Suns, Magic seek leads in NBA playoffs
ORLANDO, Fla., April 25 (UPI) -- Phoenix and Orlando, who have seized homecourt advantage against the top seeds in the NBA playoffs, will try to feed off the energy of their fans on Friday.
The San Antonio Spurs had the NBA's best record, but managed just a split in the first two games at home against the Suns in their Western Conference first-round series, but maybe that should not be construed as a surprise since Phoenix won three of four regular-season games against the Spurs.
Game Three is Friday at Phoenix, and the Spurs may again be without center David Robinson, who missed Game Two with torn cartilage in his left knee.
The Detroit Pistons hope to snap a 10-game road losing streak in the postseason when they visit Tracy McGrady and the Orlando Magic in Game Three of their Eastern Conference series.
McGrady set club playoff records with 43 and 46 points in the first two games, respectively, at Detroit.
In the only other series scheduled to resume Friday, third-seeded Dallas has a 2-0 lead over the Trail Blazers in the West as the series shifts to Portland.
The Suns shocked the Spurs in Game One, 96-95, when Stephon Marbury banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime. San Antonio evened the series Monday with an 84-76 win.
Marbury had 32 points to pace Phoenix and once again dominated Spurs point guard Tony Parker, who finished with just two points and four fouls in 18 minutes. Marbury is averaging 29 points per contest, while Parker is 3-for-20 from the field, and averaging 4.5 points, 11 fewer than the regular season.
However, NBA Rookie of the Year Amare Stoudemire and forward Shawn Marion combined for just 10 points in Game Two for Phoenix. Marion had 24 points in the series opener, but was 3-of-14 from the field in Game Two.
Detroit shot just 37 percent from the field in the first two games of its series, and appear to have no answer for McGrady, the NBA scoring champion. However, the Pistons have attempted 79 free throws to 46 for the Magic.
Detroit went 0-4 on the road in the playoffs a year ago, and has lost 10 straight postseason games away from home since a 93-80 win at Atlanta in Game Two of a first-round series in 1997.
Richard Hamilton poured in 30 points to lead the Pistons to an 89-77 win on Wednesday to even the series.
McGrady scored 43 points and received a big boost from rookie Drew Gooden, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds, in Orlando's 99-94 win in the series opener. In Game Two, Gooden had just four points.
Orlando will have to find a way to do better against Ben Wallace, a former member of the Magic.
Wallace, who earned his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award, finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds. His effort helped Detroit to a 47-30 rebounding edge in Game Two.
Portland has lost nine consecutive playoff games since beating the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals in 2000. If the Blazers don't snap the streak, Dallas will have a commanding lead in the best-of-seven series.
Unfortunately for Portland, starting point guard Scottie Pippen, who has been hampered by swelling in his left knee, sat out Wednesday and is questionable for Friday. Guard Derek Anderson also is questionable for Game Three after straining his left knee early in Game Two.
The Mavericks received balanced scoring from their "Big Three" on the way to a 103-99 win over the Blazers in Dallas on Wednesday.
Steve Nash scored 11 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, Dirk Nowitzki had 25 points, and Michael Finley added 17 for the Mavs, who took the lead for good, 101-98, on a three-pointer by Nash with 29 seconds left.
They were the only Blazers to reach double figures.
Jets, Bears make pre-draft trade
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y., April 25 (UPI) -- New York Jets General Manager Terry Bradway responded to the criticism Friday with a daring move while the Chicago Bears bagged a pair of first-round picks.
The Jets acquired the fourth overall pick in Saturday's NFL Draft from the Bears for two first round selections, Nos. 13 and 22 overall.
"The New York Jets have made a decision to move up to the fourth spot in the first round, and be in a position to acquire a good football player," Bradway said.
It is likely that Bradway will use the fourth pick to select either defensive tackles Dewayne Robertson of Kentucky or Jimmy Kennedy of Penn State.
Coach Herman Edwards has stressed the need to bolster a defense which ranked 24th in the league. Either the 6-1, 317-pound Robertson or the 6-4, 322-pound Kennedy will provide them with a much-needed run-stuffing defensive tackle. However, it came at a heavy price.
The New England Patriots, who had the 14th and 19th overall picks, approached the Bears with a possible trade, but were not willing to deal both first-rounders. However, Chicago General Manager Jerry Angelo was able to extract a pair of first-rounders from the Jets.
"We liked our options better having the extra first-round pick rather than staying at four," Angelo said. "We now have three of the top 35 picks in the draft, and are confident we will get three quality players."
Chicago has many needs to address with an offense that ranked 29th and a defense that was 25th. In a draft stocked with quality defensive linemen, as many as 11 are expected to be picked in the first round, the Bears probably will select one with the 13th or 22nd pick.
They also likely will select a quarterback in the first or second round to compete with free agent signee Kordell Stewart.
The Jets had the 13th pick in the draft as compensation from the Washington Redskins, who signed restricted free agent receiver Laveranues Coles.
Bradway has been criticized for losing Coles as well as returner Chad Morton, another restricted free agent, and two unrestricted free agents, guard Randy Thomas and placekicker John Hall, to the Redskins.
The Cincinnati Bengals will commence Saturday's draft with the selection of Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer, who signed a six-year, $40 million contract on Thursday.
The Detroit Lions are expected to take Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers with the second pick, and the Houston Texans likely will select Miami wide receiver Andre Johnson third overall before the Jets are up with the fourth pick.
NHL playoffs move north of the border
OTTAWA, April 25 (UPI) -- The NHL playoffs continue north of the border Friday night as Ottawa and Vancouver host conference semifinal series on the same day for the first time.
The opening night of the second round lasted into the wee hours of Friday morning as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim eased past the Dallas Stars, 4-3, in a five-overtime marathon that lasted nearly six hours.
It will be 3 1/2 hours between opening faceoffs Friday night, beginning with the Senators and Philadelphia Flyers in Ottawa, and ending with the Canucks and surprising Minnesota in British Columbia.
The top-seeded Senators are in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year, but it has been a nine-year absence for the Canucks, who last made it this far during their 1994 run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The two Canadian teams have never hosted games in this round simultaneously. Ottawa joined the league in 1992-93, and first qualified for the playoffs in '97.
The Senators are favored by many to make it to the Finals for the first time in franchise history. Built behind speed and solid goaltending, they posted a convincing win over the New York Islanders, needing only five games to advance.
Ottawa actually dropped the opener of the series at the Corel Centre, then outscored the Islanders, 13-4, over the final four contests, breaking their opponent's back with a double-overtime win in Game Three.
Speaking of overtimes, the Flyers are in the conference semifinals for the first time in three years, although it took them parts of 28 periods over seven games to get past the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The fourth-seeded Flyers have had two days to rest following a resounding 6-1 victory in Game Seven. They had lost a pair of double-overtime contests after winning a triple-overtime affair.
The teams are meeting in the playoffs for the second straight year. In last season's conference quarterfinal matchup, the Flyers managed only two goals and one win as Ottawa made it out of the first round for the first time in five seasons.
While the Canucks are back in the Western Conference semifinals for the first time in nearly a decade, it's a first for the three-year-old Wild, who posted a stunning seven-game victory over third-seeded Colorado.
The Wild are in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, but aren't looking like it, rebounding from a three games to one deficit to bounce the likes of Patrick Roy, Peter Forsberg, and Joe Sakic.
The fourth-seeded Canucks also rallied from a three games to one deficit, winning their first playoff series since 1995. Both victories came against the St. Louis Blues.
Expos put Armas on DL
MONTREAL, April 25 (UPI) -- The Montreal Expos have placed pitcher Tony Armas Jr., on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained rotator cuff.
The veteran righthander was scheduled to pitch against the Houston Astros on Friday.
Armas last pitched on Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds, and it was his worst outing of the season, giving up five earned runs in six innings. The Reds also hit four home runs against the Armas, who saw his ERA climb from 1.44 to 2.61.
The Expos then recalled righthander Claudio Vargas from Triple-A Edmonton of the International League. He will replace Armas on Saturday.
According to Manager Frank Robinson, Armas' arm felt fine after his last outing, but when he woke up the next day, he could barely lift it.
"He was throwing the ball very well with the exception of his last outing," Robinson said. "I was looking for big things out of him this year. He had gotten off to such a great start. We are going to miss him. We are doing the best thing for him. The doctors recommend that he go on the disabled list where he'll take it slow and easy. Within 15 days or so, he should be fine."
According to Robinson, Armas, who declined to talk to media, "battled" not to go on the DL. He felt that he could have missed just one turn.
"Mentally, he's down," Robinson said. "He did not want it to happen. He battled (in the manager's office) the whole time. I can understand that. Once he looks back and takes a look at it, he'll know it's the best thing for him and the ballclub. I like the competitiveness in him -- that he still wants to try to go out there."
Robinson said that the Expos felt that Vargas was "throwing the ball the best" in the minor leagues. The stats back that up.
Vargas, 23, was a combined 1-0 with a 1.66 ERA for Edmonton and Double-A Harrisburg in 2003. Vargas' last start came Sunday for Harrisburg, where he scattered three hits in six scoreless innings against Double-A Akron.
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