1. How The West Shapes Up
In baseball, the pennant races that end the regular season and decide which teams will make the cut for the playoffs are almost as exciting, if not more exciting, than the playoffs themselves. That's not the case in basketball. More than half the teams in the league make the playoffs, the ones that squeak in have virtually no chance of winning it all, and by the time the last game of the season rolls around, plenty of teams in the playoffs don't have anything left to play for.
Still, there were some things at stake when every team in the league played on Wedneday night. Here's a quick look at which Western Conference teams were playing for positioning, which teams were playing for fun, and which teams were flat-out tanking, as well as a quick preview of first-round matchups in the playoffs:
1. San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs' fourth-quarter comeback against the Phoenix Suns fell short on Wednesday night. The Spurs will now not enjoy home-court advantage if they meet the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, but they were already guaranteed the top seed throughout the Western Conference playoffs. Thanks to the "creative rotations" the Grizzlies used in the last two games, they will "fall" to the eighth seed in the conference and meet the Spurs in the first round.
The Spurs are probably a better matchup for the Grizzlies than the Lakers would have been in the first round (although I would have definitely enjoyed watching Tony Allen and Kobe battle on the perimeter all series long), but they still have a definite advantage over the Grizzlies in a seven-game series. Assuming the elbow injury Manu Ginobili suffered in Monday's game isn't too serious, I think the Spurs will dispatch of the Grizzlies in five games, but the Grizzlies are still a dangerous team.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers nearly slid into the third spot in the West and a first-round matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers with some weak play down the stretch and a nearly catastrophic collapse in the fourth quarter of their matchup with the Sacramento Kings. Fortunately for the Lakers, Kobe Bryant hit a game-tying 3-pointer with four seconds left to play, the Lakers rolled in overtime, and they will face the New Orleans Hornets in the first round.
The Hornets would have had a very tough time winning a first-round series with the Lakers if they were completely healthy; David West's knee injury makes their odds of escaping the first round very slim. Unless Chris Paul can pull off a few miracles, I think the Lakers will pull off a first-round sweep.3. Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks had an easy night of work, and they effortlessly dispatched the Hornets to lock up the No. 3 seed in the conference. They had a chance to grab the No. 2 seed, but Kobe Bryant didn't allow that to happen.
The Mavericks will face the Blazers in the first round, who have been playing extremely good basketball since they picked up Gerald Wallace at the trade deadline. The Blazers are an athletic, dynamic and dangerous team, and the LaMarcus Aldridge-Dirk Nowitzki matchup will be a ton of fun to watch. This is a tough series to call, but I think the Mavericks have enough firepower and experience to win it in six games.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder's game on Tuesday night was meaningless, but they could have clinched the third seed with a Mavericks loss. The Thunder's B team doesn't seem to have the same overtime magic that their starters do, and Royal Ivey, Byron Mullens and the rest of the Thunder backups were outscored 14-10 in the extra period.
The Thunder are set to meet the Nuggets in the first round, and that series should be an instant classic. Both teams were playing great on offense before the trade deadline, and both teams made trades that gave their defense a significant upgrade. Both of these teams are playing incredible basketball, and it's almost a shame that one of them will have to eliminate the other in the first round. I'm picking the Thunder in seven, because I don't think the Nuggets will have an answer for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but this series could easily go the other way.
5. Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets were locked into the fifth seed coming into Wednesday night, and were content to sit back and watch the Gordon Hayward show in Utah. Ty Lawson's tweaked ankle did serve to remind us all why teams without anything to play for rest their starters -- hopefully he will be at 100 percent by the time the Oklahoma City series starts.
6. Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers were locked into the sixth seed coming into Wednesday night's action. In related news, they played Earl Barron 37 minutes in a blowout loss to the Warriors. Now it's time for them to gear up for a matchup with the Mavericks.
7. New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets were more than content to let the Mavericks blow them out on Wednesday, but the Grizzlies' loss to the Clippers took their destiny out of their hands. They have the two-time defending champions waiting for them in the first round.
8. Memphis Grizzlies: Right as the Memphis Grizzlies had a chance to clinch the seventh seed and a matchup with the Lakers, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen realized they absolutely, positively needed two games of rest. What awful timing. With their loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Grizzlies fell to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, where they will meet the Spurs. I'm sure they are simply devastated by this turn of events.
John Krolik's work appears regularly at Cavstheblog.com, part of the TrueHoop Network
2. Bulls Secure Home Court Throughout Playoffs
CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau really is a much nicer guy than he looks when he's crouching, yelling and gesticulating on the basketball court. And despite his reputation as a shoot-around sadist, the kind of coach who answers every injury question with some version of "I think he's fine," I've heard people describe Thibodeau as a players' coach. Provided those players are tough, of course.
He's certainly a revelation as a coach, the best in the league this season in many people's opinion.
But everything you need to know about Thibodeau's intense drive, and why the Bulls are where they are, could be found on the dry erase board at the center of the Bulls' locker room after their 97-92 come-from-behind, season-ending win over the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday night.
The marker board was where Thursday's schedule was posted and it didn't say "day off" or "take a whirlpool" or "Rasual Butler Appreciation Day."
Instead it read, "Treatment at 2, practice at 4." After all, Chicago hosts the Indiana Pacers at noon Saturday.
The Bulls rarely practiced after back-to-back games this season, but this was a clear sign the regular season is over.
Good luck making the start of that 7 p.m. fundraiser for President Obama's re-election at Navy Pier, Derrick Rose.
Before the game, someone asked Thibodeau what he thought of the Bulls-Pacers' noon start time Saturday, a particularly undesirable slot, Thibodeau looked annoyed.
"I don't even know what it is," he said.
After the game, he admitted, with a laugh, it's OK to talk about the Pacers now. Just don't get him started on Game 2.
Thibodeau, the first-year head coach who put in nearly 20 years in the league to get this opportunity, was also asked what the team's epic 62-20 record represented.
"I think it means we had a pretty good regular season," he said. "But now you start over again. You're zero-and-zero. We have to understand how we got here. We took care of the things we could take care of, and now we have to prepare for the playoffs."
Rose, who is on the cusp of winning what is probably the biggest personal honor in team sports, the MVP of the NBA, wasn't crowing about the team's regular season either.
"It's over with," he said. "I'm not worried about it anymore. I'm happy. I'm definitely happy. I wouldn't like to be on a losing team. But what's the point of celebrating now and you get knocked out of the playoffs? There's no point. There's no point of us even doing good in the regular season if we lose in the first round of the playoffs."
3. Daily Dime Live
Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans give their in-game opinions on all topics throughout Wednesday's slate of NBA roundball talk in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
WEDNESDAY'S BESTEddie House, Heat: His one assist and zero trips to the foul line helped define this homage to hoisting, taking 27 shots en route to 35 points in a 97-79 win in Toronto. In netting a career high in the 716th game of his NBA career, only three other active players set a career high in points that late in their careers without benefit of an overtime game, according to Elias: Kevin Garnett (47 points in 2005), Chauncey Billups (39 points in 2010) and Ben Wallace (23 points in 2010).
Defending-champ avoidance behavoir: The Grizzlies wanted no part of the No. 7 seed, which turned out to mean facing the No. 2 Lakers. The Thunder also seemed to have Laker-phobia as well, happy to trot out Royal Ivey in crunch time and get the No. 4 seed, thus avoiding the Lakers till the West finals, in theory.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
Dorell Wright just became 1st player in NBA history to score as many points in his 7th season as in his 1st 6 combined #MostImprovedPlayer11 p.m. ET via HootSuite Favorite Retweet ReplyGolden St. Warriors
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"These 82 games don't mean too much. We know what we're capable of."
-- Chris Paul, whose Hornets slouch into a first-round matchup Sunday with the Lakers.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Heat Declare Victory, Move On
TORONTO -- The Miami Heat are declaring their regular season a success, and they really don't care what anyone thinks about that opinion.
Not the bumps, not the tears nor the boos.
As they hit the finish line of their first 82 games together, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh all sat out Wednesday night's regular-season finale against the Toronto Raptors. That act alone sent a clear message: Mission accomplished.
The Heat open the playoffs by hosting the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday as the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed after ending the season with the third-best record in the league. No, it did not meet the dreamy expectations some had for the Heat's first foray. But the team has no regrets.
"When you've got people coming out saying, 'Oh, this team is going to win 72 games,' you look at them and say, 'Why do they have a microphone?'" Wade said Wednesday, referring to Jeff Van Gundy's preseason pick for the team.
As Wade said that, James walked by and echoed the sentiment by apparently attempting to mock Van Gundy's voice. As it turned out, the final win tally was 58 after the 97-79 win over the Raptors behind a career-high 35 points from Eddie House. The Heat ended up three victories short of the team's all-time record, although that probably will be forgotten.
The Heat will judge their season on the playoffs, and they feel they arrive at the postseason playing with as much precision and confidence as they have for the past six months. As for their record and seed, they're quite proud of those, too.
"To see where we end up, it is a testament to us sticking together," Wade said. "No matter who we did beat or who we didn't beat, we're going into the playoffs as one of the teams that can compete for a championship. You go through a season like we did so you can be one of those teams."
7. Manu Hurt
8. The Ex-Butler Did It
Gordon Hayward scored 34 points as the Utah Jazz topped the Denver Nuggets, 107-103. Hayward's point total was the highest in one game by a Jazz rookie in 28 years, since Jerry Eaves scored 35 points against the Detroit Pistons on March 16, 1983. In fact, besides Hayward and Eaves, only two other rookies in franchise history scored 34 or more points in a game: Aaron James for the New Orleans Jazz in 1975 and Darrell Griffith three times in 1980-1981.