How The West (And The MVP) Might Have Been Won

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The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who thinks that a Lakers/Celtics Finals is starting to look like a seriously real possibility. When he's not dusting off his old "I Hate The Lakers" t-shirt, you can find him practicing his "Beat L.A." chant at Basketbawful. Enjoy!

Dear God. Can anyone stop them? I don't know about you, but the Lakers' 106-85 pounding of the Spurs felt pretty chilling, didn't it? Kind of like when that alien ship blew up the White House in Independence Day...only...only this is actually happening. Now L.A. can claim the top seed in the Western Conference by beating the bottom-feeding Kings on Tuesday at the Staples Center. Honestly, Sacramento might as well not even show up.


Kobe — whose wife and two daughters were on hand to make a shameless MVP plug, complete with homemade posters covered with pony stickers — scored 20, Lamar Odom had 17 points and 14 rebounds, and Pau Gasol added 14 points and 11 boards. The Spurs got 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists from monsieur Parker, and Tim Duncan added 16 points and 12 boards (although the Lakers' defense harassed him into 6-for-19 shooting). The champs were without Manu Ginobili (strained left groin), Brent Barry (old) and Robert Horry (really old). That may or may not have made a difference in this game, but Gregg Popovich thinks it'll mean something in next few weeks. "Come playoff time, we'll have as good a chance as anybody to do well." I guess we'll find out whether that's true soon enough...

Memo to Toronto fans: It's time to worry. The Raptors can't beat the Pistons. In fact, they can't even beat the Pistons' bench. Detroit's "Zoo Squad" — Amir Johnson, Arron Afflalo, Jarvis Hayes, Jason Maxiell, and Rodney Stuckey — played almost the entire fourth quarter and closed out Toronto in convincing fashion, 91-84, despite the fact that the Raptors were going all out to secure the sixth seed in the East. Chauncey Billups, whose veteran legs have been getting plenty of rest lately, had this to say about his team's reserves: "They would definitely be a playoff team. Look at what they're doing with 20-something minutes a night, and imagine what they could do with 34 or 35. They've beaten playoff teams the last two games - teams that are playing hard and have their starters in late."

Scary, huh? Especially for the Raptors, who could end up facing the Pistons in the first round if they're not careful. The loss dropped them into a tie with Philly for the six spot with two games left. Toronto has the tiebreaker, but with the way they've been playing lately, nothing's a given (although their last two games are against the Heat and Bulls, so...). Detroit got 18 points out of Stuckey and 14 a piece out of Billups and Maxiell. Chris Bosh led the dinos with 30 and 10.

Well whaddaya know? There is a "D" in Denver after all. The Nuggets forced 17 turnovers and held the Rockets to 34 percent shooting, and the result was a 111-94 win that brought them a step closer to capturing the eighth and final playoff seed in the packed elevator that is the Western Conference playoff race. All Denver has to do now is beat the Memphis Grizzlies at home on Wednesday and they're in. And Allen Iverson — who had 33 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists — thinks his team is going to take care of that business. "We understand what's at stake, and we don't underestimate them because we know they have talented guys on their team." No seriously, A.I., you're playing the Grizzlies.

Meanwhile, the Rockets probably cost themselves the West's top seed. They could have clinched it by winning out against the Nuggets, Jazz and Clippers. Now they need to win their final two games and pray that the Lakers and Hornets both drop one. Yeah ... not gonna happen.

Orlando reached the big 5-0. The Magic made it to 50 wins for the first time in 12 years with a 104-84 sandblasting of the Chicago Bulls. Hedo Turkoglu scored 24 and Dwight Howard had 19 in limited action. Meanwhile, the Bulls are one game away from 50, too. Losses that is. And just think, they were supposed to win the East and go to the NBA Finals. Fun fact: Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy showed up to the game with a bruise under his right eye that he got from "horsing around" with his 13-year-old son. (Do we need to call child protective services?) Oh well. At least it didn't happen while he was getting dragged around by Alonzo Mourning's leg.

If this is the end, at least it ended well. They might finish with the worst record in franchise history and then move to Oklahoma City over the summer, but Kevin Durant and the Sonics beat the Dallas Mavericks 99-95 to give their fans a storybook ending for this season. And the Seattle crowd responded with deafening cheers and a chant of "Save our Sonics." Durant — who hit two clutchtastic baskets in the final minute and finished with 19 points — said: "I almost cried, to be honest with you. People kept saying it might be the last game in Seattle. It was phenomenal." The game was made even more special by a rare appearance of Gary Payton. The only thing missing was Shawn Kemp and his 20 kids.

The're nothing quite like a little pre-first round trash talk. DeShawn Stevenson said LeBron James is "overrated." Then Gilbert Arenas said in his blog that "everybody wants Cleveland in that first round." Now that the Wizards/Cavaliers first round matchup is a near certainty, King James has a few digs of his own: "I wanted to play somebody else. But if we had to play somebody, I'm happy it's Washington." Joe Smith added: "[Arenas] is going to get his wish. We're going to bring it." All that would have sounded a lot more impressive if the Cavs hadn't struggled at home to put away the Washington Generals Miami Heat in a game so ugly I think I would have rather watched that scene from the Borat movie where Borat and the fat guy have a naked wrestling match. At least that would have provided some comic relief. And Daniel Gibson's nickname does not count as comic relief anymore. (Okay, that's not true. "Boobie" is always funny.)