The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who wishes you all a happy freaking Friday. When he's not celebrating the weekend, he can be found playing Texas Hold 'Em at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
• We now have an answer to one of life's great mysteries. The Yao Ming-less Rockets are indeed better than the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavericks...113-98 better if you want an exact, scientific measure. Tracy McGrady continued his own personal renaissance - minus the jaunty hat and smashing tights - with 31 points and 9 assists, and Rafer Alston used Jason Kidd as a prop/poster boy on his way to a season-high 24 points. And voila! Just like that the Rockets have a franchise-best 17-game winning streak. Said T-Mac: "We all believe, man. When you've got a roster full of guys that really believe in themselves, great chemistry among the team, and we go out and play extremely hard every night, I'm not surprised." Well, everybody else is, Tracy. Meanwhile, Jason Terry, who scored 17 points on 6-for-15 shooting, is having a little trouble facing reality after the Mavs' current stretch of four wins and five losses in nine games. "They're playing well together right now, but at the same time there's not a team we can't beat." Oh yeah, Jason? What about the A-Team...can you beat them? I think we all know the answer to that question.
• Bulls use Jordan Rules. On LeBron. After watching King James drop 26 points on them in the first half, the Bulls tugged, bumped, and harassed him into 3-for-12 shooting over the course of the final two quarters. And I know this is going to shock you to your very core, but Bron Bron's teammates didn't pick up the slack: Chicago 107, Cleveland 96. Of course, James is never going to admit that a team actually managed to put the clamps on him, so while he admitted the Bulls got "a little more aggressive" with him, he also implied that only LeBron James can stop LeBron James. "I took some shots that I know I can make, but I missed." The Bulls got a double-barreled attack from Ben Gordan and Luol Deng (23 points each), Joakim Noah was twice the man Ben Wallace was (13 points, 20 boards), and Larry Hughes had a case of Cavalier-itis (4-for-12 shooting). Meanwhile, LeBron finished with 39, Andy Varejao and Wallace had 10 boards apiece, and Wally Szczerbiak continued his Larry Hughes impersonation with 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Eric snow did not play.
• Los Spurs ganar...nosotros bostezo. The Spurs' bandwagon is so empty you that could probably see a tumble weed blow across it. Assuming you were anywhere within a thousand feet of it, that is. Tim Duncan must have wrapped the team in his +5 invisibility cloak or something, because nobody seems to notice - or even care - that San Antonio has won 11 straight games and, despite a host of early-season injuries and flat-out boredom, currently sits atop the ultra-competitive Western Conference standings. El Contusione led San Antonio - whose jerseys read "Los Spurs" in honor of Noche Latina ("Latin Night") at the AT&T center - with 28 points. Tony Parker added 19, and Tim Duncan contributed 12 boards and some podrido shooting (3-for-11), and Gregg Popovich showed his first signs of human emotion by getting ejected for arguing a call in the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Pacers' main hombre was Danny Granger, who scored 22 points.
• Birdmen in the news. The newly reinstated Chris Andersen is sporting some newly dried ink these days. Although he did admit to "crying like a little girl" when he got his freaky new tats. "It hurt like a son of a bean mother fredo pie." Admit it. You missed the Birdman. We all did.