With just three nights remaining in the 2013-14 regular season, we’re all gearing up for the next stage in the NBA calendar. For most teams, that means the playoffs. For the bottom third or so of the league, the lottery and its promises of new beginnings are on the horizon. But these three nights deserve to be celebrated on their own merit, as the capstone of a season with its ups and downs. Playoff berths and ping pong balls are on the line. To the games!
Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers (7:00 PM)
Even the worst matchup has some narrative value this late in the season. The basketball in Philadelphia will likely be piss-poor, and if you listen closely enough, you can hear the anguished cries of Thaddeus Young’s soul. The race for the bottom is an undeniable part of the story of this season, however, and Celtics/Sixers is the perfect iteration of that tale. Tank bravely, young warriors of defeat. Better days are ahead.
Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors (7:00 PM)
Hope is a precious commodity in Milwaukee. A team that started the season with postseason aspirations finds itself champions of the lottery. Whatever plan was in place backfired spectacularly, turning moves to lock up O.J. Mayo and Larry Sanders into powder kegs tied to the Bucks’ season.
Milwaukee’s opponent tonight offers hope that things can turn around quickly. Without the help of a top draft pick, the Raptors became darlings of the second half of the season, a dark horse to make a run at the Eastern Conference finals and fill the void left by the collapsing Indiana Pacers. Toronto is living proof that with a few decisive strokes of action and the right approach, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Miami Heat at Washington Wizards (7:00 PM)
A contribution from Amin:
In the last few games of the season, teams heading into the playoffs have different goals in mind. As much as playing at full-strength is a noble cause devised to serve the best interests of the fan, a blind devotion to that nobility would be foolish. After all, the fans’ best interests are served even more by a satisfying and lengthy postseason run.
For the Wizards and Heat tonight, the calculation is different than it has been in previous years. The current-era Heat have usually been sitting pretty atop the East, not needing to worry about a few wins and losses down the stretch in terms of their overall playoff goals. The Wizards, on the other hand, haven’t sniffed the playoffs in years; a few more losses would do them even better.
This year, as seedings are still flying around, tonight’s game means more than it usually does. So the Wizards and Heat must ask themselves what’s more important: a solid seeding, or rested bones? Both of them have an impact on how far a team can go in the postseason. But it’ll be up to the players and coaches tonight to decide which carries more weight.
Charlotte Bobcats at Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM)
Two teams on similar-but-not-really paths toward the postseason. Charlotte is as close to maximum strength as they can be, ramming straight into the ceiling of their talent and schemes. That’s damning with faint praise, sure, but it’s also recognition of just how far the Bobcats have come — and how well they’ve played this year. Atlanta, on the other hand, had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the postseason after a season of injuries, most notably to star big man Al Horford. In a different version of this universe, the Bobcats are the six seed, a healthy Atlanta team claimed the 3, and the Battle of Als was a first round matchup for the ages. Sadly, this is not that world.
Orlando Magic at Chicago Bulls (8:00 PM)
The last of the Eastern Conference appetizers on the night. I can’t see these two teams playing against one another without flashing back to the battles between Jordan’s Bulls and the Magic of Shaq and Penny. We’re a long way from that now, though Joakim Noah would have been a welcome member of those 90s Chicago teams.
Although he might have punched Jordan in the face.
San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets (8:00 PM, NBATV)
You don’t need a summary for this one. Timmy. Dwight. Beard. Pop.
Coach Popovich, how do you feel about tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets as a basketball fan?
Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans (8:00 PM)
IT’S LIKE LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE. Kevin Durant is your MVP, and he’s on his way to supplanting LeBron as the best player in the league. Whether it happens next season or sometime down the line, the curves of time will catch up the the King.
And right when KD is getting comfortable, Anthony Davis will come flying in out of nowhere and start winning MVPs of his own, swatting shots at the rim across the court and into the basket for three points, which will in turn necessitate the invention of a new statistic for these block-3s of Davis’s. We’ll call them “Brows,” because is there any other choice? Hail to the once and future kings.
Los Angeles Lakers at Utah Jazz (9:00 PM)
Tanking, West Coast style! The dominance of the Western Conference over the Eastern Conference has been talked to death, but the conversation has generally focused on the teams higher in the standings. What a great tragedy it is that the 9th seed in the West might not make the playoffs, we wail, when a sub-.500 team will join the postseason in the East. But it’s worth noting the relative strength even of the dregs of each conference. We could wind up with the four teams with the best odds at a top 3 pick all coming from the Eastern Conference, unless one of these two teams has something to say about it. LAKERS. JAZZ. Whoever wins, they lose.
Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns (10:00 PM)
It’s a play-in game in Phoenix. A Grizzlies win puts them in the postseason. A Phoenix loss keeps the Suns’ hopes alive, dependent on the Mavericks to beat Memphis on the last day of the season while Phoenix takes on the Kings.
These are the facts. Beyond that, I have no words. There’s only curled-in-the-corner crying and copious amounts of liquor that I’m not sure was ever meant for human consumption. I know a guy who gets the good stuff when the Suns are threatening to give me a coronary. Good man. Has 13 different snake tattoos.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM)
If the Warriors aren’t careful, they might just find themselves staring down the barrel of the Oklahoma City Thunder once the playoffs roll around. Golden State is currently a half-game ahead of the Mavericks for the sixth seed; the Warriors have two games remaining, while Dallas has just one. Were the Mavericks to beat Memphis in their regular season finale and Golden State were to lose out against Minnesota and Denver, Dallas would finish a game ahead of the Warriors. And it doesn’t help that Andrew Bogut is out with a rib injury. Golden State should be able to hold on. If they don’t, though, it’s one more log on the flames creeping up on their season.