The NBA’s regular season, a good two months too late, ends on Wednesday night. Immune to this knowledge, the league has decided to move ahead with its 14-game schedule, one that includes two nationally televised contests, in spite of what we know to be true and pure.
That isn’t to say that not everything matters, as a great deal will in an evening that will decide the playoff positioning fates of seven different NBA clubs. It will just be a roundly exhausting trip through the dial, though, and this is where we come in.
Wednesday night won’t exactly feature boring TV, but the entire mostly inconsequential affair could leave you blubbering. Frightened by this, we’ve ranked the games in order from most- to least-essential.
The bottom, as it usually does on the NBA regular season’s last day, counts for the most.
The Lakers actually try, the team has won five consecutive contests in spite of them being given the express, written direction (in invisible ink) from the team’s new front office duo of Kobe’s agent and Magic Johnson to lose as many games as possible in order to enhance the team’s lottery odds. The Warriors are still tinkering while moving Kevin Durant back into working order, and they’ll have to counter Metta World Peace (in perhaps his final NBA game) taking a bunch of three-pointers:
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 12, 2017
“Andre, it just doesn’t make sense to play him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s in a good groove and he could use a day off. And what I’ve found with Draymond is if the game is meaningless, then so is Draymond.”
Though Kerr added that he was “kidding” about Green, the coach also acknowledged there is at least a modicum of truth to his comment.
“Draymond needs some stakes,” Kerr said. “He needs the competition. He needs the game to be meaningful. Last night, there just wasn’t enough competitive fire in the game itself to bring the most out of Draymond. I’d rather give him the night off. He agrees.”
It will be interesting to see how deeply existential the NBA gets, in its application of “meaning,” moving forward.
13. Toronto at Cleveland, 8 p.m. ET
These games are always fun, contests created in August with the anticipation that the NBA (ha!) would boast a pennant race that would actually include two teams fighting for the top spot at full strength. Cleveland decided long ago to rest its various confederates and let the chips fall where they may. LeBron, while we’re at it, is getting a massage at the Hold ‘Em table.
The Clippers have something to actually play for – the homecourt advantage in the first round – against the Utah Jazz. Blake Griffin has been quietly MVP-like down the stretch of yet another goofball season.
And the Kings? Shockingly, since trading DeMarcus Cousins, the squad has been heaps of fun:
"I don't have any love for the Clippers, lets go down and wreck it." -Dave Joerger with the smile talking about the Kings finale Wednesday
— James Ham (@James_HamNBCS) April 12, 2017
The NBA’s regular season, as it always should in times both good and bad for the Kings, will spend its last seconds in Sacramento.
11. Minnesota at Houston, 8:30 p.m. ET
Tom Thibodeau, who has coached only 81 games in the last 23 months, will stay on the sideline until he’s unkindly asked to leave. Karl-Anthony Towns has provided MVP-styled play over the last few months, James Harden has delivered MVP-styled play since October, and Harden will be pushing to not only cement his regular season averages in the face of Friday’s MVP vote, this game will feature his attempt to become the “first player in NBA history with 2,000 points, 900 assists and 600 rebounds in a season.”
I don’t know why I put that in quotes.
This game will be a delight at times, which is why it misses the top ten.
10. Denver at Oklahoma City, 8 p.m. ET
The Thunder will work without Russell Westbrook for the first time all season, his triple-double averages assured. This means we’ll be allowed to see a Squeeze or Full Circle-styled badness from the solid, if unspectacular roster OKC boasts beyond Russell. The ambition will be charming, the box score will be worth saving, and the Nuggets were fun for a while, weren’t they?
9. Dallas at Memphis, 8 p.m. ET
“We’re a team, right?”
Damn I love ‘Space Cowboys.’
8. New Orleans at Portland, 10:30 p.m. ET
“Without [Anthony] Davis and [DeMarcus] Cousins in the lineup, two former Blazers are likely to get heavy minutes in the regular season finale as Tim Frazier and Dante Cunningham could both see significant action in their returns to the Moda Center.”
When did they start calling it “the Moda Center?”
Nobody is going to play in this game, and yet it will be on national TV. That’s typically an NBA problem on April 12, the last week is rarely memorable, but with this happening so many times over the last three months of the 2016-17 you can expect the national TV crew to carp about this throughout the broadcast.
Knowing that they’ll have but one night left to do as much is worth your attention, alone. These TV types will be forced into talking about actual basketball this weekend, and we’ll all be better off for it.
7. Atlanta at Indiana, 8 p.m. ET
Someone had a little too much writin’ time on their hands when they put these two teams together, teams that have no chance at meeting in the postseason unless something goes terribly wrong, on a night that could see the Pacers skip as high as No. 7 in the Eastern playoff bracket, or drop out of the damn thing altogether.
This makes it somewhat essential, but also possibly stultifying. Right in the middle, where it belongs.
6. Milwaukee at Boston, 8 p.m. ET
Giannis Antetokounmpo is out, but the Celtics depth provides plenty of interesting bits to chew on. It’s a pity it will take an upset to see these two go at it in the playoffs.
5. Washington at Miami, 8 p.m. ET
Miami is fighting for its playoff life in a season that saw them saddled with an entire elephant to consume sometime in January.
Don’t believe me? Ask their coach:
Spo, on coming back from 11-30: "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) April 12, 2017
If the Heat win and still manage to miss the playoffs this year, it will be an art crime in the order of Orlando’s failure to make the 2000 postseason in the face of a severely rebuilding, unnecessarily charmless Milwaukee Bucks team.
4. San Antonio at Utah, 9 p.m. ET
With everyone sitting out for San Antonio, this game will feature the cheapest ends from the sturdiest companies, and we love it:
3. Detroit at Orlando, 8 p.m. ET
Will you miss, like, any of these guys this summer?
2. Philadelphia at New York, 8 p.m. ET
We did this. It’s terrible.
1. Brooklyn at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET
The Bulls can’t be classified as an underachieving team, because with a win in its final game the club will have finished its season with a .500 record, not far off from where most predicted they’d end 2016-17 back in the autumn. Somehow, through all the storm and stress, the team still manages to turn you off with its own brand of (sadly, charisma-less) insouciance. You can say the team’s ownership and front office underachieved, in its typical way, and yet the carrot (flexibility! Jimmy Butler in his prime!) still remains. The Bulls are good at that.
For this regular season, though, the team has run out of charms to wile you with:
Rondo still gametime decision. Participated in shootaround
— Sean Highkin (@highkin) April 12, 2017
— Jason Patt (@Bulls_Jay) April 12, 2017
The Brooklyn Nets are the worst of several NBA worlds at this point. Built by a tempestuous owner and connected-yet-Billy King-like general manager, the Nets entered 2016-17 with absolutely nothing to play for, and too often it couldn’t help but show despite the squad’s much-respected intentions. The team knew it wouldn’t make the postseason barring a miracle, and that its lottery odds would improve with each loss due to a trade with the Celtics that was made nearly four years ago. No matter what the club did, nothing would get better.
Worse? This isn’t even the end of it. The same pattern will repeat in 2017-18, when the Nets will play an entire season knowing that all those losses will benefit those same Boston Celtics, a club the Nets will owe an unprotected first round draft pick to in 2018.
Adding to the unease is the idea that even the Nets, in Game No. 82, find this sort of competition beneath them. Nets stars like Quincy Acy, Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin, and Trevor Booker will be out due to that dastardly mix of injury and rest needs.
Not only do the Bulls not deserve to make the playoffs, they mostly don’t deserve the sort of money the already-paid (like, in 2009) customers at the United Center gave them this year. And we have no idea, even with all the good intentions owed to Sean Marks and his cracking new staff in Brooklyn, what the Nets will ever be on about.
It’s hard to tell if a basketball game like this should ever exist. Let’s bring Draymond Green in, to suss out the meaning.
– – – – – – –