Most NBA playoff games are pretty exciting, but the Washington Wizards have hit on a real ring-ding formula for thrills.
Get about a 20-point lead, then gag down the stretch. Miss a half dozen free throws in a row if you'd like, though turnovers do nicely too. Then, with the lead gone and four seconds left, have your best player take an inbounds pass and appear to dribble around aimlessly for a few seconds while every single person watching the game shouts, "What's he doing?!"
Then have him rise up and nail a game-winning shot at the buzzer.
The Wizards did a sort of dry run of this routine against the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 Monday in Washington, but perfected it in Game 5 Wednesday in Chicago, Gilbert Arenas calmly draining that game-winner it didn't look like he was going to have time to get off. Wizards 112, Bulls 110, and the Wiz, winners of three in a row, lead the series 3-2.
It's easy to feel bad for the Bulls. They've turned it around after six dismal years, and it looks like this series would have been theirs if they hadn't been missing Eddy Curry, their center and leading scorer, and Luol Deng, who had a solid rookie year.
But then you remember you're feeling bad for the Bulls, who have still won six of the last 14 NBA titles, and you move on to feeling bad for, like, victims of car bombs. Or at least Yankees fans.
At any rate, I think now that Manu Ginobili is a certified, gold medal-winning superstar, Charles Barkley needs a new role player's name to shout every time the guy shows up in a highlight. I'd like to suggest JANNERO PARGO!
The 6-1 guard from Arkansas, who went from the Lakers to the Raptors to the Bulls last year, his second in the league, has scored 28 points in 23 minutes over the last two games. In a 35-second stretch of the final minute Wednesday, he hit three 3-pointers, including the one that tied the game, and assisted on another.
Game 6 is Friday in Washington.
As a result of Wednesday's other game, we bid farewell to the Denver Nuggets, who turned things around themselves this year after hiring George "No, That Wasn't Me Who Starred in 'Third Rock From the Sun'" Karl at midseason. Undermanned against the most solid team in the league, the San Antonio Spurs, the Nuggets battled to the finish.
They lost the last four games, including Wednesday's 99-89 clincher in Game 5, but they hung in there nicely. Like Game 4, a 126-115 overtime win for the Spurs, the finale was closer than the final score.
Tim Duncan appears to be rounding into shape after missing more than four weeks just before the end of the season, and that can't be good news for the Spurs' second-round opponent, the Seattle SuperSonics. That series begins Sunday in San Antonio.
Sonics fans have been hollering at me for joining the rest of the commentariat in underappreciating the Seattle five. They won their division and hammered the Kings -- who you picked to win the opening series, keyboard boy -- in five games, goes the argument. What do they have to do to get some respect?
Answer: Beat the Spurs.
Even if the Spurs play as poorly as the Kings did, which I don't think is possible under the laws of physics as they're now understood, I'll give the Sonics their propers if they win this one. My prediction is Spurs in five, though I think the Sonics will keep the games close.
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The performance-enhancing power of words [PERMALINK]
Earlier this week former big-league pitcher Tom House was quoted as saying steroid use was rampant among pitchers during his career. House was drafted by the Braves in 1967 and pitched in the majors for the Braves, Red Sox and Mariners from 1971 to 1978.
House said that he pitched on teams that had "six or seven" pitchers using performance-enhancing drugs, and they'd often joke, "We didn't get beat; we got out-milligrammed."
He must have gotten some phone calls from ex-teammates, because House, a Rangers pitching coach in the '80s who now runs something called the National Pitching Institute in San Diego, clarified his comments for the Dallas Morning News.
Now he says the drugs that were so common were amphetamines. He was just talking about himself when he mentioned steroids.
The widespread abuse of uppers in baseball has been general knowledge since the publication of Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" 35 years ago, and greenies don't carry the same stigma that steroids do in the current environment, so presumably House's clarification will smooth any ruffled feathers.
But it brings up an interesting point. This is the second time in the last couple of months that vague language around the steroid issue has been at the root of a problem, at least allegedly.
Cardinals announcer Wayne Hagin, who used to call Rockies games, claimed unconvincingly that he hadn't been talking about steroids in late March when he used the word "juice" in reference to Colorado slugger Todd Helton, who got royally pissed at Hagin, pardon the drug-testing pun.
One of the problems in the whole steroid mess is that we're all throwing words like "performance-enhancing drugs" around without being clear what we mean. Most people use "performance-enhancing drugs" and "steroids" as synonyms, for example. But not all PEDs are steroids. And amphetamines -- good old, run-of-the-mill, same thing you took when you were studying for finals or driving a truck or listening to the Buzzcocks speed -- are more reliable performance enhancers than steroids are.
But try to get a congressional subcommittee to hold a hearing on speed. It's just not sexy. It doesn't get your old teammates breathing flames through your cellphone.
Previous column: So long, Sixers and Kings
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