The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who can't believe it's only two weeks until the NBA playoffs. When he's requesting a two-month leave of absence from work so he can watch every playoff game, you can find him building a lint ball at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
Out. Of. Gas. Memo to Don Nelson: This is what happens when your key players — in this case, Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, and Monta Ellis — average close to 40 minutes per game for the year. They get tired. They lose leads. And they struggle on the road against good teams at the end of the season. (For further reference, see K.C. Jones and the 1986-87 Boston Celtics. Oh, and the 1987-88 Celtics too.) The Golden Staters led by double-digits early on, but they shot blanks from beyond the arc (3-for-29) and got carved up by both The 17-foot Assassin (25 points, 9 rebounds) and "Weird Peja" Stojakovic (25 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists). Oh yeah, and Chris "I'd probably win the MVP award if the voters hadn't made up their minds about giving it to Kobe a month ago" Paul had his fourth career triple-double (16 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) as the Hornets beat the Warriors 108-96 to tie a franchise record for victories with 54.
Little Monta Ellis led Golden State 35 points and 10 [!!] rebounds, but the Warriors fell a half-game behind the Nuggets with only five games left to play. Uh oh. About the only thing that could help their cause was if Denver lost to the SuperSonics. And what are the chances of that happening, you know?
(Okay, seriously, how is Chris Paul not the MVP? Everybody talks about the Lakers' injuries, but they traded for Pau Gasol right after Andrew Bynum got hurt, effectively replacing him with a better scorer and passer. And sure, Gasol went down for 10 games or whatever, but L.A. has one of the best benches in the league ... whereas New Orleans has the second-to-worst, in terms of point production. And let's not forget that the Lakers are guided by a Hall of Fame coach and the Hornets are, well, not. I'm just sayin'.)
I don't know what surprised me more. The fact that Dirk Nowitzki turned all clutchtastic on us - scoring 12 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth quarter, including the deal-sealing jumper (while falling down) with 32.2 seconds left - or the fact that the Suns scored only 9 points in the fourth quarter. Seriously, I can't choose which of those two things are more shocking. It's like hearing the moon jumped over the cow or that C-A-T actually spells "dog." Anyway, the Suns' fourth quarter collapse allowed the Mavericks to win 105-98 and establish a two-game lead on Denver for the seventh seed in the West. Dallas is now 2-11 against winning teams since the Jason Kidd trade, so I guess everything is totally cool now.
Game to forget: Steve Nash shot 4-for-17, 1-for-9 in the second half, and 0-for-6 in the fourth quarter. Nash, why hast thou forsaken us?
Stayin' alive, stayin' alive, ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' aliiiiiiive! Dick Diener's nephew scored 15 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to help the Pacers notch a 105-97 victory over the "waitin' for vacation" Bucks, thus staving off their inevitable mathematical elimination from the Eastern Conference playoffs for another day. Way to stay strong, boys. Indiana got 27 points out of Danny Granger, and Jeff Foster scored a season-high 16 points (all on putbacks) to go along with his 15 rebounds. Michael Redd put up some points (27) for Milwaukee...when he wasn't using his iPhone to search for discount flight plans on Priceline.com, that is. Fun fact: The Pacers have won eight out of their last 11 games. Who saw that one coming?
Don't look for this one on ESPN Classic anytime soon. Or ever. The Spurs beat the Trail Blazers 72-65 - no, that isn't a third-quarter score - in a game that saw both teams shoot in the 30s and set the sport of basketball back almost 10 years, when the Knicks-Heat rivalry transformed "winning" into something truly horrific to watch. Kind of like Leonard Part 6, only with less Bill Cosby. Timmy Duncan waved his magic wand, making 27 points and 11 rebounds appear out of thin air (I think he did it with mirrors), and Manu Ginobili (10 points) and Kurt Thomas (13 boards) did some stuff too. Brandon Roy made his return for the Blazers and scored 18 points, but unfortunately he couldn't prevent Portland from losing its fifth straight and falling one game under .500. Bad news Blazers: Martell Webster missed the game due to an irregular heartbeat and Joel Przybilla broke a bone in his hand in the second quarter and will miss the final five games of the season. Bummer.
You know, this used to be a rivalry. The Pistons continued to get their starters some much-needed nappy time with a 91-75 win over the
Miami Heat Washington Generals. The shining star of Detroit's victory was the suddenly dominant Rodney Stuckey, who scored 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Generals coach Pat Riley summed up his team's performance with the following brilliant observation: "We just couldn't make anything." It's been that kind of season, coach.
Wow. That's not good. The Orlando Magic pretty much have the third seed in the Eastern Conference all wrapped up, but they still aren't resting their starters. I guess Stan Van Gundy wants to iron out the team chemistry before the playoffs? If that's the case, it didn't happen last night, when the Magic lost 100-90 to the ... Wilson Chandler-led New York Knicks?! Yup, it's true. The rookie scored a game and career-high 23 points, which — along with Zach Randolph's 20 and 11 — helped the Knicks snap a five-game skid. See? The Donnie Walsh Era is already improving the team! 2009 NBA Finals, here they come! Orlando got 22 points out of Hedo Turkoglu plus 13 points and 15 rebounds from Dwight Howard. It was Howard's 66th double-double of the season, best in the league and just two shy of the franchise record Shaq set back in 1992-93.
Fun fact: Has this season driven Knicks fans completely loony? It sure seems like it. Last night, a fan ran onto the court during the fourth quarter while Turkoglu was shooting freethrows. The wacko came from behind one of the baskets and managed to run the length of the court and into the seats before security nabbed him. Of course, this is the second time this season that some nut jumped out of the Madison Square Garden crowd, with the first time being when that dude ran down onto the floor to molest LeBron James. I guess MSG security guards are about as apathetic as the Knicks.
Uh, remember that half-game lead the Nuggets took several paragraphs ago? Well, forget about it. Their Top 10 Defense (in terms of defensive efficiency) struck again, this time giving up 151 points in double-overtime to the Seattle SuperSonics. Or should I say, the 18-win SuperSonics who usually score only 97 PPG and had already lost to the Nuggets three times this season by an average margin of 37 points? I'm sure you get the point either way. Rookies Kevin Durant and Jeff Green bothed had career-highs in scoring — 37 and 35 points, respectively — in what was a virtual layup line for Seattle. Wow.
At least Golden State lost to the best team in the West on the road. What's Denver's excuse? (Hint: Maybe it was George Karl's bizarre space tie. Seriously, that design looks like an alien superweapon from the Star Trek series.) Said Allen Iverson: "Career nights from two people. You have two 30-point scorers and other guys doing what they did out there, what can you say?" Uh, how 'bout, "We should have played some defense out there"?
Quick roundup: The Lakers and Rockets proved they can still beat up on sub-.500 teams. L.A. crushed Sacramento 114-92 behind Kobe Bryant's 29 points. Meanwhile, the Rockets destroyed the Clippers 105-79 behind a well-rounded team effort that doesn't sound all that interesting when you write about it, no matter how many Dikembe Mutumbo finger wags were involved. Oh, and Memphis beat Minnesota 113-101 in what may have been the most meaningless game of the season so far.