The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who loves March Madness as much as the next guy but is really tired of hearing the phrase "You can tell they don't want to go home!" I mean, seriously, do the announcers need to tell us that over and over? Are there teams of players that DO want to go home? Anyway, when he's not nitpicking tournament cliches, he can be found picking a peck of pickled peppers at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
Dallas chokes game, Stack chokes Manu. The Dallas Mavericks regurgitated a 12-point third quarter lead and not only lost to the Spurs 88-81, they lost Dirk Nowitzki to a "left leg injury" when The Flying Dutchman fell down awkwardly after trying to block Ime Udoka's shot. (See what happens when you try to play defense, kids?) Depending on whom you ask, Dirk could be out anywhere from two weeks to the rest of the season. The Mavs will probably be without Jerry Stackhouse for at least a game or two as well, thanks to the way he pulled Manu Ginobili to the ground and gave him a little "Happy Easter" chokehold.
And while Mark Cuban is busy waging a one-billionaire war against the blogging menace, his team is melting down faster than Chernobyl, only without the fun glow-in-the-dark animals and mutant babies: The Mavericks have lost three in a row at home for the first time in years, are 0-8 against winning teams since trading for Jason Kidd, and are about two games from being out of the playoffs. Speaking of J-Kidd, he pulled off a minor miracle by scoring a whopping 7 points - more than double his output from the last two games - and even hitting a semi-clutch three-pointer in the fourth quarter. Didn't help, though. Tim Duncan shot like he had a 20-sided die stuck in his eye but still finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Meanwhile, Ginobili was unfazed by The Strangler's strong-arm tactics, finishing with a game-high 26 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Stack led Dallas with 19 points.
Allen and Carmelo achieve mutual gratification...in winning. As of last night, this was ESPN's front-page headline for the Denver/Toronto game: A.I., Melo combine for 69, Nuggets stop Raps. They said, "combine for 69." Uh huh-huh-huh, huh-huh, huh. God, I'm such a 12-year-old. Anyway, Iverson scored 36, Carmelo added 33, and the Nuggets actually held an opponent to "only" 100 points and 50 percent shooting in their 109-100 win. That's a pretty good defensive effort for them. And actually, Kenyon Martin's crazy-man defense on Chris Bosh (6-for-16 shooting, 0-for-1 in the fourth quarter, 4 turnovers) probably won the game for Denver (although Bosh still had an "almost" triple-double of 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists). Jamario Moon had 15 points and a career-high 15 rebounds for the not-so-mighty dinos, losers of eight of their last 10 games.
Hey, Detroit, you can wake up any time now. The Pistons are just one victory away from reaching the 50-win plateau for the seventh consecutive season, which is almost enough to make you forget that they're only 10-7 since the All-Star break. Almost. Last night, Detroit shot bad (43 percent), defended worse (giving up 53 percent shooting), and lost to Washington 95-83 despite strong efforts from Rip Hamilton (19 points), Tony McDyess (14 rebounds), and Chauncey Billups (11 assists). Antawn Jamison was the Wizards' magic man with 24 points, 12 rebounds, and 0 assists, and Tough Juice tossed in another 17. Agent Zero update: Gilbert Arenas took part in the the Wizards' morning shootaround and expected to get a little PT, but Washington's team doctors wouldn't clear him to play. [Arnold Schwarzenegger voice] And the Hibachi was steamed. [/Arnold Schwarzenegger] About an hour before the game, Gil was heard muttering, "I'm not coming back this year." Then, during the game, he told ESPN, "I was ready, but they went out there with a fishing pole and yanked me back." Ooookay. What, does Gil have some kind of communicable disease or something?
So much for Phil Jackson and the Lakers "owning" the Warriors. The Golden State Warriors built a 26-point lead, let the Lakers back into the game, and then withstood a Kobe Bryant barrage to beat L.A. 115-111. Monta Ellis had 31 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists for the Warriors, but Stephen Jackson was Mr. Clutchtastic, out-dueling The Mamba by hitting three-pointers with 38.5 and 8.1 seconds left to cockblock the Lakers' comeback. And while you could point to several reasons why the Lakers lost - 41 point shooting (led by Kobe's 13-for-30), 18 turnovers (including 14 in the first half), and the fact that Ronny Turiaf kind of looks like a special needs child - the real problem was that Phil Jackson recently said that his squad was "the team to beat" in the West. And that's what we like to call the stat curse. Bryant had 36 points, a season-high 14 rebounds, and 8 assists, and Lamar Odom added 19 points and 22 boards for L.A.