Then & Now: Your Weekly NBA Digest, 4/12

Welcome to Then & Now, where Shoals sums up the week in NBA hoops and tells you what to look for. Find it here every Sunday evening.
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↵Welcome Back Bynum: Andrew Bynum had initially been projected to show up some time during the first round of the playoffs, which would've been a mess, a distraction, for even this formidable a team. But he showed up this week, with time to spare, towering over opponents and adding another dimension to Los Angeles. Since his Thursday return, the Lakers have convincingly beat the Nuggets, second in the West, lost to the Blazers as usual, and gotten back on track with a win over Memphis. Los Angeles was already one of the NBA's two elite teams; judging from Bynum's first few games, they may have time to get even better before the postseason. ↵
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↵No One's That Broke: It's a not-so-hushed secret that, despite the best efforts of the city's fans, the Hornets are having financial issues. That, above all else, was the desperation underlying the attempt to deal Tyson Chandler to the Thunder. But, in one of those moments that reminds people to just tamp down the hysteria a bit, Byron Scott this week had to publicly rebuff rumors that the franchise might consider trading its franchise player, and the league's best PG, Chris Paul. Paul, perhaps motivated by the pseudo-rumor, proved his worth on Sunday, going for 31 points, 17 assists, and 9 boards in a key victory over the Mavs—a day after going for 42 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists in a loss to Dallas. ↵
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↵How the East Was Won: This Kevin Garnett had better be pretty good if the Celtics hope to come out of the East. They got soundly thrashed by the conference-leading Cavs today, 107-76. What's more, Paul Pierce barely contributed, and Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo might as well have not shown up. So much for filling the void, or proving that they're deeper than we thought. Thus, we're left with the eternal question: Can Kevin Garnett's leadership, rebounding, and defensive presence single-handedly slow down LeBron James, stop his supporting cast, or maybe even both? The Cavs have lost to the Garnett-less Celtics before, but the timing this late in the season couldn't be worse. ↵
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↵FILM CRITIC: ↵
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↵That pesky Dwyane Wade just won't go away. He just keeps doing crazy things to make us think he deserves the MVP over LeBron, or suggest that he just might go nuts in the playoffs and give us the Wade/Bron conference finals that we (and Stern) have always dreamed of. Here he is nonchalantly dropping 55 on the Knicks last night, a career-high that sadly fell one short of the team's all-time single game record, held by Glen Rice. Then again, as his coach Erik Spoelstra said, "He's broken every other record. Let's leave one of them to Glen Rice.'' Or, in the words of D'Antoni near the end of the game, "It's kind of ridiculous that you're this good." ↵
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↵LOOKING AHEAD: ↵
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↵-The Pistons clinched the eighth spot in the East, but to what end? No one expects them to trouble the Cavs in the least—after what LeBron did to them in 2007, even if they did win a game or two a moral victory is a pipe dream. And the fans can't be happy about this once proud franchise having to settle for beating out the Bobcats as the season's defining moment. Knowing Dumars, something's going down this summer. We shouldn't expect to see the Pistons, whatever form they take next season, in this position. ↵
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↵-I know conventional stats aren't supposed to matter, but it's worth noting that Wade's sitting at 29.9 PPG, just barely ahead of LeBron's 28.3. Dwight Howard's going to run away with the rebounding crown, and surprisingly, Troy Murphy should come in second. As of right now, Chris Paul's averaging 11 APG, while arch-nemesis Deron Williams has 10.7. Supposedly these numbers are misleading and lead to overpaying certain players, but it's funny how, at the top, they really do confirm the truths we hold to be self-evident about today's NBA. ↵
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↵-A thought for the draft: While Williams's Jazz, who are absolutely inept on the road, shouldn't be doing much in the postseason, what happens if the Hornets go on a run, Billups takes the Nuggets deeper into the playoffs than they've been in years, or Derrick Rose puts his name back on the map by going down in a blaze of nationally-televised glory against Boston? Does the stock of the PG in general shoot up? Or if Bynum provides the Lakers with the ammunition they need to coast right past even the Cavs or Celtics, or Dwight Howard's Magic (admittedly Hedo-less for the time being) surprise us all and make the Finals, is there a run on big men? When the class is considered weak, "best available" gives way to a referendum on what kind of players matter.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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