(go sign up for the WWOD? Tourney Pool over at http://whatwouldoakleydo.blogspot.com/2008/03/first-ever-best-ever-wwod-pool.html)
1. Chris Paul. He's got the New Orleans Hornets a game back of the Houston Rockets (and tied with the Los Angeles Lakers) for first place in the West with a chance to prove it on the floor when the two teams meet up this week. I know that he a little guy and that he is young and that he isn't on television every single day and that you might not even know what shoes he wears or what soft drink he promotes but HE IS THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER in the NBA right now. He may not be the most physically awe-inspiring (LeBron James) or the most likely to commit a heinous sex crime or score 100 points (Kobe Bryant), but he is without a shadow of a doubt the player in the league who is most valuable to his team on a nightly basis.
2. The Orlando Magic. Led by Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard, the Magic toppled the Lebronaliers last night. The team that no one gives much credit to just became the third team to clinch a playoff spot. And the beat the Cavs, a team that everyone can't stop talking about, to do it. They've now taken 2 of 3 from Cleveland thus far this season and they've built a 10.5 game lead between the two teams. It wasn't too long ago that Stan Van Gundy had the Miami Heat to Game 7 of the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals. This guy knows how to coach 'em up and this team is going to be dangerous in the playoffs if Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu can hit from deep like they were last night. If they do than the Lebronaliers just don't have the firepower to keep up.
3. The Atlanta Hawks. They are not an exceedingly good basketball team. In fact, they are nine games below .500 for the season and have only won four out of their last ten. However, three of those four wins have come in their last three games. They are seemingly staking a claim to the last playoff spot in the East by beating the teams that they are supposed to beat. Teams like the New York Knicks. And, the Miami Heat. And the Los Angeles Clippers. Ever since Mike Bibby has shown up in the ATL, this team has seemed to gain a better sense of where it was and what it was doing. They know that if they can win the winnable games on their schedule that they can make the playoffs. And, in a town that is suffering through the league's longest playoff drought (9 years) that is something.
4. The First-Time Dancers. American University. University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Portland State. This is their week. They'll likely be back on campus by Saturday morning at the very latest after bowing out in their Thursday/Friday games. And that game will likely seem to go from opening tip to final whistle in the burst of a single flashbulb. So, right now is there time. Now is the time they walk around campus and are heroes. These are their shining moments as well-wishers lineup in dining halls and in the dorms.
5. The Boston Celtics. Though I suspect that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are not actually Irish, they played with some luck and some pluck last night in erasing a twenty-point deficit to steal a win off the Spurs in San Antonio. In a game pitting the two favorites to reach the Finals (though the Spurs seem intent on surrendering that status in the West) it was worth noting that new acquistion Sam Cassell came off the bench for the C's to score 17 and hit the shot that gave them their first lead of the game down stretch.
Benched: Dodgertown. After sixty years, the purest and most idyllic Spring Training experience has shuttered its doors. Located in Vero Beach, Florida, Dodgertown was the home of the Brooklyn and then Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948 until yesterday. The Dodgers are finally moving their Spring Training to the West Coast so that they can be closer to their year-round home. During World War II the space had been a naval air station for the US Navy and after the war the Dodgers set up their spring training facilities on the site. The strange beginnings make it a place like no other in existence. The fields have no dugouts and the players, fans and media all could mingle in a way that gave a unique intimacy to the place. Players and coaches could often be seen getting around the facility on bicycles and were traditionally caught up in the time warp that was Dodgertown. Unfortunately, I never got down there even though I first heard what a great trip it was a few years ago. The word on the street is that the Orioles will move in to the space, so maybe we can all head down to Angelos town next Spring?