After getting off to a 19-10 start in the Southwest Division, the Grizzlies have gone 7-10 since then and are losing some ground in the Western Conference playoff race. Recently, Grizzlies coach Mike Fratello moved newly-signed PG Chucky Atkins into the starting lineup in favor of Bobby Jackson. Atkins did a good job of distributing the ball in a game against Houston last week and seems to be comfortable with Fratello's offense. "I'm starting to learn," Atkins told the Commercial Appeal. "This was my fifth game. I know Mike (Miller) likes to shoot coming off double screens, I know Pau (Gasol) likes the ball on the left block, Shane (Battier) likes the ball on the left block where he can operate, Eddie Jones wants the ball anywhere he can get it on the break. I'm starting to learn a little more about my teammates." Jackson, who is a former Sixth Man of the Year award winner, said he was trying to get his teammates more involved in the offense during his tenure as a starter. Jackson is disappointed with the move back to the bench, but Fratello said he will still find a way to play the offense to Jackson's strengths. "I could have shot more, been more offensive-minded," Jackson said. "But I tried to get everybody involved, and tried to be a rebounder and a leader and a guy who plays hard. I don't think nobody's been up and down this whole season but me. That's the most frustrating thing because you know what you're going to get from me every night." ... The Hornets are in the thick of the playoff race in the West, thanks mostly to a 15-8 record at home in Oklahoma City. Combine that with the fact only two players (P.J. Brown and David West) actually played two seasons or more in New Orleans and it is easy to understand why most of the Hornets' players feel more of a connection with Oklahoma City. "I just haven't had the opportunity to be in New Orleans," Rasual Butler told The Times-Picayune. "It will be great for us to go back, but at the same time, Oklahoma City has been great for us." Hornets coach Byron Scott told the paper he's anxious to return to New Orleans, where fans approach him when he's in town to ask about the team. "I know we have some passionate fans that are connected to us (in New Orleans)," Brown said. "I'm very connected to them. I go home, and that's all they want to talk about, whether the team is coming back, when are we coming back. People are excited about this team. Everybody wants the team to come back home. They want it back and talk about it all the time. (But) everybody understands we've got a long way to go to get back to where we were." ... Dallas is known for making blockbuster trades at the NBA trade deadline, but the Dallas Morning News reports the Mavs aren't likely to make a trade this year. Unless a major trade that would obviously benefit the team fell into the Mavs' lap, President of Basketball Operations Donnie Nelson said. "You can't help but be proud [of the job Avery Johnson and Mark Cuban have done]" Nelson said. "It's not very often that things come together like this. That said, we're only halfway there. The critical time of the season is in the next few months."
Jeff CaseOrlandoSentinel.com Sports Editor
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