Tag Archives: NBA

I Tighten My Belt ‘fore I Beg For Help

Early in this NBA season, one of the “things” that has cropped up, courtesy of an idea germinated on Reddit, endorsed by Grantland, and put into easy-to-follow visual form on its own website is the mythical NBA Regular Season Championship Belt.

Basically, it works like a wrestling or boxing championship belt.  You start with last season’s winner of the NBA Finals – in this case, the Miami Heat – and the belt is on the line in every game.  If the holder wins, they retain.  If the challenger wins, they are the new champion.

This season, the Heat successfully defended the title against the Chicago Bulls on opening night, but 24 hours later, the previously-assumed-to-be-tanking Philadelphia 76ers upset the champions and stole the belt, which they then successfully defended twice before getting steamrolled by the Golden State Warriors.

The San Antonio Spurs took out the Warriors on November 8, and then humiliated the New York Knicks yesterday before they brought the belt back to Philadelphia tonight.

Suffice to say, the Spurs are still the champs.

Regular seasons are long, and in leagues such as the NBA and NHL, where over half the league makes the playoffs, the season can sometimes seem like it doesn’t mean much.  This was started as a fun thing to keep track of during the season, and folks have gone back and tracked the belt back through the 2000-01 season.

And it certainly is a fun thing, but of course, I have a problem.  See, it’s the “Regular Season Championship Belt.”  So why, then, should last season’s playoff champ start out with it?  Why not the team that held it when the previous season ended?  On April 7, the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Los Angeles Lakers and took the RSCB.  The Clippers then won their next five games to close out the season as the champs.  So why, then, should the Heat inherit the title the following year?

You could argue that the Clippers lost it to the Grizzlies in the playoffs, who lost it to the Spurs, who then lost it to the Heat, and that’s how Miami got it.  However, I will point once again to the “regular season” portion of the name and say no.

So, if the Clippers retained the belt, who would have it now?  Well, the Clippers would have handed it back to the Lakers on opening night, who then would have lost it to the Warriors a day later.  Golden State would have held it for just one day themselves, as they lost to the Clippers.  Imagine that; the Clippers would have lost and regained the belt within 48 hours.  Drama!

From there, the belt would have passed to the Orlando Magic and then the Boston Celtics, who would still currently hold the belt after beating the Magic again tonight.

Actually, you know what?  Forget it.  I’d rather have the Spurs holding the belt than the Celtics.  Forget I said anything.

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The Clock Strikes Twelve

Well, there goes 82-0.

The Sixers got shellacked tonight, lowering their record to 3-1.  But hey, it was fun while it lasted!

I wrote the other night about how the Sixers’ win over Miami would ultimately mean nothing, and that they would hit reality over the weekend in Washington or against Chicago.  I was wrong about that, as the young Sixers came from behind both nights to come away with wins against the Wizards and Bulls.  The Bulls win was particularly impressive, as the Sixers trailed by 15 at halftime before charging back in the fourth quarter.

Tonight, though, the Golden State Warriors came to town, led by sniper Stephen Curry and former Sixer Andre Iguodala, and put an end to the home team’s perfect start to the campaign.  I watched part of the game at a bar/restaurant, and you could tell early on that things would not go well for the Sixers.  Curry ended up with a triple double in only three quarters, while Iguodala shot the lights out from long range and scored 32 points.  The group I was watching with speculated on whether or not the deficit would reach 40; we immediately agreed that it would, but it ultimately didn’t.  Yay?

There’s been a stat quoted a number of times in the past couple days that says that even a team that finishes with a .300 winning percentage (roughly 24-25 wins in an NBA season) will win three games in a row over the course of a season nearly half the time.  It’s just not that often that that run happens in the first three games and includes two of the best teams in the league.

In the end, while this Sixers team won’t be historically bad, they aren’t going to be good.  They have four NBA-caliber players on the team, and three of them could be traded during the season.  Things will get worse, but maybe not as bad as we thought.

Which isn’t good, because have you seen the Celtics?

Lots of teams are going to be bad this season.  The Sixers will be among them.  It was fun while it lasted, and to see glimpses of the future – i.e., Michael Carter-Williams – will certainly help the fans get through what might be a fairly moribund season.

Come draft night, when the Sixers are hopefully drafting in the top three, we’ll always have MCW’s opening night near quadruple-double, and Spencer Hawes’ game-icing jumper against the Bulls.

Even if he’s playing for someone else by then.

Keep a Little Bit of Pride

Five years ago today, the Phillies held their World Series parade.  Here are 2,000 words about it.

Just kidding.  No, seriously, I’m not…don’t close the…come back!

I am going to write about a major happening in the sports world, though.  Last night, a franchise with a long and storied history of both success and non-success knocked off one of the top franchises of this era in front of its home fans.

That’s right, I’m talking about your Philadelphia 76ers, who took down the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, 114-110, on Wednesday night.  Normally, a season-opening win over the Heat would be a good thing, but instead, all I can think is, “hey, guys…you’re doing it wrong.”

The Sixers stripped the roster and traded away the face of the franchise, point guard Jrue Holiday, on draft night in June.  They ended up with two first-rounders in Nerlens Noel – who fell to sixth after being projected as the top pick – and Michael Carter-Williams, and New Orleans’ first round pick next season.  This signaled to everyone that the Sixers were actually looking towards the 2014 Draft, which is going to be one of the deepest in the last 30 years.

At the top of the draft class is the “Maple Jordan,” Andrew Wiggins.  A native of Canada, Wiggins will play at the University of Kansas this season and almost assuredly enter the draft after that.  While there are other blue-chip players likely to be available – Julius Randle of Kentucky and Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, to name two – Wiggins will be the first pick should he choose to enter the draft.

In the NBA, there is no fate worse than sustained mediocrity, which is something the Sixers have excelled at in recent years.  No better than seventh or eighth in the conference, but never one of the league’s worst teams, the Sixers are neither contenders nor bottom-feeders.  Unfortunately, the path to the former often requires you to be the latter.

By gutting your roster, filling it with young players, and amassing high picks in future drafts, you set your team up to lose a ton of games.  You’re not going out there trying to lose, but you really aren’t concerned with trying to build a roster that will win a lot, either.  This sort of tanking has been commonplace in the NBA, and the thought of “Riggin’ for Wiggins” is certainly appealing to a lot of fans.

Believe it or not, count me among them.

Like I said, being a middle of the pack team in the NBA essentially sentences you to a lifetime of being a middle of the pack team.  You have to bottom out and build your team through the draft, and the best way to do that is with lottery picks.  You don’t get lottery picks when you reach the playoffs, so it follows that in order to be better than everyone else, you first need to be worse than as many teams as you can.

So while I think tanking games is rather unsportsmanlike, and have the utmost respect for competitors who play hard for the entire game and the entire season even when the ultimate result is a foregone conclusion, I am firmly in the camp supporting Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie and his rebuilding efforts.  You have to crawl before you can walk, and in the NBA, you need to fall before you can crawl.

When I saw the score throughout the game (I was at quizzo and was only able to see score updates on the bottom of a screen showing a different game), I was legitimately annoyed.  Like, really?  Are they so bad that they can’t even lose properly?

But the truth is that, even though they came out and punched the Heat in the mouth and went up something like 19-0 in the first quarter, this win is not indicative of how their season will go.  As presently constructed, the Sixers will still lose 55 games.  Maybe even 60.  Maybe even more.  They will have a top pick in next year’s draft, and if the Pelicans struggle, maybe even two in the top 10.

So for one night, let’s let them have their big surprise win.  And trust me, this was a big surprise.  It’s like a 15-seed in the NCAA Tournament taking down a 2-seed.  It happens – more and more frequently in recent years – but it’s still a real big deal when it does.  The underdog is the biggest story in the country for two days, but you know what usually happens in the next round?  That upstart 15-seed gets dismantled by a 7- or 10-seed, and just as quickly as everyone had to look up where East Louisiana Valley Tech was, the sports world moves on as if it never happened.

Our plucky 15-seed took down the favored Heat.  All right.  Now they have a game in Washington tomorrow before a home game against Chicago the following night.

For the Cinderella Sixers, midnight is coming real fast.

Started Off Local

For a while, I wasn’t much of an NBA fan.  I was partial to college basketball, and the pro game didn’t appeal to me.  But whereas the NHL lockout of 2004-05 was the death knell for my interest in that league, the 2011 lockout in the NBA actually got me back into the game.  Sort of.

Right around the time that the league was getting ready to return to action, I found myself reading Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball.  The thing is huge, and as someone who wasn’t big on the NBA, it didn’t make sense for me to read it, really.  But I was always a fan of Simmons’ writing (even if some of his references are strained and I don’t get them, I like his writing style), so I figured I would enjoy it, and I did.  Reading about the history of the game from the viewpoint of one of its biggest fans was certainly interesting, and coupled with buying tickets for some early-season Sixers games, my interest in the league began to return.

What really clinched it, though, was a podcast I discovered on Simmons’ “Grantland Network.”  Every Friday during the 2011-12 season, they picked up “The Basketball Jones.”  I listened to an episode one week solely because I was going to a game that night, and I enjoyed it immensely.  The guys were funny, their takes were insightful, and you could just tell how much they loved the game.  I became a loyal listener every week.

It turns out that TBJ had a daily podcast that they had been doing for years.  They worked for The Score, a company in Toronto, where they lived.  While I didn’t think I could do a daily NBA show, I began to listen to the podcast a little more often.  Monday through Thursday, the crew would discuss what had happened the night before, and while they had fun with it, there was a little too much hardcore analysis for someone who was just getting back into the league.  Fridays, however, brought “The Overdose,” the show I’d been listening to on Grantland.

Much like the soccer podcast “Men in Blazers,” I felt like I could listen to the TBJ gang talk about anything, and it turns out that during the summer they did just that.  After the Olympic tournament was over, they recorded twice-weekly episodes of “The [BLANK] Jones,” where they would discuss a random topic completely unrelated to basketball for the better part of an hour.  Tuesday and Thursday afternoons quickly became my favorite commutes of the week.

For the 2012-13 season, I went all-in.  I listened to The Basketball Jones live show almost every weekday, even if I hadn’t watched or read about a single minute of basketball the night before.  I just really enjoyed the show, and the interactive aspect of it made a huge difference.  I tried, but I never got a tweet read on the air.

“The Overdose” remained my favorite part, though.  I would even listen to it with my dad on the way to the bowling alley, and he became a fan as well.  We even have TBJ shirts!

After the NBA Finals, The Jones announced that they would not be doing “The [BLANK] Jones” over the summer.  The reason?  They were leaving The Score.  They didn’t tell us where they were going, but promised to be back and better than ever.

A couple weeks ago, it was announced that due to copyright reasons, The Basketball Jones was no more.  In its place would be “The Starters,” and their home would be NBA TV and NBA.com.

As much as it makes me sad that they won’t be known as TBJ anymore, it feels like my buddies made it big.  I’ve never met any of them, mind you, but when you listen to the same guys every day, it feels like you do.  And to see them go from a two-man podcast out of a living room in Toronto to being a an official part of the very league they all love is great, even if I was late to the party.

There’s only one problem: the live show will now air at noon instead of 11:00 a.m.  That’s lunchtime, which means I won’t be able to listen to all of the show every day.  Unless, of course, I start bringing lunch more often.  That would certainly save some money, and is probably better for me in the long run.

See, I told you they were like friends.

Hate Me Now

Today is the three-year anniversary of “The Decision,” when LeBron James went on ESPN and had an hour-long special devoted to where he was going to sign as a free agent.  In the end, James tore out the hearts of Cleveland fans on national television and said he was going to “take [his] talents to South Beach” and play for the Miami Heat.

I remember the few days leading up to “The Decision,” when rumors ran rampant.  Miami, they said.  Chicago is the winner.  It’s going to be New York.  And then even the announcement of the announcement became a big deal.  I followed the story from a hotel lobby in San Francisco; I was in town for a convention, and there was free wireless downstairs.

(Side note: when you send people emails from the West Coast at midnight local time, and they’re back East and see you sent it at 3:00 in the morning, they assume you were drunk.  Just so you know.)

I got home in time to turn on the TV for the last half hour or so of the show.  I had nothing better to do, so why not?  When you know everyone is going to be talking about something the next day, it makes it that much easier to tune in, even if the whole idea seems self-serving.

In the end, that’s exactly how it turned out.  James went to Miami, and the hate flowed from every corner of the country.  The introduction of new signings James and Chris Bosh, alongside the newly-extended Dwyane Wade, the next day in Miami made things even worse.  Somehow, a guy who was arguably the league’s best player had become its biggest villain.

During the 2010-11 season, the Heat got off to a rough start, and sports fans laughed.  “We knew it wouldn’t work,” we cried.  And yet the Heat found themselves in the NBA Finals, taking on the Dallas Mavericks in a rematch of the 2006 Finals.  “The Big 3,” as the Heat’s new core was known, couldn’t stop Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and the rest of the Mavericks as Dallas rode a team-first mentality (and no doubt the support of everyone outside the city of Miami) to the franchise’s first title.

Let me put that in perspective: America’s hatred for LeBron James turned Mark Cuban, the flashy, polarizing owner of the Mavericks, into the good guy during the series.

As the general populace decried Miami’s strategy of surrounding three superstars with cheap, veteran role players, it seems we forgot one thing: the Heat still had LeBron James, the best basketball player alive, for another three seasons.  Two of those seasons have now passed, and all James did was win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, the Finals, and the Finals MVP award.  Twice.

So while “The Decision” was widely (and deservedly) panned, and the irrational ire of a suddenly moral police state was directed towards South Florida, all James did was do, literally, all he could do.  And now he’s a two-time champion.

Which was kind of the point.  When James signed with Miami, people claimed he was admitting that he couldn’t be the top dog on a championship-caliber team.  “This is Wade’s team,” they said.  That may have been the case that first season, but ever since, this has been James’ team – heck, you could say this is James’ league – and Wade and everyone else just had to hold on for the ride.

Nowadays, we only talk about “The Decision” when pundits (or their networks) remind us about it.  That’s what winning does.  Beyond that, despite his public relations misstep, LeBron James has defined greatness for his era in the last two seasons, and that, more than any accumulation of rings, is what makes people forget that one night in July of 2010.

The Heat Is On

Well that escalated quickly.

Game 2 of the NBA Finals was a five-point game at halftime.  During the fourth quarter, Miami led by about 30.  Yup.

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t home, so I missed the first half.  I may or may not have dozed off (food coma; went out with the family for an early Father’s Day dinner) during the third quarter, but even though Miami led by 10 after three, that game is still in doubt.

Well, Lebron James’ ridiculous block on Tiago Splitter kind of summed up how that went.  When guys get dunked on in a particularly vicious manner, you will hear them referred to as having been “murdered” by the dunker (example: the “#RIPBrandonKnight” thing).  It’s hideously insensitive in some ways, but at the same time, the gross exaggeration shows how violent some of these dunks are.  During the season, James annihilated Jason Terry of the Boston Celtics, a clip that was shown a number of times in the following days.  I think the block on Splitter was even better; Splitter is a big fella, and he even had the arm cocked back a little bit before the MVP said “no thanks, we’re full” and stoned him.  If dunking on someone’s head is akin to “killing” him, what do we call that sort of manhood-sapping block?

(I don’t have any ideas here.  I’m sure you thought I had something.  I don’t.  Sorry.)

Not to imply anything, but I knew what the end result of the game was likely to be as soon as I saw that renowned Tim Duncan-baiter Joey Crawford was officiating the game.  I wonder if the person who does the referee assignments has a sense of humor and is trolling the conspiracy theorists, or if there really are these alleged decrees from on high (i.e. David Stern).  Because if you asked any skeptic what the NBA might want here, it would be a Heat victory to guarantee a longer series (especially considering how rarely teams go home and win Games 3, 4, and 5 all in a row).  And if you want a Heat victory, that means a Spurs loss, and who better to oversee that than a guy known to have gotten into it in the past with one of the Spurs’ best players?

(Full disclosure: from what I gathered, the officials didn’t have an effect on this game.  And besides, it’s kind of hard to when someone wins by 19.)

The series is tied 1-1 heading back to San Antonio for the next three games.  I have written before about how much I admire the Spurs organization, and with that in mind, I would normally give the advantage in such an evenly-matched series to the Spurs in this situation.

However, Miami has Lebron James.  He’s enough to swing a series all by himself.  On top of that, the Heat are capable of going on those ridiculous runs like we saw tonight in a short period of time (a 33-5 stretch over about eight minutes), which makes them dangerous no matter what the time and score.

This is shaping up to be a great series.  Usually we have an idea of who should win; seeing whether they do or not is why we watch.  In this case, however, I have no idea what to expect.  But you can be sure that on Tuesday night, I won’t be sleeping through Game 3.

When You’re in Texas, Look Behind You

How about those San Antonio Spurs?

Despite being the second seed in the NBA’s Western Conference, most folks thought they’d lose to the Memphis Grizzlies in five or six games in the Conference Finals.

Well, the Spurs just won the series.  In four.  Swept ’em.

How does a team that sports the best coach in the league plus possibly the greatest power forward in the history of basketball keep getting dismissed like this?  “They’re too old,” they say.  “The run has to end at some point.”

No they’re not!  No it doesn’t!

Have you ever heard the adage, “don’t work harder, work smarter?”  Well, I don’t mean to say that they don’t work hard, because I have no doubt they do, but the Spurs organization is just smarter than almost everyone else.  It’s the only answer, really.  From the front office to the head coach to the players, the Spurs organization just does it, whatever “it” is, better than anyone else.

I’m not a Spurs fan, but I tip my cap.  Neutral sports fans will be in their corner if they face the Heat, and I hope that people really appreciate what they’ve been able to do in the past 15 years.

We don’t often see dynasties in sports anymore, and when we do, we generally don’t like them.  While they haven’t won the championship every year, the Spurs certainly count as a dynasty out West, and personally, I can’t bring myself to hate them even just a little bit.