Friday, April 11, 2014

Fraud Anatomy: The Mavs and Warriors Spit The Bit

Mavs and Dubs, Come On Down
Tonight in the TNT NBA double header, it was San Antonio vs. Dallas, and Golden State vs. Denver, with Dallas and Golden State both at home and desperately needing the win. Which is to say, one true NBA title contender, two teams that could win the East while being one and done in the West, and a Denver team that's going to miss the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, 9 months after firing the reigning Coach of the Year. And lo, what a mix of pathologies.

First, San Antonio. For something like the fifth straight year, they are laughing at the idea that the window is shutting due to age, because with each successive year, the Spurs just get further and further away from NBA reality. In the NBA, the team with the best talent wins, with your starters carrying the mail, especially in games where both teams truly want the game. The Spurs? They just bring in some bench guy, who performs more or less exactly like the name brand he replaced. Tonight, Patty Mills got the nod for Tony Parker. He went for 26 points and 6 assists, but the bigger story was Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan combining for 31 boards in 75 minutes, or just 11 less than the entire Mavericks team. The Spurs are now 61-18, clearly the best team in the NBA, and no one believes or cares because, well, they're the Spurs. This is what they do every year. It's boring, except if you actually watch them play.

As for the Mavs? At 48-32, they only have two games left in the season, are in hot water in the 8 seed... and if they get the spot, they'll face the Spurs. Is it any wonder that the crowd in their own gym marked out for the road team as they put this game away in the fourth? If they wind up on the outside looking in, it will be the second straight year in which the NBA's most overrated owner was unable to get a team to the playoffs despite the presence of the best 7-foot shooter in the game's history, and no real cap issues. Hard to do, Cubes!

Next, the Dubs. After running out and hiding from a going through the motions and shorthanded Nugget team that only goes 9-deep right now, they proceeded to make Timofey Mozgov look like Wilt Chamberlain (23 points and 29 boards, both career highs, and the most boards in the Association in one game in three years). In front of the best home crowd in the NBA, with a game that they needed to win to clinch a playoff position, the Dubs got absolutely trucked on the glass, and wound up losing by a point when they couldn't get a stop late. Just absurd. And part of the relentless pressure of life in the West, where coach Mark Jackson is on the hot seat with management for his inability to keep assistants employed, to win games like this one, or to get past the 6th seed and reassure ownership that his team, well, isn't a bunch of frauds that should get rolled in the first round. (By the Clips, by the way.)

When, well, they are.

They can't get stops when they need them. They've got one guy on the roster, Steph Curry, who can seemingly get them into a coherent offense in the half court, assuming he's not turning over. Andre Iguodala has basically spent his first season in the Bay looking like some kind of shell of himself, along with Steve Blake. The bigs can't stay healthy, Jackson can't get them to play consistent defense, and they just lose focus at any time.

Oh, and they are still 48-30 despite playing teams from the West a lot more than the East, and would be the #3 seed in the vastly lesser conference, and the shining hope for a non-Heat Finals. Just an absurd year in the Association.

Finally, the Nuggets. Fans can console themselves that this wasn't just a fluke win, but a clear sign that the team is down with coach Brian Shaw's vision for the future... which involves slowing the game down and neutering their two best players (short but dynamic and hurt point guard Ty Lawson, raw but athletic PF Kenneth Faried, who at least got the game-winner tonight), and having a roster that was built for free-wheeling Furious George Karl to move off from the 3s and altitude aid game, and into a slowdown that requires Mozgov to show up every night and dominate experience.

Um, no.

And here's why we know it won't work: because the team hasn't made the effort to stay "healthy" for it. If you want to know if a team has bought into what a coach is selling in the NBA, just look at how many guys got hurt... because many injuries are just a case of guys deciding to step off, rather than put themselves at further risk for a goat ride to nowhere season. The NBA isn't a contact sport, these guys aren't devoid of expert medical care and quality travel accommodations, and the best players play big minutes deep into their '30s with no real drop off in level. In tonight's early game, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki were just about their team's best players. Again. For something like the 15th straight year.

And sure, those guys are outliers and freaks and champions and focused and yada yada yada.... but they aren't winning on guile and wisdom alone. Duncan's in fantastic aerobic shape, Dirk's still got that absurd ability to get a clear shot whenever he wants, and both guys do a ton of different good things out there. Both guys run hard to the arc to set good screens for men a decade younger then them, rather than just post and demand. And their teams don't have now, and don't have ever, season-ending injuries to guys that matter.

That's because they are leaders... and Brian Shaw isn't.

So, um, moving on, Denver.

Being a hoops junkie, I'm a sucker for fun frauds. I love to watch the Dubs and Mavs. They never put their opponent out of the game, and if you can't have a good time watching Curry and Nowitzki, you have no soul. But they are not now, and will not be any time soon, actual threats to do more than win 50 games and lose in the first round to, well, teams like the Spurs. Because while they may be pretty and fun to watch, they just don't defend or rebound well enough.

And that's why, well, they're frauds. Simple game, really.

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