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.
Well, this should be interesting. That's Dwight's fifth game this season with at least 25 points and 15 rebounds. He got 26 offensive touches in the paint, and went 9-15 from that same area. This is what the Lakers are now. This, and Pau Gasol. And, of course, Andrew Goudelock, "the garden snake."
On today's show, The Basketball Jones discuss the Western Conference playoff race, whether Doug Collins is done with Philly, memorable Madison Square Garden moments, Derek Fisher's return to OKC's bench, LeBron James's pregame dunking, and Tyreke Evans's "Wanker of the Week" moment.
All that, plus new TBJ Army recruits, horrible birthdays, Dennis Rodman visiting Kim Jong-un in North Korea, and crazy panels we'd like to moderate at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
With 2:15 left in the third quarter at the United Center last night, the Bulls and Sixers made their ways to the proper benches for a TV timeout. It was that time in the night when a footrace between animated breakfast food comes on the video board, and as the racers were announced (Dashing Donut, Cuppy Coffee, and Biggie Bagel), people in the crowd reached for their cards to find out in which Dunkin’ Donuts product they had a rooting interest. My friend made a joke about how Larry Bird must hate all this, but aside from that, I see little problem in providing fans with interstitial bits of entertainment. Plus, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is delicious.
The troubling part came when we noticed that joining the viewing public was the majority of the 76ers bench. Down 11, two days after a double-digit loss to D-League Orlando followed by a public chastising by its coach, most of the Philly roster was more invested in Dashing Donut’s triumph than in whatever Doug Collins had to say.
Chicago and Philadelphia, it would seem, are in similar situations. Both are in their third year of playing for a demanding head coach who occasionally sounds like he ate a pack of Marlboro Reds for lunch. Both have spent this season without the star that was supposed to define their rosters. And both came into last night’s game mired in their worst stretch of the season. It was something, then, to watch how each responded at their lowest point. It’s not that the Sixers’ starters shared their apathy of their bench-dwelling teammates in their 93-82 loss; it’s that none of them were Joakim Noah.
A lost season hit its low point last night in Philadelphia, when an Orlando team that is now 4-28 in its last 32 games blew out the Sixers, resulting in a postgame borderline meltdown from Doug Collins. Over an excruciating 10 minutes, Collins did the following:
• Passed the buck for Philly’s awful game almost totally onto the players, saying he’s only in charge of “execution,” while implying the players are responsible for everything else. That includes “effort,” Collins said. And more: “I did not think our guys prepared themselves during the [All-Star] break to come back and play.”
• Went out of his way to specifically mention that Nikola Vucevic grabbed 19 rebounds, while Spencer Hawes snagged just one in 21 minutes. In related news: Vucevic was a member of the Sixers last season, and he was even in the rotation before Collins tossed him through the always-revolving turnstile that leads to Collins’s doghouse. Vucevic played less than three minutes total in Philly’s 13 playoff games. The Sixers’ front office, acting to a large extent under Collins’s directive, traded Vucevic, Moe Harkless, Andre Iguodala, and a future first-round pick away in the Andrew Bynum deal.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. LeBron James
And that was just pregame. Man, this was a real #getoffme kind of night. Everybody was like, "GET. OFF. ME. #GETOFFME." Either on the court or off, a few of the games had an almost playoff-type feel, even if not all the teams involved were playoff-bound. And in those games, a few players did things that screamed, "get off me, sir."
First, there was the colossus that doth strode (strideth?) the earth, LeBron James, whose 40 points, eight boards, and 16 assists led the Heat to a double-overtime win over Sacramento.
Well, it’s a good thing the Sixers have four center types on their roster and entered last offseason with the goal of handing the reins to Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner. Those guys may get more scoring responsibility than even their biggest supporters envisioned, with news today that Andrew Bynum is experiencing continued pain in his surgically repaired right knee and has not yet been cleared to run.
Philadelphia sports fans are regarded as a nasty bunch — jeerers of Santa Claus, cheerers of paralysis, heavers of battery acid at toddlers — but the only venom produced this week was a half-hearted “Beat L.A.” chant. Instead, Wednesday’s press conference introducing Andrew Bynum as a member of the Sixers was an adorable congregation of the optimistic. To giddy hooting, the new centerpiece of the franchise declared affection for the city, rattled off native credos, and coyly alluded to sticking around for longer than the final year of his contract. Damn that flirtatious, Shrek-size rogue. Meanwhile, GM Rod Thorn, for whom the acquisition of Bynum represents an opportunity to leave a legacy in Philly, looked like a proud grandfather at a wedding reception after too many toasts.
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.
'Rondo Was Extremely Serious'
That was Doc Rivers’s assessment of his point guard’s demeanor going into Game 3 in Philadelphia. It ended with Rajon Rondo scoring 23 points (13 in the first quarter), doling out 14 assists, and losing just one turnover. So, yeah, you could say Rondo was serious. After Game 1 — in which he messed around and got a triple-double — the Celtics point guard complained of not getting his nap before the game and how it negatively affected his performance. Rondo looked well-rested Wednesday night.
Tuesday night, in a boring game few people watched in person or on television, the 76ers battered the Nets by 19 points. With minimal coordination, both teams could have left the arena at halftime and enjoyed Skinnygirl margaritas in the Prudential Center parking lot while the first half was rebroadcast on the YES Network. At any rate, once the Sixers amassed a double-digit lead, the Nets concluded it made more sense to gather Ping-Pong balls in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes than to muster resistance. Happily, Kris Humphries, dissed by Kanye West on the recent track “Theraflu,” showed no ill effects.
For Philly, the bland affair was also a crucial victory. Mired in a perplexing and ill-timed slump, the team that led the Atlantic Division all season is now in the undignified position of clawing to preserve their playoff perch. After a 20-9 start, the Sixers have won only 10 of their last 26 games. Even after last night’s triumph over the Nets, they trail the Celtics by three games and are destined to scrounge for the unenviable seventh and eighth seeds with New York and Milwaukee.
For ... Knicks-Sixers!
In Philadelphia, you get your cheesesteaks wiz wit and you get your sports with hate. When you're not hating on Andy Reid, Juan Castillo, Raul Ibanez's peanut brittle frame, Brad Lidge's satanic soul patch, or the ghost of Donovan McNabb, you're hating on the New York Giants, the Atlanta Braves, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New York Mets. It's just how we get down.