The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who's really looking forward to Easter, the day on which Larry Bird returns from the dead to lay multi-colored eggs under a Christmas tree. When he's not wondering whether Larry knows whether he's been naughty or nice, he can be found weaving his Easter basket at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
Let me tell you a story. One of the worst experiences of my life involved eighth grade gym class, a nearly deserted locker room, a group of angry jocks and a helpless nerd who got shoved into a cart full of sweaty towels, dumped into a freezing shower, whipped with jump ropes and then stuffed into a narrow locker where he stayed, cold and alone, until a janitor found him the next morning. I know what you're thinking, but I wasn't that nerd. No, he was my best friend, who was so horribly tormented only because he stood up to those jocks from doing all that to me. While all that was going on, I did exactly as honor demanded and ran away as fast as I could, telling nobody about what had happened. And sure, it took his body six weeks, a major knee reconstruction, and several sessions of physical therapy to heal, but he recovered. My guilt and shame, however, will last a lifetime. What's the point of that story? I'm trying to give you some small sense of the embarrassment the Miami Heat must feel after following up their 12th victory of the season by scoring 54 points...for an entire game. It was the third-lowest point total of the shot-clock era, surpassing only the 53 points scored by Denver against Detroit in November of 2002 and the 49 points Chicago scored against Miami in April of 1999. The Heat - who are without Dwyane Wade (left knee), Udonis Haslem (left ankle), Shawn Marion (sore back), Jason Williams (jammed right thumb), and Marcus Banks (right hamstring) - dressed only seven players, and Ricky Davis was one of them. Yeah. In case you were wondering, the final score was 96-55, Raptors. Chris Bosh showed up to work after missing 10 games with a sore right knee; he had 8 points and 8 rebounds.
It's like he never even left. Playing his first game in Philadelphia since he was traded to the Denver Nuggets in December of 2006, Allen Iverson scored 32 points, dished 8 assists, and lost 115-113. Some habits are just too hard to break. But the Philly crowd was way generous with the man love, cheering A.I. when he came out for pregame warmups, during which The Answer walked to center court and kissed the 76ers logo. They also gave their old hero a long standing ovation when he was introduced, and Iverson egged them on by putting his hand to his ear and turning to each corner of the arena Hulk Hogan-style. I tell you, that stirring tribute was enough to make my Grinchy heart grow three sizes, plus two. It did not, however, move the Nuggets to play much defense. The Sixers shot 60 percent from the field and got strong nights from Andre Miller (28 points, 12 assists), Andre Iguodala (21 points), and Samuel Dalembert (17 points, 12 rebounds, and - gulp - 8 turnovers). In the end, though, the real winners were the Philadelphia fans. And you know what? It's about time.
Okay, I was wrong. Sort of. I laughed when the Pacers signed Flip Murray a few weeks ago, mostly because Larry Bird indicated it was a sign that the Pacers were committed to making the playoffs. Yes, I laughed long and hard at that one. But as it turns out, Murray still has some ball left in him. The veteran guard led Indiana in scoring with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting as the Pacers held off the Charlotte Bobcats 102-95. Indiana still won't make the playoffs though, so I was at least half right. The Pacers' other hero was Shawne Williams, who bravely overcame this season's brushes with the law - which included harboring a murder suspect and pleading guilty to driving despite never getting a license - to score 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. For the Bobcats, it was their fifth straight loss, and their 44th in 68 games. Michael Jordan for Executive of the Year? Can I see a show of hands?
Break out of that slump, Wally. Break out of it! Wally Szczerbiak had his best game as a a Cavalier last night, scoring 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting and leading Cleveland to an 89-73 win over the Detroit Pistons. Suck on that, doubters! LeBron James supported Szczerbiak's herculean effort by chipping in with 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Zylsrunawhatever Ilgauskas added 20 points and 8 rebounds, but make no mistake: This game was all about Wally World, his talent, his willpower, his eyes, which are just as piercing in person when he's picking you out of a police lineup. As for the losers, well, Detroit discovered that it's somewhat more difficult to score when they aren't playing the Denver Nuggets. One night after ringing up 136 points on 60 percent shooting, the Pistons shot just 39 percent from the field and hit only 5 of their 17 three-point attempts. Said Rasheed Wallace: "We shot horrendous." He's not wrong.
From 22-0 to 0-2. The Houston Rockets suffered their second straight blowout loss, this time at the hands of - I cannot believe I'm writing this - the Bonzi Wells-led New Orleans Hornets. Wells scored 20 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter to break open a close game, and I'll bet you never in a million years saw that coming. But if you did, please e-mail me. I could use your help with my stock portfolio. Chris Paul had a chill night for him with 21 points and 10 assists, David West scored 23, and Tyson Chandler grabbed 15 rebounds. The Rockets shot 34 percent from the field and 10 percent from three-point range, with Tracy McGrady laying the brickwork (6-for-21, 0-for-3 in threes). On the bright side, Dikembe Mutombo looked like a slightly younger version of himself (10 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocked shots), so feel free to kiss his black ass.
There can be only one...eighth seed. And that dishonor now belongs to the New Jersey Nets, who pushed their way past Atlanta in the Eastern Conference playoff race by beating the Hawks 125-117. And leading the charge to an inevitable first round spanking by the Boston Celtics was none other than Vince Carter, who had been Rip Van Winkling his way through the season.
Vinsanity scored a season-high 39 points and even grabbed 10 rebounds. Why, it's almost like he cared! Said Carter: "I just wanted to put my mark on the game in the beginning tonight, whatever that meant. I wanted to be aggressive and make plays." Wow. Imagine if he played like that every night. But don't imagine too hard. You might hurt something. Richard Jefferson scored 33 himself, and Devin Harris bounced back from a lousy game to go for 26 points and 9 assists. Al Horford had 20 points and 15 rebounds for the dirty birds.
Hold on a sec, I think I know these guys. Let's see, now: 110 points, 57 percent shooting, 15-for-21 from The Land of Three...why, it's the Phoenix Suns! On a six-game winning streak. Plus, they've scored 132, 123, 127, and 111 points in their previous four games, while shooting 59, 55, 60, and 55 percent. And, would you look at that, they're only a half-game behind the New Orleans Hornets and Los Angeles Lakers for the best record in the Western Conference. You know, I think they might have actually adjusted to playing with Shaq. And to think, some people thought they weren't even going to make the playoffs...