I consider the “Saturday Night Live” bit called “Annuale” the best fake commercial the show has ever done – of course, comic goddesses Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig had to be involved. (I never thought anyone could be as funny in as many different characters as Gilda Radner was, but Kristen Wiig is even better.)
I’m referencing the clip both because it’s insanely hilarious and because I feel like stealing a line from it to describe the whirlwind that the Eastern Conference playoff race is going to be in these last two weeks of the regular season.
Go to store, buy a hat, and get ready to hold the (blank) on to it.
Yes, this will be nuts. For ESPN.com, I wrote about what it’s probably going to come down to in the West. Here, I’m going to attempt to describe the East logjam, starting by saying this is parity to an absurd degree.
Leave out Indiana, which would be a league-best 21-7 if the Fever hadn’t fallen asleep early against Sacramento and lost on Saturday. Maybe, though, that will serve as a motivation to Indiana to be ever-alert for the remainder of the regular season. Although getting the rest of the way through unscathed is unlikely for Indy, which has its rematch with West leader Phoenix on Wednesday at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Mercury is looking to avenge an Aug. 8 loss to the Fever.
Then the Fever’s last five games are against Eastern Conference foes scrambling to join Indy in the top four. And all but one of those games is on the road. The Fever closes at Detroit, against Washington, at New York, at Chicago and at Connecticut.
Still, Indiana, despite its “will the franchise still be here next year?” baggage, is 20-8 and has its playoff spot already wrapped up no matter what happens.
After the Fever, though, comes the chaos: Atlanta is 15-14, Chicago and Connecticut are 14-16, Washington is 14-15, Detroit is 13-15 and New York is 12-17.
The Dream surged into second place by winning four of five, all the while knowing the road nightmare that awaited the team to end the season. From July 30-Aug. 25, the Dream had eight of its nine games at home. It mostly took advantage, winning six of those eight.
From Aug. 27-Sept. 12, though, the tide changes: The Dream finishes with six of seven on the road. Atlanta already lost the first of those two: Thursday at Detroit and Saturday in double overtime at Seattle. The Dream still has trips to Phoenix and LA (yikes) without knowing when forward Chamique Holdsclaw will return. She’s missed three games already as soreness in her right knee required arthroscopic surgery.
Then again, key injuries are a problem for almost everybody in the East. Connecticut forward Asjha Jones has been out since mid-August with an Achilles’ tendon strain. Chicago center Sylvia Fowles has an ankle sprain and has missed the last five games. Washington guard Alana Beard sprained an ankle in the Mystics’ win Sunday and left the floor near the end of the game. Guard Katie Smith missed her first game in a Detroit uniform on Saturday apparently for various ailments, including a sore back. Those are four players who were in the All-Star Game in July.
(Some good news out of Detroit, though, is that former coach Bill Laimbeer has landed in the NBA, as an assistant to the Timberwolves. If he can prove anywhere near as effective for Minnesota’s NBA franchise as Smith was for Detroit after Laimbeer got her from Minnesota’s WNBA franchise … well, that will be great news in the Twin Cities.)
Anyway, back to this Eastern Conference playoff logjam: It could turn out like one of those short-track speedskating races. You know, where the pack is all bunched together, and then they get tangled up and couple fall down, so whomever remains upright ends up winning the medals.