Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The NBA Playoff Hunt Continues, Predator Style

Illustration for article titled The NBA Playoff Hunt Continues, Predator Style

The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who thinks you should go rent The Predator again. Immediately. Oh, and he also thinks you should read his stuff at Basketbawful. Enjoy!

So you cooked up a story and dropped the six of us in the meat grindah! Michael Finley's shooting slump hit a low point last week when he went 0-for-7 against the Dallas Mavericks. Since then he's gone 31-for-45 (68 percent), including last night's 22-point, 9-for-13 shooting performance that put the Houston Rockets [Arnie voice] through the meat grindah! [/Arnie voice] What's his secret? Said Finley: "Last night I made sure I got to bed early. Got up early. My wife cooked me breakfast. I was ready to go." Huh. Well, that's pretty simple. I'm going to have to start doing all that when I have pickup league. Although I guess it'll be hard to get Finley's wife to cook me breakfast. Anybody have her phone number?


Tony Parker also scored 22 for the Spurs (although I'm guessing he had to cook his wife breakfast and nice vice versa), and Timmy Duncan had a quiet 13-point, 6-rebound game ('cause on the seventh day he rested). Luis "I coulda been a Spur" Scola had 24 points and 7 rebounds for the Rockets, but Houston still got blown away 109-88. The fact that Tracy McGrady scored 13 points on 22 shots might have had a little something to do with that.

That's a really nasty habit you got there. The Utah Jazz might reach 50 victories, win their division and thus take the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, but they are one seriously bad road team. I'm talking about Smell-O-Vision level badness here. And yesterday's 110-103 road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves didn't help things any. The Jazz were sloppy on offense (17 turnovers) and took a hands-off approach to defense (Minny shot 53 percent). Carlos Boozer had 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Deron Williams added 15 points and 13 assists, but they also combined for 8 turnovers. Meanwhile, All Jefferson (22 points, 8 rebounds) led six Timberwolves in double-figures as Minnesota improved to 2-0 at home against the Jazz this season. Danger Will Robinson: The Denver Nuggets have won five games in a row and are only two games in the loss column behind the Jazz for the division lead.

You're one ugly motherfucker. I know this game was "important" because the Hawks are trying to hold onto the last playoff spot in the East and all that, but Atlanta's 114-109 win over the New York Knicks still made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. Partly because the dirty birds struggled to put away a bad team at home with a trip to the playoffs at stake, partly because the fact that a 33-win team (currently) making the post-season offends my basketball sensibilities, and partly because this wonderful era of Knicksuckery might very well be coming to an end after, oh, say, the next nine games. Bad times all around.

Joe "Big" Johnson lived up to his bird of prey reputation by scoring 25 points and dishing out 13 assists, Marvin Williams added another 27 points, and Al Horford contributed a sweet 18-point, 13-rebound game that should be used as Exhibit A in the Case of "Maybe Big Al Should Get Some Serious Rookie Of The Year Consideration." Jamal Crawford gunned his way to 39 points for the Knicks, who also got 17 points and 10 rebounds out of David "Isiah should have gotten a lot more minutes out of me this year" Lee.

Goddamn jackpot! This is more than we ever thought we'd get! The New Orleans Hornets beat the Toronto Raptors 118-111 to win their 50th game of the season and hold on to the top spot in the Western Conference...for today at least. David West, who led the sting swarm with 32 points, said of winning 50: "It's huge for us. I don't know if many people expected us to be where we are." Uh, David, nobody expected you to be where you are. Except maybe your mom, but that's just how she is. I mean, she said you looked cute in that sailor outfit when you were five years old, yo know? CP-MVP added 20 points and 16 assists and Peja Stojakovic scored 25 points for New Orleans. Chris Bosh (21 points) was one of seven dinos in double-figures, but all that scoring doesn't do much good when you can't get a defensive stop (the Hornets shot 60 percent from the field).

I ain't got time to bleed. Less than 24 hours after dropping a stink bomb in Detroit, King James dropped a Bron Bomb on the Philadelphia 76ers by going off for 26 points (11-for-18), 9 rebounds and 9 assists in the Cavaliers' 91-88 win. LeBron also hit the go-ahead basket by - prepare to be shocked - cutting through the Philly defense like it was a mild cheddar cheese to hit a layup with 24 seconds left. Man, it would take a flaming moat filled with mutant grizzly bears to keep him out of the paint at the end of a game. Mr. MVP Runner-up To Be got a little backup from Delonte West (18 points, 11 assists) and Joe Smith (13 points, 8 rebounds). Andre Iguodala was the Sixers' number-one guy (19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) but he missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied the game. As for Philly, they really lived up to the Rocky analogy I made about them last week, if you consider that Rocky put up a really good fight before losing to Apollo Creed at the end. The only thing missing was that whole "victory of the human spirit" thing.

Come on! I'm here! Do it now! Kill me! The way this season has gone, the kindest thing any team can do is put the Miami Heat out of their misery, and that's exactly what the Boston Celtics did in their 88-62 victory. Miami shot 28 percent from the field and hit only 17 field goals. For the record, that's the fewest in a game in the NBA's shot clock era, beating out the previous record of 18 set by the Chicago Bulls against the Heat on April 10, 1999. Talk about one seriously classic case of one-downsmanship. After the game, Paul Pierce gave the following frank and brutally honest assessment (with an emphasis on the "brutal" part): "Man, I'm going to tell you the truth. They got D-Leaguers out there, so I think we just handled our business." Leon Powe led Boston in minutes (27), points (17), rebounds (13), and number of juniors included in name (1). Ricky Davis and Chris Quinn paced the Heat with 14 points each.

You set us up. It was bullshit, all of it. That's my personal message to Clay Bennett, and I'm going to leave it at that. The SuperSonics suffered yet another blowout loss - this time a 120-107 homecourt setback to the Sacramento Kings - to solidify their standing as the worst team in the Western Conference. Yes, worse even than the Clippers, Grizzlies, and Timberwolves. The Sonics are currently 17-57 and they've lost 14 of their last 16 games. The team is now officially as depressing as the city's weather. Quite an accomplishment. The Kings got 31 points out of Kevin martin plus 29 points and 12 rebounds out of the unusually quiet Ron Artest. The Sonics got at least 20 points out of Kevin Durant (25), Jeff Green (21), and Earl Watson (20).

He's killing us one at a time. And the Dallas Mavericks' playoff hopes are dying one game at at a time, too. Last night's 114-104 loss to the Golden State Warriors created a three-way tie for seventh place in the Western Conference because the Mavs, Nuggets, and Warriors are all tied at 45-28. Now, if the playoffs started today - and don't worry, they don't - the Warriors wouldn't get in because they're 1-2 against Dallas and Denver so far this season. But Golden State will get another shot at both of those teams in their final nine games, and if they win both of those and the three teams finish the season with identical records, the Mavs will be on the outside looking in. You get all that? Yeah, I know, it's confusing as hell.

Honestly, unless Dirk Nowitzki has a faster healing factor than Wolverine, my money is on the Nuggets and Warriors making it and the Mavericks completing their tragic fall from grace, followed by what I hope will be a complete and total meltdown by Mark Cuban. But enough of my dreams. Monta Ellis was the ultimate warrior with 30 points, Andris Biedrins notched 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Kelenna Azubuike knocked down a couple clutch shots at the end to help hold off the Mavs. Dallas got 36 points out of Josh Howard and another "almost" triple-double out of Jason Kidd (13 points, 9 rebounds, 14 assists).

If it bleeds, we can kill it. The Lakers finally stopped their own bleeding - but barely - with a 126-120 overtime victory over the Washington Wizards. Kobe Bryant (26 points, 13 assists) rediscovered that whole "get your teammates involved" thing and - surprise! - L.A. pulled out a much-needed homecourt victory. Sasha Vujacic added 20 points and Vlad Radmanovic scored 19 in a pretty complete team effort for the Lakers, who had seven players in double-digits. Caron Butler had a triple-double (17/12/12), DeShawn Stevenson and Nick Young each poured in 27, and the Wizards shot 56 percent from three-point range. Too bad the NBA doesn't hand out awards for moral victories.