NBA rankings

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Must win final nine games to equal 66 win output from a year ago.

2. L.A. Lakers: Bynum missed fourth straight game Saturday. Can he get healthy for playoffs?

3. Orlando Magic: Games vs. Denver, Mavs and Spurs this week could seal fate of No. 2 East seed.

4. Denver Nuggets: Sunday, Monday at Magic, Mavs, then just 2 of 7 on road to close out season.

5. Dallas Mavericks: Slipped up a bit since 13-game win streak but still prime to get No. 2 seed.

6. Utah Jazz: Defensive lapse against Pacers but rebounded vs. Wizards to capture 3-1 week.

7. Boston Celtics: NBA steals leader Rondo set single-season Celts record with 168th theft Fri.

8. Phoenix Suns: Six-game win streak has team in thick of things but 7 of 10 on road to close season.

9. Atlanta Hawks: Nice home wins vs. Spurs, Magic, but loss at Sixers hurts shot at No. 3 seed.

10. Oklahoma City: Youth will be tested down stretch with 7 of final 11 vs. playoff-bound teams.

Game of the week

Spurs at Boston

These two aging recent NBA champions are still fighting to improve their playoff seeding. They will play tonight (6 p.m.) in an ESPN-televised battle. The game, of course, will feature the two best power forwards of this generation — Tim Duncan vs. Kevin Garnett.

THE "MAGIC" 50: Dwight Howard and Orlando reached the "magic" 50-victory plateau last week and did so with the all-star center on his best behavior to stave off a suspension.

In defeating the Philadelphia 76ers last week, the Magic joined the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams to win 50 games so far.

It's the third straight 50-victory season for the Magic, who won 52 and 59 games in the previous two seasons.

"I think it's the mark in the league of a very good team," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, "with 60 being the mark of a great team."

Howard said, "It's showing we are improving every year. People don't realize how hard it is to win every single night. We have been persistent the last three years."

Amazingly, it's the first time Orlando's Vince Carter, a 12-year veteran, has played on a 50-victory team. He played on a New Jersey team that won 49 games in 2005-06, but that's as close as he got before this season.

The Magic's winning season has been playing out lately against the backdrop of Howard's ongoing tussle with the referees.

Howard went into Friday's game against Minnesota with a league-high 15 technical fouls, one shy of the total that would earn him an automatic one-game suspension. He has had two technicals rescinded by the league after review.

In Orlando, they're not calling Howard "Little Rasheed" for nothing.

Actually, Rasheed Wallace's 13 technicals rank no better than third in the league, as Boston center Kendrick Perkins has been T'd up 13 times. Kobe Bryant has 12 technicals, Stephen Jackson has 11, and Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki have 10 each.

Center Andrew Bogut leads the well-mannered Milwaukee Bucks with two technicals.

Both Howard and Van Gundy admitted last week that a suspension might be inevitable. At least Howard has maintained his sense of humor, even though a one-game suspension would cost him $136,363, based on his $15 million salary.

"The refs are like cops, and I'm on the most-wanted list," Howard joked in Orlando last week. "My picture is in every cop station around the league. For every tech, they get a gold star. Five stars, and they get promoted."

He received technical No. 15 for rolling the ball, bowling-style, to a referee after he had been whistled for a foul against San Antonio. He received No. 14 after slamming the ball in frustration after a call in a game against Miami.

"I don't know if it's personal or they (referees) are just trying to make a point," Van Gundy said. "But I thought the last couple on him were pretty cheap, where guys are looking for him. It's just guys (referees) wanting to give him techs."

A player receives another one-game suspension for every second technical foul after No. 16 (the 18th, 20th, etc). The slate is wiped clean after the regular season, and a player is suspended after his seventh technical foul of the playoffs.

"I've been trying to be extra careful, but it's hard sometimes," Howard said. "It gets frustrating."


Dallas' Nowitzki was puzzled by at least one of the two quick technicals and an ejection he received from referee Bill Kennedy against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Nowitzki thought he had received a blatant shove in the back from Drew Gooden but, according to Nowitzki, Kennedy said there was no whistle because he didn't see the shove. When Nowitzki suggested to Kennedy that perhaps he get in a better position where he could see it, he received his first technical. Nowitzki was surprised by that one but admitted he deserved the second technical that quickly followed.

"He was actually pretty fired up from the beginning," Nowitzki said of Kennedy. "The first play of the game he already started yelling at the players. For some reason, he was pretty hardcore. … I shouldn't have reacted."

A FUNNY GUY: Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade toyed last week with Chicago reporters who were trying to gain insight into whether he was considering signing with the Bulls as a free agent this summer.

The reporters crowded around Wade's locker before the game, but Wade didn't show up there during the pregame media access period. At a practice in Chicago the day before the game, Wade was asked what he thought of the Bulls positioning themselves to clear lots of salary-cap space to go after an elite free agent.

"I don't know," Wade said while wearing a playful smile. "I haven't thought about it. But it has nothing to do with me."

FINDING A WAY: The Atlanta Hawks were informed they had clinched a playoff spot with a victory over San Antonio last Sunday only to find out later that, due to a miscalculation, they actually needed one more victory or a Chicago loss to get in the playoffs. After losing to the Bucks, Atlanta officially clinched a third straight playoff berth with a victory over Orlando.

After the victory over the Magic, the Hawks players were presented T-shirts that said "Clinched." No one appreciated the shirt more than guard Jamal Crawford, who will play in the playoffs for the first time in his 10-year career and liked how the shirt looked hanging in his locker.

"I think I'll leave it there for a while," he said.

ROY'S FEELING GOOD: The Trail Blazers improved to 3-0 against Dallas last week, and Portland's Brandon Roy thinks that could be big should the teams meet in the playoffs. They will meet again April 9 in Portland, but the Blazers already have clinched their first season-series victory over Dallas since 1998-'99.

"It's just important to win right now," said Roy. "But it feels good that you can beat a team that's second or third in the Western Conference. This was a huge win for us."

TAKE THE UNDER: How bad was the Bulls' loss to Miami on Thursday? So bad that TNT canceled commentator Charles Barkley's in-game interview with Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro after the third quarter because the Bulls trailed, 86-49, and such interviews are not conducted if a team is behind by more than 20 points.

It took the Bulls until the middle of the fourth quarter — on a layup by Flip Murray with 5 minutes and 56 seconds left in the game — to surpass Miami's 63 first-half points.

— Deseret News wire services