Bernucca: Sixers playoff run shows why teams should never tank

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A couple of months ago, I wrote a column about how NBA commissioner David Stern’s voiding of the original Chris Paul trade had made a mockery of the New Orleans Hornets, who following the approved Chris Paul trade were making no effort to compete.

There was predictable backlash, mostly from Hornets fans who disagreed with my premise that making the playoffs – no matter how short your stay – is always better than intentionally stinking up the joint for several years in a misguided effort to get lucky through the draft and become a contender before all those lottery picks come due for max contracts.

To reinforce my point, I present the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 76ers broke out of the gate to a surprising 20-9 start this season. Approaching the All-Star break, they were one of the four or five best teams in the league. They appeared to be on pace for a division title and a high seed.

But the Sixers began to unravel in a stretch of injuries and inconsistency. They lost 21 of their next 32 games to fall to 31-30. With one week left in the season, they were clinging to the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed and had five games remaining, all on the road. There were more than a few observers who felt the Sixers would be better served by missing the playoffs and getting into the draft lottery rather than being obliterated by Chicago or Miami in the first round.

However, a funny thing happened en route to a predictable early playoff elimination. It was Memorial Day Weekend, and the Sixers were still playing.

In fact, Philadelphia was four minutes away from stunning the Boston Celtics in TD Garden in Game 7 and reaching the Eastern Conference finals.

“The game could have gone either way,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I felt going into this game it would go down to the wire. This team is hard to get away from. They never let up on the pressure because they have so many guys. They keep attacking.”

Good thing they didn’t tank, huh?

Sixers coach Doug Collins believes every playoff game is worth 10 regular-season games in terms of experience. His team played 13 playoff games, which equates to nearly two seasons of basketball education crammed into one month for his young, talented team.

“I learned a lot,” said Sixers guard Jrue Holiday, who is all of 21 years old and nearly tripled his postseason experience.

What did the Hornets learn this season? How to play spoiler? How to look like you’re trying when you’re really not? How to wait until next year, and the year after, and the year after that?

Yes, we all know the Sixers caught a couple of huge breaks against the Chicago Bulls, who lost Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to injuries. Those breaks were no different from the break the Memphis Grizzlies caught last year when they faced the San Antonio Spurs and Manu Ginobili’s busted elbow.

And yes, a matchup with the Celtics was a somewhat favorable one for the Sixers, given their advantages of youth and speed. That was no different from the Golden State Warriors drawing the Dallas Mavericks and their huge expectations in the first round five years ago.

The Sixers were four games over .500 in the regular season. And they were four minutes away from playing for the right to go to the NBA Finals.

“The Sixers are a pain in the ass,” Rivers said. “They are a tough basketball team. I don’t think people gave them their respect all year. They are difficult to play against. That is a well-coached and well-prepared team. They play extremely hard.”

This is why you keep grinding, even when it looks like your season is falling apart. This is why you always play to win, no matter what the odds.

This is why you don’t tank.

This postseason run offers no guarantees for the Sixers. They are not assured of making the playoffs next season, let alone putting together another deep run. They still need more size, better shooting and a stud scorer who might come in handy in the last four minutes of a Game 7 on the road.

But what the Sixers no longer need is playoff experience. They have seven rotation players 25 or younger who now will settle for nothing less than playing for the game’s highest stakes for the rest of their careers.

Good thing they didn’t tank, huh?

The draft lottery is Wednesday. Good luck, Hornets fans.

TRIVIA: Which two teams have the longest current run of reaching the conference semifinals? Answer below.

THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Thursday’s editions of the Register Citizen in Connecticut ran a story on Game 6 between Boston and Philadelphia that included a subhead that read, “Sixers tie it up again as series shifts to Boston.” Which was fine, except “shifts” was missing the F. (Thanks, Deadspin.)

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace, making his second straight appearance in this space and trying to take the heat off coach Mike Brown:

“Mike wasn’t out there guarding Kevin (Durant). That was me. Kevin scored on me. Mike didn’t miss that 3-point shot. I missed it. Mike didn’t come into camp out of shape. Wait … he did come in out of shape. Mike is a fat ass.”

LINE OF THE WEEK: LeBron James, Miami at Indiana, May 20: 44 minutes, 14-27 FGs, 12-16 FTs, six offensive rebounds, 18 total rebounds, nine assists, two steals, two blocks, five turnovers, 40 points in a 101-93 win. With the Heat facing a 3-1 deficit, James did it all in a thoroughly dominant performance that temporarily silenced his detractors.

LINE OF THE WEAK: Ray Allen, Boston at Philadelphia, May 23: 26 minutes, 4-11 FGs, 1-5 3-pointers, 0-0 FTs, three rebounds, zero assists, zero steals, zero blocks, three turnovers, six fouls, nine points in a 92-85 loss. The bone spurs were clearly affecting Allen’s shot – and his ability to stay in front of anyone on defense. He was briefly benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Marquis Daniels.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Oklahoma City at San Antonio, May 27. We won’t insult the East by saying this is the opener of the de facto NBA Finals. But it will be a better series, and TNT has it. The teams are a combined 16-1 in the playoffs, and virtually everyone in each team’s management knows each other.

TRILLION WATCH: We now have a tie for the top lack of effort in the postseason as Miami Heat forward Juwan Howard – pressed into “action” by Udonis Haslem’s suspension – registered a 4 trillion in Thursday’s clincher at Indiana. That matches the 4 trillion by Boston’s Ryan Hollins on May 4. Troy Murphy and Andrew Goudelock of the Lakers and Marquis Daniels and E’Twaun Moore of the Celtics also had trillions this week.

TWO MINUTES: The Heat lost their first two games after All-Star forward Chris Bosh went down with an abdominal strain and appeared to be in trouble, with LeBron James playing major minutes at power forward and a limited Dwyane Wade engaging in a highly visible shouting match with coach Erik Spoelstra, who ordered his team to take a day off prior to Game 4 vs. the Pacers, somewhat of a risky move given Miami’s must-win situation. But James became assertive, Wade had his knee drained and the two played perhaps their best collective basketball since becoming teammates. Over the next three games – all wins to close out the series – James averaged 32.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists while shooting 55 percent from the field and Wade averaged 33.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting nearly 62 percent. They accounted for 61 percent of the Heat’s points, 46 percent of their rebounds and 54 percent of their assists. That is some heavy lifting. “Chris Bosh is an awesome basketball player, but when he goes down, that just means more touches for LeBron and Wade,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “That’s not exactly an advantage.” … Since the NBA expanded to a best-of-seven in the opening round in 2003, four teams have swept the first and second rounds – the Heat in 2005, the Cavaliers in 2009, the Magic in 2010 and the Spurs this year. Each of the previous three lost in the conference finals. … Shaquille O’Neal was smart to turn down the chance to possibly become GM of the Magic. TV is a much better place for O’Neal, who was a notorious offseason slouch as a player, often coming to training camp overweight and out of shape. (Who can ever forget Kobe Bryant calling him “fat” on the eve of one of their seasons together?) GMs never really stop working; they spend most of their days on the phones, scouring waiver wires, watching their teams - often traveling to do so – and looking for new talent in college and overseas. It is a job that requires energy and attention to detail, neither of which have been strong points for O’Neal. … After averaging 21.4 points on 41 percent shooting with 7.0 rebounds vs. Orlando, Indiana forward Danny Granger plummeted to 13.3 points on under 38 percent shooting with 4.5 rebounds vs. Miami. His incessant trash-talking throughout the conference semifinals seemed to fire up the Heat more than himself. He was the prime culprit as  the Pacers appeared to get too caught up in maintaining their reputation of playing “smashmouth basketball,” which did produce their deepest playoff run in seven years but backfired against Miami. … Suns forward Josh Childress hasn’t exactly lived up to the five-year, $33 million deal he signed two years ago upon returning from Greece. After averaging double figures in his first four seasons in Atlanta, Childress has had trouble cracking the rotation in Phoenix, averaging 5.0 points in 54 games last season and just 2.9 points in 34 games this season. However, he did set an NBA record for most minutes without a made free throw. Childress played 491 minutes and was 0-of-2, missing both in a Feb. 1 win at New Orleans. He only has three years and $21 million left on his deal. Amnesty? … In this year’s playoffs, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant is 3-of-4 on potential tying or winning shots in the final three seconds. Orlando’s Glen Davis is 1-of-2. Everybody else is 0-of-24. … Here’s an obvious sign that Bryant imploring his teammates to step up during the postseason should not be ignored by Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak as he plots the team’s future course: The Lakers are 10-3 when Bryant scores 40 points in a playoff game but were 0-2 this postseason. Kupchak’s best bet may be to ignore conventional wisdom and move Pau Gasol – not for another high-priced star but for a package of solid younger players that will deepen the rotation and give him more flexibility against the salary cap and luxury tax going forward. The Lakers could plug in Jordan Hill at power forward if they fortify point guard, small forward and their frontcourt depth. … When Indiana’s David West opened the scoring with a jumper 22 seconds into Game 6, it marked the first lead for the Pacers in 65 minutes, 42 seconds. … The Sixers fell just shy of becoming the second eighth seed to reach the conference finals since the NBA went to a 16-team playoff format in 1984. Their seven wins tied last year’s Grizzlies for the second-most in one postseason by an eighth seed. In 1999 – another postseason following a lockout-shortened campaign – the Knicks won 12 games and remain the only eighth seed to reach the Finals.

Trivia Answer: Boston and the LA Lakers with five. … Happy 55th Birthday, David Greenwood. … How many bye weeks do the Spurs get?

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.

 

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  1. And, as expected, Hornets247 comes back to bring some rationality to the table…

    http://www.hornets247.com/blog/2012/05/31/on-tanking-did-the-hornets-do-it-did-the-76ers-prove-that-teams-shouldnt/

    Totally agree!!! What rational person would want a team to tank its way out of the playoffs for a .5% chance at the #1 pick????? It just doesn’t make sense.

    Even without arguing about whether tanking is good or not, to use the 76ers as an example of why it isn’t seems ridiculous.

  2. I’m going to send this article to Anthony Davis to read when he arrives in NOLA.
    I don’t think winning 8 of your last 14 games should be considered tanking, including wins against Memphis and Houston. I’ve seen games where hornets have lost by 2 points and many games with 8 or less players including the one where Biyombo blocked a game winning layup and Tim Duncan hit a buzzer beater to win by two. It annoys me that punk bitch laker fans like you get all bitter just because CP3 couldn’t help Kobe “convicted rapist” Bryant get his 6th ring and start accusing another teams effort without watching all their games. Monty Williams is a great coach and got 100% from all of them hence Jarret Jack overachieved.

    And before you thank me for reading your article, I just want you to ask yourself if GM’s have RFA Eric Gordon(who’s any offer will be matched) the no.1(or let’s just say 4 to be more realistic) and no 10 pick in this years draft and ~20 mil in cap space(not including Eric gordons Salary) or would you rather be paying a disgruntled and cancerous Lamar Odom(~9 mil), a Kevin Martin(~10 mil) who is getting outperformed by Courtney Lee, Luis Scola(~10 mil), an UNRESTRICTED FA Goran Dragic( who the hornets probably wouldn’t be able to keep due to salary cap reasons), the no 16 pick and the mediocre pick in the draft that a team good enough to have a winning record but not bad enough to be the worse 10 always seem to get.

    I guess hindsight is 20/20. But again there is common sense.

    If you want to keep hating on the Hornets you should do an article on how the lottery was rigged and how much closer this 76ers team is to a championship than the Hornets especially after the playoff series performance against the Rose-less and Noah-less Bulls.

    Thanks again for the read ST.

    • There is no denying that the plan – whether it was theirs or Stern’s – worked. It took tremendous luck but they are positioned to improve considerably over the next two years. The dice came up 11.
      I have said this many times: I have no dog in this fight. Don’t really care about the Hornets. Not a Lakers fan either. Care about the integrity of NBA and playing to win. Three GMs agreed on a trade, and Stern muscled in because a star wound up in a big market three days after the new CBA was supposed to stop that.
      I am diametrically opposed to tanking, which is not defined by winning 8 of last 14. It is defined much earlier than that, by willingly putting together a roster that has no chance to compete. With everyone healthy, where are Hornets in the West this year? 13th? 12th? 11th? Not above .500, that’s for sure.
      Okafor-Scola-Odom-Landry-Martin-Jack-Dragic sound like a pretty competitive first 7 if they are committed. (Odom likely would be unhappy anywhere but LA.) That team could compete the way Sixers, Nuggets, Pacers did, then trade from strength as contracts got shorter. Just my personal preference because I cannot stand the notion of being rewarded for intentionally being awful.

      • LOL. You are still not listening to what hornets fans are telling you – you know the ones who actually pay for tickets and watch the games on CST – the hornets didn’t tank. If you want to watch espn highlights, that’s cool; but that doesnt make you an expert on our team to write tanking articles. Hornets played undermanned ALL YEAR LONG and only got blown out like three times. Did we lose a lot of games – hell ya; but, we did not tank!

  3. Let me see if I can dissect some of the disconnect here. Chris, you are saying that reward from tanking is not worth the price. I completely agree. OK, but who disagrees with you? It sounds like there are plenty of fans who would rather tank and get a few high picks. Is that who you are addressing this article to? If rather, your point is directed at team execs then I think you are setting up a paper tiger and then knocking it down. I don’t really see teams tanking in the hope to get more lottery balls. The Hornets didn’t tank, their all star point guard put a gun to their head. I loved that Stern turned down the Paul to Lakers deal and hated the fact that he caved and traded him to the Clips.

    Is there a better example of an actual team (not just their fans) making the decesion to lose games in order to gain ping pong balls?

    • The Rockets in 1984 for Olajuwon (pre-lottery), the Knicks in 1985 for Ewing, the Spurs in 1997 for Duncan are good examples. I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple.

      My argument is primarily with fans, but I am diametrically opposed to anyone – fan, player, GM, owner, commissioner – who sees good in losing/making no attempt to compete. And that attempt begins with the formation of the roster, not just how hard that roster plays.

      • So if this is the case, you are even more wrong about the hornets. Demps inherited a team that was much worse and more expensive then this one. Taking that rockets/lakers trade would have put us back in the pre-demps era – a roster centered around martin with old aging vets eating up cap space.

  4. There is a difference between possibe getting the 11th or 12th pick, and trying for the playoffs, having 10 wins with 5 games left. The hornets aren’t even the worst example of tanking, the Cavs really threw it in.

  5. The main oversight here, in my opinion, is giving credence to the “more than a few observers who felt the Sixers would be better served by missing the playoffs and getting into the draft lottery.” Sitting at 31-30, the furthest they could have fallen by tanking their final five games would have been the 11th worst record, with 12th worst being the most likely outcome. It seems far-fetched to suggest that the 76ers should have tanked their final five games in order to acquire a <1% chance at landing the top pick. I believe you when you say that there were people that did, but those people clearly don't understand the concept of risk vs. reward. The same goes for those who were content with the Rockets punting their playoff chances away. I stand by my opinion that I prefer the Hornets' strategy as opposed to becoming a perennial fringe playoff team, but if I was a fan of that fringe playoff team, I wouldn't be rooting for them to "tank" with five games remaining when they were on the playoff bubble.

    My main point is this: tanking isn't a strategy that fringe teams should use as the season winds down to sneak into the lottery; going from a 0% chance of the top pick to a.8% chance is absolutely not worth it. Tanking makes far more sense, however, for a bad team that is far out of playoff contention, as that team can increase their lottery odds by a far greater percentage.

    • Mason,
      I respect your main point. I just disagree. It’s horses for courses, or personal preference, or what have you. I always feel like regardless of what you have on your roster, you should play to win because the psycholology of not playing to win frightens me in the effect it can have on players or your team. That is probably the coach in me (I coach HS and AAU). I would also rather have 2 games of playoff revenue than zero. But again, I see your side. Just don’t agree. Thanks for reading. CB

      • Chris,

        I understand at this point that we are just agreeing to disagree, but I’m not sure why your playoff revenue comment is relevant here. I explained that tanking is NOT a strategy that a bubble playoff team should use as the season winds down to try and sneak back into the lottery. Anyone who argues that a <1% chance at winning the draft lottery is worth missing out on the playoffs is going to have an incredibly difficult time selling that course of action to the fans of that team. The "tanking" strategy only applies to the teams already well out of the playoff hunt that can significantly improve their lottery odds by losing in an already-lost season.

        Also, something that I forgot to mention in my initial comment – claiming that the Hornets demonstrated "how to look like you’re trying when you’re really not" displays a fair amount of ignorance in regards to actual events. In your column three months ago, you stated that the Hornets were "by far the worst team in the Western Conference and headed for 50-plus losses in a 66-game season." By comparing your evaluation of the team with actual results, the Hornets did the exact opposite of "looking like they're trying when they're really not." New Orleans went 8-6 in its final 14 games, finishing with 45 losses (far fewer than your estimation) and ended up just one game behind Sacramento and two behind Golden State. I'm not sure how you can realistically say that the Hornets weren't trying; the team's record in April is pretty clear evidence to the contrary, despite those who were hoping for the team to lose.

  6. THe Hornets won 8 of their last 14. That isn’t exactly a tank. Idk the kings, and the Cavs are getting free passes from you. also the hornets now have two lottery picks.

    The Sizers now have the experience of beating a team without their star player and pushing the celtics to 7 games. Play off loses less useful than draft picks. The hornets need star power.

  7. HAHAHAHA… Rose doesn’t go down and your sixers are gone in 4. Just keep on talking about the Hornets man, you obviously can’t get viewers for your site the right way, so you call out a franchise to get cheap clicks…. Good luck to the Sixers. You guys got a good young core and might can do good sometime. But forget you Chris. You’re blatant ignoring of the facts to troll as the kids call it now adays, sickens me.

    • You are smart Chris, but the constant ridicule of one of my favorite teams in the Hornets and you throwing a blind eye towards teams that you like has caused you to be a joke to me. Thanks, this’ll be the last time I view this site and I’ll tell all my NOLA friends about you.

    • Used the Hornets because I used them as an example of one side of the argument earlier in the season. Sixers became antithesis with their playoff run. I think I mentioned they caught a break by not facing Rose – the same sort of break the Grizz caught last year, or a lottery team catches by moving up from fourth to first. Luck is ALWAYS a part of improvement (Tim Duncan? Kevin Durant?) and didn’t really feel like I was ridiculing Hornets, just outwardly disagreeing with their approach. As I told Mason above, I see the side of the argument, just don’t agree.

      • You should also know that while I do try to write the hot topic as a means of timeliness in the 24-hour news cycle, I never pick a side of an argument I don’t believe for the sake of hits. Never. Sheridan and I have had many discussions about this. I let the Jason Whitlocks of the world do that. I have no dog in the fight regarding Hornets; disagreeing with their approach does not make me a hater. It is simply a perspective.

        • The thing that bugs me is the lack of truth in the article. You claim that the Hornets never put forth in effort and yet we only played 2 games the whole season with our whole starting lineup of Jack/Gordon/Ariza/Landry/Okafor. Okafor missed almost the whole season, as did Gordon, Ariza missed a ton of time which resulted in players like Lance Thomas (Look him up if you must) and Marco Belineli starting tons of games. If you look back, we also kept well over half of our games competitive but lost due to lack closer. Close to the end of the season, SHOULD we have tanked we had the 3rd worst record locked up, but coach Monty rung out a win in a Houston game that made absolutely no difference except that it tied us with Cleveland and cost us the 3rd worst record after a coin flip. We played games with 8 people for God’s sake!

          I was ruder than I should have been with my original message and I apologize Chris, I hope that you research these things and realize that perhaps there were a few times that we played younger players when we should have gone for the vet, but overall coach Monty Williams was very anti tanking. I just don’t like it when a reporter doesn’t do his research, though this is a problem that you generally don’t have, therefor I shouldn’t have reacted so harshly. Hoping for one more reply, thanks.

  8. Dominican Danny says:

    Philadelphia caught a lucky break in round 1 with Rose going down to injury. Despite Chicago’s injuries they still pushed Philly to 6 games, and would have taken them to 7 if CJ “disaster” Watson had an average BBIQ. Philly is like Atlanta, stuck on the proverbial treadmill of mediocrity (e.g. not good enough to win a title, but not bad enough to be a top 5 lottery team). I am no Hornets fan but their future is bright especially with new ownership. Healthy Eric Gordon=better than anyone on the 76ers and with two lottery picks, they are on a fast track to rebuilding. Meanwhile Philly will most likely be lottery bound next year after they trade Iggy, amnesty Brand and let Hawes get overpaid somewhere else.

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