Johnny Ludden

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Johnny Ludden is the NBA editor for Yahoo! Sports

  • Nowitzki's 48-point show opens West finals

    DALLAS – The greatest player in these NBA playoffs walked out of the locker room late Tuesday dressed in slacks and a striped shirt, his blonde, tussled hair still a little damp. Dirk Nowitzki(notes) looked like he had just put in 40 minutes on the treadmill after clocking his eight hours at the local brokerage. He'd delivered one of the most stunning big-game shooting performances this league has seen, and he might as well have been another 9-to-5er, hustling out of the gym to grab a $3 Bud Light before happy hour ends.

    After all these years, there's still little about Nowitzki that intimidates. He's the NBA star you want as your friend, the goofy German who hums David Hasselhoff tunes at the free-throw line. Maybe that's why so many people have refused to admit the obvious for so long: The guy is a cold-blooded killer.

    The sports world has no choice but to recognize his greatness now. Nowitzki swept the champion Los Angeles Lakers out of the playoffs, took eight days off, then

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  • Durant carries superstar credentials on back

    OKLAHOMA CITY – Kevin Durant(notes) ran a brush over his head one last time then pulled the straps tight on his backpack. This was a new selection from Durant's apparently vast collection of book bags – gray with the initials "K.D." printed on the back – and teammate Eric Maynor(notes) was needling him about its contents. Two pairs of pants and one pair of Gucci shoes was Maynor's guess.

    Durant smiled, but offered no confirmation. "I always gotta have my backpack," he said before walking out the locker room doors. Watching Durant in moments like this – long-sleeved shirt buttoned to his chin, book bag on his back – it's easy to wonder:

    Is he going to the Western Conference finals or social studies class?

    This is part of Durant's charm. He's the assassin who walks away from his kill sipping a carton of chocolate milk. He'd just scored 39 points to end the Memphis Grizzlies' season in a Game 7 performance so smooth he probably didn't need a shower … and 30 minutes later he's dressed

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  • Randolph sends Grizz, Thunder to Game 7

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Zach Randolph(notes) bowed his head and let the roar of this delirious night fall upon him. They had stayed, some 18,000 fans strong, to salute their conquering hero as he strode off the court. Randolph flung his headband into the stands and finally disappeared down the tunnel, headed to a Game 7, a one-or-done shot at the Western Conference finals which seemed impossible for his Memphis Grizzlies just a month ago.

    Randolph has carried this unlikely collection of misfits and reclamation projects to the most thrilling moment in an NBA season. Game 7s promise only a suffocating mess of pressure and tension, and Randolph delivered the first for these wild playoffs, sending the Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder to one last, decisive battle.

    On a night when none of them wanted this crazy ride to end, Z-Bo gave the Grizzlies 30 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks, rallying them to a 95-83 victory that evened this Western Conference semifinal series at three games each.

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  • Perkins criticizes Thunder after win

    OKLAHOMA CITY – Kendrick Perkins(notes) smiled. This much is verifiable from eyewitness accounts. The sight of little Nate Robinson(notes) throwing in a 3-pointer was enough to melt even the meanest scowl in the NBA, if only for a moment.

    But the 3-pointers kept flying, the Oklahoma City Thunder kept laughing, the fans continued to howl and, well, this was about when Perkins vowed to use all this youthful exuberance as one more teaching point. The Thunder had already run the Memphis Grizzlies out of the gym, turning a tense Game 5 into an eventual 99-72 rout. The benches had emptied. The game was all but over. And, still, the Thunder continued to cheer every shot.

    “We have to end the game with better class than that,” Perkins would later say after the Thunder’s locker room had nearly emptied. “That’s too disrespectful in my eyes. That’s not what the Thunder are about. … I think we were too flashy.”

    Too flashy. As NBA sins go, this was the equivalent of a 6-year-old disobeying his

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  • NBA suspends Artest for Game 3

    LOS ANGELES – The NBA has suspended Ron Artest(notes) for Friday's Game 3 of the Los Angeles Lakers' Western Conference semifinal series with the Dallas Mavericks after the Lakers forward hit Mavericks guard J.J. Barea(notes) in the face Wednesday night.

    The incident occurred in the closing seconds of Game 2 when Artest stalked Barea from across the court and swung his right arm at the Mavs guard, hitting him flush in the face. Artest received his second technical of the game and was immediately ejected.

    The Lakers were expecting the suspension.

    "It was uncalled for," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Artest's foul.

    The league also classified Artest's hit as a flagrant two foul. If Artest receives another two flagrant points in the playoffs – via either a flagrant two foul or two flagrant ones – he will be suspended for another game.

    The suspension further weakens the Lakers as they head to Dallas trailing the Mavericks 2-0 in the series. Only three teams in NBA history have ever

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  • Mavericks push Lakers to the edge

    LOS ANGELES – The Staples Center had already half emptied, the A-listers handing over their valet tickets, everyone streaming toward the exits, little J.J. Barea(notes) dribbling out the final seconds of this improbable victory by the Dallas Mavericks. And here came Ron Artest(notes) looking for blood.

    The NBA handed Artest its citizenship award on this same floor one week ago, not that he has much use for it now. Mr. Citizenship raked his right arm across Barea's head, missing the ball by, oh, 2 feet, and catching all face. Barea crumbled in half and the officials ejected Artest, who barely broke stride, taking the opportunity to beat the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers to the showers.

    This wasn't about sending a message to the Mavericks. This was an act of frustration, a lesser opponent coming unhinged, a champion cracking.

    The Lakers have been pushed to the edge, or to Dallas anyway. They will fly to Texas, down 2-0, having lost twice on their own floor, facing what Derek Fisher

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  • Lakers cough up Game 1 to Mavericks

    LOS ANGELES – The shot left Kobe Bryant's(notes) fingertips, and that was about the time Jason Kidd(notes) glanced away. He had scrambled off a screen to try to get a hand in Bryant's face, only to arrive a step too late. The ball was in the air, the fate of Kidd's Dallas Mavericks resting on its arc toward the basket.

    "I didn't look," Kidd said later. "I was just going to listen to the crowd."

    What Kidd heard is the same painful bleating that's become a familiar refrain to those who frequent the Staples Center this NBA season: Nearly 19,000 fans groaning at once, each of them thinking the same tortured thought:

    Not again.

    By the time Kidd looked up, the ball was harmlessly skipping off the back of the rim, turning this home of champions into a lifeless shell. Make no mistake: The Los Angeles Lakers didn't lose the opening game of the Western Conference semifinal series with the Mavericks because of Bryant's last-second miss … or his botched handoff with Pau Gasol(notes) … or Bryant's

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  • Moment of truth arrives for Nowitzki

    PORTLAND, Ore. – Dirk Nowitzki(notes) shushed the NBA's loudest arena, beating back the Portland Trail Blazers and some of his own playoff demons. No first-round flameout this year. The Dallas Mavericks bent, but didn't break. Nowitzki deserved to appreciate the moment, and yet as he walked off the Rose Garden floor someone was quick to remind him what's waiting next.

    "Beat L.A.!"

    Beat L.A. For Nowitzki and his Mavericks, that's both battle cry and burden. No one will expect much of the Mavs in their series with the Los Angeles Lakers just like no one expected much of them against the Blazers. Nowitzki also knows that doesn't matter. If the Mavericks are ever going to erase the stain of all that postseason failure, they need to do something special.

    Beating the Blazers doesn't qualify.

    Beating the two-time defending champion Lakers would.

    "When I first got to the Mavericks, our big goal was making the playoffs," Nowitzki said. "That goal obviously changed the last couple years. Once

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  • Lakers get charge from Kobe's dunk

    LOS ANGELES – The lane opened, and so did Kobe Bryant's(notes) eyes. In that flash of an instant, Bryant's warped ankle no longer felt stiff. His legs felt alive. He took one hard dribble and exploded up. Emeka Okafor(notes), the New Orleans Hornets center, jumped too.

    Bryant cocked the ball with his right hand as if it were a hammer held above his head, and … well, this did not end gently for Mr. Okafor.

    These are the moments when an NBA season can turn, and Kobe knew as much. This game, this series – maybe even these entire playoffs – became his again. Shannon Brown(notes) would later joke that the last time he had seen such a ferocious dunk, Kobe had an Afro. Brown and the rest of these Los Angeles Lakers saw the fury in Kobe's eyes, and they understood.

    Raise up or sit down, Kobe was telling them. The Lakers' listless season had lurched precariously close to the edge. This quarter, this game – all of it was a referendum. And one violent dunk was all Kobe needed to send his

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  • Bynum helps lift Lakers over Hornets

    LOS ANGELES – For two days, the Los Angeles Lakers went over their game plan. Phil Jackson put the Lakers through a lengthy play-and-pause video session, forcing them to watch and re-watch their mistakes from their opening loss of the postseason. They emerged vowing to play more aggressive and focused. If they were going to square their series with Chris Paul(notes) and these New Orleans Hornets, they'd have to do it with defense.

    It sounded good, too, at least until the Lakers took the floor for Game 2. Then they watched Carl Landry(notes) quickly free himself for an open jump shot. Paul followed by dribbling into the lane and throwing in a floater. Marco Belinelli(notes) pulled up for another short shot.

    "I was getting annoyed," Andrew Bynum(notes) said, and this was the first clear sign of progress.

    Lakers scoring

    Kobe Bryant(notes) accounted for 25% of the Lakers' scoring during the regular season (57-25) but other players stepped up in Game 2 vs. the Hornets.

    Lakers team scoring pie chart

    Source: NBA

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