday, with Durant and Russell Westbrook — possibly the best young tandem in the NBA — leading the way with a combined 40 points.  Having won both of their home games to even the series at 2-2, the Thunder have now put a tremendous amount of pressure on Los Angeles to take care of business at home in Game 5.  Otherwise, they’ll put themselves in a position where the Thunder can return home leading the series 3-2 with a chance to clinch in front of what has been an electrifying crowd at the Ford Center.

Even Ron Artest — arguably the best man-to-man defender in the league — is having trouble containing Kevin Durant, as evidenced by the way he blew by him on Saturday to stuff home a dunk that sent the Ford Center into a frenzy.  The Zen Master may have to try a bit harder to rattle the Thunder’s star forward if he wants to avoid a repeat of the 29-point 19-rebound performance Durant dropped on his squad on Friday night.

The Lakers are probably still the better team overall.  They’re the No. 1 seed for a reason.  They’ve been in this situation many times before.  They’re certainly more experienced and seasoned when it comes to playoff basketball.  If they end up unable to advance, it will be due in large part to the fact that they’ve run into the hungriest team in the NBA.

Thunder even series with 110-89 win over Lakers [Yahoo! Sports]
Loud and Proud: Fans Bring the Thunder in Oklahoma City [Fanhouse]
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Manu Ginobili’s Nose Busted Up by Dirk Nowitzki’s Elbow

Spurs guard Manu Ginobili was caught with a flailing elbow by Dirk Nowitzki during the third quarter of Friday night’s playoff game. Dirk was driving to the basket from the corner when Ginobili tried to reach for a steal. Because Manu was leaning in, his nose got hit by Dirk’s elbow resulting in this ugly picture. Here’s a before and after of Manu’s nose courtesy of ESPN:

As you can see, the upper part of Ginobili’s nose had shifted to his left and it seemed to be clearly broken. Manu also had massive bleeding from the inside of the nose, yet he still managed to return after missing about five minutes in the third quarter. I don’t know if Ginobili will be wearing a mask for Game 4, but I’m guessing this will be a minor concern moving forward in the series. Here are a few more pics of Manu Ginobili’s broken nose:

Photo Credit: Getty Images

UPDATE: Ginobili did indeed break his nose in the game, X-rays later confirmed. He’ll also have a CT scan at which time the Spurs will have more info on his status. What a baller.

Dwight Howard’s MVP List: Kevin Durant and Amare Stoudemire Above LeBron

Whether it’s because he plays in Orlando or because he’s a center, it does not seem like Magic center Dwight Howard gets the respect he deserves when it comes to the debate of the best players in the NBA. He has Shaq badgering him about the Superman nickname and then there supposedly is a Magic player who said the team was better without Dwight. Even if that’s just the perception, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy has turned the question into reality by openly vouching for Dwight’s MVP candidacy on numerous occasions. At the same time, Van Gundy said LeBron will win MVP as long as he’s around. Apparently that line of thinking got into the head of Howard because he didn’t even have LeBron in his top two spots for NBA MVP. Here’s what Howard said during a Tuesday interview on PTI:

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