We would like to interrupt your NCAA bracket guesswork with a few questions, and in this column I absolutely promise to stay away from politics after using it as a
crutch writing device in my last couple MVP rankings columns. (I’ll have another one of those later this week, and I will try to adhere to that vow for two straight columns … but it won’t be easy).
Pablo You know, the NBA season is winding down, we have already had our final look at Ben Simmons in an LSU uniform, the days are getting longer (thanks for that, Ben Franklin), and “Life of Pablo” is going to be released soon. No, seriously. Yeezy just keeps messing with us. He is a pretty smart guy, just not smart enough to release 1,846,249 different editions of the same album over the next 29 years. OK, maybe he is that smart. But you know, he is busy with the Chuck the Condor thing, his pursuit of Taylor Swift and who knows what else.
So there is a lot going on that could be distracting us from the greatest passion of our lives, the NBA. But we all know better than to let that happen. The playoffs are right around the corner, and each and every one of us is chomping at the bit to ooh and ahh at Marvin Williams and the
Bobcats Hornets, to see if Chris Kaman has another 3-pointer in him for the Portland Trail Blazers, and to watch Russell Westbrook produce a triple-double every single night as the Thunder continue to lead the NBA in blown fourth-quarter leads.
So much drama, it’s almost like throwing out Mitt Romney GOP convention conspiracy theories … oh wait, I made a vow. Dammit. Forehead, meet wall.
Well, the fun stuff really starts happening this coming Saturday night, when the San Antonio Spurs put their undefeated home record up against Stephen Curry and the team that is usually better than the Lakers. If you were planning a movie night or something equally banal, do yourself a favor and rebook it for Sunday at the matinee rate. We’ve waited nearly five full months for a game that will be both meaningful and competitive, and the Spurs at home are a different animal than the Spurs who went on the road seven weeks ago and lost by 30 to the Dubs.
Which brings us to the theme of today’s piece: The three biggest unanswered questions of the remainder of the season.
1. Can Anybody Beat The Warriors?
Of course someone can. Heck, the Lakers did it. The Bucks did it. The Nuggets did it. The Nets almost did it. The Mavs and Pistons did it. And let’s not forget that the Blazers did it, too, winning by 32.
Yes, I know. All of those teams stink to varying degrees. OK, maybe not the Blazers. They are the non-Warrior darlings of the NBA right now, but they’ve lost five of seven, they got Westbrooked by 34 points on Monday night, they’ve got road games remaining against the Warriors, Spurs and Clippers, along with another engagement with the Thunder, and all we’re trying to say here is let’s not be too quick to engrave Terry Stotts’ name on the coach of the Year trophy, OK?
So if you throw out those other five outlier losses and when you look at what the Warriors have done over the other 90 percent of the season, they are 60-1.
Say that out loud, please: “Sixty and one.”
OK, maybe you want to make the case that the loss to Dallas was not an outlier loss. But Stephen Curry did not play in that game, so I am sticking with my shout-it-out mantra: Sixty and one.
So if you think the Spurs can beat them four times in a seven-game series, I will respectfully disagree. Look, I think Pop is going to be the Coach of the Year. I love what they’ve done in loading up their roster with new faces from LaMarcus Aldridge to David West to Kevin Martin to Andre Miller. I love Kawhi Leonard. Love him. (Sorry to sound like Trump … oops, there I go again).
But if you think anyone other that these guys is going to win the NBA championship, I’ve got news for you: The only way that happens is if Stephen Curry breaks one of his own ankles instead of someone else’s.
2. What is wrong with the Clippers and the Thunder?
Yeah, we all got fooled into thinking Blake Griffin was an unnecessary component as the Clips kept winning without him, Chris Paul put on one dazzling performance after another and Donald and Shelly called off their divorce. But they’ve gotten thumped in three of their last five games by the Cavs, Thunder and Hawks, the number of quality victories they’ve had over the past 30 days is two, they have that troublesome mascot issue, they gave away a No. 1 pick along with Lance Stephenson, who only happens to be the best player on Memphis right now, and DeAndre Jordan is shooting 43 percent from the line. Once the playoffs arrive, he’ll average 18 foul shots per night. He will become borderline unusable. Add it all up, and they are a second-tier team … at best. Of course, when the Warriors comprise the top tier and then there is everyone else, it ain’t all that bad to be second tier. And look, they did get past the Spurs a year ago in the first round, which is no small thing. So maybe there isn’t all that much wrong. Look, even their 0-3 record against Golden State does not include a single double-digit loss. They get one more shot at the Dubs, in Oakland, on March 23 to cap a five-game road trip. So don’t give up on them. There really isn’t a lot wrong here that can’t be dealt with in May/June.
Then we have the Thunder, who gave up two players and two picks at the deadline for Randy Foye, who wouldn’t even be a rotation player on the Sixers. I’ve always liked Sam Presti, but there’s something about people who think they are the smartest person in the room. If that room is a bathroom or a closet, that’s one thing. But increase the size of the real estate, and it’s quite another thing. If Presti died tomorrow, you know what his epitaph would read: “Here lies the guy who traded James Harden, thereby preventing a dynasty.” But this is not just about Presti. It’s also about Billy Donovan. When you are a coach who leads the league in blown fourth-quarter leads, you are doing something wrong. Period. And the thing to do when you are doing something wrong is to seek the advice of intelligent people around you, and to listen. This ain’t Florida. This is the NBA. And if the Thunder flame out in this postseason, Kevin Durant is a goner … and Russell Westbrook is a year away from joining him, probably with the Lakers. Do you know what OKC has done since the All-Star break? They’ve played 13 games and lost eight of them. Will that mean anything when the playoffs arrive and everyone’s record is 0-0? Yes and no. A clean slate is one thing, but a body of evidence in the form of videotape of all those blown fourth quarter leads is going to give each of their opponents a formula for success. Does this mean they can’t come out of the West? No. Does it make them a second-tier team that is teetering on the third tier? Yes it does.
3. Can anyone in the East beat the Cavs?
Look, if we have learned one thing about LeBron James as he has gone to the NBA Finals five consecutive years, it is this: What happens between October and mid-April mans nothing. His dropoff in production means nothing. The amount of power he does or doesn’t hold in the Cleveland front office means nothing. Now, don’t get me wrong … if there was a team in the East capable of challenging him, all those things would be important. But look what happened last year: The Atlanta Hawks won 60 games, were the Spurs of the East, had a system that made opponents look foolish, blah, blah, blah. When they ran into the freight train from Akron, they got flattened. And this year, there is nobody doing what the Hawks were doing. Yes, the Raptors are having a nice year, and they are doing it without DeMarre Carroll. Yes, the Celtics are taking ultimate small ball to a crazy level. They are fun to watch. But if you think either of those teams can knock off LeBron four times in a best-of-7 series, you’ve got about as much chance of being correct as Carly Fiorina does of being drafted at the GOP convention. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. See y’all at the Quicken Loans Arena in mid-June.
More on these topics in this video with Noah Coslov of CineSport:
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.