Friday, May 30, 2014

Spurs - Thunder Game Five: Gregg Popovich For The Win

Spurs 2, Thunder 2, Pops 1
In the first half of tonight's pivotal Game 5, Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich made the adjustments that were hinted at during the credits trail of Game Four. Gone was Tiago Splitter to pair with Tim Duncan; in was the stretch 4 stylings of Matt Bonner, and later on and much more effectively, Boris Diaw. With that move, and the other obvious nitrous burst of more work for the freshly shamed and very rested Manu Ginobili, the Spurs were off and running. Then, we saw the very telling response from Thunder coach Scott Brooks.

(crickets chirping)

Wait for it, it's going to be worth it.

(crickets dying of old age)

Well, maybe it's just showing confidence in your team to think that all you need to do was get back Serge Ibaka, and what the Spurs did to adjust wouldn't matter. But, well, it did. Reggie Jackson, injured in the successful rear-guard effort by the Spurs shock troops in Game Four, started hot but did not end that way. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook started with fire, but couldn't keep up the pace. When Durant misses both free throws, I don't know what else you need to see to tell that his gas tank is beyond empty. Kendrick Perkins went back to brutal, the Spurs' ball movement went back to lethal, and we were right back where we were for the first four games in this series -- the home team in a blowout.

The question for the Thunder is whether Ibaka has been neutralized, both by the inevitable fall-off after coming back from an injury, and by the stretch 4 work that got Tim Duncan back to solid in this game. You can also ask if the Thunder Big 3 have enough to win back to back games, when they have to dominate on both ends, against a vastly deeper opponent.

But to credit this one just to the sine wave swing of what appears to be a schizophrenic series driven by fatigue, injury and bench guys who can't play on the road, or the obvious coaching mismatch, is to belittle what Ginobili did tonight. 19-4-6 in 21 minutes should be everything you really need to know, but it doesn't do enough to describe his genius. His shooting was dead-eye, his drives crafty, his passing inventive, and he got to an absurd amount of loose balls. He's not what he once was -- the dunk fail with 14 minutes left in the game, when Caron Butler got away with a clear hack on a launch with no lift, with the refs no longer giving him the foul, was downright heart-breaking -- but when the team is so deep that he doesn't get to major minutes, it doesn't seem to matter. Duncan also brought the old man thunder, with quick releases that thwarted the Thunder defense, duck ins and movement that kept getting him open, and hands that just got to everything he touched. It was a clinic in how to be effective at an advanced age, and masterful.

Despite all of the good first half work, the game was still close, because OKC has the nuclear weapons that are Westbrook and Durant, and neither of those guys played badly tonight. But slowly and then quickly, as the Spurs upped the dosage and just moved the ball faster and better, their energy and urgency dripped away. with Durant not punishing smaller players in the post, and Westbrook eventually settling for those long jumpers that are part and parcel of his Bad Russell persona, the Spur lead kept growing. Danny Green's fourth three of the night, with 9 minutes left, was your no-doubt kill shot, and it's telling that when Brooks throws in the towel and puts in his deep reserves, the Thunder fall even further apart, rather than give him options for future games.

Even as the Spurs were going up by 20, departing color analyst and next Warriors coach Steve Kerr was predicting Game 7 in San Antonio on Monday, and its hard to see how he's wrong. The Spurs haven't won in OKC in a dog's age, and Brooks at least got his stars off the floor for some desperately needed rest. (I half expected Popovich to tell his team to turn it over and let the Thunder get back in it, just to drain some more minutes from the Thunder starters.)

What people will say about this series is that we haven't had a game in which both teams have played to their potential - yet - and that's why we've had five blowouts, and a historic point differential. But that wasn't the case for much of the first half. The plain and simple of Game 5 was that as the game went on, the Spurs kept getting better, and the Thunder got tired.

Oh, and one final thing. If OKC gets Game 5's Ibaka, rather than Game 3 or 4's, maybe this doesn't go seven. I wouldn't bet on it, though.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Top 10 takeaways from Steve Ballmer buying the Clippers for $2 billion

Meet The New Boss
No, wait -- $2 billion? $600M more than the Knicks and Lakers, otherwise known as the other two very large market franchises, only with teams that suck canal water?

Well, um, OK. Let's get into it...

10) That will teach rich guys to be racist

9) With Paul Allen owning the Blazers, the Clips now have a much bigger rival than the Warriors

8) It's a shame the sale didn't drag on, so the NBA could come in and sell the team off for what Donald Sterling paid for it

7) There's no truth to the rumor that V. Stiviano has been on the NBA or Microsoft payroll for years, which is just a darn shame, really

6) This isn't going to do much for Sterling's inevitable nuisance lawsuit against the NBA, claiming unspecified damages

5) That sound you heard was Laker Fan finally accepting their status as the unquestioned second franchise in town

4) If Ballmer wants to keep the franchise name, he's got a new mascot already in place

3) Finally, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will be able to get commercial endorsements

2) Team fans can now chant "Control, Alt, Delete" instead of booing

1) Everyone can rest assured that the new owner will never do anything to truly shame the team in public

Top 10 Takeaways from Donald Sterling Being Named The Most Hated Man In America

The Clippers' infamous owner topped the list for the most hated men in America in a poll released today, getting 92% of the vote. Which leads us to...

10) For the sake of the security of his comrades and the staff, please, for the love of God, no one tell OJ Simpson and Aaron Hernandez that they've come up short

9) On some level, it's more surprising that 8% of poll respondents don't have a problem with him

8) The man really needs to hurry up that prostate cancer problem to up his numbers

7) If and when he's out of the NBA, Adam Silver is going to be the most popular man in the NBA

6) This whole episode is really hurting the cause of all of the other racist billionaires who like to sleep around

5) Time for a fresh round of interviews on CNN to fix this whole kerfluffle

4) Future whitewash eulogies are really going to be a challenge for the writers

3) You know it's getting really bad when other Jews are getting anti-Semitic on his ass

2) At this point, Sterling can make significant bank by blackmailing brands and celebrities by saying he likes them

1) In response to the poll's findings, Washington NFL owner Daniel Snyder fired up a fresh PR debacle

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Brief And Obvious Points About The Rumors That The Sixers Will Trade Michael Carter-Williams

Yes. Yes, Your Cat Is Racist.
Sam Hinkie is building an up-tempo team with plus athleticism to generate turnovers.

MCW was the Rookie of the Year for, well, those attributes.

He also doesn't shoot well enough to be a lead-pipe star cinch, and since the team lost so many games last year while he put up numbers, many NBA observers think he's something of a fluke or ball hog.

Hinkie has three strong assets in 2014-15 that he didn't have in 2013-14; an actual NBA center in Nerlens Noel, and two NBA caliber players in the 3 and 10 pick.

The thing that people don't get -- and this includes folks who think the Sixers will trade the 3 and the 10 because Hinkie has a raging hard on for Andrew Wiggins -- is that 99% of these rumors are just pure and simple clickbait at best. And, well, worst.

MCW isn't Jrue Holliday -- another GM's pick, close to his ceiling as a player, about to get very expensive, and liable to drag a terrible team up to poor draft position. Rather, he's cheap for now, on the rise, on a team where the fan base just endured 82 games of obvious pain for the promise of Fun Ball in 2014.

He's not going anywhere.

Moving on.

Heat - Pacers Game Five: Indiana Explained

Blow Jobber
Tonight in Indy, the Pacers won a 3-point game to prolong their best of seven series. MVP LeBron James played less than half of the game due to some of the more Donaghy-esque foul calls you've ever seen, Indy got a huge night from Paul George, and the fact that it was a close anyway sets up a closeout game for Miami on Friday night that looks like an utter beatdown to me.

You could dwell on the details of the fourth quarter, when George bailed out Roy Hibbert with an absurd make, when James deferred to Chris Bosh for a corner three and the win opportunity, rather than the more likely tying rack make, or how this series is just a train wreck of brickery, flops and old-school heel behavior. But all of that is stuff I knew, and you knew, and have known for years, which is why people are so reticent about giving the Heat credit for anything. I'm going to skate past all of that. Rather, I'm going to talk about the second quarter. Trust me, it revealed much.

After the first, Indy was up 22-16. James was in foul trouble, and wasn't going to get back on the floor in the first half. This is the point of the game where a normal NBA bench comes in and lays down the law, extends the lead, and plays with the utter comfort of being at home and with a lead, against a road team that isn't looking to try too hard. Instead, the Pacers... brought in their bench players.

And dear Lord in Heaven, are they horrible.

You see, I've been confused as to how a team based on balance and defense has been so erratic. I've thought it had something to do with Lance Stephenson being a functioning psychotic, or how George Hill is just not good enough to be a starting point guard, but there have been any number of teams that have employed Ron Artest and a poor point that hasn't been like, well, the Pacers. But the more I watched, as a middling at best Heat bench came back to take a lead at the half without any help from James at all, or even all that much good play on their own. And it all fell together.

Every NBA bench is, by definition, suspect. If these players were better, they'd be starting. But the Pacers go further. To to call this a substandard outfit is obvious, but the bigger point -- that this might be the least useful bench of any Final Four team in recent memory -- is more telling. Their best player in this series has been Rasual Butler, a 35-year-old vagabond wing who spent last year in the D-League. Their second best benchie is Ian Mahimi, who is a willing banger with hands to match. Luis Scola seems like he's useful, because he's got some shiftiness in the post and Euro trickery, but that ignores the fact that he's an absolute turnstile on defense, and turnover-prone. Last and least is CJ Watson, a low percentage guard who does nothing at league average levels.

Who's the defensive hammer in this group? No one. Who can give them instant offense that's not volume driven? Well, um, no one. Who is on the upswing of his career, a high draft pick, a starter in 2-3 years, a guy who could emerge as a starter on a worse team, a plus athlete, a knockdown three point threat? None of the above all over.

And this shows how the final misery of the Pacers -- their incredibly erratic play in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and the seeming lack of heart they showed in this entire playoff run -- isn't a mystery. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.

On Friday night, the Heat will get early foul calls. After two days of watching Stephenson blow into James' ear, he's going to be lucky to get out of the first minute without a technical. Hibbert will disappear. James will dominate. And then the first quarter will end, and Frank Vogel will look to his bench, or to his exhausted starers, all of whom he needed to whip to the post tonight just to prolong the series. It won't end pretty.

So when you see those pained reaction shots from Larry Bird?

You're actually looking at the cause of the problem.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Thunder - Spurs Game 4: Russell Westbrook Takes Flight

Yeah, That's A Point Guard
With four minutes left in the second quarter of a game that was inexorably going in the direction of the Thunder, guard Russell Westbrook was ridiculously out of position, with both feet and most of his body out of bounds. Continuing his momentum with what might be the best chase-down speed in the Association, Westbrook reached a finger with his raptor-like length, poking the basketball out of the hands of Spurs' point guard Tony Parker, who made the tactical mistake of playing basketball at something less than warp speed. Then Westbrook was off to the races for yet another steal and score, as the Thunder mega-church crowd roared its approval.

Only on the replay, minutes later, did anyone think to look at Westbrook's feet, both of which were still out of bounds when he made the swipe. The fact that no one noticed this little fact was not evidence of referee error. Rather, it was somehow besides the point... because when you are in the presence of Westbrook in full flight, noticing anything beyond the absurdity of his athleticism, or the fact that his feet sometimes touch the ground, seems, well, downright ungrateful.

And when the Thunder play like this, with Westbrook and Kevin Durant not just the best two players on the floor, but potentially the second and third best players on the planet, it all suddenly makes sense. Why the Thunder are so bad in half court sets -- because making them run plays is just nuts when your small forward can shoot 75% from the floor and with unmatched length, and your point guard starts damn near every break with unrelenting pressure on the ball, and speed to the cup. It also makes sense, suddenly, to play Kendrick Perkins of all people, because he's altering shots like Serge Ibaka, and you don't need anyone else on the floor taking shots. The single biggest stat from tonight was first half fast-break points, when it was still somewhat in doubt: 17 to 0 for the Thunder. So what if Perk can barely make it past half court; he'd just get in the way.

I'm still waiting for the contest where both of these teams bring their "A" Game, and we see if the Spurs' vaunted execution and full participation can overcome the Thunder having the two best players on the floor... but if this hasn't all been home court mirage, maybe the Spurs just don't have it, and this is just a repeat of the series from two years ago. (That's when the Thunder spotted the Spurs two wins, then won four straight games in ways that made the Spurs look like last century's team.) I didn't think that was possible for a Thunder roster that didn't have James Harden any more, against a Spurs' team that had a very active Kawhi Leonard, but the Westbrook and Durant that showed up tonight don't need Harden to advance. They just need Ibaka, and a fourth guy hitting the most open shots this side of what LeBron James grants to his teammates in Miami, and a coach that just gives them minutes.

So, what happens next? The Spurs have to find a way to put the toothpaste back in the tube. If I'm Gregg Popovich, I start thinking hard about all of the little things that veteran teams are supposed to be good at -- drawing fouls, stopping fast breaks by taking charges, slowing down the pace and making the games grindy. They can't beat the Thunder by playing pretty, the way they did in the first two games, because Ibaka is just ending all of their back-door and cutting magic. I also put Leonard, the only guy on their roster with the physical gifts to stay with either Wetbrook or Durant, on, well, one of those guys. I put Manu Ginobili in the starting lineup, not because he's really deserved it, but just because that sort of thing has worked in the past.

And if it doesn't work, I start the deep subs, the same way that he did halfway through the third quarter in this one, when four of his five starters hit the pine, never to return, with 19 minutes left, just to try to shock the system before death. (It actually worked in this game, as Boris Diaw put together some good minutes and make this less or a runaway, Cory Joseph made a highlight reel or two, and Thunder coach Scott Brooks was unable to get his starters off the floor.)

Finally, I'd tell everyone on the floor to do everything they can to enrage Westbrook. Because if he's in flight, they aren't winning. (Obviously...)

The Unbearable Lightness of Manziel

Two Girls One Brown
Just in case you were living under the delusion that football is like any other sport, and that the times we are living in have not changed completely and irrevocably for the worse, consider the front-page World Wide Lemur story today on Johnny Manziel.

Manziel, the Heisman Trophy QB from Texas A&M and first round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, went to Las Vegas this last weekend.

He did not miss any team practices. The Browns were off for the Memorial Day weekend.

While he was in Las Vegase, he was not arrested.

He did not get married, demonstrate a drinking or gambling problem, or, do well, anything else of note.

As far as we can tell, he broke no law.

And it made the front page of ESPN, because Manziel dared to share the details of his life with the people who choose to follow him on social media, and because, well, people who go to Vegas do that sort of thing.

No, seriously.

Now, to be clear, it's been a very slow day in sports. And the goings-on of the Cleveland Browns are incredibly relevant to, um, the people who care about the Cleveland Browns. That's at least one of the top 32 teams in the league, right?

But this, of course, is not the problem. You see, only Very Serious People, extreme nerds, men for whom studying NFL defenses is the be-all and end-all of their existence, can succeed at QB.

You know, guys like Russell Wilson, who played baseball in his spare time. Or Peyton Manning, who is filming a commercial while you read this. (Prove me wrong.) Or Tom Brady, who has spent much of his life enjoying his off-season with downright terrifying selfie photos, or Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, both of whom also have national television campaigns, or Eli Manning, who shows up on all of the regional New York ads he can muster, or...

Well, you get the point.

You know who never goes to Vegas on his weekend off, and never stops preparing for his job as an NFL QB?

Matt Schaub. And Chad Henne. And Alex Smith, and the vast majority of second and third stringers.

I'm also pretty sure Jason Campbell can study you under the table, and that Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Jake Delhomme and Brady Quinn could shine an apple and rock a clipboard like nobody's business.

To be clear: I have no idea if Manziel can be a good NFL QB. I have no idea if a guy that is his size can stay healthy (Wilson notwithstanding, small generally gets hurt more than big), or if he's got the discipline and mental acuity for the position. I have no idea if anyone on God's green earth can be a consistent and positive QB for the Browns franchise, seeing as how the high-water mark for this franchise is the single good year of Derek Anderson's career.

But what I do know is this.

If you honestly think that he's worthy of 24/7 monitoring, or that a weekend in freaking May is going to be the difference in his preparation, or that you are going to be able to slut-shame him into being the perfect automaton QB...

You might be, well, in desperate need of a life. Or brain...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Heat - Pacers Game 4: Watch More Than The Score

Superhero Ball: See Left
With a minute left in the first half of tonight's Game Four, the Heat had a terrible possession. It consisted of LeBron James dribbling alone at the top of the key, the other four players arcing around the perimeter around him. The Pacers met this lack of pressure or ball movement with equal obliviousness, as PG George Hill came out to apply ball pressure later in the clock. James, adept at recognizing gifts when they are given, drove on Hill, reversed near the cup, took a glancing and half-hearted defensive blow, and finished with one of those body control moments that, well, he's still pretty much alone in performing in the world. The Heat went up 10, and I wondered if that was going to be the psychologically damaging moment, the one that sparks a run that extends the lead. Instead, Paul George sank a three, Miami turned it over, and the Pacers got another bucket before the end of the half. Five point game for Miami. The potential for drama. And yet, I felt no differently about the game, and the series, than I had before the run. Miami was going to win easily.

There is a difference in how Miami scores, and how Indy scores. Indy scores from mid-range jump shots, open threes from screens, offensive rebounds, and other bread and butter aspects of what every basketball team above middle school runs. They are athletic, of course, and prone to moments of brilliance, but these are moments, and nothing more. What makes them better than other teams is when they execute on defense, and being just a bit better at the same things that everyone else does. (And, if you want to be downright mean about it, their relatively low level of competition, prior to this series.)

Miami scores on plays like the Superhero Ball play noted above, or when James gets a defensive rebound and dribbles the length of the floor faster than the defenders can run without the ball, or when James sucks in the double team and hits a pocket pass to wide open cutters, or when wide-open shooters hit threes off the absurd pressure that James puts on a defense. It almost always looks easier for Miami to score, even when they aren't scoring as much as Indy. And then there are just absurd bailout shots, like when James hit a three at the end of the clock with 16 minutes left in the game, giving the Heat a 16-point lead. Or when he did his defensive board to runaway train slam to make it 17 with 13 minutes left, or when Norris Cole took forever to hit a 3 to make it a 20-point game a few minutes later...

Some will chastise Indy for their lack of heart tonight. Others will wonder why, if Hibbert is going to be useless, why head coach Frank Vogel didn't go small earlier, the way the Pacers did when they made the final score look much closer than the game was. But I can't fault either. The Pacers know, from plays like the one James made with a minute left in the first, when the other team is just simply a lot better than you, and there's not much that you can do about it. And Vogel knows that late comebacks with small lineups are pyrite. The Pacers aren't winning games in this series by getting away from their bigs.

The Pacers got nothing from Hibbert tonight, and next to nothing from Lance Stephenson (wonder if he'll still keep talking about James' weak trash talk?), and that won't happen in Game Five in Indy in two days. The refs are also going to bend over backwards for Indy to extend this, and Miami isn't going to do stuff like be near-flawless from the free throw line. Indy will also rebound better, because they can hardly rebound worse.If the Pacers win Game Five, after coming back to make Game Four look stealable, some will feel like they are starting to figure out Miami, or that maybe James is getting tired, or yada yada yada.

But what they can't do, at least not very often, is look like they aren't working a lot harder than Miami is to score.

So, in Game Five on Wednesday night, when the Pacers try to extend their season and run out to some emotion-fueled lead against a Heat team that will seem to be deciding whether or not to extend the effort to end the season on the road...

Look at the floor, more than the scoreboard.

If it's anything like the rest of this series, what you see out there will predict the final outcome much better than the score will.

A Brief and Obvious Point about Gifts To Retiring Players Who Did Not Play For Your Team

Take This and GTFO
In road games, the player getting the farewell did not play for your laundry.

So if he is ostenta- tious enough to announce his retire- ment plans in advance, you owe him, well, nothing.

And giving him thoughtful gifts is silly at best and pathetic at worst, since it basically means that you are buying into the idea that some players and teams are more important than others, and by extension, more important than yours.

So, if you really want to give Derek Jeter what he deserves, when he comes to your town?

The hosting team gives him a check, the same as they do every other member of his team.

The hosting fans boo him if they care, and ignore him if they don't.

Moving on.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Spurs - Thunder Game Three: Power Serge

Ibaka Iblocka
When last we left the Spurs-Thunder series, it looked as over as possible. The Spurs had gone nearly wire to wire in two straight home wins, leading to extensive garbage time. Power forward Serge Ibaka was out for the season, and the Thunder had no idea how to get an acceptable lineup on both ends of the floor without him. The Spurs had that Inevitable Vibe about them, and OKC looked worse than Portland, who the Spurs had rolled without much effort in the previous round.

And then the news came out that Ibaka's season-ending injury was, well, just plain gone, and he was going to start Game Three. And that coach Scott Brooks, fresh off a "Weekend at Bernie's" level coaching performance in the first two games, was going to bench Thabo Sefalosha for Reggie Jackson. Voila, two-way lineup achieved. Ibaka did, indeed, start, and was just the bet player on the floor for vast stretches at a time. Jackson played well, and even Kendrick Perkins showed a pulse. And suddenly, the Thunder were getting stops on defense and movement on offense, and the Spurs were reduced to just staying in contact, and then, not even that. Ibaka played 30 minutes, and went 15/7 with 4 blocks, while shooting 6 of 7 from the floor. I'm sure there have been bigger turnarounds in a series, but not in this playoff season.

With eight minutes left in the third and the Spurs starting to lose touch, there was a moment where things looked like they would tighten up. Kawhi Leonard saved a possession with a swooping dunk that drew oohs and aahs from the crowd; a potential turning moment given the tone of the play, and the fact that despite high percentages from the floor, the Thunder had not been able to pull away. But Ibaka came back to get to the line, and then just flat ended Tony Parker on a drive to the hoop that ended all sense memory of Leonard's play. Ibaka then did it again a minute later on a drive off a scramble play by Danny Green. The blocks became contagious, the refs started parading Thunder players to the line while the Spurs swung the ball to avoid Ibaka, and the game started to look a lot more like the series from two years ago, when the Thunder overcame an early series deficit to end the Spurs' winning streak, and then, their season. Your third straight game where the fourth quarter didn't really matter ended with the Thunder winning, 106 to 97. Don't be fooled, it wasn't nearly that close.

Will the Thunder do 2012's trick again and get back to the Finals? Well, a disparity of dozens of free throws, and the Spurs flirting with their playoff history low before some bailout calls in garbage time, should strain all credibility. To be blunt, there were a half dozen calls in the second half of this one that made my eyebrows migrate to my hairline. (Specifically, the made three-pointer by Patty Mills, waved off to a post-shot leg shimmy, otherwise known as a call that, had it been made in Reggie Miller's career, would have gotten him into the broadcast booth plague three years faster.)

But even if the FTs had been even in this one, OKC would have won without drama, because Ibaka was just that good, and the Spurs had no answers. I suspect they'll be better in Game Four, because Gregg Popovich is a great coach, and the ref work won't be so blatant...

But make no mistake about it; the Thunder scare the hell out of the Spurs, and should. OKC won without great games from Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, which didn't seem possible. They ended them two years ago; they went 4-0 against them in the regular season, and they might make them look worse than any other team in the Association. The Spurs have dropped eight straight in OKC. And it seems kind of amazing, but I'm starting to think that whoever wins the next game wins the series, even though a loss would just mean it's 2-2 with the Spurs having home court.

That game is on Tuesday. Maybe it'll even be exciting to watch late?

Heat - Pacers Game Three: Basketball In The Time Of Dynasty

Same As It Ever Was
Sometimes, when I watch the NBA, I wonder what it must have been like to watch the game during the 1960s, in the midst of the Celtics dynasty. How did the fans of other teams buy in, year after year, to the idea that the empire might fall? They had to know, especially after the first couple of years, that there was no earthly way that it was going to go in any direction but the way it went, with Bill Russell and Company holding the trophy. I get that there was just less to do back then, and it took longer to get stuff done, so maybe fandom just wasn't very intense... but still, I have to wonder how the game survived, when the seasons had so little drama.

What must have happened, of course, was small little moments of hope that the non-Celtics fans must have clung to like a dying man to a raft. Little injuries, or small runs, occasional wins against the juggernaut. Hopes that a particular team had the right matchup magic to get it done, or that a non-Celtic superstar could overcome the waves of talent and over-the-top home court advantage. Maybe opening runs like, say, the 17-4 race that the Pacers started tonight's game with.

But, well, then reality set in, along with the guy that's starting to feel a lot like this generation's Russell. Miami trimmed the lead before the end of the half, ended it in the third with another run, and then took the lead in the fourth. Ray Allen was the non-LeBron hero du jour, with four made threes in the fourth, but the true story once again was the Heat defense, who kept them in range while the offense booted up, and did their usual anaconda job late.

With three minutes left in tonight's game, Miami already had it won, but the series was boiled down to microcosm. James went one on one with Paul George, created a solid five feet of space with the threat of a drive, and then faded to sink an 18-footer with no more apparent effort than if he were swatting a fly. This, in the 45th minute of play. On the next Pacer possession, Lance Stephenson tried to do the same thing, but got overwhelmed by the Miami defense, partly due to apparent exhaustion, and partly because, well, he's Lance Stephenson. It's not just that James is fantastically talented, it's also that he doesn't wear down. Then, James found Allen in the corner, and Jesus Shuttleworth made one of those absurd catch and shoot makes that should keep him employed into his mid-40s. Five point swing in 30 seconds, 10 point lead to 15, buh bye, Pacers. And in that sequence, really, you could put the full lie to the idea that this series is somehow a bad matchup for the Heat.

The fact of the matter is that Miami only had to play one good half, and maybe even one good quarter, to beat the Pacers tonight... and the same was true in Game Two. Indy can suck people in because no one wants to admit that the entire Eastern Conference season this year was just a coronation, just as people can get deluded into thinking that James will just up and leave the Heat to somehow go back to Dan Gilbert and the Cavs, and it's all pathetic.

James and the Heat will beat the Pacers, and go to their fourth straight Finals. Win or lose in that round, James would be crazy to leave Miami and this set up, because he's only really got to win a single series against a truly tough opponent, and there's no reason to leave the coach that he knows can get him there, the tax-free haven where he lives with his family and mostly avoids winter, or the teammates that he trusts.

So he'll re-sign with the Heat, and continue his chase down of Michael Jordan for the most rings among MVPs who weren't Russell. There will not be a new super team in the East to threaten the Heat next year, so independent of accident or injury, we'll be watching the same thing in 12 months, and 24, and 36, and 48.

And later, much later, people will talk about James as if it were always obvious that he made the right move to go to Miami, and to stay there, and that the only people who hated him were Cavs fans.

Game Four is on Monday. Two days to try to determine, yet again, why it should be any different.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Brief And Obvious Points About Democratic Senators Asking The NFL To Change The Washington Franchise Name

Head, Wall, Repeat
> Asking why the Senate is wasting their time in a matter where they have no authority... betrays a charming naivete about how much the Senate is achieving these days.

> The fact that this is now a monolithic partisan issue is (a) not particularly helpful towards the name of the team actually getting changed, since it allows Daniel Snyder to just think that this a red/blue issue, and that a sizable portion of the populace likes him, and (b) one of those things, like marriage equality, immigration reform, and climate change denial, that will not seem possible in 10 to 20 years.

>  There is no point to putting any pressure (save economic) on Snyder directly; he is, basically, the NFL's Donald Sterling, and the time has long past for civil discourse. Rather now, the pressure should go on the media (who are, of course, not required to say the word), the team's advertising sponsors (who are, of course, more than capable of pulling their support on an annual or less basis), the players (who, in an age of social media and personal brands are going to have money on the line in either direction from either going with the party line, or striking out against the name), and the other teams (there's no reason why, for instance, the name has to be said by the PA announcer during road games).

> If you are somehow still of the belief that the name is not offensive, a single question: have you ever, or would you ever, use the word for anything but a reference to the team name?

That's the reason this isn't a slippery slope problem, folks. What's the name of the de facto soldiers of a Native American tribe? Braves. What do you call a gathering of tribe leaders? Chiefs. There is no defensible context for the final term; it is, always has been, and always will be, racist, ignorant and pointlessly inflammatory. The fact that people grew up with it, and didn't think of it that way, does not matter. It never has.

So, Senators? Congrats on getting fifty of you to agree on, well, something that's about as obvious as the idea that water is wet. But it's time to treat your opposition like the brick wall that he is, and to stop attacking head on. There are other ways to get change happening. And they have nothing to do with Snyder.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Spurs - Thunder Game Two: Can We End This In Less Than Four Games?

Spurs = Tanks, Thunder = Grass
Tonight in San Antonio, the Spurs did something more than beat the Thunder. They more or less ended their will to compete as a team.

Oh, the Thunder still tried; they didn't just flat out quit on this one. But they stopped setting crisp screens, closing out on three point shooters, making multiple passes on offensive possessions, and doing all of the little things that show you that a team is really into the contest, trusting in their teammates to do the right thing, or doing much other than padding their own numbers.

By the end of the third quarter, OKC was running hero drives to nowhere, barking at the refs, spiking the basketball, and more or less doing everything possible to get a technical to show they cared. Their play wasn't doing it, and neither was their coaching.

How bad was it? Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shot a combined 13 for 40, with 7 assists and 5 turnovers. They couldn't buy a make from the three point arc, or do anything but keep belching them up. It was a 14 point game at the half, and then the Spurs shot something like 80% from the floor in the third, all while actually running plays and clock. It was, in short, an evisceration, and like any of those in hoop, it was work to watch. Hard work. That I'm not terribly interested in doing again, and I picked the Spurs to win this series. And I wrote and filed all of this while the game was going on. With a lot of time on the clock.

This is the second straight series in which the Spurs have made watching basketball about as dramatic as watching tanks against corn stalks. TNT's analysts were reduced to discussing the Eastern Conference Finals; you know, the one that isn't on their network. And it's hard not to start to resent the Spurs, even though they are playing beautiful, back-cutting, unselfish and optimal basketball, just because it looks so elemental and inevitable.

It's rare that you get to the Final Four stage of the NBA playoffs and look as hopeless as the Thunder have so far in this series. Remember, they were 4-0 against the Spurs this year, and it's not as if this is their first trip to the post-season; the best parts of this team tested the Heat in the Finals a couple of years ago. Garbage time started with 14 minutes left, and the Spurs up 27. And it didn't even look like the Spurs were trying all that hard.

At this point, despite the fact that we're only going to get 9 to 14 more NBA games before Halloween, I'm ready to just root for the Spurs to sweep and get this bad ball off my television. There's just not much in the way of fun in blowouts, and talented players who aren't playing as a team.

Game Three is on Sunday. It'll be closer than this, because, well, math. But if you'd rather skip it and mow the grass, or clean the gutters, or check out the first round games on your DVR, I won't argue with your priorities.

Heat - Pacers Game Two: The Observed Gravity Problem

Tonight in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals in Indiana, the Heat found themselves in a 63-62 game after three quarters. The Pacers were a good quarter away from going up 2-0 and holding home court. Lance Stephenson was playing well, Roy Hibbert wasn't cowering in the fetal position, and the Pacer home crowd was into it.

So the home team was, well, roughly in the same position that Wile E. Coyote is in after he runs a long way off the cliff, and fails to fall because gravity exists only when witnessed.

Then the fourth quarter started. And LeBron James and Dwyane Wade caught the Pacers attention, and pointed down. Gravity, and a 4-point Heat win that only got that close from some unfocused play in the final seconds, ensued.

Here's why stars beat teams, assuming the stars are actually stars, in the NBA; decisiveness in the final minutes, and elite level one on one defense. Down 7 with 1:37 left after a Wade jumper, the Pacers needed a quick score, and maybe even a three, to have a chance at coming back. 22 seconds later, Hibbert missed a mid-range jumper. And that was basically the ball game.

In the time before Hibbert, the Pacers' tallest player and really not the guy you want taking the long shot with little chance of offensive rebound, tried to beat the clock, Pacers PG George Hill tried without success to get clear for a three. Pacer SF Paul George got the ball off a high screen and tried to get free from beyond the arc, also to no avail. Neither man was able to penetrate or draw the foul, and neither man was able to swing the ball to an open corner shooter, because both guys were being swallowed by clean and perfect one on one defense, administered by superior athletes. Which led to a long clock at exactly the wrong time to have it, and a long 2-point jumper from the player on the floor that the Heat most wanted to take it.

In NBA games, there are points that matter more than other points. These are dunks that deflate the opponent, three-pointers that spread the floor, scores plus free throws that get an important player in foul trouble, and so on. On defense, it usually seems like the big blocked shot with the Mutumbo finger waggle, or the deafening 24-second clock violation when the home team, in the great words of Sixers' play by play guy Marc Zumoff, locks all doors and windows.

But in this game, the fourth quarter was just possession after possession where the Heat gave the Pacers nothing but what they wanted the Pacers to take... and it just looks like they can go there whenever they want.

Which is why the Heat won this game, and why they are going to win this series.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Top 10 reasons why the WWE's stock price tanked

That's Gotta Hurt, McMahon


Normally I don't spend too much time looking at the business pages or how it relates to the low priority that is Sports Entertainment, but when a stock goes from over $30 a share to just over $10 in less than a week... List Ensues!

10) Investors finally remembered how the brains of the WWE also paid major bank into Linda McMahon's multiple Senate campaigns

9) Wrestlemania, like mainstream media coverage, only comes once a year

8) Savvy investors taking their lead from the company's new breakthrough character, "Terrifying Bad Financial News Barrett"

7) Individual shares of stock have been found lying unconscious and bloodied, and surrounded by large numbers of malicious detractors with weapons

6) Disappointed CM Punk fans finally giving up and getting lives

5) The accomplishment of beating Ted Turner at something sees to grow less impressive over time

4) Investors losing faith in the company's stock analysts, who hail from Parts Unknown and just seem to wait around for a signal to beat on people with their attache cases

3) While the company has a Netflix-like online network, social media and international markets, it still makes the critical mistake of actually employing humans in a for-profit enterprise, which means it can't possibly be as valuable as software companies that don't actually make money or have employees

2) Core audience of the under-aged and under-employed not exactly conducive to high valuations

1) Investor incentive program of a spandex-clad reality TV dropout to cater to your every whim loses appeal once symptoms manifest

Spurs - Thunder Game One: Kawhi Leonard's Got The Whole Game In His Hands

My What Large Hands You've Got
Tonight in San Antonio, the Spurs won Game One of their Western Conference Finals series against the visiting Thunder, but it was more the how than the what. Watching the Spurs tonight was like watching basketball as an orchestral arrangement, with the home team choosing which soloist would take the spotlight at various points. With the Thunder not having the crucial interior shot blocking presence of Serge Ibaka, the Spurs were free to get different guys off, which makes for better play on defense as well. Whether it was Kawhi Leonard with borderline Julius Erving penetrations and finishes, or Boris Diaw making Kevin Durant become more tired by the minute on defense, or Manu Ginobili rediscovering his shot, or Tim Duncan uncorking one of those old-school games that make him look like Power Forward Vampyre, there was never a time when the Spurs looked discomfitted. Even while trailing. And the scary thing for the Thunder is that they really didn't play badly, and kept in striking range for most of the night. The simple fact of this matchup is that the Spurs have more margin for error, especially with Ibaka out.

But what really struck me in this game wasn't the Spurs' team effort; that's old hat. What got me was how good Leonard was, and how he might have been the best player on the floor tonight. With five minutes left and the Thunder harboring hopes of comeback and game theft, Russell Westbrook made one of those leave your feet and pass turnovers that should have gotten him benched in junior high school. Leonard swiped it with his hands that make the basketball look like a baseball, then started the break. Durant tried to foul, but Leonard contorted his body like a scene out of the Matrix and kept on. Derek Fisher tried to foul and couldn't, because Leonard warped time and space to get past him, too. Then he finished at the rim with a finger roll that we'll credit to Iceman Gervin, just because of his laundry. Adding injury to insult, Durant got banged up on the play to boot. It's rare that you see killshots coming with five minutes left, but that's what it was.

Is there hope for the Thunder? Of course. Head coach Scott Brooks was terrible even by his low standards, putting the entire load on Durant and Westbrook, going small for too long to be effective, and learning little about which of his deep bench guys might have utility when the game got out of reach. He'll be better in future games, because he really can't be worse. They took more technicals tonight; usually, a team that does that gets a little less of a hard time from the refs in the next game. They got so little from the guys that shouldn't be playing (Perkins, Thabo Sefalosha) that maybe Brooks makes the deep changes he needs to make sooner rather than later, and they ride some shock momentum from, say, more Steven Adams, Perry Jones or Jeremy Lamb. Ginobili's not going to be above .500 very often, Danny Green hasn't shot this well in forever, and as good as Duncan is, he's not going 27-7-3 in 29 minutes again. This shouldn't be a squash, the Spurs shouldn't get this man layups in every game, and the Thunder's third quarter run to kill the lead and take a small one shows that they aren't incapable of good stretches against this club, even on the road.

But there's just not that good that you can say about a 122-105 game where the losers had 16 turns to 18 assists, while the winners were at 8 and 28, respectively. The Spurs are simply better, and not by a little. Especially when they are playing this pretty, and with OKC's most important defensive player on the shelf.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Brief And Obvious Point About Team "Windows"

Oh Noes
Drum roll please...

They don't exist.

Now, I get why people so badly want them to exist. They fall into the casualty and narrative aspect of humanity, and as people, we are so completely tied into story, it has to be there for us. It's so much more satisfying to look at an aging roster and add a sense of dying poignant urgency to the game we're watching.

But it's all, well, illusion and story and stuff and nonsense.

Even age, which seems like such an open and shut case, isn't really a perfect indicator, since so much of that can be mimicked by injury. San Antonio looked completely done a few years ago when teams like the Grizzly and Thunder went through them, only to come within a miracle Ray Allen three from winning it all last year. Football windows are a pointless exercise, since injury is ever-present, and every team pretty much has to shuffle the deck every off-season with at least 20% of the roster. Baseball windows aren't discussed very often, assuming you aren't a fan of an MLB- team, at which point it's much more about contract caps than anything else.

Still, you are going to see this for just about every NBA team left alive right now. If the Pacers lose, their window will be closing because David West won't be able to get it done any more, and Lance Stephenson is a ticking time bomb of instability. If the Heat lose, their window will be closing because the back end of the roster will be lacking, LeBron James might leave, and Dwyane Wade will be aging fast. The Spurs have had their window close for the better part of a decade now, so much so that winning a championship will also be taken as the sign that the window is closing. And the Thunder, why, that's all kinds of windows-ish, since Kevin Durant might leave someday, and Russell Westbrook and Sege Ibaka can't stay healthy.

If you want to say a team is on the rise, fine. If you are ready to write a team off for any reason, OK cool, you might actually then back it up with some form of factual statement. But this whole notion that teams enter into years or playoff series with Calvinist pre-destination, only to soldier on bravely against the inevitability of the tides, or that they bring some extra measure of desperation to the end of one season, as opposed to the end of any other season...

Well, you might want to get some mints in your mouth.

It'll help with the odor.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

NBA Conference Round Predictions: Let's Go Hate

It Gets Slanty Now
With a long history and repeat matchups at this level in the Finals, it's time for snarly games with hurt feelings, flagrant fouls, post-game quotes of full posture, and all of the other stuff that makes non-NBA fans pay attention. I'm still pining for Round One, of course, but it's the hoop we have, so let's have at it.

Miami at Indiana: Heat In Six

The case for Miami: Defending champions. Have looked better this playoff year, and for the most part, the last two months. Have the best player on the planet, which usually means that you win. Can turn it up on defense in ways that no other team can. Effective three-point shooters who have been here before, and generally do not freak out in crunch time. Surprisingly good home court advantage for a wildly spoiled fan base. Have no fear of the Pacers, and are simply capable of playing at a higher level. Solid coaching, and maybe even underrated.

The case against Miami: Incredibly thin for a Final Four contender, with almost no one of note on the bench, assuming you don't count quasi-starter Ray Allen. Do not have home court. Might be taking the Pacers too lightly, especially since the Heat have very few good answers for guarding David West and Roy Hibbert. Haven't really been very good for a while, and have rolled two incredibly weak teams for a playoff run.

The case for Indiana: Playing better recently, with more consistent play from Hibbert. Strong size and balance. More than a little playoff experience, with good defensive coaching. Might finally play free and clear basketball now that they haven't lost two straight series to lowly regarded opponents. Have a star in Paul George who might be ready to make the step up to the next level.

The case against Indiana: Hibbert has been useless on a near-historic level for an All-Star; if he disappears again in this series, they can't win. Play tight in the stretch, with lots of iso sets from guys that generally can't get it done. Turnover prone and can give up big runs. Have flat out quit on many games in this playoff season, which is usually a death knell for a team.

The pick: Miami in six. To me, this series is going to come down to two things: Indy's big men, and Miami's ability to get offense from turnovers. At the core of it, I don't believe that a team that relies on George Hill and Lance Stephenson can avoid turnovers, and that West and Hibbert can punish them consistently.

So Miami will steal a game in Indy, and win all of their home games, and not look really good doing it. It's what they do.

Oklahoma City at San Antonio: Spurs in seven

The case for OKC: Breakthrough talent at two positions, with the MVP in full effect. Spectacular athleticism from nearly every player they put on the floor, especially on defense. Deadly in the open court. Very good at hitting free throws, which comes into big effect in late and close situations. Useful bench players that are prone to coming up big in unexpected circumstances. One of the better home court advantages in the Association. A growing sense of urgency from the fact that they haven't been able to get over the hump, and Durant might not be here forever. Swept the Spurs in the regular season, and have beat them in the playoffs before.

The case against OKC: Playing against a near-perfect marriage of talent and coaching. Borderline terrible in half court, with dribble hero ball bailout shots seeming to be their whole arsenal in close and late situations. Russell Westbrook can shoot and turn them out of games in ways that stagger the imagination. Will miss Serge Ibaka, out with an injury, terribly. A little lucky to be here, following two tough and long series that never seemed all that safe. Questionable coaching, with odd infatuations for players like Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefalosha.

The case for San Antonio: Best blend of effective, team-oriented offense, and stifling, credible defense at every level. Balanced scoring with great advantages at the bench level. Rarely, if ever, beat themselves. Very effective behind the arc, which can cause runs to become blowouts. Best coach in NBA history (yes, I'm serious, Gregg Popovich has never had the horses of other guys, and still has a fistful of rings), and they can score in a wide number of ways, which means that runs against them don't tend to go deep. Have players who can execute in crunch time, while still not "needing" any single player to do well to win.

The case against San Antonio: If Kawhi Leonard is not special, they don't have the extra gear to beat a team that is playing their best. When it goes south for them, and they aren't hitting their threes, they look weak. Rim protection can be a little threadbare, and they are so prone to helps and switches on defense that breakdowns on the dribble can happen. If their threes aren't dropping, and OKC is fairly good at stopping those, they can be had.

The pick: Spurs in seven, with equal parts credit to San Antonio for finding enough shooters to get it done, and equal demerits to Westbrook and Durant, who are spectacular talents with obvious flaws... going into a game against, well, a team that's very good at playing against your obvious flaws. It will go back and forth, and both teams will win on the other team's half court, but in the final analysis, I just can't see OKC winning without Ibaka. Or, even if he were around, a team with Westbrook at the helm beating a team with Tony Parker. (Assuming, of course, that Parker stays healthy.)

Second round: 3-1

This year: 9-3

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Thunder Wake Up And Close


Sad, Sad Wagon
For the first 2.5 quarters of tonight's Thunder-Clippers Game Six in LA, the road team looked like they didn't want to be there. They had a brief run of Kevin Durant three pointers to make a mini run in the second quarter, but with Russell Westbrook playing some of the most brainless ball of his life -- which is to say, some of the most brainless ball that has ever been seen -- and Serge Ibaka heading to the locker room in the third quarter with an injury that made him miss the rest of the game, this one looked like Advance to Game Seven without undue drama.

But then Things Changed. Dramatically. OKC went on a run, with good bench moments from Reggie Jackson and the eternal bringer of good things in small minutes, Nick Collison. And just that quickly, OKC had eaten the lead, then took one of their own, and Clipper Fan started getting all those flashbacks as to why they have not made, for the most part, a great choice in which franchise they are going to support. So much for the home team having a 16-point lead, or this going the way it was, well, going.

Even with things looking Thunder-ish, the door kept opening, because neither of these teams is good enough in the half court, despite incredible offensive players, to avoid cold snaps. For OKC, they are always a boneheaded Westbrook decision away from all momentum draining out of them. For the Clips, they are incredibly prone to just stare at Blake Griffin, or watch Chris Paul or Jamal Crawford play hero ball, rather than, you know, pass, set screens, and work as a team.

One of the sub-plots of this series has been how the key calls have all gone to the Thunder. In Game Five, the Thunder comeback was aided and abetted by ref work, and in tonight's game, back to back charge calls on Paul (terrible) and Griffin (50-50) led to Clipper Fan showering the court with debris with over three minutes left. And when Griffin left with his sixth foul with under three minutes left, and the Thunder carrying a double-digit lead, it looked well and truly over...

But man alive, the Thunder stink at closing. Hell, if they were good at that, this series might have ended in five.

Where we eventually got to was Westbrook getting a trip bail out from the refs, the Clips not getting the made threes they needed to get back to True Terror Range, and Clipper Fan leaving early. OKC advances to meet the Spurs, three of four Conference Finals teams are repeats from last year, and we all get to forget Donald Sterling exists for months on end. (See, Clips Fan, there is a bright side.)

And with that, the second round is mercifully over, and we might get back to ball that's not only important to see, but interesting to watch.

The Wiz Takes The Pope, DC Fan Shows The Love

Medieval
In tonight's early game, the Pacers exerted their defensive will with a 20-6 run to take the lead for good, and won on the road to close out in yet another Leastern Conference game that did its utmost to tell the main prime time audience that the NBA playoffs are nothing special. (To be fair, the game was on ESPN, which also seems to suck the life out of, well, everything.)

John Wall and Bradley Beal couldn't put it in the ocean, the Pacers got some reasonable nights out of David West (29-6-4) and Lance Stephenson (17-8), and if you were impressed by this game, you really need to get out more. The road team won five out of six in this one, which is some kind of weirdness. In this round along, DC Fan went 0-3 in their home games, and just 1-4 for the entire year. But at least Otto Porter can say he got on the floor, so I guess it was a learning experience.

Here's how little this game seemed to matter: as the Wiz fell apart late and the season slipped away, DC Fan stayed, didn't boo, and gave their guys a nice standing ovation send off to golf season. And sure, that's classy and indicative of just how starved this fan base is for any moment of hope, but it also kind of shows just how JV this part of the playoffs is. No one really believes that either of these teams can beat The Great LeBron, who looms over this conference like an occupying army, and makes even deep runs into the post-season seem pointless.

Maybe the Pacers found something in this game, and it's not as if the Indy bigs aren't going to feel downright comfy on the blocks against the Heat's slumming bigs. But unless Paul George can bring major game, and Roy Hibbert rehabs his entire reputation, this isn't going to go in any direction but the one you'd expect.

The loser will not get a standing ovation.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Game 5 For Spurs & Heat, Or Countdown To Re-Run

Woo, I Say, Woo
Two Game Fives tonight, and two closeouts by clearly superior home teams over game by flawed oppo- nents.What Drama! As in, what, drama?

We're down to six teams left with a chance to be your NBA Champion, and with both defending conference champions getting second round wins in just five games, we're also well on our way to a repeat Finals. Which seems kind of anti-climactic, or how the last ten months has been prologue to just get us back to Games 8 though up to 14 of last year's spectacular series... but, well, it's not like it's the fault of either of these teams, especially Miami, if they don't seem too thrilled with the idea of grinding through the regular season. Frankly, when you play ball with the best player of his generation, and (shh! we're supposed to hate him still!) maybe the best player ever, I'm not sure that Remaining Awake isn't a serious problem.

In Miami, the Heat gave the Nets the usual olive branch of We're Not That Interested Hope, then flipped the switch and went to Scramble Luck Mode + Bron on Offense, and their usual Good Lord They Can Do That Defense. Other than the occasional valiant rage from Joe Johnson, the Nets didn't have the horsepower to answer, surprising, well, no one. Once Mirza Teletovic fulfilled his destiny as this year's Honorary Stojakovic -- i.e., the Euro who freezes when his team needs him most -- it was just a matter of which Heatle hit the kill shot this time.

For the Nets, Paul Pierce says he wants to play basketball again next year, because it's not like being a shell of your former self still doesn't more than pay the bills and beat the second half of your life when you aren't playing ball. Kevin Garnett can keep on playing, because it's not like anyone still knows he's in the league as is. (Seriously, KG? Out in five without even a punk flagrant or six? Have some pride and leave as the dirtbag we all remember.) And it's really hard to see how Brooklyn's goat ride to second round nowhere got them anything more than the enmity of a fan base in Canada that would have been much more excited by going boots up in their stead.

As for Miami, they look a little different than they used to, I guess. It's not as surprising now when Chris Bosh hits the wide-open three now, rather than the departed Mike Miller, or the Yes He's Still In The League Shane Battier. They haven't gotten much from anyone you haven't heard of, and this year's Nazgul (Greg Oden, Michael Beasley, Battier, Rashard Lewis) are giving them nothing, but Ray Allen keeps making plays when it matters, and it's not like the rest of the East has stepped up their game to stop them yet. If the Association did conference-blind seeding, and Miami had to get past someone like Golden State or Houston in this round, we might have learned something. This series? Not so much.

Oh, and a side note to Miami. So long as you slobs are carrying Dead Guy Ballast over the finish line, couldn't you make choices more for the historical record? Think of all of the guys we could get off the Never Won A Title BS list, and how much more fun garbage time for the Heat would be with, say, the present-day John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing creaking up and down the hardwood, getting every flop call ever. It's not like Miami is against the retiring, either. They'd give you the same thing as Oden, Beasley, etc., but with immensely better press conferences, and Garnett would have had someone he felt good about cheap-shotting. Such an opportunity missed here.

Leave it to San Antonio to clear a higher hurdle in the late game no one watched, as they overcame the early injury exit from Tony Parker to dispatch Portland in one above the minimum. The Spur Machine got some shockingly good plays from Kawhi Leonard -- seriously, I'm not ready for power forward-sized guys to be faster dribbling than defenders without it -- and one of those Papa Spank games from Tim Duncan that shows just how pure his game is, really.

It was nice of Parker to exit early with the hamstring, actually, in that it made the Spurs winning their fourth game of the series by more than 15 points -- borderline historic, that is -- even more impressive. And maybe this was a case of Portland just being out of gas after their fantastic series against the Rockets, or how the Spurs are just a bad matchup for them, but any team that only really looks good when Robin Lopez is a positive force is just not a real contender.

This is where Blazer Fan nods solemnly, imagines a world in which Greg Oden wasn't tragicomedy, and drinks. Heavily. While his father does the same thing, but with Sam Bowie occupying the Oden role. If it weren't for the Lone Bill Walton Stayed Healthy (and, the thing that no one else remembers, Maurice Lucas going Thug Life on the Glam Only '70s Sixers) Year, Portland would be the single greatest site for NBA Ennui on the planet. (Yes, yes, Knicks Fan, I see you waving your hands like Muppets. You still have your sainted Pearl / Clyde title, and frankly, what you did to hoop back in the Riley Era was a war crime. Away with you.)

Next up, the Pacers and Thunder try to close on the road, and give the world hope for a third round that's anything more than prologue to rematch.

Bet on rematch.

Top 12 reasons why Stever Kerr took the Warriors job instead of the Knicks

What He's Missing
12) Doesn't have to pretend that Amar'e Stoudamire can stay healthy, Raymond Felton can stay out of jail and/or thin, or that there isn't a much better ownership situation and arena a subway ride away

11) Has a functioning brain and crippling lack of sado-masochism

10) Teaching young and athletic players who have no interest in playing defense is more fun than teaching old and broken-down players who have no interest in playing defense

9) Golden State's home court advantage actually exists for the guys in the white jerseys

8) As the Warriors play in the Western Conference, Kerr won't spend the majority of the regular season wanting to cultivate blindness

7) Three thousand miles of distance from James Dolan is one of those life benefits that really can't be over-estimated

6) Doesn't have to write any book reports, or read any tabloids

5) Stephen Curry's Hero Ball shot attempts (as opposed to Carmelo Anthony or, shudder, J.R. Smith) frequently involve more than one player making an effort, and don't usually make you want to hit yourself over the head with a hammer

4) The Warriors actually have young players who could get better, rather than old players who could try

3) Somehow feels confident in his ability to do better than a first-time coach who reportedly didn't see the value in practice, game plans or assistant coaches

2) Somehow wanted to work with the team that had five of the best six players, the better bench, fans, ownership, weather, home situation and unopposed local market

1) Golden State's ownership might not be the biggest losers east of the Sterlings, and probably aren't  sleeping with the owner of the Lakers

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Game Five Redux: Random Acts Of Non-Closure

Roll Them Bones
Look out, folks. The second round is starting to get interesting.

Or, well, just utterly random.

The early game saw the Wizards, given up for dead after young and dumb stretch ball on their own home court in Game Four, with a downright dominant road effort over the back to baffling Pacers. Marcin Gortat was huge with a 31/16 night, Roy Hibbert went back to shellshocked mode, the overall rebounding numbers were astounding (62 to 23, or something you won't see in the most lopsided college game), and I'm starting to wonder if I've ever seen a pro basketball team that was more ready to turtle up as these Pacers. And I just spent 82 games watching the Sixers.

How the Wiz go from scoring 63 points in Game Three, blowing a 19-point second half lead in Game Four, then curb-stomping the Pacers in the season-prolonging Game Five... well, don't try to make sense of it. I've been watching pro hoop for decades, and I can't remember a series as random as this one. I'm also ready for Pacer Fan to stop going to these games, despite their teams being only nine wins from a title, since so many of their home playoff games are so freaking unwatchable.

David West was the only Pacer starter with more than two (two!) boards. People are calling out coach Fred Vogel for not getting enough rest for his starters, as if NBA players, on a young team, have such finite gas tanks. It's all an attempt to predict and understand that can't be understood. Hell, the Wiz are just 1-3 at home in the playoffs, so maybe the Pacers close this out on Thursday, It makes as much sense as anything else, and if this series has showed us anything, it's that the last game has absolutely nothing in common with the next one. And that your bet on the Heat going to the Finals is looking safe as houses.

In the late game, the Clips had a solid lead in the last minute, and it was looking like a simple exercise in closing out a game, with the best point guard in the game working for the road team... and then they fell apart like a team that had never been in a playoff before. There's really no other way to say it: the Clips played some of the worst hoop imaginable late, and while the Thunder roared back in a Disney-esque comeback, this was much more Fail than Win. The Thunder's 8-0 run to close it in the final 44 seconds simply resets everything in this series, and gives the high seed two chances to close, despite, well, really not deserving it.

I try not to reduce playoff games to the closing pieces, because so many other things had to go in a certain way just to make the stretch meaningful. And in the last 10 seconds of the game just defined imagination. With six seconds left and down two, OKC's Russell Westbrook is firing off a hero ball 28-footer for the win, rather than moving the ball and playing, well, basketball. He missed badly, but Paul and the refs bailed him out with contact, and Russell hit all three free throws for the lead. Then, Paul went for hero ball of his own, leading to a strip and failure to foul. Game, set, match, loss, despite holding Kevin Durant to a 4 for 20 start, and all kinds of other head scratching moments.

Oh, and there was a missed foul call leading to a blown possession awarded by the zebras before all of that, just to make sure that we all had a smokescreen that isn't hoop. Just a ridiculous ending to a ridiculous game, and the last two games are making me wonder if either team's fan base is going to be able to survive this. It's great and terrible, all at once, and the fact that one of these teams is going be in the final four is frankly staggering.

Afterwards, Doc Rivers put this one on the refs, asked for the replay system to be scrapped, and clearly made the decision to spend a lot of cash in fines, rather than throw his own team under the bus. (Fully.) "We still have the right to win the game... and that didn't happen." Hope that was worth $50K, Doc. (Note: I am not saying he's wrong.)

Unlike the Pacer series, this one has made some sort of sense, but only in the course of all or nothing runs. The Clips had one to close Game Four to make the series even, and the Thunder got one tonight. So if you believe in theft equaling out, the series is where it should be now.

And if you really feel good about who's going to win Game Six, you really need to go find a craps table, and put your skills to better use...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

San Antonio Lost A Game In Portland Tonight, Yesterday In Los Angeles

What To Avoid
Tonight in Portland, the Blazers made the first step towards becoming the first team in 109 to come back from an 0-3 hole in a best of seven NBA series. With LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard getting their sea legs underneath them, and the bench finally having some good moments, and no, I can't actually finish this sentence because there is no way that Portland wins three straight games in a row.

Not to unnecessarily denigrate the Blazers, who played about as well as they can, but this was much more about the Spurs working the calendar, and not quite having extreme urgency after the Clippers came back to tie the Thunder in Game Four.

And sure, that's a bit of reading into things like how the Spurs (specifically, Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli)s missed all of the open threes that were necessary to stay in touch during the Blazer third quarter run. With Spurs coach Gregg Popovich always willing to pull the chute and win the war over the battle, the Spurs went to deep reserves rather than try a low percentage catch up run in the fourth. But the biggest takeaway that I got from watching this game is that the Spurs really didn't need it, and didn't bring their A game, especially on defense.

Which isn't to say that the Blazers can't prolong this series beyond Game Five in San Antonio. Basketball games have more than a little bit of randomness in them, and if Aldridge delivers a big game, or Nicolas Batum has figured something out, or if the others Blazers hit their threes while the Spurs miss theirs, there will be more plane trips, along with aid and comfort to whoever survives the Thunder-Clippers best of three.

But, well, that's not how you bet. Or how the Spurs are going to play, when faced with the ability to avoid another 4,500 miles and 12 hours of plane travel. Or how the Blazer bench guys are going to react to a hostile crowd, or how Popovich will have his troops prepared, now that he's got an actual reason to yell at them for the first time in 10 days.

The Bron Ends The Series

Pose, Struck
In the early game scoreboard tonight, it was Nets 96, LeBron James 49, and the rest of the Heat 53. And while you can talk about Chris Bosh hitting the big go-ahead corner three late to give the Heat the final lead, or how Miami's team defense was instrumental in holding the Nets to one make from the field in the last six minutes of the fourth, or even how Dwyane Wade's clutch o-board of a James miss was absolutely necessary to close the door on the home team's last chance...

Well, um, all of that doesn't really matter at all, because Miami isn't in the same zip code if James doesn't completely carry his snoozing teammates for vast stretches of this game.

How valuable was James to the Heat? So valuable that they won a de facto closeout game, on the road, when literally no one else on the team played all that well. The Nets got the tempo they wanted, got reasonable games from their legacy cases, got good bench pay from shaky guys, and were neck and neck with the defending champions all night. But they weren't ahead in the last two minutes, which meant they weren't safe from James, and that was that.

James is so valuable to Miami that their offensive sets in the fourth can consist of things like "Everyone Spread The Court Like A Tent, And Let LeBron Shoot and Score From 30 Feet Against One Defender" or "Watch LeBron Penetrate, Stand Still Behind The Arc, And Catch And Shoot An Open Three When The Defense Collapses." In other words, in the world's best basketball league, against the finest athletes, coaching and scouting, Miami won with half court basketball sets that resemble things an AAU team with one good player would run. And it's effective enough that on the rare instances when the Heat do run screens and a play, it works, maybe as much due to novelty as anything else. (Oh, and it's no surprise that the Heat seem fresher in those late and close situations; it's not as if the other guys on the team have had to work all that hard for much of the game.)

There is a simplistic but effective way of looking at NBA playoff series: the team with the best player wins. This ignores things like the Spurs, or when a club goes on a Bulls-like run with defense, and it lends itself to after-the-fact adjustments, where you call the best player on the winning team the true alpha dog, or denigrate some star as Not Making His Team Better...

But then there's James, and before him Kobe, Shaq, Duncan, Jordan, Olajuwon, Magic, Bird. The theory is right a lot more than it's wrong. And it's why I picked the Heat to win this series, along with everyone else who watches the Association. And why the later rounds are rarely as fun to watch as the early ones.

Miami is now up 3-1, and it was kind of necessary, seeing how Indy has turned their season around with the past three games of resurgent defense and Roy Hibbert resembling a center. So after many months of tease that what we were expecting wasn't actually what we were going to get, we are two closeout opportunities for the high seeds, at home, to set up the Eastern Conference Finals that looked inevitable in October.

If we're lucky, it'll be good to watch, too.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Top 10 reasons why the Cavs fired Mike Brown

Calling the Waahmbulance
10) It worked out so well the last time

9) He needed just nine more wins to pass Lenny Wilkens for most coaching wins in club history, which was bound to happen by February or March

8) Failed to bring back LeBron James or any of the other good players from... well, just James

7) Did not get strong two-way play out of a back court of three undersized and uninterested turnstiles

6) His continued advice to first overall pick Anthony Bennett to miss shots and turn the ball over was pretty questionable

5) After the team got Spencer Hawes in trade, he made the huge tactical mistake of playing Spencer Hawes

4) Wanted to give both of the team's remaining season ticket holders a nice moment

3) Somehow going 33-49 in the Leastern Conference didn't give the man job security

2) By canning him now, only get to pay him to do nothing for three years, or until everyone in the Association learns that Irving is the new Stephon Marbury

1) With their new GM, the team wants to bring in an all-new fall guy, rather than the all-old fall guy

Brief And Obvious Points About Media Coverage Of Donald Sterling

No one with a clue gives a flying f*** at a rolling donut what he says.

He is not now, nor will ever be again, of any importance to the actual on-court product that is Clippers basketball. (Hell of a win today, by the way. I didn't catch it; took the day off to honor the mothers in my life. They deserve it.)

Anyone who does watch this assclown's interviews this week has incredible self-loathing and self-esteem issues.

The NBA is a global brand that can, and will, do better than any person related or chosen by Sterling.

There is no news value in broadcasting anything involved with him.

And if it draws ratings, it's because we, as a nation, will watch any train wreck.

Moving on.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Top 10 questions about the 2014 Eagles draft class

Mr. Smith Comes To Philadelphia
1 (26) Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville

2 (42) Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

3 (86) Josh Huff, WR, Oregon

4 (101) Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida

5 (141) Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon

5 (162) Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford

7 (224) Beau Allen, DT, Wisconsin

And adding to the intrigue, they dealt RB Bryce Brown to the Bills for a contingent mid-round pick in a future draft.

Which leads me to the following questions.

1) How is Brown worth a pick in a trade, and a move to another conference where we don't have to worry about having him beat us twice a year, but DeSean Jackson isn't?

2) Isn't it fair to say that when you release a Pro Bowl WR from an offense that was ranked second in the NFL, and have crying needs on defense, that spending two of your first three picks on WRs isn't exactly optimal?

3) Is anyone else a little worried about taking two Oregon guys, especially since they seem to be the dreaded character guys?

4) If you are said to be able to trade a RB because you have a surplus with the signing of Darren Sproles, wouldn't it be good if, well, Sproles was still good at being a running back?

5) I get that Chris Polk might be the true #2 RB right now, but as he just had shoulder surgery, is it really such a win to move a RB, especially since you have a high-tempo, run-centric offense?

6) Should I be concerned that in all of these draft picks and the 15 rookie free agents they signed (http://www.philadelphiaeagles.com/news/article-1/Eagles-Sign-15-Rookie-Free-Agents/5a9de333-00bd-4c49-80ce-95b6c36a442f), there isn't a single linebacker, and that isn't exactly a group that's dripping with lock solid young guys?

7) I get that Kelly prizes versatility, but don't you become versatile in pro football by not being good enough to stick at one role?

8) Given how many of the team's draft picks missed portions of the Draft Combine due to rehabbing past injuries, isn't it fair to say that the team drafted big gambles?

9) What kind of nightmare world are we living in, that people are so wrapped into the NFL that you can telecast every selection, and some people actually will watch it

10) Is anybody else getting well and truly nervous about this regime's acumen with personnel?

3 Games, 33 Seconds, And No Answers

The Other 8,607 Seconds, Not Good
In the title, you see the number of games that Portland has played the Spurs in their playoff series. In the latter, you see the amount of time that they've been in the lead.

Honestly, that might be the only thing that anyone needs to know about this series so far.

The thing about San Antonio is that when they get on a roll, they just look inevitable. Tony Parker was the star again tonight, and I've never seen him more prepared to look for his own shot; the man is even hitting from distance now, which makes him absolutely unfair. Tiago Splitter has had three games of making LaMarcus Aldridge look ordinary. Portland's bench, never a strength, has been so bad that coach Terry Stotts has given too many minutes to his starters, leading to dead-legged misses in late closing attempts. Kawhi Leonard, after a season of frustration for everyone who thought that he was going to make a next step based on last year's playoff dominance but spun his wheels, is right back where he was a year ago, looking like the logical next era of Spurs dominance. Manu Ginobili, who is in the old enough that every poor stretch looks like the end phase of his career, has looked flat out great through most of these games. And if things continue like the current pattern, they are about to get up to a week of rest before facing a Conference Finals opponent that will have been through one to three extra games.

And all of this after a 3-3 stretch against an #8 seed. But this is what the Spurs have been like for much of the last few playoff runs; either rolling through like a tank, or at death's door, with everyone clamoring that the window of opportunity is shut. When, of course, they were a miracle Ray Allen three from being the defending champs.

It's one hell of a team when it's right. And Portland has no answers.

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