Apr 14, 2011, 2:11 AM EST
It was the last game on the last night of the regular season — and nobody wanted it to end. Not the fans in Sacramento, who were loud and would not leave at the end of a wild game. Wild in every way — the shots were wild, the setting was wild, that this last game had high stakes for playoff seeds was wild. And the ending was wild.
The Lakers were ahead 18 points at the start of the fourth quarter and were cruising past Sacramento and into the second seed when the Kings started to show the fight their fans have shown in an effort to save their team — not their politicians, not their leaders, not the Kings’ owners, but the fans — and they battled back. The Kings outscored the Lakers 29-11 and had it not been for a vintage Kobe Bryant dagger in the heart of Kings fans, Sacramento might have won. But, of course, the Lakers did in overtime. You expected otherwise?
Still, the Kings shined a light on the flaws of the two-time defending champions. What makes them vulnerable in the playoffs, which is most often themselves and their focus.
And it’s that way with the contenders — there is no clear dominant team this season. Every top team in both conferences is flawed. Others are built to expose those weaknesses.
It means as unpredictable a playoffs as the NBA has seen in years. And that may make it the most fun in a long time.
First, let’s clear up the playoff matches in the West, which were in doubt until 1:15 a.m. ET Thursday.
With the win, the Lakers are the No. 2 seed in the West and they will take on the Hornets in the first round (Chris Paul and Kobe in a battle of stars).
The Mavericks are the No. 3 seed and will face a Portland team that has a real shot to win that series. The Thunder, with their surprising overtime loss to the Bucks at home on Wednesday, are the fourth seed and will take on the Nuggets in what promises to be another first-round barn-burner.
Somebody is going to get upset in the West in the first round. Wild and unpredictable. We’re telling you.
Which is fitting — the entire season has been that way. LeBron James and the Miami Heat alternated between blowing our doors off and struggling to look like they were a threat to anyone. There was the explosion of Derrick Rose from good to jaw-dropping MVP. The move of Carmelo Anthony from Denver to New York. Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams leaving Utah. The Knicks returning to respectability. The resurgence of the San Antonio Spurs. Blake Griffin dunking everything in sight and making the Clippers a must-watch.
And the Kings sadly leaving Sacramento — with a Kobe Bryant dagger in their back.
Now the playoffs come and there is not one team you can point at and say “nobody is going to match up with them.” The Lakers may be the closest thing — they have Kobe and the ridiculously long skilled front line — but they are not as deep as previous seasons. As many around the league say — and as they showed against Sacramento in the fourth quarter Wednesday — the Lakers are the biggest threat to the Lakers. On any given night they can lose focus and lose to anyone.
Boston? They traded away Kendrick Perkins, which may not matter if Shaquille O’Neal can be healthy for the playoffs, but that’s a risk. Plus, they have looked older as the season dragged on, and Rajon Rondo is doing lord knows what lately. Do they have one more run? Can the resurgent Knicks put a real scare into them in the first round?
Miami has the three great players, but will the lack of depth around them get exposed in the playoffs? Orlando made big trades this season to bring in Gilbert Arenas and bring back Hedo Turkoglu, but did they really get better?
And Chicago, no team has played harder all season than them. But there are questions around the league if what we have seen is the best of them — Boston and veteran teams have another gear for the playoffs, does Chicago?
San Antonio runs its offense through Manu Ginobili (how healthy is he?) and Tony Parker now. They have a good supporting cast, but will their not-as-strong defense catch up with them? Can they make one more run with an older core?
Oklahoma City’s core is young, and they addressed a real need by getting Kendrick Perkins. But are they still too young? Do they have the role players that can step up and make the big plays now?
It’s a lot of questions, legitimate questions for every contender.
Let’s get some answers. Let’s start the playoffs.
Mar 7, 2014, 6:34 PM EST
Teams keep asking if Phil Jackson wants to come back to coaching. This is a guy who has had both hips and one knee replaced (with the other likely), who has spent too many years on the road sleeping in beds too short for his 6’10” frame, having showerheads hit him in the middle of…
Mar 7, 2014, 5:46 PM EST
According to every reliable source, Carmelo Anthony is going to opt out of the final year of his contract this season and look either to re-sign a five-year deal with the Knicks or move on to another team to be part of a contender. If Anthony wants to jump ship and go somewhere like oft-mentioned…
Mar 7, 2014, 4:25 PM EST
You can’t do that. Go ahead and argue that what Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova really did was shove the Kings’ Reggie Evans if you want, you still can’t do that. The two were battling for rebounding position and after the play Ilyasova turned on Evans punch/shoved him and knocked him to the ground. I have checked the NBA…
Mar 7, 2014, 3:55 PM EST
The only time the Timberwolves seemed to take charge in their loss to the Knicks Wednesday night was in the third quarter when Nikola Pekovic took over. It’s not a shock if you’ve watched the Timberwolves this season — he averages 18 points a game on 53.9 percent shooting, the Minnesota offense is 4.7 points…
Woodson says ‘legally, no one can recruit anyone’ in response to Melo-Bulls talk. But that’s not necessarily true.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:23 PM EST
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson has enough to worry about, including whether he’ll even be employed by the team next season, before he can begin to think about what Carmelo Anthony may choose to do as a potential free agent this summer. The latest rumor, of course, had Anthony being told by the Bulls’ Joakim…
Mar 7, 2014, 2:11 PM EST
Here’s the real story: Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler are friends. They met as part of Team USA and like each other, text each other, have worked out together at points in the offseason. Like you with your friends, they like to poke fun at each other sometimes. So when Chandler said Love can’t play…
Mar 7, 2014, 1:29 PM EST
This drives some fans crazy. Maybe they live in a mythical world where they think the players their team should share a hatred of their rivals/opponents. They like to believe that kind of hatred used to exist among players, as if Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley didn’t used to hang out and party together. Players…
Mar 7, 2014, 12:46 PM EST
No matter how his NBA head-coaching career unfolds, Brett Brown will always have a first-season losing record on his résumé. His 76ers will finish somewhere between 15-67 and 36-46 – likely much closer to the former. The 76ers struggling was no surprise. In fact, they’ve probably exceeded expectations. So why did Brown put himself in…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:45 AM EST
Phil Jackson has always done enough to ensure he remains on the radar for coaching vacancies (and now, front-office positions, too). And why shouldn’t he? Jackson is definitely one of the best coaches of all time, maybe even the best. I’m not convinced he can still physically withstand the rigors of coaching, but every hire…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:37 AM EST
Rudy Gay was inefficient as a Toronto Raptor. This is not up for debate. He attempted 17.6 shots per game in Toronto, making just 42.8 percent of the 2-pointers and 41.1 percent of all attempts. The only remaining question was whether Gay, who’s clearly not too fond of stats, knew he was inefficient as a…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:08 AM EST
Joakim Noah is playing the best basketball of his career the past few weeks and the Bulls are the third best team in the Eastern Conference. With Derrick Rose down and Luol Deng traded Noah has become the fulcrum of the Bulls offense, and it’s working as Noah has had a triple double in two…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Let’s connect the dots. Joakim Noah is reportedly recruiting Carmelo Anthony to the Bulls. Melo has a son named Kiyan, who turns 7 years old today. Happy Birthday, Kiyan! Kyian’s favorite player is reportedly Derrick Rose. The missing dot: Derrick Rose. What does he think about all this? Chris Broussard of ESPN: One source also…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:01 AM EST
Is LeBron done with the mask, or is he just taking a break? Midway through the first quarter of the Heat’s loss to the Spurs, LeBron took his mask off during a timeout. He’d missed his only shot, and Miami trailed by eight. He didn’t exactly light the world on fire after that, shooting 6-for-18…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:33 AM EST
The Clippers beat the Lakers, 142-94, Thursday night – the biggest loss in Lakers history. In the spirit of Lakers schadenfreude, let’s dig a little deeper into the blowout: 48 – Margin of victory/defeat, the largest for the Clippers/Lakers in each franchise’s history 3 – Years since any team has been beaten so badly. The…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:46 AM EST
That feels pretty much how the last three quarters of the Clippers/Lakers game went Thursday night. The Clippers did whatever they wanted all night on the Lakers’ “defense” and that led to a few spectacular plays. The best of them was this ridiculous alley-oop dunk by Blake Griffin. Griffin finished with 20 points in the…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
BOSTON – Game-planning for the Golden State last season, the Phoenix Suns wrote “Finesse” on their whiteboard. “Be physical with them, and they tend to back away,” said Jermaine O’Neal, who played for Phoenix last year. Now a Warrior, O’Neal didn’t hesitate to share the observation of their defense with his new teammates. “I told…
Mar 7, 2014, 3:35 AM EST
Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while wondering how you could read a novel in 90 minutes, well, there’s an app for that… Gerald Green, Phoenix Suns. If all you think Gerald Green can do is dunk, you need to watch the tape from Thursday night. It may have been true…
Mar 7, 2014, 2:39 AM EST
Adidas and the NBA will tell you that the sleeved jerseys are selling faster than they had projected, which is why you are seeing more of them (including the “Latin Nights” series of games, that are going on this month) . All-Star weekend commissioner Adam Silver said math showed that shooting percentages were almost identical…
Mar 6, 2014, 11:40 PM EST
In the first meeting of the season between the Heat and the Spurs, Miami had little trouble securing victory in the Finals rematch, in large part due to the fact that the Spurs were cobbling together a lineup that didn’t entirely feature the team’s best players. The rematch of the rematch, however, saw the Spurs…
Mar 6, 2014, 10:21 PM EST
Plenty of teams are rolling out throwback jerseys these days, but the ones the Raptors are planning for next season may be some of the more highly-anticipated. Toronto will wear the team’s original “Dino” jerseys for select games during the 2014-15 season, according to an official release. “We are excited to bring back a piece…
- Report: Knicks offer Phil Jackson a front office position 0
- Is Carmelo Anthony’s smart play to opt in and play out contract with Knicks? 4
- LeBron says he has open door policy, would certainly speak to Paul George 21
- Report: Knicks met with Phil Jackson about coaching them 38
- Extra Pass: Golden State Warriors defending at historically high level 5