WATERCOOLER CHAT: ARTEST SUSPENDED, SHAQ BACK, WILLIAMS STEPPING DOWN

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The NBA Playoffs had the night off Thursday night so all games could switch locations, allowing the players to get some much needed rest.  But there was still some notable news.  The NBA has suspended the Lakers’ Ron Artest for Saturday’s game against Dallas.  The reason:  Artest practically punched Mavericks guard J.J. Barea.  Lamar Odom was defending the small, pesky guard, and Artest came from out of nowhere to slug Barea in the face with his forearm.  Artest denied it was intentional, but the replay makes it look quite on target.  And many think that this move was simply out of frustration.  Dallas was all over the Lakers in Game 2, and Artest losing his cool is just an indicator that the Lakers are in disarray and have no idea how to contain the Mavs.  Can the Lakers win 4 out of the next 5?  We shall see.

And, finally, it looks like the Celtics will get their secret weapon back.  Who?  Shaquille O’Neill.  Remember, the Celtics acquired Shaq this off-season as a means to defending big men like Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol in the playoffs.  Of course, Shaq was injured for much of the second half of the season.  But if there was ever a chance for Shaq to help the team — it’s right now!  They need him badly because they’re getting killed by the Heat (who appear to be jelling on all cylinders right now).  The Boston team doctor is almost 100% sure that Shaq will be ready by Friday’s game, and the Celtics will need a serious defensive contribution from him.  If they lose again, they’re practically dead.

And in college basketball, the end of an era.  It looks like Maryland head coach Gary Williams is stepping down.   Williams was one of the most notable coaches in college basketball, much revered, and much respected, although the Terrapins have been lackluster the past few seasons.  But, Williams did win a championship in 2001 with a team led by Juan Dixon that also included the Lakers Steve Blake.  Williams also coached the much-touted #1 draft pick in 1995 — Joe Smith (still in the NBA), as well as the current back-up point-guard for the Grizzlies Grievas Vasquez.  The Terrapins typically didn’t sit atop the ACC (as North Carolina and Duke usually hold those ranks), but they were always contenders and frequently made the NCAA tourney (albeit with many an early exit).  Now, Maryland will look to hire his heir apparent and get back on track.

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