The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who is seriously glad it's Friday. When he's not checking out NBA mascots - but only for laughs, not in "that way" - you can find him taking a siesta at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
Mmmm, beefy. On a night in which the Denver Nuggets thrashed the Dallas Mavericks 118-105 to move within a half-game of the West's final playoff spot - and within one game of the seventh-place Mavs - the biggest news was the return of Nene, who had a testicular tumor removed just two and a half months ago. Nene, who also went through chemotherapy just over a month ago, said: "I survived, I'm still here. I'm a new man, stronger than ever, I just say, 'Thank you, everybody.'"
Added Carmelo Anthony: "Everybody was excited to see Nene back out there, just to see him back in his uniform, seeing him smile again after the stuff he's been through." I couldn't agree more. Speaking of Melo, he led the Nuggets with 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists. Allen Iverson added 31 points and 5 assists. Nene ended up playing only one minute and 17 seconds - achieving a one trillion - because Denver didn't finish Dallas off until the fourth quarter. Blame the Nuggets' defense, which sat back and passively watched as the Mavs scored 70 first-half points before turning it on in the third quarter. Josh Howard scored 30, and Jason Kidd had a strong game - 19 points, 3-for-5 from three-point range, 15 assists - but Dallas still fell to 10-9 with J-Kidd and 1-1 without Dirk Nowitzki. (Oh, and that one win was against the Clippers, which kinda doesn't count.)
Fun with quotes: This one is from the Associated Press recap of the game: "The Denver Nuggets were just encouraged to see a uniform draping Nene's beefy body again, and that great smile splashed across his face once more." I just love a well-turned phrase. And seeing something, anything, draping Nene's beefy body.
Don Nelson: "Uh, playoffs anybody?" After watching his team stumble into a 14-point hole in the first nine minutes of their matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers - a game that was absolutely critical to the Warriors' playoff positioning - Don Nelson freaked the you-know-what out. Most likely because he didn't have his usual pregame beer. "The last thing I want to do is start yelling and screaming too much," Nelson said. "That was an exception. I thought they needed it. We got that out of the way. I hope they didn't put that on TV. I thought I was miked tonight, but I don't think they could have put that one on." Don't worry, Don. It'll probably be on YouTube sometime today.
Whatever four-letter words Nelson used must have worked, because Golden State came back to take a 111-95 victory behind 24 points from Captain Jack and 18 points and 10 rebounds from Monta "OH MY!" Ellis. Portland was missing the services of Brandon Roy, who's out with a groin injury. (Stop doing that before you go blind, Brandon!) Steve Blake tried to pick up the slack with 22 points and Jarrett Jack added 19, but the Blazers didn't get a big enough contribution out of the Vanilla Godzilla (0 points, 9 rebounds) to stick with the midgets from Oakland.
Imagine you fell into a coma five months ago. Then the first thing you see when you wake up is last night's Heat/Pistons game. Miami falls 85-69 despite a career night from Blake Ahearn and strong supporting performances from Chris Quinn, Earl Barron, and Stephane Lasme. Oh, and Rip Hamilton is nowhere to be seen, while starting in his place and also having a career night is Arron Afflalo. Would you be freaking out yet, and wondering how long you'd been unconscious? Yeah. Me too.
This Heat squad, filled with NBA castaways (Ricky Davis and Mark Blount) and former D-Leaguers promises to give us a couple more weeks of ugly basketball. And they delivered on that promise last night, hitting only 35 percent of their field goal attempts and going 2-for-15 from beyond the arc. As Charles Barkley said during Inside the NBA: "Shaquille O'Neal is turning over in his grave." Chauncy Billups added 13 points and 11 assists for the Pistons, who clinched the Central Division title with the win.