The NBA playoffs are upon us, with 16 teams competing for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. But what about the other guys? What about the teams we wish were in the playoffs? We may know, in our heads, that they didn't do enough to get into the postseason, but that doesn't change how we feel in our hearts. We'd like to see these teams competing in Bill Simmons's Entertaining as Hell Tournament, but until that day, we'll just have to write longingly about why we wish they had made it to the promised land.
Portland Trail Blazers
Sean Fennessey: This isn't exactly a song for the Blazers because the Blazers were hard to watch this year. Nic Batum was long and lean and aggressively French, J.J. Hickson played like an exploding can of soda, and Weber State's Damian Lillard was a revelation to those who enjoy tiny-man dunks but don't much care for consistency. (He is only the Rookie of the Year because Anthony Davis hasn't totally figured out how to play basketball yet. He will.) I won't miss those Blazers and I certainly won't miss their bench, mostly because their bench doesn't exist beyond the many terrified faces of Meyers Leonard.
Injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried have George Karl understandably scrambling for healthy rotation parts, but I’m not sure the world is ready to watch the Wild Child front line play heavy minutes. On their very first possession as a duo against Houston on April 6, Jeremy Lin blew by McGee’s overly aggressive and off-balance help defense on a pick-and-roll and launched a layup that Anthony Randolph, helping from the weak side, blatantly goaltended.
Randolph and McGee have combined for at least a dozen moments of sublime chaos since, including a half-dozen alone in Denver’s wild and very necessary win Monday night in Milwaukee — more silly goaltending infractions, two completely out-of-control offensive fouls by a stumbling Randolph, and at least one McGee into-the-stands rejection so dumb McGee expressed immediate regret that he didn’t just catch the ball.
In case you were out feeling agnostic toward piña coladas, but still got caught in the rain, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Kobe Bryant was en fuego, scoring 47 points as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers, 113-106. Bryant's big night overshadowed a stellar performance from Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard, who described going toe to toe as "really fun for a while, until things started to get, um, personal." When asked to explain, Lillard got very quiet. Bryant, when asked about Lillard's comments, said, "Kid's a kid, and when you're a kid, you're maybe not ready to see a grown man call another grown man who is wearing the same jersey he is some of the names I may have called some of the men who were wearing the same jersey I was. But if he didn't want to see that, then maybe those men who were wearing the same jersey that I was should maybe rebound, as they were expected to when some other men were traded for them this past offseason. The point is, we can stay quiet for the kids, but I say they gotta grow up sometime. Damian's a trouper. He'll be all right."
The Kansas City Royals completed a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins with a 3-0 win at Kauffman Stadium. The win keeps the Kansas City Royals atop the AL Central, and while the season is still young, it's never too early to prepare yourself for the consequences of a potential Royals playoff berth. In the event of a Royals playoff berth, you'll want to keep five gallons of purified water on hand for each member of your household. You'll also want to have cash on hand; remember, in the case of a Royals playoff berth, it's likely that the telecommunication systems we rely on in our day-to-day lives will fail, and you'll want to be prepared. While having a roll of duct tape handy in the case of a Royals playoff berth might help you build a makeshift shelter, you should not rely on it if a Royals playoff berth leads to unbreathable air conditions. Consider purchasing rated ventilation masks now. And when in doubt, an ounce of prevention can save a pound of heartache in the event of a Royals playoff berth.
In case you were busy perpetually holding both thumbs up in a tribute to the late Roger Ebert, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
The Oklahoma City Thunder kept the pressure on the San Antonio Spurs in their race for the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs with a 100-88 win at home. The game was decided by the point guards, with Russell Westbrook besting Tony Parker on both ends of the court. "Can a man truly be bested?" Parker asked as he enjoyed a postgame Gauloises. "Or can a man merely throw himself headlong into the illusion of a game for a period of time? Of course the game I am referring to is not basketball, but it is life, and the illusion I am referring to is that we are alive at all, and the period of time I am referring to is forever for a child such as Russell." Parker then allowed himself a grin, before realizing that his smile betrayed his own hypocrisy, and that he was also smoking the lit end of his Gauloises.
The Chicago Bulls went to Brooklyn and came away with a tight 92-90 win over the Nets. When told of the team's travel plans, Bulls forward Carlos Boozer responded, "Oh, I didn't know the Nets played in Brooklyn," before dragging teammate Taj Gibson to a beer garden down in Williamsburg, claiming that he saw Lena Dunham, and telling Kirk Hinrich that he totally had a chance with her because "I've seen that show Girls, and man, you're so in. You are so in." Boozer then, after awkwardly realizing the woman he saw wasn't Lena Dunham at all, yelled out his signature catchphrase, "Can you smell the Booze stank in the room?!" before being admonished by interactive marketing brand account manager Terrence Wilson: "Booze stank," he said, "is a pretty gauche way to refer to the aroma of high-quality Trappist ales." Boozer was so put off by Wilson's attitude that he dropped a double-double on the Nets, despite being "surprisingly tipsy after only two beers."
In case you were busy learning how boring Nevada is outside of Las Vegas, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Texas's Yu Darvish was one out away from a perfect game, but he was forced to settle for a near shutout as Marwin Gonzalez singled late in the Rangers' 7-0 win over the Houston Astros. "He sure did mar my win tonight, didn't he?" Darvish asked rhetorically after the game, before adding, "see, you can make puns out of anyone's name. Not just mine, Yu guys."
Kobe Bryant got his 19th career triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks, 101-81, in a critical Western Conference showdown. The Lakers also retired star center Shaquille O'Neal's no. 34 at the game. Bryant showed great respect for his former teammate, saying, "He's the best player I've ever suited up next to. I mean, even Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal." Bryant's eyes narrowed, as a flood of memories came back to him before he added, "But, of course, Shaquille O'Neal is no Dwight Howard." Bryant's eyes narrowed yet further as he felt compelled to add, "But Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal," before Bryant's eyes became somehow even narrower as he said, "But Shaquille O'Neal is no Dwight Howard." Then Bryant, his eyes now impossibly narrow, added, "But, of course, Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal," before he closed his eyes completely, swallowed hard, and said, "and neither of those guys could hold Elden Campbell's jock."
In case you were busy waiting in line at a food truck for what turned out to be not the best pork buns you've ever eaten, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Syracuse rode a dominant defensive effort into the Elite Eight, upsetting the Indiana Hoosiers, 61-50. "It's a disappointing loss for sure, but we can hold our heads up knowing we went down to one of the best coaches of all time in Jim Boeheim," said Indiana head coach Tom Crean after the game. However, Crean was apparently unaware that Syracuse had replaced Boeheim two years ago with a VHS tape of alumnus Jerry Stiller yelling, "2-3! 2-3! Rotate! Rotate! Come on, boys, get it together," playing on a loop on the sideline.
Marquette continued its impressive tournament run, as Buzz Williams's Golden Eagles knocked out Miami, 71-61. This marks Marquette's first appearance in the Elite Eight since 2003, which means it's time for About Last Night's newest feature: "What Ever Happened To " For our first "What Ever Happened To " we're going to look at former Marquette star Dwyane Wade, who led his team to the 2003 Final Four. It turns out that Wade has been playing basketball professionally with the Miami Heat since his college days. Thus concludes our first episode of "What Ever Happened To " If you have an idea for a long-lost star who you want to track down, leave his or her name in the comments, and we'll look into it for you.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Dirk Nowitzki
Robert Mays: Well, don’t look now (actually, you probably should look), but the Mavericks are coming. Dallas is 10-4 in March, and with last night’s OT win against the Clips, the Mavs are a game behind the Lakers for the last playoff spot in the West.
Last night’s Dirk performance was just the latest step in an upward trend that would make any team that draws Dallas in the first round a bit uneasy. After missing most of the first two months of the season, Nowitzki’s gone from 16.9 points on 44.2 percent shooting in January to 18.9 on 52.9 percent in March. His 33 last night were a season high, and they came on 21 shots — another season high. Just as the Mavs need Dirk to be Dirk, he finally can be.
In case you were out all night looking for the afikomen, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Dallas got a crucial win in the Western Conference playoff race, beating the Los Angeles Clippers, 109-102, at home. Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who had a potential game-winning shot waved off at the end of regulation after he fouled Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, said after the game, "Dirk, man, respect his game, but the guy's a real Batusi dancer." When told of Griffin's comments, a puzzled Nowitzki asked, "Wait, is he calling me old? Like Adam West? Or lame? Is he saying I cheated? I don't get it. We won the game. What the hell is this? Ask him what he meant by that." When asked, however, Griffin responded, "Nah, guy just dances the Batusi, you know" before winking at the gathered media and jutting out his mouthpiece with a half smile.
The United States Men's National Team earned a rare road point at the Estadio Azteca, holding Mexico to a scoreless draw in a World Cup–qualifying match. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann credited his team's resolve to their prematch preparation, in which Klinsmann himself berated his team in Spanish and threw bags of unidentifiable liquids at them as they attempted corner kicks. When asked if his own experience winning matches in Mexico with West Germany led him to that training technique, Klinsmann responded, "Um sure. Yes. Let's go with that."
In case you were busy trying to pass off a quiche as an acceptable offering at a Pi Day party, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers handed the New York Knicks their third straight defeat, winning at home, 105-90. Lillard, the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, has already established himself as a fan favorite in Portland, where he's respected both for his efficient offensive play and his ability to remind people how much they liked Matthew Lillard in SLC Punk.
Early in the second quarter last night against Milwaukee, veteran backup Mike James slowly walked the ball up the court before getting his Dallas team into its offense. The possession’s first real action didn’t come until about 10 seconds in, a rip screen (angled back screen) by O.J. Mayo to bring Dirk Nowitzki to the back-side block.
When the Mavericks' star forward secured the post-entry pass from James, the shot clock had already dwindled near single digits. A well-timed dig (help defender dropping down to swipe at the ball) on Nowitzki forced a pass out to Mayo at the top of the key. A hasty drive-and-kick series between the two followed, and the big German was eventually forced to launch a tough, contested jumper that came up about 3 feet short of the rim.
When the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title two years ago, they did so with an offense that relied primarily on brilliant half-court execution. A group that combined Nowitzki with two heady Jasons (Kidd and Terry), lob machine Tyson Chandler, and sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic posted an excellent offensive rating of 107.6 in its run to the championship.
In case you were busy winding down all of your Italian business interests, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Trevor Mbakwe and the Minnesota Golden Gophers upset top-ranked Indiana, 77-73 in Minneapolis. Mbakwe, who started his college career playing for Indiana head coach Tom Crean at Marquette, said, "Something about Crean brings out the best in me. Maybe it's his smile that says at once, 'I care,' and 'I know this isn't forever.' Maybe it's that 'come-hither' stare, in which worlds are created and destroyed in his irises every time he blinks behind his wire-framed glasses. Maybe it's his lyrical name, 'Tom Crean.' All I know is, when I see his face, I'm compelled to be at once my best and worst self."
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
Pure and Easy
Today marks the start of my 24th month as an Angeleno. Much of that time has been spent in an office about 50 yards from Staples Center, where last year, a lockout-shortened NBA season meant a different basketball game just about every night. Of all the sports memories I’ll take from these two years, what I’ve gotten to see there will be at the top. I’ve seen LeBron James three times, and Kevin Durant one more than that. I’ve watched one of the 10 best players ever play his home games, often enough that it almost feels routine (it never quite gets there). Years from now, though, when I talk about my favorite part of seeing the NBA so close, I’ll talk about Chris Paul.
The Mavs dropped to 22-29 after a crazy, last-second loss to Atlanta on Monday in Dallas, and they are in serious danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000 — Dirk Nowitzki’s second year in the league. Dallas has known nothing but success since then, most of it built around a jump-shooting big man who redefined the NBA and has solidified his place as one of the 25 greatest players ever with a memorable title run in 2011. Nowitzki sat down for an extended one-on-one with Grantland after that Monday loss to reflect on his career, his legacy, the current Dallas team, Shark Tank, and Shawn Marion’s shooting mechanics. What follows is an edited transcript of our chat.
In case you were busy hunting for valuable royal bones in a local parking lot, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Tyson Chandler secured his third straight 20-rebound game, becoming the first New York Knick to do so since Willis Reed in 1969, as the Knicks topped the Detroit Pistons, 99-85, at Madison Square Garden. After the game, an excited Chandler said, "I hope to channel that energy in the postseason and have another Willis Reed moment when it really matters." When asked if he knew exactly what having a Willis Reed moment entailed, Chandler pulled a knife out of his pocket, stared straight into the camera and said, "Yes, I will do anything to motivate my team to win a championship. Anything."
In case you were busy setting all the clocks in your house back an hour as part of an ill-conceived "February Fools" prank, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
After missing birdie putts on the last two holes he played, Phil Mickelson finished with a 60 in the opening round of the Phoenix Open, one stroke off of the PGA record for the lowest score in a single round. "I'm not thinking about those two putts," a haggard Mickelson said 12 years from now, panhandling outside of a Piggly Wiggly's in West Memphis, Arkansas, a broken shell of his former self. "But, man, they were both so close. I bet things would be different if one of those bad boys fell. But no, I'm not thinking about them. Hey, you got some teeth I could borrow?"