Damian Lillard is becoming a star

He’s the new Iceman with a lethal three-point shot. Damian Lillard has made a habit of making game-winning shots, and now he has his best with a three-pointer to win the series for the Portland Trail Blazers over the Houston Rockets with .9 seconds left.

Wow. This kid in incredible.

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Where do the Magic, Hornets and Blazers go from here?

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (R) and Orlando Magic shooting guard J.J. Redick (L) react after an Atlanta Hawks basket late in the second half of their NBA Eastern Conference Game 6 basketball playoffs at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia April 28, 2011. The Atlanta Hawks won the game. REUTERS/David Tulis (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It was a Graduation Night of sorts as three teams closed out their respective series instead of letting things go to a Game 7.

Hawks 84, Magic 81
Joe Johnson (23 points) and Jamal Crawford (19) led the way for the Hawks, who shot just just 39% from the field (to the Magic’s 43%), but still managed to win due to three extra three-pointers and seven more offensive rebounds. Dwight Howard had 25 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks and six turnovers. He averaged 5.5 turnovers against the Hawks, which is way too many for any player, especially a big man.

Where do the Magic go from here? Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Wasn’t it just two years ago that Orlando was an up-and-coming team giving the Lakers a good run in the NBA Finals? Pay attention, kids. This is what trading for Vince Carter (and then Gilbert Arenas) will do to you. Whatever mojo the Magic had is clearly gone and they could very well have their own Carmelo Anthony situation brewing with Dwight Howard scheduled to become a free agent after next season.

Lakers 98, Hornets 80
The Lakers enjoyed nice games from each of their top four players. Kobe (24 points), Pau Gasol (16 points, eight rebounds), Andrew Bynum (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Lamar Odom (14 points, eight rebounds) all played well, and when that happens, the Lakers are nearly impossible to beat. The difference in this game was on the glass, where the Lakers’ length outrebounded the Hornets by 13, including seven additional offensive rebounds. Offensive rebounds equal extra possessions, and extra possessions usually equal points.

Where do the Hornets go from here? I’ve been impressed with Chris Paul and the Hornets this season, and taking two games off the defending champs without your second best player (David West) is not an easy feat. That said, Paul is probably going to become a free agent after next season, so the Hornets will have to re-sign West at an injury discount and find a bona fide shooting guard soon, because Marco Bellineli isn’t going to cut it. (He was serviceable during the season, but had a dreadful series shooting the ball.) There is the makings of a contender here, but to convince CP3 to re-up, the Hornets need West to return to form and they need to land a really good perimeter scorer, and those aren’t easy to find.

Mavericks 103, Blazers 96
Many pundits, including myself, picked the Blazers in this series and it just didn’t happen. The Mavs shrugged off the Game 4 debacle and showed some grit by winning both Game 5 and Game 6 to close out the series. Dirk Nowitzki led the way with 33 points (on 11-of-17 shooting, highly efficient) to go along with 11 rebounds. Shawn Marion (16 points, six rebounds) has been playing well lately, averaging 14 points over the last three games. He’s the X-factor for the Mavs.

Where do the Blazers go from here? Portland has a nice team, but they’re never going to get over the hump with this lineup, largely because Brandon Roy’s knees aren’t healthy enough to get them there. He has four more $15 M+ years on his contract and if he doesn’t somehow get back to form soon, that deal is destined to hamstring the franchise. Portland should be building around LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and maybe Gerald Wallace, so they really need to strike gold by finding a Ty Lawson-type point guard in the late first round of the draft. Kemba Walker is that kind of player, but he’ll probably be long gone by the time the Blazers pick. Portland is in no man’s land (too good for the lottery, but not good enough to contend) and it looks like a long, hard road ahead. Roy’s contract is a great example of why guaranteed deals should be a max of 3-4 years.

Video of Brandon Roy leading Blazers in epic comeback [video]

Portland was down by 23 points with 15 minutes to play when they handed the ball to Brandon Roy and let him go to work. This is what happened:

What a great series of moments for a guy who has had a very rough season.

Blazers send Heat to fifth straight loss

Portland Trail Blazers’ Andre Miller (L), Gerald Wallace (C), and Rudy Fernandez congratulate each other as the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade (R) looks on, during fourth quarter NBA basketball action in Miami, Florida March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Hans Deryk (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

I made a point to watch tonight’s game from start to finish to see how the Heat responded to the loss to the Bulls and how they weathered all of the jokes about Heat players crying in the locker room after Sunday’s defeat.

Once again, the effort was there for Miami, but the execution was not. Dwyane Wade (38 points, six rebounds, five assists) was excellent, and LeBron (31 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists) was pretty damn good. That means the rest of the roster accounted for just 27 points, including Chris Bosh, who shot a dreadful 3-for-11 and scored just seven points.

He was completely outplayed by LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points), who hit jumper after jumper, including a key baseline fadeaway (on Bosh) to push the lead to nine with 2:06 to play.

But the difference in the game was Gerald Wallace (22 points, nine rebounds), who keyed the Blazers’ bench and made LeBron work on both ends of the court. Wallace was a great acquisition for the Blazers and he seems to be fitting in quickly because at heart he’s more of a glue guy than he is a player who needs the ball in his hands. Brandon Roy (14 points) also came off the bench and hit a key three pointer late in the game to keep the Heat at bay.

Back to the Heat — they did run some pick and roll with Wade and LeBron, and for the most part it was successful, but the Blazers didn’t do a very good job defending it because it took them by surprise. Whenever Wade has the ball, his defender should go underneath LeBron’s ball screen and force Wade to shoot the three or dribble into the switch. By going underneath, Wade’s defender would be in great position to switch onto LeBron and defend his roll to the hoop.

On Thursday, Miami hosts the red-hot Lakers, who will be looking to avenge their blowout loss to the Heat on Christmas Day. It should be a good one.

Five trades that should happen (but won’t)

Phoenix Suns Steve Nash stands next to head coach Alvin Gentry in the second half against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York City on January 17, 2011. The Suns defeated the Knicks 129-121. UPI/John Angelillo

GMs around the league were worried that there wouldn’t be much action leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline, but once the Carmelo Anthony trade went down, there has been a flurry of activity highlighted by the Nets’ acquisition of Deron Williams.

Here are five more trades that should happen, but probably won’t. They generally include one older player on a bad team that isn’t going anywhere.

Click on each trade’s headline to see it in the ESPN Trade Machine.

1. Steve Nash to Atlanta for Jamal Crawford and two first round picks
Free Steve Nash! The Hawks aren’t the ideal destination for Nash, but the Hawks really need a floor leader and the team has the defensive frontcourt (Josh Smith, Al Horford) to make up for Nash’s weakness on that end of the court. Smith and Horford would work well in Nash’s patented screen-and-roll and he would take the pressure off of Joe Johnson to create as the shot clock is winding down. The Suns aren’t going to get much out of this deal other than cap relief (Crawford’s deal is expiring) and a couple of first round picks, but Nash is 37 years old and deserves to play in the postseason. The Suns aren’t going anywhere anyway.

2. Rip Hamilton to Chicago for Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer
Rip can still play. He’s averaging 13.3 points per game and his shooting 40%+ from 3PT even though his minutes are sporadic. He works hard on defense and has kept himself in great shape throughout his career, so he should be able to contribute for the remainder of his contract. His spot up jumper would be a nice fit alongside Derrick Rose in the Chicago backcourt. The Pistons would be rid of the headache of keeping Rip on the roster without playing him and would get a couple of youngish wings in Korver and Brewer that could actually contribute.

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