The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who would have to go back to Hakeem Olajuwon vs David Robinson to remember a time when a potential MVP was so abused by a non-MVP. Sorry, CP3. When he's not underestimating the heart of those championship Rockets, you can find him practicing his Dream Shake at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
Chris Paul for MVPffffffttt! Ugly game. Uuuuuuuugly. And nobody wins a butt-ugly scrap better than the Jazz, who sprayed the Hornets with Raid in their own hive, 77-66. (So much for Utah not being able to win on the road.) The Turkish Assassin was poppin' caps (22 points, 17 boards) while Deron Williams was making plays (16 assists) and totally owning Chris Paul, who had a very non-MVP-like game with 4 points (2-for-11) and "only" 9 assists. The loss did more than hurt Paul's MVP chances, though; it allowed the Lakers to gain some ground on New Orleans for the West's top spot. You know, unless L.A. coughs one up to the Trail Blazers or something. But what are the chances of that, right?
Whoa, Shaq's hurt?! The Big Injury sat out of the Suns' 127-113 donnybrook against the Grizzlies because of a right hip contusion he suffered against the Mavericks last Sunday. Of course, Phoenix was playing Memphis, so this might only be one of Shaq's "save me for the playoffs" mini-vacations. Still ... it's worth keeping an eye on. Two eyes, actually. Opened really wide. Shaq's an awfully big boy. Amare Stoudemire (28 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) led seven Suns in double figures, and Rudy Gay tied his career-high in scoring with 36, including 16 in the fourth quarter to make things interesting. (I'm just kidding. The game was never really interesting. Everybody knew Phoenix was gonna win this one. Sorry, Rudy.)
Still stayin' alive. (Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive.) Facing almost certain mathematic elimination from the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Indiana Pacers turned to ... Mike Dunleavy Jr.! And you know what? He actually delivered. (He never was any good at math.) The man they call Funleavy scored 28 points to help the Pacers win their rumble with the Atlanta Hawks 112-98. Indiana has now won three straight and nine of 12. Yeah, I don't get it, either. But maybe Jermaine O'Neal can explain the secret of their sudden and unexpected success. "We're starting to take a disposition about ourselves on both ends of the floor." Oooookay. The secret is safe with him, apparently.
Still, the Pacers have pulled to within two games of the Hawks for the eighth playoff spot with only four games remaining. And they own the tiebreaker over Atlanta after winning the season series 2-1. So if you're reading this column Atlanta Hawks fans — all seven of you — don't buy your first round playoff tickets just yet, okay?
How low can they go? Remember: The Bulls were supposed to make The Leap this season. They were expected to go all the way to the NBA Finals. The Finals. Instead, they're going to the draft lottery and losing to teams made up almost entirely of D-League players. No offense to the D-League, but WTF?! Speaking of the D-League, Kasib Powell just returned from there — where he won the MVP — to score a career-high 18 points against the Bulls in Miami's 95-88 victory. The win was the Heat's 14th of the season, and it snapped their seven-game losing streak. How did they pull it off? Said Pat Riley: "These guys are just unadulterated." Right, then.
Meanwhile, things have come full circle for the Bullies; they swept the Heat out of the playoffs last season — when they were reigning champs led by Dwyane Wade and Shaq — and have now lost to the worst Miami team of all time this season. Said Kirk Hinrich: "We've kind of lost our identity to what got us here. We kind of lost our edge." No kidding.
Yup. The Pistons are officially in "I don't care" mode. Well, the starters are, anyway. Detroit's reserves led a fourth quarter charge that erased most of a 19-point deficit before finally losing a slobberknocker to the Knickerbockers, 98-94. Isiah Thomas had to be wondering whether he'd fallen into some kind of parallel universe where he doesn't suck. Not only did his team win a tough game on the road against a championship contender (even if they didn't really care about winning), he was also honored in a pregame ceremony that celebrated the Pistons All-Time Team. Man, it's been a while since Isiah was able to smile and mean it.
The Big Three were back! Sort of. KG, Truth, Mr. Shuttlesworth played just long enough to help the Celtics build a ginormous lead that the reserves almost lost. But Eddie House hit a big three-pointer in overtime and Boston won its league-best 62nd game of the season against the Bucks, 107-104. That three was the only shot House (1-for-8) hit all night. Said Doc Rivers: "That's a great lesson for all kids. If you're a shooter, you're a shooter. You can miss 20 in a row, but if you're open you shoot again." Remember that great lesson, all you kids out there. Just keep shooting, no matter how many times you miss. Coaches like Doc Rivers love that.
That's what we call "taking care of business." The Dallas Mavericks never let their game against the Seattle SuperSonics turn into a fracas. They executed on offense (hitting 50 percent of their shots), smothered the Sonics on defense (holding them to 38 percent shooting), and used an 18-4 run in the fourth quarter to win going away, 99-83. Looks like the Mavs are gonna hold onto that seventh playoff spot after all. And all those idiots who didn't believe in them can go suck it. What? I was one of those idiots?! Well...crap. Fun fact: Seattle in general, and certainly Kevin Durant (16 points, 6-for-16) and Jeff Green (11 points, 5-for-13) in particular, found it a wee bit more difficult to score against a team not named "Denver Nuggets." Go figure.
Okay. Weird. Well, Pau Gasol's back so the Lakers shouldn't lose anymore, right? Wrong. For some reason, L.A. can't win in Portland. They lost their sixth straight there last night, 112-103. So much for gaining ground on the Hornets. Brandon Roy put it to the Lakers with 23 points and 12 assists, and LaMarcus Aldridge contributed to the melee with 22 and 16. Kobe scored scored 34, but forget about that. He'll be wearing the new Nike Hyperdunk shoe against the Clippers on Thursday! So who cares if the Blazers ate his cookie?
The Nuggets got yer defense right here, bitches. Denver finally held an opponent below 100 points. Sure, it was a tanking, injury-riddled Clippers team, but they'll take the 117-99 win and run with it. Carmelo Anthony continues to be the Human Torch of the NBA: He scored 36 last night to give him 121 points in his last three games. Said George Karl: "He's on a hot roll. Tonight his power and presence in the paint was presented early." Nice tongue twister there, George. Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers, too?
See, that's how you play no defense against the Kings. The Warriors didn't play any more defense against the Kings than the Nuggets did last weekend, but they outscored them 140-132, thanks to B-Diddy's 33 points and 9 assists, and Captain Jack's 20 points, not to mention Andris "I really need a cool nickname" Biedrins' 17 points and 17 rebounds. Of course, the fact that Golden State couldn't pull away at home against a Kings team that was without both Ron Artest and Brad Miller...well, that's kind of ominous, don't you think? Don Nelson does. "It's hard to be disappointed when you win and you score 140 points, but we're going to have to start guarding people a lot better than we did tonight." Uh, yeah, you could say that.
Let me explain this in three words or less. Charlotte over Minnesota, 121-119. Wait, does the score count as a "word"? Hold on, that question isn't part of the three-word-or-less explanation. Ah, forget it. Two lousy teams played, one won. End of story. (See? That last sentence was three words.)