So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is back 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.
All You Can Eat
Jared Dubin: Russell Westbrook is what I like to call a binge scorer. I have no way of proving this, but it just feels like his points tend to come in concentrated bunches. A pull-up jumper, a steal, a layup, and then a transition 3. A dunk, then a runner and a layup. A jumper, a floater, a tip-in, and then a coast-to-coast dunk. They’re just these rapid bursts of scoring that pile on top of each other until it feels like the entire arena might explode.
When Russ showed up at Staples Center last night, wearing what Chris Ryan described as “THE PICNIC DRESS SHIRT!” (see above), I had a feeling we might be in for a classic Westbrook binge. (Important note: I literally always have this feeling.)
Boy, was I right. The first quarter was about as good as it gets for us ardent #LETWESTBROOKBEWESTBROOK supporters. The final tally: 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting, with three rebounds, three assists, and a steal tacked on for good measure, all in 10 and a half minutes of work.
For the next two quarters and 10 minutes, though, Russ wasn’t so great. He shot only 4-of-15 in that time, taking some typically wild Westbrook pull-ups, and barreling into the lane without regard for, well, anything. But then this happened:
Filthy. Then he proceeded to grab every rebound in human history to seal the win. I guess maybe he’s a binge rebounder, too.
I’ll Turn the Plane Around, Your Ass Keep Complaining
Surface to Air
Chris Ryan: Let’s get these guys in the
octagon playoffs together. I need that Pacific Rim 2: Winter Soldiers action in my life.
Requiem for a 6-Seed
Andrew Sharp: It was more than a game. It was a battle. A struggle that both sides would remember forever. A symphony of sacrifice that would shape destinies and alter history.
It was the Wizards and Bobcats, with a sixth seed in between them. As Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said beforehand, “The Bobcats are the most improved team in the NBA, and they are red hot and only one game behind us in the standings. The intensity level by both teams tonight will feel like a playoff game.”
The bloodshed started immediately. The Wizards were down 10 after four minutes, and down 20 by the second quarter. It was around this time many fans contemplated surrender. Or even suicide, right there on the edges of the battlefield. But not the Wizards. After halftime they fought back. The Bobcats were blitzed with a 14-2 run to open the second half, and from there both sides traded blows until the bitter end.
Gerald Henderson and Gary Neal, Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster — these are some of the names that will echo. Or Al Jefferson (20 and 18), John Wall (14, 12, 11), and Kemba Walker, who dealt several deadly blows down the stretch.
The Wizards took control at the end. And they were primed for triumph, but then came the final possession, a crescendo of truth in the midst of chaos. And coming out of a timeout, they surrendered a fucking layup to Al Jefferson off a pick-and-roll, because of course they did. That’s what makes them the Wizards.
So the epic added another stanza, and every other possession in overtime brought another shitty midrange jumper from John Wall (6-for-18) or Bradley Beal (4-for-15), and no timeouts, and nothing from Marcin Gortat (27 points), because why go with what works? The Wizards scored one point in overtime.
Congratulations, Bobcats. You swung hard and struck true for a Raptors-Bobcats series that might be the most NBA TV playoff series of all time.
But this battle had one true hero. One knight. One warrior prince who brought down his sword at the moment of truth and refused to call plays, or timeouts, or do pretty much anything that could’ve been useful. Randy Wittman was a lion, as always.
After the battle for the 6-seed, he roars for eternity.
The Hammer Falls
A Love Story
Danny Chau: This modern romance started out as a joke. Early in the season, I’d found myself devolving into some kind of perverted NBA libertine, throwing the morality of wins and losses out the window, finding pleasure in anemic offenses and rosters, failure and all. Charlotte was an easy prey. The worst team in the league a year ago found itself … kind of winning? It was cute. That was the joke.
At first I pushed fascinating (and completely inconsequential) narratives for the team, only to see how far I could take my new, bizarre obsession. Love was the unforeseen byproduct of my basketball nihilism. The team just played so goddamn hard. It has remained a top-10 defense, in spite of its individual parts. Al Jefferson has found his paradise — a place where his mundane consistency is celebrated for the spectacle it really is. At this point, the win-loss binary in sports resembles Dalí’s The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory in my mind. And yet, I’ve wanted the Bobcats to win this entire season, and it’s pained me when they haven’t. I’ve fallen for Charlotte.
The Bobcats won an important game last night against the Wizards. John Wall called it the “biggest game of the season.” So did I. The Bobcats’ perfect first half crystallized an observation made by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann: Charlotte had improved upon its offensive efficiency every month from November to March, taking the team from bottom-feeder numbers (94.3 offensive rating in November) to figures that rivaled the very elite offenses (108.2 in March). The Bobcats’ first half was also, like their March numbers, a mirage. Their second half brought a familiar hideousness, and overtime was a different hellscape altogether. Both teams combined for 1-of-15 in the last five minutes; the Wizards scored one point. It was the kind of quintessential Bobcats game you might expect in 2014: a beautiful struggle that, yes, culminated in victory.
Way back on New Year’s Day, J.A. Adande and I predicted the Bobcats would make the playoffs. I, zealot, took it a step further: “The Bobcats will not only win their first playoff game in franchise history, but will also advance, assuming the Bobcats are a sixth seed or higher.”
The Bobcats are currently the sixth seed in the East. Here’s to hoping there’s another round of wish fulfillment left in this cat before it faces extinction.
Little Robert Horry
Kirk Goldsberry: Last night in Portland, the Blazers found themselves trailing the Kings by two points with 13.9 seconds remaining. They had the ball. To nobody’s surprise, they ran a play that began with LaMarcus Aldridge setting a pick for Damian Lillard, who used the screen to attack and cave in the teeth of the Kings’ defense. To everyone’s surprise, the play was punctuated by Lillard finding Dorell Wright deep in the left corner and Wright knocking down the game winner. Wright was 0-for-4 for the night before hitting the biggest shot of the game. Afterward, his teammates gave him a new nickname: “Little Robert Horry.”
It was a beautiful sequence that showed, once again, the growing trust the Blazers have for themselves and their commitment to finding the best available shot on the floor. The play also gave Portland its 51st win of the year and its sixth win in the past seven games. As the regular season winds down, the Blazers appear to be clicking once again as their likely seven-game date with the Rockets looms. I’ll be the millionth person to say it: The Western Conference playoffs are going to be incredible.
A Letter to the Enemy
Jason Gallagher: Dear fans of the Grizzlies and Suns,
It’s been quite the year for our teams in this Western Conference playoff hunt. It seems like every time I think one of your teams are down for the count, they crawl right back into the thick of this madness, no matter who the opponent is.
Last night, the Grizzlies played Miami, a game Dallas and Phoenix fans were praying to all the basketball deities Memphis would lose. For me and my team, a Grizzlies loss would put us one win away from reaching our goal of a playoff appearance. All we would need is for Miami to have its shit together. Of course, because the world works in mysterious ways of Grit/Grind, the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Miami “Thanks for Nothing” Heat, 107-102. Zach Randolph went 12-of-15 from the field for 25 points (THAT’S 80 percent!) and snagged 11 boards.
Mike Conley added 26 points, and the entire Memphis squad shot 55 percent. After the game, I crushed a beer can with my bare hands and uttered the words, “Why won’t you die?” for the 100th time this month. But I digress.
Phoenix fans, Memphis fans, I wanted to extend a word of appreciation for your teams. Don’t get me wrong, I want both of them to burn in a fiery pit. I watch with hope that they will fall apart like a teenage son’s relationship with his father. But you’ve somehow stayed in the picture.
Our three squads are in the midst of a battle unlike any other. I feel like we’re all in a special club or something — “the playoffs started two fucking months ago for us” club, where we drink the night away while throwing darts at cardboard cutouts of Carmelo Anthony. We’re enemies now, but our experiences over the last few months have made me feel a closer connection with you. Maybe we’re not so different, after all? Maybe our reasons for why our teams should be playoff-bound are different — Memphis overcoming those damn injuries, Dallas being led by a 35-year-old jump-shooter, Phoenix continuing to defy the odds and doubters with its unbelievable resilience — but we are all worthy of these last two playoffs spots. So here we are. One week left. ONE WEEK. And one of our teams will in fact be laid to rest by the Western Conference, while the other two enter a whole new realm of competition. Is it “fair”?
I don’t know that word anymore.
In closing, I’d like to say I respect the hell out of both Memphis and Phoenix. I meant every horrible thing I said when Memphis refused to lose last night. Same goes for Phoenix against Oklahoma City on Tuesday. But I want fans of both these teams to know I think all three ball clubs are worthy of the playoffs, and if your team happens to make the postseason and my team doesn’t, I’ll be cheering for your team without any reservation. Also, I’ll be preeeetty drunk.
Sincerely close to an aneurysm,
A Dallas Mavericks supporter
Make Mine a Marc Gasol
Ryan: We’re going to get to watch this every night, guys.
The Great American Waste
netw3rk: As methods of wasting time go, watching sports is one of the very best. You spend most of your day completing the tasks and activities necessary to being considered a useful part of society. There are jobs to go to, classes to attend, chores to be completed. After those things are done for the day, nothing quite hits the spot like turning off the part of the brain that knows it’s a piece of a mortal human being and just doing nothing in the most enjoyable way possible. This is what the framers meant by “the pursuit of happiness.”
There is, however, no greater obstacle to a satisfying, sanity-recharging, time-wasting session than the conscious knowledge that what you are doing is in fact a waste of time. The illusion that the particular diversion you are experiencing is important is vital to its entertainment value. This is a long-winded way of saying that the eighth seed of the Eastern Conference playoffs is a complete waste of everyone’s time.
The spot is basically a contractual obligation; it’s the fine print of the 2013-14 season. Someone has to be the eighth seed because it’s in the rules. The Hawks, for their part, have gone about holding on to the eighth spot with polite if insincere enthusiasm, as if it were the world’s ugliest Father’s Day necktie. Hawks fans, never punctual in the most contender-ish of years, have seemingly weighed the chance for a lottery pick against getting torn limb from limb by Miami/Indiana, and have been acting accordingly.
That is a picture of the inside of the home arena of a team in the midst of a playoff race. Who can blame those fans? For sports to successfully distract you from your life, there have to be stakes, and if a person can get fired up wondering, Will my team win more than one game in the first round?, then God bless them. I mean, would you even try to leave work early to see that on television?
Last night the Hawks came back from nine down in the fourth, against the want-to-lose Celtics, in a game that largely resembled two guys trying not to pick up a check. Any combination of Hawks wins or Knicks losses that equals two out of the four games remaining for both teams makes Atlanta your eighth seed. Atlanta and New York have 88 losses between them.
It Can Always Get Worse
Brett Koremenos: Up until last night, Milwaukee’s terribleness was actually kind of comical. Here was a team aiming for the playoffs that failed miserably. The Bucks ended up being so bad that a team designed in a lab to be the ultimate tanking machine still has more wins. While the Sixers became downright depressing during their record-tying losing streak, the Bucks have had a lighthearted feel for much of the year. Sure, they’ve sucked. But I’ve always been able to enjoy that they were built in an attempt to be good. But after losing to the Pacers’ B team last night, Milwaukee finally crashed down to Philadelphia-level embarrassing.
Instead of its usual cast and crew, Indiana played Rasual Butler, Ian Mahinmi, and Evan “Double Agent” Turner a combined 91 minutes. Seldom-used rookie Solomon Hill played 23, a number that could also be described as about one-eighth of his season total. The Bucks lost to this group. At home.
I get all the excuses. They have one foot out the door as they look to escape this miserable season — they were shorthanded, too; Larry Drew is their coach. But c’mon, whatever fans are still left paying even a bit of attention to the team deserve better than this — even if a win means a chance at a worse draft pick.
Tanking or not, Milwaukee couldn’t beat a team fielding a rotation full of guys who either haven’t played or who have played poorly all season. Evan Turner almost had a triple-double. Hell, Luis Scola had 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting last night, and he’s shooting only 46.5 percent from the field on the season.
So, congratulations, Bucks, you proved that even in the midst of a horrendous season, things can always get worse.