The best point guard’s in the game today played against one another this past weekend. Lost amid other games of note—particularly the Spurs-Heat matchup on Sunday night, which ceded most of its luster after the Bulls ended the Heat’s winning streak last week—the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs went at each other on Friday night at the AT&T Center, and it was everything you’d want in a late-season game between two of the best teams in the superior Western Conference. Read more…
The Miami Heat’s 27 game–and counting–win streak is the talk of the NBA, as it should be. It’s one of the most difficult things to do in a team sport, and it should be cherished like it rightfully has been. They’re beating everyone, and even when it seems like they’ve let down their intensity–ahem, Cleveland–they still find a to right the ship and get the victory.
But they’re still six games away from tying the record held by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, who won 33-straight before falling to a Bucks team led by Lew Alcinder and Oscar Robertson (coincidentally, the Heat’s 34th game would also come against Milwaukee, but Larry Sanders is no Kareem and Brandon Jennings only wishes he was as good as late-career “Big O”).
The Heat are currently in the midst of a 4-game road swing that has them in Chicago Wednesday night, in New Orleans (a team, it should be noted, who ended Denver’s winning streak last night) on Friday and in San Antonio Sunday night. That tough road stretch could spell the end of their historical run. Read more…
…that comprise the NBA’s playoff teams with little chance of even sniffing the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
The unlucky truth of the matter is that 29 teams are going to end their season in disappointment whenever they’re eliminated from the playoffs or playoff contention this spring. Of those 29, only four–and that’s stretching things a little bit*–are actually title contenders. The rest are composed of lottery teams, and the squishy in-between spot where a team’s not good enough to really scare the top four in the playoffs, but they’re not so bad that a first round draft choice won’t immediately improve their roster and their chances to improve moving forward. So you’re stuck with the mid-tier, where moving up into one of the top teams in the league is a lot less likely than the inevitable drop to a lottery franchise.
We see this all the time, and right now there are 12 teams with very little chance of either making a Conference Final, or drafting a player that will get them into the Conference Finals in the ensuing years. That’s not to say they’re incapable of bettering themselves in free agency (Houston has a lot of cap room; so will Atlanta if they don’t sign Josh Smith to a max contract; Utah is an enigma, and no one can figure out why they kept two front court players whose contracts expire this summer), but after eliminating the Heat, Thunder, Spurs and Clippers** you’re left with a coterie of mid-tier teams trying to play up to those four. Here they are ranked by their current talent level, their record this season, their overall play on offense and defense, and the possibility for future improvement with the right draft picks, free agency moves and refinement of their roster’s current skill set.
Kyrie Irving can’t legally purchase an alcoholic beverage in the United States until March 23rd of this year. Check.
He won the ROY award last season in near-unanimous fashion. Check.
Irving’s ball-handling puts And 1 Mix Tape wunderkind, The Professor, to shame. Check.
Kyrie Irving has one of the prettiest jumpers in the league and just won the NBA’s 3-point shooting contest (the only Saturday competition that people still seem to care about) during this past All-Star weekend. Check.
He was also in the actual All-Star game in just his second year. Check.
He dazzled in the Rookie-Sophomore game, abusing Brendan Knight enough, particularly on one cross-over you’ve already seen, that Brendon Knight might be forever scarred from participating in anything over an All-Star weekend ever again. Check.
Add all those check marks up and you’ve got the most fantastic, stupefying, physically gifted young basketball player in the world; someone who leaves professional basketball writers groveling to assign him the most favorable adjectives they can find as they tweet in a perpetual state of delirium at what they’re witnessing. You know, like Derrick Rose used to be, and hopefully will be again.
When we watch basketball we watch the ball. It’s naturally where the eye is drawn, so it makes sense that defensive-oriented teams are generally among the lowest rated games on television and the least talked about in the media. There’s one team that’s been a defensive juggernaut for more than a decade, and they’ve managed to win four titles in that span, despite a dearth of attention from casual fans and most media outlets. This season is no different, and while the San Antonio Spurs continue to win at historic levels, their automaton-like dominance is swept under the rug as mere commonplace, rather than shouted from the top of Mount Helicon as Popovich bottles Hippocrene water for his vineyard.
Why don’t more people care, or get excited about the San Antonio Spurs? It’s a tough question to answer without getting into hairy attempts at gleaning information based off what you think, rather than what you know. The basketball watching populace is a fickle bunch; they want points and star players, but dunks and a barrage of 3-pointers will do. Defense, in its still inchoate days of analytics, just isn’t that sexy, and it’s hard to write about without actually watching basketball. Nor is attempting to describe what the Spurs do on defense that’s allowed them to finish in the top 10 in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) every year except one–the 2010-11 season–since they drafted Tim Duncan in the summer of 1997. And that lone year they failed to crack the top third in defensive efficiency, they finished 11th (per basketball-reference).
“Things belong to people who want them most.” – Dashiell Hammet, An Unfinished Woman
Oftentimes we–the few who attempt to extrapolate nuances of meaning from what is, at its root, a game–spend oodles of time trying to figure out what teams do which things right, and use that somewhat esoteric bit of quantitative information to show how it’s the driving force behind one team’s success and another team’s failure. But increasingly in this day and age of shot charts and synergy cameras, we forget to step back and look at the big picture: namely, who has the drive or the will to want it more, or perhaps more aptly: who needs to win the 2013 NBA title the most? Read more…
Thank you, Lakers fans. Read more…
Shane Battier is the last player anyone would ever call selfish. He’s been doing whatever he can to get his team a win—regardless of how that’s compromised his stats—for his entire career. But there is one component of Battier’s game which is self-serving. Thankfully for Battier acolytes like myself, it doesn’t ever adversely affect his team, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s a peccadillo distinctive to Battier and few others, and because it flies in the face of everything Battier believes in.
Chris Paul’s basketball acumen has been routinely praised around the league throughout his career. Since coming into the NBA from Wake Forest, there are few points guards that could challenge Paul in maturity and basic basketball intelligence. He’s considered the top point guard in the game today, but it’s not because of gaudy scoring and passing statistics, or a killer crossover—though he’s got one of those too—it’s because of his leadership abilities and willingness to do anything in order to get the win. Even shirk scoring opportunities for most of three and a half quarters before lighting up his man in the fourth.
Perhaps the best example of Paul’s ability to read the game, and adapt accordingly, comes during the last 40-30 seconds of a quarter. It’s here where Paul figures out the best odds and then goes out and follows through. He did it again earlier this week in Los Angeles’ win over Utah. Read more…
I’m not a fan of Ayn Rand’s objectivist novels. They’re a black and white expositions—claiming verisimilitude—in a world that’s marred in grey. So I wouldn’t encourage any thinking person to read her dogmatic fiction as a schema for life. But the siblings in Rand’s opus, Atlas Shrugged, parallel the Lakers organization, and the offspring of their genial owner, Jerry Buss.
Patriarch, Gerald Hatten “Jerry” Buss sired four children with his first wife, JoAnn Mueller; two of whom, Jim and Jeanie, play an integral role in the team’s current day-to-day affairs. Jim has taken over for his increasingly infirmed father as the Lakers’ President of Team Operations. Jeanie is the Executive Vice President of Business Operations for the Lakers, and a star in her own right. So how does the progeny of Jerry coincide with Rand’s novel?