The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who's freaking excited about the end of the NBA regular season and thinks you should be too. When not being thrilled out of his ever-loving gourd by all this FAN-tastic NBA action, he can be found making playoff pinatas at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
There are only nine days left in the NBA regular season. You might be tempted to say, "Aw, screw it. I'm waiting for the playoffs." To which I say: Uh, playoffs?! Don't talk about...playoffs?! You kidding me?! Playoffs?! Despite what you may think, there are still several things worth watching out for during these final nine days. Missing them would be a mistake that could very well cost you your life. Scared? You should be. But don't worry. Gather 'round and I'll tell you why you should stay tuned for this frantic finish.
Girls, girls, girls. Science has proven that nothing heightens the pleasure of watching your team win - or, conversely, lessens the pain of watching your team lose - quite like a group of hot babes gyrating to the sounds of Whoomp! (There It Is) and I Like To Move It. Especially when they're dressed like Jenna Jameson in Dirty Bob's Xcellent Adventures 35 (or Where The Boys Aren't 15, or Camera Sutra 22, or Janine Loves Jenna, or...). So if you don't want to do it for the teams, at least do it for the girls. They didn't spend seven years failing out of cosmetology school to be ignored.
Fun fact: The Miami Heat Dancers have won NBA.com's Dance Team Championships for the last three years in a row. And I'm sure the fact that Miami is the plastic surgery capital of the United States has absolutely nothing to do with it. It's more because of sweet girls like Nikki, who would like to share the following words to live by: "Don't let anyone treat you as if you are unimportant because you're young. Instead be an example to the believers with your words, your actions, your love, your faith, and your pure life." Okay, yeah, it's the plastic surgery. But hey, I've read the Bible. I know the only reason God created science was so that all chicks could be hot. Seriously. Look it up.
The Western Conference playoff race. This year's battle to make the Western Conference playoffs is like an old-school WWF battle royal, only with less Hulkamania. Which sort of makes it less cool now that I think of it, but I digress. Only 8.5 games separate the first and ninth spots. There's a three-way fight for first between the Hornets, Lakers and Spurs. There's another three-team scuffle for the middle region between the Jazz, Rockets, and Suns. And let's not forget the scrum for the final two seeds involving the Mavericks, Nuggets and Warriors. Nine teams are going to win 50 games, but only eight of them will get into the Thunderdome. There's never been a conference brouhaha like this. How can you not love it?!
What's even better is that several of these teams still have to go head-to-head in the next week and a half. Utah plays in New Orleans tonight, the Suns face the Spurs on Wednesday, Denver travels to Golden State on Thursday, it's Suns/Rockets and Hornets/Lakers on Friday followed by Nuggets/Jazz on Saturday and then Spurs/Lakers and Rockets/Nuggets on Sunday! The final three days feature more playoff-seeding action between the Rockets and Jazz, Warriors and Suns, Jazz and Spurs, and finally the Hornets and Maverick. Every of of these games is important. Nobody's safe! And if that doesn't excite you, I suggest you check your pulse. You might be dead.
(Ed. Note: /Larry King)
The two-man MVP potato sack race. Apparently, the Boston Celtics are too good for Kevin Garnett to win the MVP, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are too bad for LeBron James to win it. This means that the field is down to Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant, whose teams are successful enough for them to merit consideration but also flawed enough to get them a little sympathy. The Lakers have had to deal with a variety of injuries to guys like Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza ... a problem compounded by the fact that they may have the worst medical staff of all time. Meanwhile, the Hornets have matched a franchise record for wins and continue to lead the West despite having the second-worst bench in the league (based on point production) and relying on a seven-man rotation that features Mo Pete, Jannero Pargo and Bonzi "The Lockerroom Cancer" Wells.
By all indications, the MVP battle is going to be decided by which team finishes on top of the Western Conference dogpile. (Personally, I think it should come down to a dramatic dance-off in which both players are dressed like fruit and forced to perform in a burning building, but maybe that's just me.) The Hornets are currently 1.5 games ahead of the Lakers, but, more importantly, they're two games ahead in the loss column. The drama is heightened by the fact that the two teams meet in L.A. on Friday night in what's basically shaping up to be an MVP showdown. (And if you don't think the Lakers are going to get a heaping helping of home cooking, you're smoking some pretty good shit and need to share.)
The lottery watch. In the NBA, 16 teams reach the postseason. But this also means that 14 teams make it into the draft lottery! So if your team has been or soon will be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, it's time for you to start fantanking. After all, each additional loss could earn a few extra ping-pong balls for your team, which means a better shot at Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, Brook Lopez, O.J. Mayo, or...you know what? That's pretty much it. Sure, there are other guys who will likely become solid and even spectacular pros, but those are the guys that might actually give you hope for the future. And I find that a little hope often goes a long way.
Not convinced? Then please refer to Tanking And You: A Fan's Guide. It'll teach you the finer points of the NBA meta-game and prove that you can still be entertained while actively rooting against your team.
DeShawn Stevenson and Drew Gooden's beards. One of the great subplots of this NBA season has been the ongoing beard-fight between Stevenson and Gooden, who during the summer made a bet concerning which one of them would shave their man-fur first. The stakes? Nobody really knows. The bearded wonders made an "undisclosed wager," which could mean just about anything. Maybe the loser only has to fork over some cash, or maybe he'll have to grow a ducktail in the shape of the winner's face.
At any rate, it's hard to imagine the battle extending into next season, so enjoy it while it lasts. Personally, I hope the two men stick with it and enter the World Beard and Mustache Championships on May 23, 2009. Note that Stevenson is sporting the classic Verdi cut (so named after composer Giuseppe Verdi), whereas Gooden has the larger Garibaldi style (named after the Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi).
Fun fact: Gooden's beard already beat out Stevenson's in Yahoo's Bedlam Tournament.
The final days of the Isiah Thomas Administration. Now that James Dolan has hired Donnie Walsh to be the President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks, it looks as though Isiah's days are numbered. In other words, the NBA's best and longest-running joke is coming to an end. This is devastating to me. It's almost like finding out my grandma just died, or that aliens have replaced the world's boob supply with angry monkey heads. And I don't need to tell you that a night of heated passion would be totally ruined when unclasping a bra only to get snapped at by a pair of savage, snarling monkey heads. Not to mention it would be a little weird.
No more bizarre trades, no more giving away first-round draft picks, no more brawls, no more stockpiling of similar assets (Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis, Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph), no more GM/coach feuds (Larry Brown versus Isiah), no more coach/player feuds (Isiah versus Starbury), no more $100+ million team salaries, no more bloated contracts for guys like Jared Jeffries and Jerome James, no more sexual harrassment trials or accusations of racism, no more more 20 to 30-win seasons, no more boo bird attacks in Madison Square Garden, and no more Isiah looking pained or smiling blithely through it all.
So enjoy it while it lasts. Because trust me: You're going to miss Zeke. We all will.