By Sam Rubenstein

Lang got his hands on a copy of GTA IV yesterday, and I didn’t say anything to him but I knew there was no way no chance that he was going to be able to write playoff diary recaps with such a powerful item in his possession. He’s been doing a great job giving you all a late night forum throughout the playoffs, and has in turn been rewarded by the basketball Gods with what is happening in the Atlanta series.

Now, one thing that’s crucial to remember about the NBA playoffs is that a long season gets defined in a short time, and teams are graded as failures or successes, or are determined to be on their way or lost in the woods without a map, up the creek without a paddle, and so on.

Last night there were two series ending games. Allow me now to go through all 16 teams and tell you how they should feel about their seasons so far. The Spurs-Suns series story should be coming via Appleman. Others will have their respective series. For now, truth of consequences, not really in any particular order:

1) Denver. Embarrassed themselves. They built up negative karma all season long, and it came home to roost in the playoffs. Sometimes a lack of discipline, others a lack of defense, and most bizarre of all, a lack of shot-making which was all they were good for this season (that and getting turnovers). Carmelo has never been out of the first round. AI’s quest for the elusive ring has been stalled. George Karl has amazingly found a THIRD team loaded with talent that he can’t take all the way. But the good news is the Nuggets have a young talent to build around, his name is JR Smith. Everything about him screams 2007-08 Denver Nuggets. Um, good luck with that.

2) Lakers. Still have work to do, those heightened expectations are tough aren’t they? When the season began, there was TURMOIL! Kobe had to be traded, or the team blown up to rebuild, or some other drastic trade, or they just had to find a way to somehow make it to that elusive second round. Well… they made a trade alright. Giving up less than nothing to get more than something. Lake Show is the best handling their business squad so far. We have to wait for the adversity to come, and oh, it will.

3) Raptors. Eliminated, have regressed from last season, their coach’s job may or may not be on the line, but the big thing is that if you wanted to label them as soft, it doesn’t get much worse than letting one player rack up three 20-20s on you in five games. Definitely the losers of the least-watched, least-discussed series so far.

4) Orlando Magic. Congrats to Stan Van Gundy. Not only did he just take a team to the second round five minutes after he showed up, but the old man who did him dirty had to retire with his reptilian tail between his legs once again, on pretty much the same day. And then Larry Brown jumps back into the picture, trying to block his light even further. Leave Stan alone! The guy “chose” hanging out with his family over coaching, while Larry’s been sitting on a park bench in a coma, screaming at innocent 12 year olds to share the ball! I am very happy for Stan. And Dwight, the 20-20s. Rest up for round 2. Definitely a successful season for the Magic no matter what happens from here.

5) Phoenix Suns. Eliminated last night. Bhhhhhhhkkkkkkkkkkkkk!!!! That was supposed to be the sound of an explosion. An exploding sun if you will. Re: throwing caution to the wind, unloading youth for Shaq and his money… “You tried and you failed. The lesson? Never try. – H. Simpson.” The NBA is a results-oriented business. Yes it was a tough task drawing the Spurs in round one, but in the end a round one loss is a round one loss. Where do they go from here? That will be one of the big questions of the off-season. Regarding Steve Nash’s legacy, here’s a hindsight is 20-20 observation: People say he didn’t become the dominant offensive PG capable of winning MVPs until he got to Phoenix. Maybe the Mavs just didn’t know what the hell they were doing and holding him back from those big numbers? Then again, Tony Parker could not have emasculated him any more. So many French jokes to make, but I am above that.

6) Dallas Mavericks. I want to thank Mark Cuban for teaching me an important life lesson this season. I never really got the phrase “Money can’t buy you class.” I think that if I had a lot of money I’d just be like “Eff you, I’m gonna be myself, do what I want, here’s $5 if you swear you’ll never speak to me again.” So you could say I aspire to have Cuban’s type of power… until this season. What a whiner. It’s over man. J Howard hit that L. Cuban talked down to everybody all season long, even coming up with a new way of treating at the game media. Too bad there is no more “at the game” for his team. How did they respond to last year’s collapse? Not well.

7) San Antonio Spurs. My thing with the Spurs is this… in a world of chaos you need a rock. It’s them. The Spurs are in the second round, where they belong. They expect this.

8) Utah Jazz. They didn’t close out the series last night, and in fact were suffocated by the Rockets defense. Whenever Russ wakes up I’m sure he’ll have much more to say about it. The Utah story still needs work.

9) Houston Rockets. Ah the other side of the Utah story. It’s all Tracy’s fault just like he said. No but seriously, it’s nice to see Tracy and the Rockets not just laying down at 0-2, and now they’ve made it a series. Game 6 in Utah where the Jazz never lose, except they did against these Rockets in what should have been the soul crusher for Houston. If the Rockets can somehow find a way to win this one game… obviously with Tracy’s history (yup him again) they have to get out of round 1 to consider the season a success. But forcing a game 7 back at home would be really impressive.

10) New Orleans. Has there ever been a franchise that’s been a complete afterthought, draft one player and then all of a sudden they are a powerhouse. Chris Paul is (insert over the top praise). The Hornets season has been a smashing success. No matter what happens from here on out. The worst thing that can happen to them is they learn hard lessons. And that’s not even a bad thing.

11) Washington Wizards. It’s very weird seeing one of the softer playoff teams doing all of the macho posturing and enforcing. Their one legitimately tough player is Caron Butler, and he has nothing to do with all of this nonsense. Last night they had one of those split screen commercials with Antawn Jamison and Ben Wallace. Did they shoot one with every single NBA player this year? The Wizards are an annoyance to me this playoff run. The entertainment stuff off the court makes me feel cheap and dirty for having to pay attention to it because it’s part of my job. Please, just fold it up and go home.

12) Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron has always wanted to transcend mere athletics and be a force in the entertainment world as well. Be careful what you wish for. Now Jay-Z is involved, Soulja Boy, people walking out of clubs when the wrong song comes on, and LeBron even had to try and put an end to the madness by saying he just plays basketball and this is all nonsense. Too late! The Vogue cover controversy was more interesting than all of this “stuff.” I feel bad for the innocent victim: Soulja Boy. What did he ever do? Sure there is some adolescent mysogyny in one of his songs. Have you honestly heard his second single or anything else he’s done? It’s like “Parents Just Don’t Understand” but without sentence structure. It’s not good music, but then again it’s not for me or my generation, or probably even your generation. It’s for little kids on a sugar rush. It sounds like ice cream truck music. And this is the key figure in a playoff series? Oh, Cleveland just has to move on and then we’ll see. As a team though, LeBron is a great player.

13) Philadelphia 76ers. The first SHOCK THE WORLD team of this playoff run. Khalid didn’t get too excited, like this wasn’t the biggest thing to happen to his team since the finals run. I believe it to be an act o contrarianism. Now that the Pistons have restored order and people have jumped on the Atlanta bandwagon, Khalid is jealous and wants people to recognize that Philly was the first David to scare a Goliath. He will never admit this publicly, but I know. The 76ers will lose the series but they’ve gained so much. They play hard, they have encouraging young athletes, and they’ve made the Pistons look old and vulnerable. Until the second half on Sunday and last night’s brutalization. Great season for Philly though! They were supposed to be a lottery team, a tanker.

14) Atlanta Hawks. In the same breath as the 76ers, but even more surprising because the Celtics are supposed to be the fired up and ready to dominate team, the hungry team. Atlanta didn’t do much in games one and two, but making the playoffs gave them their best season of the 2000s. This series and the home court intensity of their fans may have changed they way people think of the Hawks for a while. Game 4 with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith doing EVERYTHING, was really fun to watch. People were calling for a 3 game sweep, canceling the series, jokes. How can you NOT love what the Hawks are doing?

15) Detroit Pistons. How many times can a team do this? They don’t get into it until their backs are up against the wall. Then, they get burnt out from having their backs against the fall for too long and over the off-season we say they should have taken care of business earlier and they wouldn’t have been in such a desperate situation. Okay, the Pistons have to get to the Conference Finals at the very least for it to be a good season for them. Sure, they’ve blended in some promising young talent this year, but there is just something fundamentally strange about them. Why do they insist on making things harder for themselves?

16) Boston Celtics. Ahhhhhh… the green sky is falling. They are the better team, they have homecourt where the Hawks can’t beat them, blah blah blah. This has been a disaster for the C’s. In some circles, KG got bonus MVP point because he was “inspiring teammates” by screaming at them from the bench, by acting like a lunatic which gave them the fire they needed to run roughshod over the Eastern conference. I love KG’s game and his enthusiasm. Here is the thing… Why doesn’t anyone else do that? It wears you out. If you treat “Every game like game 7 of the Finals”, then how do you raise your intensity when a bigger game than the previous one comes along? They showed a shot on TV to show KG’s leadership in the huddle, and he looked dazed and amazed (not confused and abused, Walt Clyde is with me). Even more troubling for the C’s is this… the Pistons have real winners that can get into trouble and fall back on the memory of overcoming these types of odds. The Celtics, you already know about KG’s first round playoff trouble. What about Paul Pierce? Sure, he was a beast during their run to almost beating the Nets that one year. He carried the Celtics over a Pacers team coached by ISIAH, and he’s had more good than bad in the playoffs, but he’s hardly a proven “We’re winning this series” guy. Ray Allen? One deep run when the Bucks had a lot of talent, and they still lost to the Sixers of Iverson and scrappy defenders. He was on the Seattle team that beat Sacramento in a series dominated by… JEROME JAMES. Don’t get me started on what UCONN’s losses used to do to my NCAA bracket when Ray went there. Some wounds don’t heal. The guys on the Celtics you can trust know how to win series are Sam Cassell and James Posey. That is an interesting dynamic for a team that should be the runaway favorite.

BIG GAME TONIGHT IN BOSTON. The Celtics really need to get to The Finals to justify the good feelings of their season. Maybe this is the adversity they need to overcome to give them real battle-tested confidence.

Anyways, that’s my take on all 16. What can I say, I got up early today. Feel free to insult the Suns or do whatever below.